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2013 NBA Draft Primer, Vol. 2: Trading Down, "Weak" Drafts, BPA vs. Need, and "Value"

At the end of last week the Blazers announced Damian Lillard, the unanimous Rookie of the Year, would be representing the Blazers at the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery. That led me to remark:

Last time our ROY rep-ed Portland at the lottery we won it.
Needless to say, I'm excited.

Obviously this is kind of thinking is post hoc ergo propter hoc, but it's whimsical. I had so much fun with the idea I created a Fanpost based on the premise that it is predetermined the Blazers will win the lottery, and wanted to know who you would pick number one overall. More than one person responded that the Blazers should trade down in the event they got the first overall pick. This surprised me for a few reasons, and those responses prompted me to continue my 2013 NBA Draft Primer series.

I want to start with talking about "weak" drafts versus "strong" drafts.The 2012 and 2013 drafts have been described as "weak" drafts, while at other pundits have noted they are "deep" drafts. Why the two, seemingly, opposite viewpoints? The answer lies in the quality vs. quantity evaluation. Every draft produces quality NBA players, whether they are drafted number one overall or 57 overall. Where the "weak" and "strong" designations come into play is in the quality of talent they produce. For instance, the 2003 draft is one of the strongest in years, having produced LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Kris Kaman, Kirk Heinrich, Nick Collison, T.J. Ford, Luke Ridnour, David West, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Steve Blake, Zaza Pachulia, Matt Bonner, Mo Williams, and Kyle Korver.

The reason it is considered one of the strongest drafts in recent memory is because of the four names at the top of the list. Sure, if you took the other 11 names and put them on a team you could probably make the playoffs (definitely in the Eastern Conference). Those 11 guys make it a "deep" draft, but the four headliners make it a "strong" draft.

Back to 2012 and 2013. The 2012 draft was deep with a lot of quality players, but none the caliber of, say, LeBron James. Anthony Davis was the best prospect and people said he could be the next Tim Duncan, but he wasn't a sure-fire franchise changer like LeBron. A lot of the players in the top 10 have the potential to make multiple All-Star teams, but only a few have a realistic shot. Your best bets, in order, are Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes. Everyone else would take a lot of work, and would need to be lucky enough to be in a stable environment with the right system (cut to Thomas Robinson sadly nodding his head from the end of the Rockets' bench).

As for the 2013 draft, the same applies. However, there is no one of Anthony Davis' quality at the top. Of everyone in the draft, Ben McLemore from Kansas has the best chance to make multiple All-Star teams, followed by Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter, Alex Len, and Anthony Bennett. That's not to say that no one else will ever be an All-Star, their odds are just a little longer. The rest of the draft is filled out with good-but-not-great players with ceilings that range from "quality starter" to "good role player" to "out of the league in four years". Even though there is a lot of potential at the top of the draft, there are no sure-fire multiple time All-Stars.

When I did my just-for-fun poll of who would you take with the number one overall pick, I gave seven options. Think about that, seven. When was the last time we had no idea who was going first overall in April? Usually we know by January or March at the latest. The 2008 draft was the Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley draft. 2009 was Blake Griffin, 2010 was John Wall, 2011 was Kyrie Irving and last year it was Anthony Davis. All consensus first-overall picks. This year, seven players have a legitimate argument to go number one overall and no one can agree on who should go first. Obviously some have a better shot than others** but the point is that in this draft the player that goes first is not going to be significantly better than the player that goes fifth. The same is true for the middle of the draft. The player the Blazers will (likely) get at 10 is not going to be appreciably better than the one that goes at 15 or even 20. They have roughly the same odds of turning into a quality starter or All-Star.

**Fine, fine. Since you're twisting my arm, here are my odds for the seven players to go number one overall (not who should go first, who I think will actually go first): Noel 33%, McLemore 30%, Otto Porter 15%, Trey Burke 10% (this high only because the Magic need a PG and have the best odds at the first overall pick), Anthony Bennett 5%, Alex Len 5%, Victor Oladipo 2%.

So when more than one person suggested the Blazers trade down it surprised me. The Thunder laid out the blueprint for small market teams to build a championship roster: lots of high lottery picks, good drafting in the late first round, smart trades, and smart management of the cap. The Thunder drafted Durnant (2nd overall), Westbrook (4), Harden (3), Serge Ibaka (24), Reggie Jackson (24), traded for Sefolosha, Perkins (though his effectiveness has declined in recent years), and this year traded Harden for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb a couple draft picks. The Warriors are another good example, drafting Curry (7), Thompson (11), Barnes (7), turned Monta Ellis into Andrew Bogut (a former first overall pick), and signed David Lee (because whenever you can turn Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and a future draft pick (which turned out to be Quincy Miller) into David Lee, you should probably do that instead of continuing to employ Ronny Turiaf, Kelenna Azubuike, and Anthony Randolph).

The Blazers in recent years have drafted very well: LaMarcus Aldridge (2nd overall), Damian Lillard (6), and Nicolas Batum (27) (the jury is still out on Meyers Leonard). They definitely made a smart signing with Wesley Matthews, and made a nice trade for Eric Maynor (who they probably should re-sign). The question facing the Blazers now is how to continue acquiring quality players to put around the "core four".

Some fans have suggested trading down no matter where the Blazers pick (at 10 or in the top three). It's an understandable temptation; if you can trade down and still acquire a player of similar quality and pick up an asset as well, then you have to call that a win. However, the way this draft is shaping up it does not appear trading down is going to be an option for the Blazers. The reason is simple: there just isn't any talent worth trading up for in this draft. Case in point: look at the poll I put up. There are SEVEN names on it. Seven guys have a legitimate argument to go number one overall. If Marcus Smart had declared for the draft that list would be eight names long.

Nothing that happened this college basketball season made any one of those seven guys stand out more than the others. Sure, Noel was quasi-dominate while on the floor, but Kentucky wasn't that good with him and he wasn't anywhere near as good as Davis. McLemore was the most electric and exciting player in college last year (and it's not even close), but in about a half dozen games you couldn't even tell he was on the court. Anthony Bennett was dominate, but his game was all raw power and effort that needs refinement for him to be an All-Star in the NBA. Alex Len made the best of an awful system his coach was either too stubborn or too stupid to change. I could go on, but you get the idea. The first 6 or 7 teams in the draft are going to be getting a player that has an argument to go number one overall. This draft is going to be ordered based mostly on need. If the Magic get the first overall pick they will likely take Noel or Burke. If the Wizards get the first pick they will likely take Noel or Bennett. If the Cavaliers get the first pick they will likely take Porter or Noel. If the Bobcats get the first pick it's likely McLemore or Porter.

The same holds true for the middle rounds. Why would, say, the Knicks want to trade up to the teens to take Gorgui Dieng when they could just wait and take Jeff Withey in the mid 20's? I think Dieng will ultimately be a better pro because he is more athletic, but if you're looking for a guy to play 15-20 minutes a night and protect the rim, there really isn't much difference between the two. I would love for the Blazers to be able to trade down if it netted them a rotation player in the process, but the most likely scenario is the Blazers either trade the pick outright for a player or keep it and add an asset. Ultimately trading down is a Catch-22. There has to be a player worth trading up to get, but if there is a player worth trading up to get then the Blazers are better off just drafting him.

Shifting gears slightly, but on the same topic, is the never-ending debate between the "need" vs. "Best Player Available" in the drat. For years those "BPA"-ers have screamed about things like "value" and passing on better players, while the "need" camp shouted back, "did you WATCH ____ (insert Nolan Smith, Raymond Felton, J.J. Hickson, Travis Outlaw, etc. etc.) play last year?!?!" Personally I tend to side with the BPA camp, just because talented players can always be turned into other talented players. The NBA is much more open to trades than the NFL, as players are more "one size fits all".

This year for the Blazers it is a little different. Going into last year's draft the Blazers had three clearly defined needs: PG, C, and SF (Batum had not been re-signed yet so it was a major question mark at the time of the draft). If you were to make a list of Portland's needs this year it looks like this:

1. Center
2. Every position.

The Blazers are set at four of their five starting spots, but there is zero depth behind them. Olshey is in a position where he has one massive, glaring need, but there isn't one position you can say the Blazers don't need help. So he is free to take the best player available in the event he keeps the pick, and doesn't have to take a center. For example, if the Blazers drafted a guard like CJ McCollum over a center like Dieng, Olshey would still be filling a need. The value vs. need comparison only really comes into play when there are significant "tiers" of players in a draft. In this draft most players are on about the same tier after the first seven or so picks. As mentioned above this is a very weak, but deep, draft. You're going to get about the same quality player at 10 as he is at 15 or 20. So if there's a player Olshey likes then he should just draft him. You only get one first round pick, you might as well come out of it with the player you like best.

This draft is going to be exciting, if only because there are a ton directions the Blazers could go. The Blazers will come out of the draft with a quality player, whether via their own draft pick or a trade. Should be a lot of fun.

Coming up next in the Draft Primer series will be the scouting reports. Now that the official combine measurements for players are out, I'll be sitting down and doing some player evaluations. Look for that net week sometime.

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