The annual NBA Draft Lottery is tonight. The purpose of the draft is to enable the teams with the worst records the previous season to select the best players available in order to even the playing field, prospectively. All the teams who missed the playoffs are eligible to win the rights to the top pick. The draft order for the top picks is set by weighted lottery with the worst teams having the best chance. In order to discourage the worst teams from losing games intentionally, the team with the worst record only has a 25% chance of picking first.
All the so-called experts predict that there are at least two “sure-fire, can’t miss” players available – Jahlil Okafor of Duke and Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky – who will likely be drafted #s 1 and 2. But, history tells that there is no such thing as a “sure thing” when drafting collegians. History tells us that the draft is basically “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware.”
Okafor and Towns may, indeed, become superstars, but past drafts are filled with very high picks that were busts. For example, does anyone remember Greg Oden, La Rue Martin, or Sam Bowie? Oden and Martin were first overall picks, Oden by the Trail Blazers in 2007 and Martin by the Blazers in 1972, who, due to injury and/or lack of talent, never “made it.” Drafting a bust in the first round is bad enough, but when it’s the very first pick, it’s time to run and hide from the fans.
Then, there was Sam Bowie, whom the Blazers drafted #2 in 1984 ahead of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, among others. (I’m really not intending to pick on the Blazers here, but facts are facts. As Casey Stengel used to say, “you could look it up.”). You may have heard of those guys. Jordan led the Bulls to six championships and is considered by many to be the best player ever. Barkley and Stockton were perennial all-stars, were voted into the Hall of Fame and selected to the NBA’s “50 Greatest Players in NBA History List.” Bowie had a brief, injury-checkered career, and, today, is the answer to a trivia question.
Tonight, when you watch the draft remember that, as the saying goes, the only sure thing is that there is no sure thing. Be tolerant of your team’s decision makers. History says you won’t know how successful they were for at least a couple of years. Consider, that when the Knicks drafted Patrick Ewing in 1985, everyone assumed he would lead the Knicks to multiple championships. Ewing was an outstanding player – perennial all-star, Hall of Famer and Top 50 player, but he never did win any championships. You never know.