The Situation of the NBA Draft
Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 24, 2007
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 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.
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 have 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, such 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 collegiate 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.