Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The NBA Draft Lottery

Last night, the Los Angeles Clippers won the lottery to determine the #1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, while the Memphis Grizzlies secured the #2 pick and the Oklahoma City Thunder the #3.

The first pick in the draft is going to be the University of Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. It is generally agreed that Ricky Rubio, the teenage point guard prodigy who quarterbacked the Spanish national team to a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics, is the second best player in the draft. UConn's 7'4" center Hasheem Thabeet is considered the third best player.

But there are wrinkles. Oh, there are wrinkles. Griffin's natural position is either power forward or, in the new, running-oriented NBA, an undersized center. Los Angeles already has two all-star centers in Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, and an all-star power forward in Zach Randolph. The textbook move in this sort of a situation is to trade the aging all-star you already have (Randolph) while he still has value and get a good younger player and a draft pick or two in return, thereby deepening your bench while clearing a bunch of playing time for your #1 pick. However, Randolph is famously lazy and overpaid, and the Clippers could get little in return for him in a trade, leaving them with a logjam in the low post.

Oklahoma City has three of the most exciting young players in the NBA in Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant, who already appears to be on the fast track to the hall of fame. Their weaknesses are at center and at point guard - Westbrook, as much as I love him, is an undersized natural 2-guard (like Fat Lever) who was forced to play the point this season because he's short and the Thunder had no other options. The textbook of good basketball says that the ideal sort of player to team with an undersized, high-scoring, penetrating two-guard is a tall guard who can play the point on offense, defend the shooting guard on defense, and make open 3-pointers. Rubio fits that description to a tee. Unfortunately for basketball fans, the Thunder have the third pick and Rubio is the second best player in the draft, which means he might be taken by the . . .

Memphis Grizzlies, who need a distributor to play with the trigger-happy Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. The prospect of Rubio turning every game into an alley-oop-fest with those two running the lanes is enough to make old school basketball fans drool, and since the Grizzlies already employ fellow countryman Marc Gasol, Rubio would likely have an easier time transitioning to the NBA in Memphis than he would on any other lottery team. However, the Grizzlies already have a dynamic young point guard (Mike Conley, the #4 pick in the 2007 draft) who they've invested a lot of money and coach-hours into already, and they're desperate for size up front, which is why pre-draft rumors have it that the Grizzlies are the one lottery team that would even consider taking Thabeet with the #2 pick.

The Thunder have a ton of cap space, and the Tyson Chandler-for-Joe Smith trade, which was cancelled at the last minute this past season, is rumored to still be on the table, in which case I would pass on Thabeet, trade down to around #10, draft Stephon Curry or Johnny Flynn, pick up a good rotation player in the process, then make the Chandler trade, leaving you with a starting five of Chandler, Durant, Green, Westbrook, Curry/Flynn with Nenand Kristic, Nick Collison and the player picked up in the lottery trade off the bench. That's a 45 win lineup.

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