Sunday, May 5, 2013

In a Copycat League, Warriors and Rockets May Serve As Models in the 2013 Draft

The NBA is a copycat league and as the GMs of lottery teams sit at home and watch the playoffs, you can be sure their mind is focused on how their teams can be there next year. A close eye especially could be paid attention to the Warriors and Rockets' models, both of whom made the playoffs after 3+ years of picking in the lottery.

Neither of those teams spent the past few years using their lottery picks on boom or bust players. Instead they looked for experienced college players with high character. Even though they both have had plenty of draft picks, both teams avoided taking a college freshman in the past 4 drafts.

The Rockets, as everyone knows, places a strong emphasis on analytics to build their roster. They've taken a conservative approach in the draft for the most part, choosing to use their lottery picks of the past years on experienced college players. And while guys like Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris haven't exactly lit the world on fire, they were able to compile a solid stable of assets that got them Thomas Robinson at the trade deadline. Their drafting style has been more effective in the second round, where selecting college vets like Chander Parsons, Carl Landry, Steve Novak, and Chase Budinger have paid off big time.

Teams have slowly been coming around to this approach to the point where most teams are investing in the analytics field. 

The Warriors are one of those teams, but their emphasis on character has been even more important. Everyone knows that getting good character guys is a good thing, but to what extent? Plenty of teams have avoided those incoming prospects deemed as "cancers", but there seems to be a grey area in between
cancers and leaders. I guess you can say now that instead of simply avoiding low character plays, teams are also actively seeking high character guys.

There are plenty of guys that aren't what you would call cancers, but don't add much to the lockerroom. At the same time, there are plenty of guys that you wouldn't label as leaders that are very positive influences in the clubhouse. The Warriors, as it seems, have found a bunch of those guys and have watched their chemistry flourish in the process. 

Golden State may not have one alpha male you would label the leader, but that may be a good thing. They are just a bunch of guys that get along and enjoy the game of basketball. Not only have they proved that you don't need a "leader" to be successful, but you could argue that teams are better off in an environment where everyone has an equal voice. A place where there is no separation. A place where its just a group of good guys who all share an interest of basketball and working hard.

This years NBA Draft has gotten a lot of negative labels for its lack of talent in the first round, particularly in the lottery. But what it does offer in the lottery portion of the draft is a lot of players that fit the makeup of the players I just described in the previous paragraph. Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollom, Cody Zeller, Otto Porter, and Trey Burke all would be great additions to a lockerroom. None of them are what you'd label as a "leader" such as Marcus Smart, but they are all hardworking guys that are easy to get along with by all accounts. They can mesh easily into any clubhouse and add another positive element to it. These guys also all are gyms rats who have shown lots of improvement over the years - there is no questioning where their focus is.

None of these players are what you'd typical get excited about in the lottery. But they actually seem to fit the direction a lot of lottery teams are looking to go lately. If you take a look back at the past couple of drafts, the lottery has been missing the typical "potential" or "bad character" picks. Settling for a solid rotational player has become much more of the norm.

Last year Andre Drummond was the second most talented player in the draft but fell to the ninth pick because of character concerns. Im not sure that would have happened a few years prior. Meanwhile, the ultra-talented Perry Jones III nearly slipped out of the first round - being scooped up by the Thunder with the 28th selection (by the way, the Thunder can do that because they have already established a clubhouse full of players who get along. They have a strong enough environment where they can take in guys with questionable characters issues and give them a chance to succeed. Thats the point where other teams want to get at. But as teams have found out, its necessary to establish that strong base first before gambling).

Guys like the Morris twins, Kendall Marshall, Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, and Gordan Hayward have all gone lottery in recent years over more talented players who likely would have been picked over them if the draft took place only a few years before. If you go back to 2009, thats when you can see teams still focusing on potential over character in the lottery. Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, Austin Daye, Brandon Jennings, James Johnson, and Demar Derozan all went ahead of UNC's Ty Lawson. Hasheem Thabeet went second in that draft while Tyreke Evans climbed the draft boards as he began to get hyped as the next Dwayne Wade.

There are a lot of factors that go into the change over the past few years. For one, teams may have had a hangover affect after the 2003 draft where they started to believe they could find superstars all through the lottery in any draft. It took about 5 years, but teams no longer seem to be projecting a guy to be the next great thing based on a whim.

Another factor is stability. GMs are getting shorter and shorter leashes, forcing them to make safer picks who are more ready to contribute. They also know have more knowledge fans who are now a harder sell on "potential" than in years prior. Fans get to see all prospects now and aren't wooed by any mythical prospect. You can even say that about actual GMs believe it or not.

The talent in drafts also have a lot to do with it as it tends to shape a lot of picks. While guys like Michael Beasley and OJ Mayo may not go ahead of Kevin Love now, you'd still see them going in the lottery of this years draft. There'd be a lot more skeptics on Beasley if he were coming out of college now, but teams still wouldn't pass up his talent in the lottery. 

Lastly, goals of owners may have changed. Making the playoffs every year may have proved to be a better alternative than dwindling away in the lottery each year while swinging for the fences pick after pick. There comes a time when fans lose interest and its best just to settle for putting a competitive team on the court each year. Owners and GMs alike seemed to have discovered that getting a superstar is even harder than expected and often leads to them fighting a losing battle.

Mediocrity has become a goal in a league where half the teams make the playoffs which is why this years draft class will fit in just fine.

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