The Situationist

The Situation of the NBA Draft

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 24, 2007

NBA Draft LotteryAs most fans of the National Basketball Association know, the NBA Draft lottery will be held on May 22. It will determine the draft order of the 14 NBA teams that did not make the playoffs, as those teams will be assigned a pick between 1 and 14 in the 2007 NBA Draft, which will be held on June 28. The 16 teams that made the playoffs will not participate in the lottery, but will instead select between 15 and 30 based on inverse order of record. Picks 31 through 60 in the second and final round of the NBA draft will be based on inverse record of all teams. Typically, the drop off in talent after the first five or so drafted players is quite significant, and few players selected after 15 will become NBA stars. Nevertheless, a good number of drafted players will enjoy NBA careers of at least two or three years, which for some can mean the difference between becoming a millionaire and becoming someone who doesn’t earn much doing anything.

So the lottery, and the draft in general, matter a great deal to NBA teams and prospective draft picks. Mechanically, the lottery works as follows: it features 14 ping bolls in a standard lottery machine and four are drawn at random. There are 24,024 possible combinations, but the NBA eliminates the importance of the combinations’ order, thus reducing the number of relevant combinations to 1,001, of which 1,000 are divided among the 14 non-playoff NBA teams. The number of combinations assigned to each team are weighted in favor of the NBA’s worst teams, so the team with the worst record obtains the most number of combinations and so on. To illustrate, the Memphis Grizzlies, by virtue of possessing the worst record from this past NBA season, will have a 25.0% chance of landing the first pick and a 46.5% chance of landing either of the first two picks; the Boston Celtics, holders of the second worst record, will have a 19.9% chance of landing the first pick and a 38.7% chance of landing either of the first two picks.

Greg Oden and Kevin Durant

In a draft that features two potential “franchise” players, Ohio State freshman Greg Oden and University of Texas freshman Kevin Durant, this year’s lottery has taken on extra meaning. Indeed, several teams, such as the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, have been accused of “tanking” or purposefully losing games in order to obtain a worse record and thus better odds at landing one of the first two picks. Ironically, the lottery was instituted in 1985 as a way of discouraging teams from tanking, as they would no longer be assured the first pick by virtue of having the worst record, which had been the existing procedure. This change was made after the Houston Rockets were alleged to haveHakeem Olajuwon and David Stern in 1985 purposefully lost games in the 1984-85 season in order to secure the worst record, thereby enabling them to select star center Hakeem Olajuwon from nearby University of Houston. Nevertheless, NBA teams still appear to purposefully lose games when the potential reward of a franchise player exists.

After the lottery is drawn on May 22, the draft order will be determined. Many websites, such as NBADraft.net, Draft Express, and Chad Ford on ESPN, will then conduct “mock drafts” projecting how teams will draft on June 28. These websites also evaluate the players and assess their potential for success in the NBA. The evaluations are thorough and quite good. And we find out how correct they are when the draft is held on June 28 in Madison Square Garden.

Over the summer, the drafted players will join their respective NBA teams, and basketball commentators like ESPN’s Henry Abbott and Sports Illustrated‘s Kelly Dwyer will keep us informed as to how well these players adjust to their new situations. Some will play well, some won’t. Some will make general managers look like geniuses; others will make them look like fools. Some will be drafted into the right situation, with the right teammates, right coaches, right style of play, and, perhaps most importantly, the right opportunity to play rather than sit on the bench; others will land in a place that doesn’t suit them well, Doc Rivers and former Celtic Marcus Bankssuch as with a coach that takes a disliking or a team that has too many better players at the same position or a city that seems too far from home, and their careers will stagnate and perhaps suffer irreparable harm.

And therein lies the situation of the NBA Draft: the success of drafted players depends largely on the situation in which they are drafted. While some drafted players, like Tim Duncan or LeBron James, are likely to excel in any situation (and, conversely, some are likely to falter in any situation), many, if not most, drafted players are situationally-dependent. Put differently, the legacies of most NBA players will depend largely on the situations in which they find themselves, even though most fans will remember them from a dispositional perspective (e.g., this guy was a great player, he should have been drafted earlier; what a bust this guy was, he never should have been a lottery pick).

Last May, Eric Weiss of Draft Express evidenced these points in a wonderful article entitled, “It’s About Situation, Not Position.” We excerpt portions of Weiss’ article below.

* * *

[S]uccess is predicated on opportunity, and opportunity is afforded to those fortunate few who find the proper situational environment for them to excel in. There are players in this league who have had great talent, but lost their moment to shine because the opportunity never came to pass. Other players have gone unnoticed and underappreciated until the right situation sprung them from the depths of anonymity and into the spotlight. . . .

[T]here are varying degrees of patience and persistence when it comes to finding opportunity and realizing potential. Players such as Ryan Gomes this past season had only to deal with the initial disappointment of an extremely low draft position and a half-season wait to prove the pundits wrong. Gomes was a highly decorated player, earning first team All-American honors during his collegiateRyan Gomes career. But, questions about his NBA position as well as a perceived lack of athleticism found this once highly thought of prospect plummeting down to pick 50 in the draft. But, injuries to Boston’s main rotation players coupled with Gomes’ relentless approach to preparation finally paid dividends and Gomes went on to earn Second-Team All-Rookie honors despite being benched for months. . . .

It’s easy to assume that a player with great natural ability will automatically realize his potential in any situation given such basics as playing time and coaching. But, the game is so much more intricate than that, just as life is more complicated than simply waking up and driving to work in the morning. The interactions and relationships one has with coworkers, supervisors, teammates and coaches are going to be the foundation elements of happiness and productivity in the workplace.

Going off the logic that simple draft position and the talent that earned it was enough to determine success, what is the explanation for players such as Jermaine O’Neal, and Boris Diaw, who realized little of their ability with their initial teams, only to blossom in different circumstances. Truly, Darko Milicic and Kwame Brown have just started to give a glimpse of similar metamorphoses as players after failing to live up to expectation and buckling under the weight of lofty draft position.

The bottom line is this: Success is predicated on variables far beyond anyone’s ability to measure with complete accuracy. No person’s true worth in any sense of the word can be summed up by a number ranked 1 through 30. Rarely do players such as Tim Duncan and LeBron James come along. Most players rely on far more than physical talent to succeed, and even those such as James are special because of the so-called intangibles they possess. At the end of the day, players are remembered for what they accomplish after they’re drafted, and the number they got selected at holds little significance. It’s the situation one gets drafted into that allows for all the rest to unfold and that is a measure yet unquantifiable.

* * *

For the complete article, click here.

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17 Responses to “The Situation of the NBA Draft”

  1. [...] hopes for new career Loy’s Place   Do we really need a veteran?  The Situationalist   The Situation of the NBA draft Nashua Telegraph    Now the Celtics need to get [...]

  2. Collin said

    Actually, I don’t think that you need to exempt Duncan or LeBron from the equation by blithely assuming that they would’ve been great anywhere. Let’s not forget that James gets to play close to home, which is not a insignificant consideration. Consider, too, that Ohio has been primed for him. Finally, the absolute horrorshow that is the Eastern Conference allows one decent player to make a greater impact — or, more accurately, since everyone is bad there’s a greater chance that a player making a marginal impact can see his team make great strides in the standings.

    Similarly, Duncan walked into a situation in San Antonio which was perfectly suited to his talents. San Antonio was an elite team which had seen David Robinson miss most of the season the year before, and Sean Elliot leave with his kidney ailment. That’s why they were back in the lottery. Even without Duncan, they would’ve been a contender the next year. Plus, San Antonio was building a reputation of bringing in good guys…character guys, for want of a better term. They were promoting a team philosophy perfectly tailored to Duncan. Hell, the fact that they even had a team philosophy set them apart. And remember, the fact the Spurs had Robinson allowed Duncan to face fewer double teams and top defenders in those early years. Finally, nobody really knew how good Popovich was going to be, nor how good they would prove to be at finding and developing complementary talent like Parker, Ginobili, etc.

    So, rather than be touted as the exception to your situational rule, I think James and Duncan — but especially Duncan — should be seen as prime examples of it.

  3. [...] The Situation of the NBA Draft [image]As most fans of the National Basketball Association know, the NBA Draft lottery will be held on May 22. It will […] [...]

  4. deansguide said

    Situa,

    Great post because most fans just do not understand how difficult the “situation” they inherit through the draft can and will effect their play on the court.

    My All Time favorite example of this is Chauncy Billups undeniably the greatest most under rated all around talent in the Association. Fans in Boston will swear that Chauncy was a bust, a dud, a wasted talent. So will the other teams he occupied space for prior to his reign in Detroit. . .

    Simply put: A player’s talents and attitude can be both lost and worsened by poor coaching, lack of discipline, selfish teammates, offensive schemes that either focus on other players or are a poor fit for the player in question, and the list goes on and on.

    In the case of Milicic not enough information seemed to be made available, Detroit rarely plays rookies, and so on. In Kwame’s case it often seems like he is his own worse enemy ie trouble with the law, lack of drive and determination, and a poor set of fundamentals. . .

    In any of these cases it is only fair to give a young talent at least 4 seasons to get acclimated or bounce into a new situation.

  5. The Situation of the NBA Draft

    As most fans of the National Basketball Association know, the NBA Draft lottery will be held on May 22. It will determine the draft order of the 14 NBA teams that did not make the playoffs, as those teams will be assigned a pick between 1 and 14 in the…

  6. Awesome post!! I truly believe that teams are horrific during the regular season should be worrying about making cap room to bring in a proven veteran who can help their team win right away. Their are only a few NBA players who Became leaders of their Teams in their rookie Year. The teams who get Oden or Durant will more than likely miss the playoffs again next season. We need to ask ourselves this question: Is it about tickets sales or winning a championship?

  7. Chris said

    Good perspective, thanks.

  8. [...] What determines our success? Situation, or response? Does your success in life depend on you, or your situation?  The Situationist blog takes us through a fascinating look at the NBA draft and how a player’s “situation” impacts their long-term success. “Success is predicated on variables far beyond anyone’s ability to measure with complete accuracy. No person’s true worth in any sense of the word can be summed up by a number ranked 1 through 30. Rarely do players such as Tim Duncan and LeBron James come along. Most players rely on far more than physical talent to succeed, and even those such as James are special because of the so-called intangibles they possess. At the end of the day, players are remembered for what they accomplish after they’re drafted, and the number they got selected at holds little significance. It’s the situation one gets drafted into that allows for all the rest to unfold and that is a measure yet unquantifiable.” Read Full Story [...]

  9. [...] Este post tenta explicar um pouco da ciência complicada do draft, das equipes que entregam partidas para ficar nas primeiras posições, e sobre como o sucesso de [...]

  10. nice post…

  11. Blue said

    This is a lighthearted yet very relevant situationist perspective. The contrasting performances of two recent high-draft picks from Europe corroborate the analysis. Darko Milicic was selected by the Detroit Pistons as the second overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, and Milicic, by most accounts, is considered to be a huge flop even though he is still only 21 years old. In the most recent NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors selected Andrea Bargnani, also 21, as the first overall pick, in spite of widespread concerns around the league that he too may turn out to be a “flop” like Darko. The concerns were well-founded, since the two European hoops wunderkinder have similar size and skills–legitimate 7 footers with good mobility and shooting touch. Howevever, unlike Darko, Bargnani has had a successful rookie season, having erased the previously held doubts.

    When Darko came to Detroit as an 18-year old budding star from Serbia, he joined an already successful Pistons team that had reached the Eastern Conference finals the previous season. They were a veteran team with established stars and run by a hall of fame coach, Larry Brown, who is well-known in the basketball world for his reluctance to play rookies. In fact, Brown often publicly ridiculed the youngster, and gave him 5.6 minutes of playing time per game. As a neophyte in every sense of the word, and as an Eastern European in a midwestern American city and on a team with no foreign players, Milicic needed to be coddled and encouraged. Instead, his confidence was so shattered that in one particularly embarrassing moment, Darko had a completely uncontested dunk attempt “blocked” by the rim. The footage was broadcast ad infinitum on ESPN. He was ruthlessly ridiculed by the American sports media at large, even being nicknamed the “Human Victory Cigar,” because he only played late in games when the Pistons already had effectively won.

    On the other hand, Bargnani, already an established star in the highly touted Italian league, came to a young Toronto team which was run by executives known for reaching out to international players. Even though he was only 20 at the time of his draft selection, Bargnani was light years more mature than Milicic in basketball terms. The Raptors currently feature two other prominent international players, both of them Spanish, and an American player who honed his skills for many years in the European leagues. Toronto is also a very cosmopolitan city with a large ethnic Italian population. So Bargnani was more ready to deal with criticism and initial failure than Milicic. However, instead of being alienated and ridiculed, he was coddled and encouraged by the team and the community at large, even in spite of some not-so-spectacular displays in the initial weeks of the season.

    Since being traded from Detroit to the Orlando Magic, Milicic has flashes of basketball brilliance. He was especially impressive in the 2006 World Basketball Championship, in which he led the Serbia and Montenegro national team to the final game against Spain. In a tournament filled with NBA superstars from around the world, Milicic performed like a superstar. One has to wonder if during the World Championship, Milicic was able to psychologically liberate himself from his negative NBA experiences and play up to his potential.

  12. feketefene said

    http://feketefene.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/all-star-game-2007/

    ALL STAR GAME 2007 ROMANIA

  13. deansguide said

    Blue,

    The World Championships may have been “filled” with NBA stars but the NBA is comprised of the world’s greatest talent pool night in night out. It is hard to believe that Darko gained much in the way of solace from his success at the World Championship when he could not beat out Tayshaun Prince, an aging Rasheed Wallace, or a on the downside Antonio McDyess. Darko needs to grow up, listen up, and smarten up. . .

  14. [...] The Situation of the NBA Draft [...]

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  16. [...] To read the rest of the piece, click here.  For a related post, see The Situation of the NBA Draft. [...]

  17. [...] We will be discussing a recent post that I helped to write on The Situationist entitled “The Situation of the NBA Draft,” which examined how NBA players’ success is often based on the situation in which they [...]

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