A Word About Lottery Picks

There were a few terrible games in the NBA this week. One was the Knicks-Kings. I caught a few minutes of that game towards the end of regulation, and I heard the announcer utter the sentence “Wilson Chandler needs to have the ball in his hands here.” I wondered whether that sentence had ever been uttered during an NBA game before, and realized that it probably had not been.

Then, on Wednesday, the Bucks – on the road – pounded the Nets by 20, to “improve” to 24-27. I wondered whether any team had ever improved to 24-27 by pounding its opponent by 20, and shocking absolutely nobody by doing so. I realized that no team probably ever had.

Then I wondered whether these games tell us anything about the NBA as a whole, and I realized that, as good as the NBA is near the top (I think the talent in the league is as good as I’ve ever seen it, and I’m quite impressed by multiple teams), the NBA is also quite weak at the bottom.

Then I watched part of the Rookie – Sophomore game, and listened to the announcers talk about the guys on the court having very bright futures. I wondered whether that was actually true, and realized that the announcers of the Rookie – Sophomore game essentially say the same thing every year.

Then I wondered whether I have anything worth blogging about that relates to any of these observations, and realized that, if I don’t get to it quick, my readers will feel like they just wasted their time reading 4 rambling paragraphs that make no coherent point.

So, I’ll attempt to make a coherent point. Here goes:

There are a couple of bad teams in the league, and there has to be something to learn from them. Somewhat remarkably, with a few exceptions, the teams that are bad have been bad for a while. The Knicks have been bad since Ewing left; the Kings have been bad since the Webber / Divac / Bibby group disbanded; the Nets have been bad since Jason Kidd left; the Warriors, with the exception of that exciting team led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, have been bad since RUN TMC; and the Clippers have been bad since, well, since they’ve been the Clippers.

I say that it’s somewhat remarkable for bad teams to stay bad for a while, because the system is designed for that not to happen. The system is designed for the bad teams to become better, by giving them the highest draft picks. Sometimes, teams can turn around their fortunes with one pick (e.g. Cleveland drafting James, Denver drafting Anthony, and Miami drafting Wade). But many teams never seem to turn around their fortunes.

The easy explanation is just to say that the Clippers, Knicks, Bucks, etc. simply don’t know what they’re doing. And, to some extent, that’s a good explanation. But I think that’s only part of it. I think that part of the problem is that bad teams don’t respect the value of a top-5 pick enough.

Here’s what I mean: No team should ever plan to have multiple-top-5 picks within a few years. You have to be terrible for a while to have multiple-top-5 picks within a few years. And you don’t want to be terrible for a while.

Thus, if you have a top-5 pick, you need to treat it like it’s gold. If you think there’s a guy who can turn your franchise around, use it to take him, and then build a team around him. But, if you don’t think there’s a guy who can turn your franchise around, trade the pick. Get a veteran. Or more picks. Or a future pick. Whatever you do, don’t spend a top-5 pick on a guy who can’t turn your franchise around.

It seems simple enough, yet it’s very rare for top-5 picks to get traded. It’s much more common for top-5 picks to get used on talented guys who look good in the Rookie-Sophomore game, but never wind up turning the fortunes of their franchises around — which might explain why the fortunes of so many franchises never seem to turn around.

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