Difficulties of Building Through the NBA Draft

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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:

2007

Pick 2 – Kevin Durant

Pick 5 – Jeff Green (from Boston for Ray Allen then traded back to Boston for starting center Kendrick Perkins)

2008

Pick 5 – Russell Westbrook

Pick 24 – Serge Ibaka

2009

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.

2000

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).

2001

Pick 5 – Zach Randolph (or Joe Johnson)

Pick 24 – Gilbert Arenas (or Gerald Wallace)

2002

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.

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5 Responses to “Difficulties of Building Through the NBA Draft”

  1. High Above Courtside Says:

    Yeah 1997 with the #3 and #6 Celts take Chauncey Billups (not bad except they traded him for Kenny Anderson I think) then at 6 they take Ron Mercer Yikes. Hey at least they didn’t take Keith Van Horn

    Draft trade in ’80 hard to beat the #1 overall (Joe Barry Carroll who was worse the hoop legend Jim Carroll) traded to the Warriors for what turned out to be Robt. Parrish and Kevin McHale.

    Hope Danny can pull off something half this good in June

    • jpalumbo Says:

      We got Joe Johnson that year or the next too I think and traded him almost immediately.

      That David Robinson injury in the ’97 season changed the entire landscape of the NBA for the next decade. Nothing like winning the lottery, drafting Tim Duncan, and then bringing back a healthy David Robinson to jump up from also-ran to dynasty.

  2. Andrew Kennedy Says:

    Hey man,

    Just came across your blog and really enjoyed reading your NBA stuff. We currently have quite a few NBA writing openings on the FanSided network, and I think you’d be a great addition to our team. If you’d be interesting in contributing for one of our team sites or general NBA sites, let me know and we can discuss further details. If you are interested send me an email at akennedy@knights.ucf.edu.

    Thanks
    Andrew

  3. boyer Says:

    That would still be a very good team with arenas/miller/z bo/stat/hedo. Not sure how you think przybilla is better than hedo or crawford. You took a very weak 3-year span, and if you had the same picks as the thunder during those 3 years, the players you would acquire would be very good. That team would certainly be contenders once/if they put decent role players around them. And you could obviously make trades like perkins for green, too.

    Presti has done a great job, but he’s gotten lucky, too, as is the case with anything usually. He was probably in a better situation than portland in 07, in that he didn’t have to choose between oden/durant. Westbrook wasn’t regarded that highly, and was basically a SG, but now has turned himself into a top 10 player.

    But, he was smart to get rid of Allen and get a bunch of picks. The team was still bad after a year or 2 with durant, meaning more high draft picks. You can’t really script it like that, but they’ve made the most of the hand they were dealt with. Now, like most small market teams that do happen to have a legit contender, will they spend the money to keep the players? The cavs did with lebron. So, I expect the thunder to do it as well. But, they better capitalize in the next year or 2 or else it will be harder to keep everyone together, especially with the new CBA. The same can be said for the heat. Since, they have several huge contracts like the thunder, the pressure is increased, especially with their debacle last year.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      You’re dead on. Presti did pretty much as well as anyone could AND had to get lucky in drafts. I was looking at the picks the Bobcats made over that sane time span. What a mess!

      My point of course was that not only do you need to have a GM make a lot of good moves, the timing is just as big.

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