NBA fans spend winter and spring examining the outside talent pool, searching for a roster panacea in the hope that their team, having failed to finish in the top half of the NBA standings, will mine gold with a top-five pick in the NBA lottery.
Which happens to be the case with the Warriors, who on Tuesday have a shot at this “prize” after a second consecutive season missing the NBA playoffs.
The NBA draft lottery, like most any other lottery, is overrated, an exercise designed to stir fan bases and generate a few months of hope. More often than not, the top of the lottery is a hoax, a bullet train to nowhere.
The Warriors would love for the contents of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ envelope to reveal them at fourth, in which case it goes to Golden State. A top-five pick would make Rick Welts, the outgoing COO serving as lottery representative, the toast of the night. There would be dancing in the halls of Chase Center on Wednesday morning.
Ahh, but NBA history indicates such euphoria will be short-lived.
For every top-five pick that leads his team to a championship, there are three or four later picks that find their way there. The last No. 1 overall pick to do so is LeBron James, drafted 18 years ago. The last No. 2 pick is Kevin Durant, drafted 14 years ago, and he shared top billing with Stephen Curry, who was drafted seventh. Anthony Davis is a No. 1 pick, but LeBron was the leader of the Los Angeles Lakers' team that won the 2020 NBA title.
Rarely is the top of the lottery bringing the answer to the prayers of a franchise.
The 76ers were supposed to build a bully by raiding the draft lottery. Joel Embiid, No. 3 overall in 2014. Jahlil Okafor, No. 3 overall in 2015. Ben Simmons, first overall in 2016. Markelle Fultz, first overall in 2017. Four consecutive top-three picks yielded one franchise player (Embiid), zero NBA championships, two guys (Okafor, Fultz) no longer with the team and a guy (Simmons) who needs to escape Philly pronto.
Trust the process? No, develop good scouts. Invest player development. Trust those who know how to find talent and make the most of it. And check lots of internal hardware.
When the Warriors selected Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway in consecutive drafts all those years ago, the decision was partly based on the recommendation of Dr. Harry Edwards, who gave each a psychological evaluation.
Assuming good health among all parties, there are more terrific young players between 10 and 15 than 1 and 5. Paul George went 10th in 2010. Klay Thompson was the 11th overall pick in 2011, followed by Kawhi Leonard at 15. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went second overall in 2012, with Damian Lillard going four picks later, followed by Draymond Green 33 picks after MKG.
This is typical. Consider that CJ McCollum went 10th in 2013, with Giannis Antetokounmpo going five picks later – and a full 11 picks after Cody Zeller went fourth overall. Rudy Gobert went 27th in the same draft, 22 picks after Alex Len went fifth overall.
2014: Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP, went 41st, 32 picks after Noah Vonleh. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker went 1-2 at the top of the draft. Zach LaVine went 13th overall.
2015: Myles Turner went 11th, Devin Booker 13th. Good luck finding somebody who’ll take them over Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, who went 1-2 in that draft.
2016: Following Simmons were Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, who look like solid top-five picks. Jamal Murray went seventh, Domantas Sabonis 11th, Caris LeVert 20th, Pascal Siakam 27th and Malcolm Brogdon 36th.
Two of the best players in the 2017 draft, Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Bam Adebayo (14th), were taken long after Jayson Tatum (third) and De’Aaron Fox (fifth). John Collins went 20th.
While it’s unfair, too early, to judge players from the last three drafts, it’s already evident there are ballers aplenty in the middle of the first rounds.
Which brings us back to the Warriors. Getting that top-five pick surely would feel like victory. The odds of that being the case, however, are not much better than the odds of their envelope being the last one opened.