It is that time of year again. The 2015 NBA Draft Lottery will be held tonight. Who deserves to win it?
I like to imagine a world in which the draft order is determined by Davometrics – my balanced consideration of each franchise’s fan base, history, location, ownership, front office, existing talent and any other miscellaneous factors that I consider relevant.
I want the best young prospects (such as Karl-Anthony Towns, pictured above) to have the chance to develop in the best possible basketball environment: in front of sold-out crowds of educated, passionate fans who will appreciate watching them develop; for owners who are financially committed to surrounding them with the necessary talent; preferably in a large, thriving metropolis that offers a superior quality of life and great marketing opportunities.
Thus, after careful consideration, I rank the 14 lottery teams as follows – from most deserving to least deserving of winning the top pick:
1) New York Knicks (No. 1 pick probability: 19.9%)
There is no bigger market than New York and no better stage than Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are the league’s ultimate flagship franchise and their fans are passionate, intelligent, demanding and starved of success. Over the last 15 years they are one of just three teams to lose 700 combined games – it is time they were given a helping hand.
No situation is perfect, and the imperfections here involve a strange owner (James Dolan), a thus-far inept team president (Phil Jackson) and a poorly-constructed roster. If Towns wound up here though he would get to live in the capital of the world, play in front of a sold-out home crowd every night, have his name called by the greatest PA announcer in the NBA and never have to worry about whether said strange owner is willing to spend big bucks. He would also have the chance to make the playoffs a lot sooner than he would in the West, would begin his career playing alongside a bona fide star in Carmelo Anthony, and would go down as a certified legend if he ever turned the Knicks into contenders.
Moreover, Towns is a New Jersey native who grew up dreaming of playing for the team from across the Hudson. In a New York Post interview yesterday he stated that he got “chills” when he stepped foot in the Garden for the first time. He gets it. He even gets excited talking about John Starks. He is clearly a man after my own heart, and this is clearly a match made in basketball heaven. Let it be, basketball gods. It is the 30-year anniversary of the infamous 1985 Draft Lottery, and this would be the right way to celebrate it.
2) Los Angeles Lakers (11.9%)
Sunshine, palm trees and the second-largest media market in America make this a forever desirable and deserving destination. The Lakers boast a great fan base, one of the richest histories in the NBA, and a track record of building successful teams around a long line of superstars. Their two titles in the last seven years make them less deserving than the Knicks of some good fortune, but this is the team that gave the basketball world Chick Hearn, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Showtime and Nick Van Exel, the greatest No. 37 pick in the history of the NBA. They are always deserving of good fortune.
3) Miami Heat (1.1%)
South Beach, beautiful weather, no state income tax and one of the best infrastructures in the league make this a great destination for any draftee. There are few ownership/front office combos more trustworthy than Micky Arison and Pat Riley, and there are even fewer arenas that back on to an exotic bay full of real-life dolphins. Adding a young impact player to the mix of Wade, Bosh, Dragic, Deng and Hassanity could conceivably make Miami contenders again in a conference that needs more of them. I’m all for it. The Heat just do not have the fan base or historical significance to compete with the Knicks or the Lakers for a top-two spot here.
4) Utah Jazz (0.7%)
Salt Lake City will never be an A-list NBA destination, but Utah has some lovely mountains and the Jazz are a well-run franchise with a proud tradition and a rabid home crowd that again ranked in the top ten in attendance this season despite having no shot of making the playoffs. They built up good basketball karma by going 21-11 over their last 32 games when other teams were busy tanking, and in Rudy Gobert (4.7 blocks per 100 possessions) and Gordon Hayward (19.3 PPG) they have a couple of potential All-Stars to build around.
5) Charlotte Hornets (1.7%)
We know what Hornets fans are capable of – 364 straight 23,000-strong sell-outs meant they led the league in attendance for nine straight seasons during the ‘90s – and they now finally have their original name and uniform colours back. A top pick could help propel them back to nationwide relevance, and that would be a nice story. Michael Jordan has had some missteps in his years as an NBA owner and executive, but he helped make the league what it is today – who wouldn’t want to see him and his jeans enjoy a little good fortune?
6) Sacramento Kings (6.3%)
Kings fans are as loud as any when they have something to cheer and are deserving of some good fortune. Moreover, Sacramento may not be that bad a place to live – studies recently found it to be the most integrated city in the U.S., the weather is decent and one native even reports that it boasts “an amazing downtown area.” This is the most bizarrely run franchise in the NBA though – putting the career of one of the game’s top young prospects in the hands of Vivek Ranadivé would be equally fascinating and terrifying.
7) Orlando Magic (8.8%)
With year-round warm weather, Disney World and a thriving downtown, Orlando is routinely the most visited city in the U.S. and was voted the fourth most desirable place to live. The basketball team has a state-of-the-art arena, a decent crowd and a few nice pieces to build around (Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and ESPN Analytics Rookie of the Year, Elfrid Peyton). With an additional star and an above-average coach, they could make some noise in the East within a couple of seasons.
8) Phoenix Suns (0.6%)
The Suns built up an immense amount of good karma during their run-and-fun, 48-win, anti-tank 2013/14 season – and then blew most of it by signing Isaiah Thomas, alienating Goran Dragic, and ultimately trading both of them in a series of head-scratchers. Phoenix is still a dynamic warm-weather city that is predicted to be the 4th-largest in the U.S. by 2020 http://growthnation.com/azigg/why-phoenix/, and the Suns’ roster still features some promising pieces, but their unreliable front office and fair-weather fans (23rd, 24th and 21st in attendance the last three seasons) ultimately make this a place to be somewhat wary of as a top draftee.
9) Detroit Pistons (2.8%)
The Pistons, 16-time a Conference Finalists, are a team with a proud history that has never been this irrelevant for this long. A decade of Joe Dumars roster mismanagement means the fans are deserving of a little lotto luck and Stan Van Gundy’s brazen decision to waive Josh Smith should be worth a little good karma. Ultimately though their fans have shown little loyalty in the lean times (four straight years in the bottom five for attendance), PA announcer Mason’s gimmicky starting lineup intros are not what they used to be, and Detroit is anything but a destination city. The middle of the lottery is where they belong.
10) Denver Nuggets (4.3%)
Average roster, average fans, slightly above-average city, well-above average altitude. It would neither inspire joy nor anger if the Nuggets won a top-three pick, but they already had their chance with Melo.
11) Indiana Pacers (0.7%)
On the plus side, a top pick and a healthy Paul George could make the Pacers legitimate challengers again in the East, and it would be refreshing to see a non-tanking team rewarded. On the minus side, no neutral actually wants to have to watch more Indiana Pacers games, and their fans are as fair-weather as any despite Indiana having a reputation for being a basketball hotbed.
12) Philadelphia 76ers (15.6%)
Last year I wrote that the Sixers “are a sad-sack tanking franchise in a city that is only good for its cheesesteak and that treats basketball as the fourth-most important professional sport.” Sadly, nothing has changed there.
13) Oklahoma City Thunder (0.5%)
The Thunder currently possess two of the ten best basketball players on the planet (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook), but their penny-pinching owner and asleep-at-the-switch GM have done a terrible job of putting them in a position to succeed for the past three years. Their fans, as I wrote in a Huffington Post article a year ago, are thoroughly overrated, and Oklahoma City is a place no red-blooded young male should have to re-locate to. This team was stolen from the great city of Seattle and the people that run it are deserving of zero good fortune.
14) Minnesota Timberwolves (25.0%)
One of the most undesirable locations in the NBA and a franchise with no history of relevance, an indifferent fan base, and a coach/president/part-owner who is not particularly good at carrying out any of his duties. The chance to see Wiggins and Towns grow together would be mildly interesting, but the chances are that one of them would leave or that hell would freeze over before the Wolves ever reach contender status. Sorry, Flip.
Alas, Davometrics do not actually get to determine the draft order and by virtue of the current system, the Timberwolves are favourites to win the top pick and are guaranteed the 4th pick at worst – the lotto results only determine the top three picks and the rest are determined by record.
The good news is that there is a 75% chance the top pick will not end up in Minnesota. Indeed, the last time a team with the worst record was rewarded with the top pick was 2004. Since then, the team with the 9th-worst record has won it twice – a good omen for the Hornets, perhaps.
The Lakers, with the 4th-worst record, have historical cause for both optimism and concern. New Orleans won the top pick (and the future MVP) with the 4th-worst record in 2012, but in both 2010 and 2011 the 4th-worst teams fell to No. 6 – a fate that would see the Lakers lose their pick altogether to none other than the Sixers, who could walk away with the 1st and 6th picks despite only really deserving the 12th. Such is the madness of the lottery.
The basketball gods should know better though. The NBA is in very good shape right now, but it would be in even better shape if its two biggest-market teams – the Knicks and Lakers – were alive and kicking. Their fans deserve it, their cities deserve it, the league deserves it. Give them the top two picks and be done with it.