Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Draft Lottery




I hate the NBA Draft Lottery. Yes, I hate the lottery because my favorite team, the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially 0-7-6 in 13 years of the lottery. That means they've moved down seven times and kept their spot six times... never picking higher than third. The entire franchise has been changed several times because of an unlucky bounce or two with the ping-pong balls. For example, had the Wolves not had terrible lottery luck, Shaquille O'Neal or Alonzo Mourning would have been the franchise cornerstones for a team that, to that point, had not had one. Instead, the Wolves fell to number three, and the not-so-franchise-esque Christian Laettner was the pick.

This season was too much though. After watching arguably the worst wing play in the history of the NBA, the Wolves were in need of a potential franchise guard to give us Wolves fans hope again. With the second worst record, aka the second best chances at the number one pick, and the top two players in the draft being franchise-caliber guards, Wolves fans were optimistic going into the Lottery. Of course, these were the Wolves, so as Tuesday dragged on, even the most optimistic of Wolves fans were assuming the worst. Personally, I expected to see the Wolves in the number five spot. They ended up at #4. Of course, it isn't the end of the world, but still demoralizing nonetheless.

The Wolves have plenty of options. The Sixers ended up with the #2 pick, and while they also lack a franchise-caliber player, it's very possible they value DeMarcus Cousins or Derrick Favors higher than Turner. With Andre Igudala at shooting guard in Philly, they have at least a good, quality starter at the position Turner plays. With Elton Brand being a colossal disappointment since arriving in Philly, it seems logical that they would be looking to improve their front court. Jrue Holliday is their point guard of the future, and a Holliday/AI2/Thad Young/Brand/Cousins lineup isn't too shabby. That may allow the Wolves to move up to #2, by giving #4 and #16 for the rights to Turner. The Nets will almost certainly take Favors at #3, so it would be a trade down for Cousins. I think this is the most logical scenario and would be fairly surprised if the Wolves don't end up with Turner at #2. However, there are other possibilities.

The difference between the #4 and #5 pick is much larger than most people seem to realize. While Wes Johnson is a solid prospect, he doesn't appear to be a future franchise player. I think his ceiling is a solid #2 option, and if his defense is as good as advertised, he's going to be an All-star caliber player in this league. However, I don't see Johnson being able to lead this Wolves team to the playoffs without a better option, and that would likely require finally getting lucky in the lottery over the next few seasons. Rubio could potentially be the #1 player, but he isn't a great shooter at this point in his career so it's a bit risky to hope he becomes the dominant number one player this team needs.

I really don't understand why people are so down on Cousins. He was the most productive player in all of College Basketball last season, and his Freshman Year at Kentucky is very very comparable to the production Blake Griffin had as a Sophomore at Oklahoma. Yes, I understand some people are worried Cousins is a head-case, and from what I've seen I don't doubt that. It's always risky to take someone who could go crazy at any point, or someone who might get lazy, but the production speaks for itself. Add in that Cousins is a legitimate Center prospect, not a Power Forward prospect, makes him much more enticing to this team.

Al Jefferson needs to be traded. Explaining why is a post for another day, but ultimately, he shoots too much, isn't efficient enough, plays terrible defense and is a worse passer than my dead great grandmother. His 20 points and 10 rebound averages over the last three years undoubtedly has led some people to think he's a guy to build around. He isn't. Unfortunately, most teams know this, so his value isn't nearly as high as it would have been even a season ago. His knee injury hasn't helped matters, but if the Wolves want to better balance their team and don't find a way to get Evan Turner, Jefferson needs to go for a quality wing. For example, say the Sixers draft Turner, a Jefferson for AI2 and a semi-protected first round pick seems like a possibility. The Wolves would take Cousins at #4, and the best available wing at #16. A Flynn/AI2/Brewer/Love/Cousins starting lineup would almost certainly be a team picking in the top 10 again next season, but the potential would be there. Brewer is not a starting caliber player, so hopefully at #16 they can get someone like Xavier Henry or Paul George.

I believe Rubio will come over in 2011, and play for the Wolves. A Rubio/AI2/George/Love/Cousins team with Flynn, Ellington, Brewer and Pekovic coming off the bench would have a lot of exciting moments and could potentially contend very soon. The youth would show at times but they would be a fun team to watch and if Rubio/Cousins are as good as their production suggests they could potentially be the best guard/big man combo in basketball in three years.

*Quick tangent: Don't look up Rubio's Euroleague stats and tell me he sucks. First, and foremost, he led his team as a 19-year-old PG in the second best basketball league in the world to a Championship. Secondly, his numbers are comparable to Brandon Jennings numbers in Europe. Let's not forget Rubio worked Jennings in their matchups last year, playing one of the games with a broken hand which made him extremely easy to guard... but he still outplayed Jennings. Third, Euroleague stats are different than NBA stats. It's extremely rare for a player to get an assist for making a pass to an open jump shooter and watching him hit the shot. Usually assists are only credited for creating an opportunity for a teammate. Rubio led the league in assists. He's going to be special. Whether he ever plays for the T'Wolves is another matter altogether, but my opinion is that it's not nearly as unlikely as the casual fan seems to think.*

Sadly, I have little faith in this Wolves team to make the right moves. Kahn has made a lot of moves and continues to speak well to the media and fans, but I'm worried. Flynn was terrible last season, although playing with terrible wings as a rookie can't make life easy. I think Flynn will be a great 6th man in the future and him getting a ton of playing time now will only benefit him and the team in the future. However, drafting him over Curry was foolish on draft night, and looked even more foolish as the season went on.

I hope Kahn can swing a trade for a solid veteran a team is trying to unload, using our cap space to get a talented player without giving up much of anything. Adding Turner and a solid, veteran small forward would be a solid off-season and would put this team much closer to contention. We'll see what Kahn does, of course.

*Quick Tangent 2: "How can you not mention Cole Aldrich?" Look, I love Cole. I've known him for a long time and he would love to play for the Wolves, seeing as he's from here and all that stuff. However, since he's my friend, I refuse to wish for him to play for this cursed franchise. I hope he can go somewhere where he will be given playing time (he would get plenty in Minnesota) but also where he has a legitimate chance to win. Utah or Sacramento would seem to be the best fits for him, so I hope he ends up in one of those two places.*