Greatest Need or Best Player Available: What the Wizards Should Do in the Everlasting Rookie Debate
[Editor’s Note: This is Andrew Abramson’s Truth About It.net debut. Andrew has been around basketball his entire life — he’s a Wizards fan, having grown up in Alexandria, Va. — and has experience working in the basketball industry. Andrew will provide insights on the business side of the NBA as well as salary cap analysis, which you’ll get a taste of below. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewA91. —John T.]
When the Portland Trail Blazers drafted seven-foot center Sam Bowie with the second overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, they were filling a position of need. Sure, there was a clearly more talented shooting guard still available who was ready and waiting to become a Blazer, but Portland already had All-Star, Jim Paxson, and a young Clyde Drexler returning at that position.
By passing on Michael Jordan, the Blazers turned in arguably the biggest draft blunder of all time — and would became the poster child for the argument that drafting the “best player available” (BPA) rather than filling the greatest need is actually the smarter, savvier move. (Unfortunately to this day Portland still subscribes to that notion. See: 2007 NBA Draft and/or Oden, Greg.) Virtually no team that picks in the top five of the draft on a given year has the luxury of drafting for need, as their roster is likely so devoid of game-changing talent. Maximizing the value of each draft slot is the name of the game and is the key to building a successful team from the ground up.
However, there are instances where drafting the BPA rather than filling a need turns out horribly wrong. Minnesota taking Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson at No. 4 in 2010, despite having Mike Beasley, Corey Brewer and Martell Webster at small forward, over a Center (DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe anyone?) is a recent example, as is New York taking Jordan Hill at No. 8 in 2009 instead of solving their point guard woes and drafting Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday or Ty Lawson. And I hate to pick on Minnesota even more, but taking Jonny Flynn at No. 6 after taking Rubio at No. 5? Even with Rubio staying in Spain for an extra two years, a top-10 pick is supposed to be a multi-year starter, not a two-year stopgap. Drafting for a position of need would have been the better move in all of those situations.
As we get closer to the draft, the Wizards could be facing this same dilemma that has seen franchises accelerate their rebuilding process or set that process back years. Failing to capitalize on a top-three pick is the surest way to severely hamper any rebuild. So should the Wizards use the No. 3 overall pick to fill a position of need (shooting guard, especially one who is a threat from the 3-point line), or should they draft the best player available, regardless of his immediate fit on the depth chart? It is a four-horse race (though Charlotte is likely to select Thomas Robinson … we think) for whom the Wizards will draft, and the opinions are mixed on if Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, or Harrison Barnes would be the best addition to the team.
Each player provides unique strengths that are currently missing from the roster, but after the addition of Trevor Ariza, as well as last year’s first-round pick Chris Singleton, is there room for another wing like MKG or Barnes? With the emergence of Kevin Seraphin last year and the addition of Emeka Okafor, allowing Nene to spend more time at the 4, is there playing time available for Thomas Robinson? And if not, is it prudent for the Wizards to select their BPA and pass up the position of need? (Note: it is very possible that Beal is their BPA, but for the sake of argument, let’s say he is not).
Examining this question further, I went back and looked at the past seven drafts and the lottery picks that have been eligible to sign rookie extensions (2008 to 2002). Out of the 98 players selected (seven years, 14 lottery picks per year), exactly HALF (49) of those players were offered multi-year extensions on their rookie deal. Focusing on pick Nos. 2, 3 and 4 overall for each of those seasons, 15 of those 21 picks were offered extensions (17 if you count O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley, both of whom are likely to receive their extensions this summer). Players receiving extensions are as follows:
Emeka Okafor (’04, Charlotte), Marvin Williams (’05, Atlanta), LaMarcus Aldridge (’06, Portland), Kevin Durant (’07, Oklahoma City), Michael Beasley (’08, likely to be offered extension this summer)*
Average Amount of Extension: $11.34 Million/year
Average MPG, first 2 seasons: 32.25
Of these players, all but Marvin Williams started in over 50 percent of their team’s games in their first two seasons in the NBA, yet even Marvin still averaged 29 MPG in his first two seasons.
2nd overall selection not offered rookie extension: Jay Williams (’02, Chicago), Darko Milicic (’03, Detroit)
Jay Williams is an anomaly, as he suffered a career-ending injury, but Darko, who was drafted BPA, started injust two of the 71 games he played in during his first two seasons.
Mike Dunleavy (’02, Golden State), Carmelo Anthony (’03, Denver), Ben Gordon (’04, Chicago), Deron Williams (’05, Utah), Al Horford (’07, Atlanta), O.J. Mayo (’08, likely to be offered extension this summer)*
Average Amount of Extension: $12.68 Million/year
Average MPG, First 2 Seasons: 30.5
Of these players, all but Ben Gordon started in over 50 percent of their team’s games in their first two seasons in the NBA, yet even Gordon still averaged 27 MPG in his first two seasons.
3rd overall selection not offered rookie extension: Adam Morrison (’06, Charlotte) Morrison started in 53 percent of the games he played in his first two seasons, but only averaged 18 MPG.
Drew Gooden (’02, Cleveland), Chris Bosh (’03, Toronto), Chris Paul (’05, New Orleans), Mike Conley, Jr. (’07, Memphis), Russell Westbrook (’08, Oklahoma City)
Average Amount of Extension: $11.80 Million/year
Average MPG, First 2 Seasons: 29.1
All of these players started in at least 67 percent of their team’s games in their first two seasons in the NBA.
4th overall selection not offered rookie extension: Shaun Livingston (’04, LA Clippers), Tyrus Thomas (’06, Chicago) Livingston started in 31 percent and Thomas started in 21 percent of their team’s games in their first two seasons.
If those seven drafts are any indication, history shows that picks 2-4 (who go on to have successful careers) will typically start more than half of the team’s games in their first two seasons and average more than 27 minutes per game. Does that mean that the Wizards NEED to draft a player at a position where he will get these types of numbers, in order to ensure his development? Not necessarily. But there is a common theme here. Of the 16 players who have received or are likely to receive extensions on their rookie deal, all but two were starters in their first two seasons (neither of whom were given starter’s minutes). They were drafted at positions of need, inserted into the starting lineup or received starter’s minutes, and flourished. If the Wizards were to use this model to base who they select, there choice is likely Bradley Beal.
Inspecting the Wizards likely roster for 2012-13 and trying to decide between Beal, MKG, Barnes, and T-Rob, it is important to look at the minutes that may be accessible to each.
Jordan Crawford averaged 30 MPG after Nick Young was traded. Cartier Martin averaged 23 MPG in the 17 games he played, but he’s an unrestricted free agent and likely won’t be re-signed. No one else returning on the roster is effective at SG, though Shelvin Mack can play spot duty there if needed. If the Wizards draft Beal, he will likely average 23-26 MPG, reducing Crawford’s minutes by 7-10 per game, with a veteran (like a Roger Mason) or a second-round pick to fill the remaining few minutes. Barnes can likely play minutes at here as well, but even he admits that moving to the shooting guard position would be a major adjustment.
As a side note: Perhaps the Wizards may use the Mid-Level Exception, though it has yet to be determined if they will have access to the Full Mid-Level ($5,000,000) or the Partial Mid-Level ($2,500,000). In order to get the Full Mid-Level, the Wizards must be above the salary cap (projected at $58 million) but below the luxury tax line ($70 million). As it stands now, the Wizards have spent a little more than $56 million, and that is with the likely-to-be-amnestied Andrey Blatche’s $7.1 million still on the books (I promise this is the only time I will mention his name in this article). The No. 3 pick will earn approximately $4.3 million next year and the No. 32 pick will earn approximately $750K, so that will leave the Wizards with about $4 million of cap room and one player to sign (including the second rounder) to fill out the active roster.
“This pick is extremely important for the Wizards’ future. … If Beal is not the choice, then trading down is a must.”
The two forward positions are much murkier now, post-Ariza/Okafor trade. At SF, the Wizards now have depth, but are short on minutes. Ariza comes to DC having averaged 33 MPG the past two seasons with New Orleans. Chris Singleton, the 18th overall pick last year and a player who should see his minutes dip, rather than increase, in his second season. Though he averaged 22 MPG last year, that should decline with another solid SF on the roster. Between Ariza, who will get 22-25 MPG, and Singleton, who is too young to be given up on, where does MKG or Barnes fit? By drafting MKG or Barnes and forcing them into action, Singleton’s will likely see the end of significant minutes, one year removed from being in the green room at the NBA Draft.
At PF, the Wizards now have a combination of Nene (moving back to his more natural position with the addition of Okafor, though he will certainly still spend time at center), Kevin Seraphin, Booker, and Vesely. Nene will likely spend 7-10 MPG at center and another 15-18 as the starting PF. Seraphin averaged 32 MPG the last month of the season and while that may seem like a large number, he clearly deserved those minutes. If he continues his development even further this season, he should average around 25 MPG at the 4 and a few more minutes backing up at the 5. Between Nene and Seraphin, 38-42 of the potential 48 minutes are taken. And again, you have to factor in Booker (25 MPG in 11-12) and Vesely (19 MPG in 11-12) getting minutes at the 4 as well.
Clearly, there are not a whole lot of minutes to be had anywhere other than at shooting guard for the upcoming season that aren’t coming at the cost of inhibiting young talent. However, for 2013-14, Vesely, Singleton, Booker, Seraphin and Crawford all have team options. All of those options are at a reasonable cost for the Wizards to pick up, though Vesely’s will be the priciest at $3,340,920. If the Wizards draft either MKG, Barnes or T-Rob, it will give them some pause to picking up the option on Vesely, Singleton, or Booker, which would be disturbing considering none have ever scratched the surface of their potential yet. More room would open up for MKG in 2014-15 once Ariza is off the books, but the Wizards need help now and don’t have the luxury of hampering their other young players’ development to let MKG or Robinson learn on the job.
If Beal is gone when the Wizards pick, then they should trade down and find the next best SG, such asSyracuse’s Dion Waiters or UConn’s Jeremy Lamb — the only move they can make in order to ensure the development of the young forwards currently on the roster and give their rookie enough minutes and game experience to earn an extension down the road. None of the four players in the mix at No. 3 is a “can’t miss” talent, and the level of player that they could get at picks 8-12 could easily have a better career than those going in the top five. If the Wizards don’t draft a true shooting guard, they will almost certainly move one of their young forwards — Singleton, Vesely, Booker, or Seraphin — in an attempt to make room for the rookie. It is too early to give up on Singleton and certainly too early to give up on Vesely, so is it worth getting rid of Booker or Seraphin to draft Thomas Robinson, when instead they could draft Beal, Waiters, Lamb, or Austin Rivers and in two years get rid of Jordan Crawford?
Most teams picking in the top-three don’t have the luxury of drafting for need. The Washington Wizards do. People argue that MKG will bring a “culture change,” or that Barnes is the best pure shooter, or that Robinson is a beast in the front court. While all of those may be true, they are not enough to mask the deficiencies of the Wizards’ backcourt.
If the Wizards traded down and received an additional first round pick from, say, Houston (who owns picks 12, 14 and 18), they would have enough money to sign both picks and remain right at the cap, could select a shooting guard who will come in and play minutes right away, and could use their 32nd pick to draft a talented European who they can stash overseas.
This pick is extremely important for the Wizards’ future. They need a great player, and they need him to be great quickly. The only way to do that is to draft a player who has a chance to get on the floor. If Beal is not the choice, then trading down is a must. If the Wizards do not walk away with a shooting guard NBA-ready to play big minutes, the night is a failure and the additions or Ariza and Okafor will prove fruitless.