Beckley Mason of ESPN.com recently wrote an article debunking the myth of the Oklahoma City Thunder as a model of building a contender. He states, using the lovely analog of the unicorn, that while Sam Presti made some very savvy moves for his team and did a great job of talent scouting, the amount of available talent in any given draft is usually not enough to land teams that kind of success. Essentially there are usually 5 difference making players in any draft, and they aren’t always picked in the top 5, so the 14 lottery teams have a 5 in 60 chance of getting those guys (that’s means 1/12 of the time your draft actually makes a difference).
Leaving out the clever wheeling and dealing that got OKC the picks in the first place, here’s the draft history that created the winningest team in the western conference this year:
Pick 2 – Kevin Durant
Pick 5 – Jeff Green (from Boston for Ray Allen then traded back to Boston for starting center Kendrick Perkins)
Pick 5 – Russell Westbrook
Pick 24 – Serge Ibaka
Pick 3 – James Harden
That’s the 5 most important players on their team all secured in 3 years mostly through the draft. Well done! But what if those picks had come in another cluster of years, say between 2000 and 2002? Things look a lot grimmer, even if we use hindsight to give OKC the best possible players at their draft position each year.
Pick 2 – Mike Miller (he’s honestly the best player available, and he won the RoY that year).
Pick 5 – Joel Prizbilla (Yes, I’m serious. Hedo and Jamal Crawford are your other options).
Pick 5 – Zach Randolph (or Joe Johnson)
Pick 24 – Gilbert Arenas (or Gerald Wallace)
Pick 3 Amare Stoudemire
Not bad talent. You could start Arenas, Miller, ZBo, and STAT and either pick up another wing or go back and take Hedo or Crawford instead of Prizbilla. No MVP candidates (maybe Amare?) despite having 4 picks in the top 5 overall. Also you’ve got 2 headcases and all of them are injury prone. The point of Mason’s article is certainly made clear anyway – while it is normally necessary to get a star or three through the draft in order to contend, your high picks have to come in the right series of seasons, and your GM has to nail it every year to really make it work.