Who should win the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery?

Karl-Anthony Towns

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.

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1994 NBA Draft revisited: Kidd, Hill, Big Dog & Co.

The ’93 Draft, which was revisited here last week, was deemed “not great” by esteemed readers of the blog. 1994 was certainly worse, producing no MVPs, just five All-Stars, and a No. 1 pick whose career was underwhelming.

However, it did yield one of the all-time greats at his position (Jason Kidd), one of the original “next Michael Jordan” candidates (Grant Hill), the largest ever rookie contract (Glenn Robinson), and the first ever $100 million player (Juwan Howard).

Here are the top 10 picks, retrospectively re-ordered to reflect each player’s NBA accomplishments:

1) Jason Kidd (picked No. 2 by Dallas)


1,391 games, 36.0 minutes, 12.6 points, 8.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 40.0% FGs, 17.9 PER.

Best season: 2002/03 – 80 games, 18.7 points, 8.9 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 41.4% FGs, 22.2 PER, 49-33 record, All-NBA 2nd team.

Most memorable moment: 30-point, 10-assist performance in Game 3 of the ’02 Finals.

Kidd was the best point guard of his generation and is an easy choice for No. 1 here, even if he did inexplicably die his hair blonde, assault his ex-wife, and get traded twice during his prime.

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Who should win the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery?


The 2014 NBA Draft Lottery will be held tonight. This year’s draft class (featuring Andrew Wiggins, pictured above) is a particularly impressive one, so it is more important than ever that the lottery rewards the right teams. Here I rank the lottery teams in order, from most deserving to least deserving of winning the top pick.

The order is determined by Davometrics – a balanced consideration of each franchise’s fanbase, history, location, ownership, front office and existing talent.

I want to see the best young prospects in the world playing 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 to win; and preferably in a large, desirable metropolis that offers superior living and marketing opportunities.

Bonus points for other reasons will be awarded to a team’s case wherever I see fit.

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NBA greats’ questionable knowledge of NBA greats

Several weeks ago, Karl Malone named his all-time NBA starting five. Upon close inspection, his selections were dubious. The Mailman, it turns out, is not the only great player with less-great knowledge of NBA history. This summer several all-timers have offered their takes on who’s greatest. Let us examine their picks.

Most recently, Gary Payton was asked to name his all-time top three. He went with Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell.

No Michael Jordan, GP? “I like old school dudes” was Payton’s completely incomplete reasoning. There is likely some heavy ’96 residue in effect here; it was Jordan’s Bulls who defeated Payton’s Sonics that year in their only trip to the Finals.


Payton always believed he could contain Mike one-on-one, and still maintains the Sonics would have won the series if he’d had the chance to guard him from Game 1 (cheers, George Karl). On the other hand, perhaps GP is just a flat out bad judge of talent. After all, he still considers Kobe Bryant to be the best player in the league.

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The curious, indefensible Finals passiveness of LeBron James


The Miami Heat trail the San Antonio Spurs 2-1 in the NBA Finals. LeBron James has opened the series with scoring totals of 18, 17, and 15 points. The only other time since his rookie season (a span of 832 games) that James has scored less than 20 points in three consecutive outings? The 2011 Finals against Dallas.

That LeBron’s worst bouts of offensive futility have happened in the Finals has to be of grave concern to his devoted fans, many of whom are obsessed with the idea of him going down as one of the top two or three players in NBA history—if not the best player of all time. His all-important “legacy”, already stained by the top-seeded Cavs’ early exits in 2009 and 2010, the Decision, and the 2011 Finals, will not be able to sustain another major hit if their dreams are to retain even the remotest chances of coming true.

A quick, dramatic turnaround in Game 4 versus the Spurs is essential then for James. He must stop playing into San Antonio’s hands. Yes, they are a sound and smart defensive unit with a clear-headed game plan—sag off of LeBron, protect the paint, and do not allow him any easy paths to the rim. Yes, Kawhi Leonard has long arms, quick feet, and great hands. But James is the most physically gifted athlete in the history of the league. He also has a high (though perhaps highly overrated) basketball IQ. Passiveness will not get it done. He should know this.

 Taking just two shots in the first quarter, with his teammates struggling to find their groove, is not good enough. But it’s also the quality of the shots LeBron is taking that is appalling. Witness him sizing up Tiago Splitter off the dribble, grinding the Heat offense to a halt, and deciding to settle for a lazy, hare-brained step-back three:

Even on markedly better shots—such as this midrange J over Kawhi Leonard—he is neglecting to make quick-hitting moves and appears indecisive: I don’t really want to take this shot, but I don’t trust myself to get past you for a better shot, so I better just chuck it up.

This is not good enough. Averaging two foul shots per game for the series is not good enough. Settling for another ill-advised three and then compounding the error by allowing Kawhi Leonard to streak out for a dunk is not good enough. Moping around with stressed and depressed body language at the time of the season when his teammates need his positive leadership more than ever, as Cavs fans will attest to, will not get it done. He should know ALL of this.

He needs to attack. He needs to be decisive. He needs to get on the move, he needs to get involved. He needs to get in the post. He needs to force the issue, he needs to draw contact and draw fouls. He needs to put pressure on the Spurs. He needs to be selfish.

No team, no matter how advanced their defense, is capable of reducing a dominant offensive player to a bystander without that player playing into their hands. Danny Green agrees: “He’s kind of stopping himself out there,” he said of James after Game 3.

 For those who believe LeBron has the same level of basketball intelligence, leadership skills, and mental makeup of Magic Johnson, it must have been a blow to hear Earvin call him out after Game 3: “I don’t want to hear any excuses anymore. The man has got to be aggressive… You’re the best player in the world! You have got to be aggressive and score points.”

For all his passing gifts, Magic’s most iconic moment is the Baby Hook over Parish and McHale. Magic knew as a player when it was time to seize the moment and become a scorer. Fans believe LeBron is part Magic, part Jordan. But Magic had that Jordan killer instinct; genuine doubts are now resurfacing over whether LeBron possesses the same trait. 

The good news for LeBron fans: Game 4 is tonight. The last time their hero faced this much pressure was prior to Game 6 of the Conference Finals last season. We all know what happened next. There’s a reasonable chance he does something similar tonight. If he does, though, it will only reinforce the point: he should have done so sooner. The passiveness is indefensible.

It is curious and unprecedented that an all-time great in the prime of his career once again seems so unprepared to properly take advantage of his gifts at the most crucial point in the season. LeBron can turn this series and story line around, but not without drastically changing his approach. It is disappointing that he is at this point again.


Examining Karl Malone’s all-time NBA starting five


Karl Malone named his all-time NBA team on the Dan Patrick Show yesterday:

C: Wilt Chamberlain
PF: LeBron James
SF: Scottie Pippen
SG: Oscar Robertson
PG: John Stockton 

No Magic Johnson? No Michael Jordan? No Larry Bird? No Tim Duncan? No Bill Russell? Malone somehow managed to miss off arguably the best player at every single position, and simultaneously include two players (Stockton and Pippen) who failed to win a single MVP award. The five men have only two Finals MVP awards (Wilt ‘72 and LeBron ’12) between them.

Indeed, through years of hearing NBA observers rattle off their respective all-time starting fives, Malone’s is one combination I have never heard chosen. This perhaps serves as the latest example of why great players do not make great analysts or judges of talent (note the front office work of MJ, Isiah Thomas, and Elgin Baylor).

Malone is likely an under-qualified NBA historian (how many hours does he really spend poring over game tape and comparing players’ stats?), and a Jordan adversary still burned by two Finals defeats to the greatest player of all time.

His muddy reasoning for including Scottie over Michael: “Scottie Pippen led the team in every statistical category when he was there without Michael Jordan.” 


Let us, however, give the Mailman a gigantic pass and benefit of the doubt, and let us see the good in his selections. Let us consider how this team would fare in actual games against a more conventional all-time five.

We can forgive the inclusion of Stockton. Whilst Malone himself (two MVPs, second all-time in points scored) likely has a better claim to make the team, we have to cut him some slack for showing loyalty to his former teammate and pick-and-roll partner. Stockton was a tough-as-nails (read: dirty) competitor who made five All-NBA Defensive second teams and is the all-time leader in assists. He was a notably clutch shooter (see here, here, and here) who shot 39% on 3-pointers during his prime (’88 to ’98)—a valuable asset on a team where teammates are likely to be double teamed late in games.

We can also understand the inclusion of Wilt. Even though Russell has 11 rings and Phil Jackson states that Russell would be his No. 1 pick in an all-time NBA draft, the Wilt/Russell debate is one that will never be truly settled thanks to Wilt’s absurd athletic gifts and unfathomable numbers (50.4 PPG and 25.7 RPG in 1961/62—not a typo). Surrounded by better, more success-driven, defense-oriented teammates, Wilt would in theory be inspired to put his physical advantages to their best use.

The LeBron/Scottie/Oscar trio is where it really gets interesting—and less easy to defend with conventional arguments. LeBron is thus far 1-for-3 in the NBA Finals, and neither Scottie nor Oscar ever won a title as the lead guy. Let us ignore that. Let us imagine that Malone is mapping out a forward-thinking blueprint of long-armed, athletic, multi-positional perimeter defense and unselfish wing play. The other team can have MJ; he’ll struggle to score efficiently against this trio and likely won’t involve his teammates nearly as well either. How will a small forward/power forward combo of Bird and Duncan deal defensively with Pippen and James? More generally, has a more athletic frontcourt than Scottie/LeBron/Wilt ever been put together on a basketball court?

Alas, no team is perfect, and there are a series of potential pitfalls for Team Malone. What if one ball is not enough for four primary ballhandlers? What if LeBron finds that Tim Duncan is even tougher to guard down low than David West?  What if Scottie’s migraines resurface? What if Wilt spends more time worrying about his stats than worrying about winning? What if LeBron pisses off Oscar by suggesting he partake in a moronic Harlem Shake video? What if Oscar pisses off his teammates with his generally moody behavior? What if John Stockton is eight inches shorter than the opposing point guard? What if the other team plays Hack-a-Wilt? What if a team with 41 career All-NBA First Team selections (Magic/Jordan/Bird/Duncan/Russell) is simply better than a team with 28 of them (Stockton/Robertson/Pippen/James/Chamberlain)?

The beauty of the debate is that we will never know.