The New York Knicks will have the 4th pick in this year’s NBA draft, despite having the second best odds to secure the top pick (19.9 percent). Instead, Minnesota, the Lakers, and Philadelphia will make the first three selections.
Immediately after Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum revealed the Knicks logo fourth to last, Knicks fans and haters alike began ranting and raving – cracking jokes about the miserable state of the franchise and mocking anything Phil Jackson has said as team president. You could even hear an audible groan from the media in attendance when the Knicks’ spot was announced.
I quickly received a bunch of jeering messages from friends who are fans of other teams about the Knicks’ futility. Also, fellow Knicks fans reached out to share in the grief and perpetuate their grim views of the team’s future.
Even when the Knicks tank, they still lose.
— SportsNation (@SportsNation) May 20, 2015
In response to all of the chirping, I’d like to quote the great Aaron Rodgers.
We do not know who the Knicks are going to take, if they are going to trade their pick, or even which player in this draft will have the “best” career. Therefore, no one can definitively say that having the fourth pick instead of the first, second, or third is a bad thing. The key word there is “definitively,” before you rebuke me.
The NBA draft does not work in a way that assigns the best player to the worst team and on down the line. If it did, countless analysts wouldn’t spend months arguing over players’ potential and on which team they might fit. Talent evaluation is subjective – it is nearly impossible to project a player’s floor and ceiling.
It’s extremely rare to look back in hindsight and see that all the best players in a given draft class were taken in the “correct” order within the first five picks or so. More often if you look back at previous drafts, the players who became stars were drafted throughout the first round.
That’s because the best players of the group at age 19 are not going to necessarily be the best players of the group at age 26.
NBA executives do not have a crystal ball to read before making their selections. Not only will a player be immensely affected by the situation he arrives in – the culture of the team and the role he is given early on in his career – but also his attitude, maturity, and work ethic will greatly impact his success as time goes on. Those qualities aren’t always readily observable when scouting a college kid.
Still, fans agonize over the draft lottery and hope that their team wins the right to make one of the top selections. Of course you want the highest pick you can get, but your team’s draft position is not the be all and end all.
Everyone remembers Portland taking Sam Bowie with the 2nd pick in 1984, passing up a guard from the University of North Carolina named Michael Jordan.
And who can forget Greg Oden and his knees being taken first overall by the Trailblazers in 2007, before the Seattle SuperSonics grabbed Kevin Durant.
But what both casual and die-hard fans often fail to realize is that these types of misfires early on in the draft are fairly common. Obviously taking a player who will barely play in the league instead of a future MVP, as was the case in 2007, is a severe anomaly, but mistakes do happen.
And the thing is, few people ever see a bad pick coming otherwise it wouldn’t be made. When a future draft bust’s name is called, he’s still seen as another college (or high school) stud with a bright NBA future awaiting him. It just doesn’t always pan out, whether it’s because of injuries or any number of other misfortunes.
More importantly, you can’t predict it. I can’t predict it. Jay Bilas and Fran Fraschilla can’t predict it. We can try, but no one bats one thousand with those guesses.
Back in 1996, the draft was stacked with talent, with Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, and Ray Allen being taken in the top five. However, there was one guy scouts from the first 12 teams missed. With the 13th pick, the Charlotte Hornets chose Kobe Bryant. Not only did 12 teams underestimate Bryant, but also the team that drafted him, the Hornets, shipped him to LA on draft night.
Fast forward seven years and Darko Milicic is taken at number two by Detroit right before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade come off the board in order. We all know how that turned out.
In 2010, the two best players in that draft other than top pick John Wall were selected with the 5th and 10th picks – DeMarcus Cousins to the Kings and Paul George to the Pacers.
The next year, Minnesota drafted a ferociously athletic forward, Derrick Williams, with the 2nd overall pick. Williams averaged eight points a night this past season. At number 11, Golden State chose Klay Thompson and then Chicago snagged Jimmy Butler with the last pick of the first round.
Let me be clear, Karl-Anthony Towns is not Sam Bowie. Jahlil Okafor is not Greg Oden. I’m also not saying that Towns or Okafor is going to fall well short of the hype. But could D’Angelo Russell be a future scoring champion? Or is Justise Winslow going to evolve into James Harden 2.0? Again, we just don’t know.
Towns and Okafor project as the top two picks in this year’s draft and rightfully so. Towns is already a tremendous shot-blocker and rim protector. His offensive game is somewhat raw but with NBA coaching and practice, it will certainly progress. He showed why he is worthy of the first overall pick all year with Kentucky.
Okafor is more polished offensively, with mature post moves and footwork. His free throw shooting needs work, as do his conditioning and defense, but winning the National Championship with Duke absolutely helped his stock.
Once their careers are all said and done, Towns and Okafor could be remembered as two of the greatest big men to ever play the game or role players whose utility decreased with the NBA’s small ball revolution or anywhere in between.
The next three picks after the two big men are expected to be Russell, from Ohio State, point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who played in China in favor of attending Southern Methodist University, and Winslow, who played alongside Okafor at Duke. Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis could also slide into to one of those spots (don’t you dare, Phil Jackson).
The draft lottery determines the order that teams will pick in, but it does not concretely determine the quality of the player that will be picked in that spot. Potential is one of the most difficult things to predict, along with how a player will improve and impact a team and a franchise.
So while we now know the order of the 2015 NBA Draft, we don’t yet know what it means.
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