As the Lakers lose night after night, part of the fan base laments another bad loss with uncompetitive fourth quarters becoming the norm. However, the other part of the fan base--maybe the louder portion--reluctantly expresses glee at their favorite team being taken down once again. The reason? Keeping "the tank" rolling towards a high pick in this year's draft.
The more games the Lakers lose, the better probability that the team will have a higher--and thus logically better--selection in June's NBA Draft. It's a painful reality to face when one realizes that losing now may be the best way to ensure the organization's long-term chances of winning. Fans have embraced it almost too easily, a strange reality considering the franchise's long history of winning year after year.
If kept on the current trajectory over the next week and a half, the Lakers will most likely fall somewhere between pick no. 5 and 8 in the Draft. With a stroke of luck, they could end up with as high as the number one pick, though the percentage chance of that happening ranges from 2% all the way up to a sizzling 12% depending on how the rest of the season shakes out.
While this isn't the most glamorous pick, as my colleague Ben Rosales pointed out in his superb article last week, there's a bevy of great players to be had in those spots. The point of his post was to address Lakers fans out there who have cried doom if the Lakers don't get within the Draft's top four selections when potential future All-Stars like Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum could all be available. I too have seen the same type of cries, with some suggesting that if the franchise doesn't grab a top-4 pick, this season of losing won't even be worth it.
Aside from the players that Ben covered in his piece, I've examined the drafts going back to 2003 to see exactly how they unfurled. Combining an inexact formula of All-NBA Team berths, Win Shares and the simple eye test, I've examined the best players in each draft class along with their actual position, as well as the "busts" from every year in the top 5. Again, this is an inexact science, so if I offend your sensibilities, my apologies.
I'm kidding. I don't really care about your sensibilities.
2003: LeBron James (1), Dwyane Wade (5), Carmelo Anthony (3), Chris Bosh (4), David West (18)
Busts: Darko Milicic (2)
Busts: Shaun Livingston (4)
Busts: Marvin Williams (2)
Busts: Greg Oden (1)
Busts: Michael Beasley (2), O.J. Mayo (3)
Busts: Hasheem Thabeet (2)
2011: Kyrie Irving (1), Kenneth Faried (22), Kawhi Leonard (15), Chandler Parsons (38), Klay Thompson (11)
Busts: Derrick Williams (2), Enes Kanter (3)
There are a couple key takeaways here that I can glean from my crack research.
- In every draft, there are traditionally only between one and four "franchise" stars. I would argue that the 2011 class may not even have one, depending on how Irving's career plays out.
- These franchise stars are usually top-5 picks. GMs, no matter how much we want to think so sometimes, usually can identify game-changing talent when they see it.
- Each draft has several multi-time All-Stars, numbering anywhere between five and seven.
- Every draft, no matter how exalted it is coming out of the gate, will always have a draft bust in the illustrious top-5 picks. Every time.
- I didn't include the 2012 and 2013 draft classes, as it's too early to make any meaningful conclusions from either year, except for the fact that Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard are headed for fantastic careers.
But the most meaningful deduction we can hold up here?
Even if there are only a few All-Stars and franchise players in every draft, it doesn't mean that they're taken at the top of the draft. Just because any particular draft may be a "two or three player" draft will not mean that those two men are taken 1-2 on that late June night. In fact, that rarely happens, if ever.
Lakers fans everywhere are bellyaching that the team won't have that top-4 pick to grab the best talents available. Yes, that may be true. But when we're talking about such a poor team like the Lakers who are intimately tied to a top-7 pick, the real conclusion is if the front office will be able to get lucky and pick that franchise star that can and will fall outside those first four selections.
Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak need to see the goods in a player like Dwyane Wade, who went fifth in 2003 and is arguably one of the best five shooting guards ever. Or to see that Rajon Rondo had the potential of a multi-time All-Star at the 21st pick. Or that taking two players with huge question marks at the time like Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook was a much sounder choice than taking guys with a NBA-ready look like O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley.
Even if the Lakers fall to pick 8, 9 or 10, there's still cause for hope. Fans in Indiana, Chicago and Oakland are pretty happy with the players they got in Paul George (10), Joakim Noah (9) and Stephen Curry (7), despite not being anywhere close to the upper crust of the lottery. This year, that could be a guy like Julius Randle (on the precipice of winning a National title with Kentucky), Indiana's Noah Vonleh or Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart.
Getting that top-4 pick helps, there's no doubt about that. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthoy, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and James Harden were all selected in that illustrious area. However, predicting doom for this Lakers draft pick is incredibly premature based on the façade of mathematics. The real question here is if Buss and Kupchak can take advantage of any front office missteps that may happen before them. If that ends up happening, Lakers fans will be more than happy with their pick, no matter where it falls in this draft.