Around the League: 2011 NBA Draft Lottery

While the NBA Title contenders battle to cement their legacies in basketball history every spring, the teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs hang their future hopes on the NBA Draft Lottery and subsequent Draft. The “annual rite of renewal” ranks among the most exciting events for struggling franchises and their fans, the number one pick being the ultimate beacon of hope. Some years the first overall pick lands its beneficiary a total game changer such as Magic Johnson, LeBron James or Derrick Rose. Other years a draft class can go a dozen deep, for example in 1996 when Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (who was picked 13th overall) entered the league. And many other top candidates who may never evolve into the face of a franchise will certainly be difference-makers for teams that are rebuilding from scratch or continuing to build on a young foundation.

Though the number one pick doesn’t come with any guarantees, it does represent a new beginning and a big step along the road to recovery. After finishing the 2009-10 season with the best regular season record in the league (61-21), the Cavaliers nose-dived to a 19-63 result (worst in the East) after losing their 2003 number one pick LeBron James to the Miami Heat. However a new door opened in poetic fashion for Dan Gilbert and the Cavs at the NBA’s 27th Draft Lottery on Tuesday. The Cavs took home the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the upcoming draft along with the much-needed belief that a new era is at hand.

As is often the case, luck beat the odds in this year’s lottery. The Cavs captured the winning combination with a pick they acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers that had a 2.8 percent chance of winning. Folklore will no doubt credit Gilbert’s 14-year-old son Nick, who stood at the podium as the Cavaliers’ representative during the televised ceremony, for having a lucky hand in the fortunate outcome. I feel so great for Dan Gilbert and his family, the Cleveland Cavaliers organization and the city of Cleveland. This win is terrific for morale, and it gives fans a chance to reaffirm their support for the Cavaliers and the commitment that Dan Gilbert has made to this city.

The Cavs now have a tremendous opportunity to take two of the top draft candidates. Or if they feel it’s in their best interest they can cash in these picks and fill out their roster with three or four other players depending on their needs. Normally if there’s a great big man coming out such as Shaquille O’Neil, Tim Duncan or Blake Griffin he’ll be the top choice. If there’s not a dominant big, then the tendency nowadays is to try and get a great point guard – someone who can run the show and direct traffic. If Baron Davis stays healthy he probably has a few good years remaining in his NBA career. So the Cavaliers may consider capturing a young point guard like Kyrie Irving from Duke while Davis is there to mentor him. But the Cavs also need some other positions filled out. So depending on how they rate the talent in this year’s draft pool they could go in a few different directions.

Whichever direction they decide to go, Cleveland has to feel optimistic about the future of the franchise as they approach the 2011 NBA Draft, which will be held in Newark, N.J. at Prudential Center on Thursday, June 23, 2011.

Mike’s Take: You Don’t Have to Win the Lottery to Hit the Jackpot

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTonight is the annual Draft Lottery where most non-playoff teams find out what pick they will have among the first 14 of the NBA Draft on June 24 – though as a result of a prior trade the Utah Jazz will have the first pick of the New York Knicks. The top three picks in the Draft will be determined by the drop of 1000 ping pong balls, while the remaining lottery teams will select in reverse order of their regular season standings. The lottery selection is weighted towards the teams with the worst records, so the New Jersey Nets are the favorites to receive the #1 pick this year, followed by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It does not always work out that way, however, as the Chicago Bulls found out to their delight in 2008 when they were able to beat the odds and select Derrick Rose with the first pick in the draft. In fact the team with the best odds has only won the lottery three times in the last twenty years, while the team with the third best odds has won it five times. And though last year’s #1 pick Blake Griffin is expected to significantly improve the LA Clippers franchise, he suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason and the Clips wound up  29-53.

While it may seem obvious that the goal of each team tonight will be to win the rights to the #1 pick, it may be just as valuable to simply be in the top 4-5 picks given the nature of this year’s talent pool. The draft this year is expected to be a deep one, but most would consider it lacking the LeBron James type that is clearly the player around whom to build a franchise. Two of the standard debates involved with any high draft pick may be more relevant this year, namely:

1) Draft big or small?

2) Draft to fill a need or pick the best player available?

The current trend in the NBA is for teams to go small and/or versatile with the point guard position probably having the most depth in the league. For this reason, John Wall of Kentucky and Evan Turner of Ohio State are widely assumed to be the top two picks in the draft. There are two big men in the draft behind them though that could end up being a steal for the teams that draft behind the top two. They are Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech and Demarcus Cousins, also of Kentucky.

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The traditional wisdom is that teams this high in the draft should go for the best player available so teams may pass on Favors and Cousins even if they need a big man. The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Greg Oden with the #1 pick three years ago to fill a need, and while they remain committed to Oden’s future with the team, they have been forced to watch Kevin Durant (drafted #2 that year) blossom into a leading MVP candidate. And perhaps more famously The owner of the #1 pick will also be aware that its pick is going to be scrutinized for years to come. This pressure sometimes forces front offices to make the “safe” pick – i.e., the player who is the pre-draft favorite – rather than taking a shot at a less likely candidate.

When you consider that the Chicago Bulls landed Michael Jordan with the #3 pick back in 1984, winning the #1 pick tonight would clearly be a nice situation to be in, but it may not be all its cracked up to be.

The 2010 NBA Draft Lottery will be held May 18 at the NBA Entertainment studio in Secaucus, New Jersey at 7:00 PM ET.