NBA Draft: Draft Best Available or Fill Team Needs?

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NBA Draft

Tonight at 7 PM Eastern Time on ESPN, the 2012 NBA Draft will begin. The first pick is all set, with Kentucky’s freshman phenom Anthony Davis set to become an official member of the New Orleans Hornets. One doesn’t even have to ask why New Orleans is so set on Davis with their pick. He is the best talent available in the draft, boasting exceptional height, basketball IQ, ball-handling, and defensive instincts, and he also fills a huge need for the Hornets, as Gustavo Ayon and Darryl Watkins were their big men at the end of last season. After the top pick, however, many teams like the Bobcats, Wizards, and Cavs are faced with the age old question: should they take the best player available or pick a lesser player who fills a glaring team need?

This is a guest blog from Johnny Hasson

I think this decision, like most NBA decisions, has a few different factors that must be considered before arriving at a conclusion. What follows is a brief breakdown of these factors, with relevant examples where necessary.

1. Team Status

Every team must have a realistic picture of where they stand going forward, establish short-term and long-term goals that will help them become title contenders, and make decisions that get them closer to these goals. Teams like Miami, Oklahoma City, Chicago, and San Antonio are each legitimate contenders for next year’s title right now, so a need pick might not be the worst idea for them. They make take a bit of a hit long-term, but if the need pick turns out as planned, then the Larry O’Brien Trophy will make it a worthwhile sacrifice. For all the other teams, I think longer-term goals need to take precedence either by taking the best player available or by trading to maximize value. Speaking of which…

2. Pick Value

Another thing that teams must be aware of is that they do not operate in a vacuum where their scouting and analysis of each player is the only thing that matters. If I’m the Geoff Petrie, the Kings GM who will pick 5th, and my player personnel team tells me that Iowa State’s Royce White is better than Harrison Barnes, that doesn’t mean that I should take White at 5. The consensus among insiders like ESPN’s Chad Ford has White going somewhere in the 15-21 range, so the best move would be to trade back into that range and come out of the draft with White and one or two other good assets as well.

This, in my opinion, is the big mistake that Timberwolves’ GM David Kahn made in the 2009 draft, and we all know how that turned out. You could say, correctly so far, that valuing former-Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn over budding star Stephen Curry was bad analysis, but a GM has no choice but to trust his judgment and the judgment of his team. Kahn’s real error came when he didn’t make Golden State or New York (the two teams immediately after them who both desperately wanted Curry) surrender assets to get their man after he decided to go in a different direction.

3. Team Composition/Value

This is very similar to the first factor I discussed, but slightly different. Obviously, teams are “supposed to” have a Point Guard, a Shooting Guard, a Small Forward, a Power Forward, and a Center in addition to a competent second unit. Even if the position played by the best available player is one that is taken by an existing player, go back to what I said in the last section and maximize your value via a trade.

In today’s game, however, this situation rarely unfolds anyway because there are many players who don’t fit the standard molds for these positions. Increasingly, we see point guards like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose who look to score first before looking to run an offense or set up their teammates and big men like Kevin Love and Pau Gasol who are better passers and shooters than the big men of old. Essentially, no team should think that due to their an All-Star power forward they cannot draft another player at the same position, because the skills of the two players can perhaps be complementary and work together nicely. If a team like the Celtics has an elite rebounding/defensive big man like Kevin Garnett, a scoring big like St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson isn’t such a bad idea.

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, I think it is most often the wisest decision to take the best player available because most teams are not immediate title contenders and more impact players will get you to that point more quickly. That said, you can sometimes get the best available player later on in the draft, so you must always know the rest of the league thinks about your pick and your existing players so that you can come away with the maximum value for your team. Unfortunately, I think NBA teams these days are run by GM’s with little job security who feel the need to make picks for the short-term more than the long term so that they can keep their jobs. Here’s to hoping that the people running your favorite team take all these factors into account.

Enjoy the draft!

Johnny Hasson is a huge fan of college basketball, specifically the Syracuse Orange. Every Spring, he pays close attention to draft rumors and strategies and still comes away surprised. When he’s not poring over NBA Draft info, Johnny enjoys watching TV with his wife and using Smart Live Promotions to get the most bang for his buck at online casinos.

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  1. I’m impressed! You’ve managed the almost imsiospble.

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