Basketball Magazine

The Strategy Behind the NBA Draft - Science Or Myth?

By Beardandstache @BeardAndStache

The Strategy Behind the NBA Draft - Science or Myth?

Photo: NBA.com

- Adam Parker
We made it, everyone.
The painstakingly long wait (at least it felt that way for us) for the 2012 NBA Draft is finally over.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you know by now that Kentucky big man -- Anthony "The Brow" Davis -- is a lock to be the consensus first overall pick to the New Orleans Hornets tonight. After that, the draft figures to resemble the series finale of Lost -- questions upon questions.
While we wait for the suspense to end with NBA commissioner David Stern's announcement at the podium, I'd like to discuss the NBA Draft process as a whole - from the pre-draft hype to the war-room stratagems - and why the same teams usually come out as winners once the final pick is announced.
The NBA Draft is unlike any other spectacle in sports. Just imagine this -- Begin with a cluster of young international prospects and college kids becoming instant millionaires on national television. Add thousands of fans on hand at New Jersey's Prudential Center to cheer for what is essentially a glorified livestock auction.
Throw in representatives from thirty teams sitting anxiously in their respective draft “war rooms”, constantly working the phones, and then rushing to hand off their pick to representatives from the NBA before the enormous clock strikes zero. And finally, visualize a never-ending avalanche of in-depth analysis from commentators on gigantic television sets, all talking about the same four or five storylines for close to five hours straight.
All happening in one place. All at the same time. That is the NBA Draft.
Underneath all the glamour however, the Draft is a spirited struggle between teams looking to improve. Especially since the Draft has become the most important aspect of building a winning team in the modern day NBA. The draft is its own kind of game, with winners and losers, conflicting strategies, and endless gamesmanship.
In many ways, I liken the NBA Draft to the Masters Championship on the PGA Tour. They both take place during the late spring/early summer months and there is always tons of hype built up around them.
While NBA team representatives and scouts are busy scouting talent and compiling mock draft boards, professional golfers and their caddies are out at Augusta National walking the course and getting a feel for the way it might play. Another thing that you notice is that the best players always tend to be in the hunt for that coveted Green Jacket on the final day, just as the same teams usually have the most successful drafts every year.
Scouting and evaluating potential NBA talent is one of the most pivotal aspects involved in preparing for the Draft, and unfortunately, the predictability is comparable to betting on horse races. Obviously nobody knows for sure which prospects will go on to have successful NBA careers.
You can use your scouting reports to try and put together a list of favorites or “sure things”, you can even have Chad Ford counseling you about the best overall prospects to fit your team's scheme with his seven different mock drafts and Jay Bilas spewing his endless love for a prospect's wingspan.
But in the end, at least on some level, the entire process is still just a guessing game. So if it truly is just hit or miss, how is it that the same teams are so prosperous year after year? To truly understand this from a competitive standpoint, let's take a look at a team with one of the best front offices in the league – the San Antonio Spurs.
Think about it like this: the strategy for Greg Poppovich and the Spurs' brass is no different from NFL quarterback Peyton Manning analyzing the defense during pregame film sessions. During every game or draft, without fail, you'll find that both are constantly looking to make adjustments to exploit the situation at hand.
Just as Manning can never be sure that new teammate Eric Decker or Jacob Tamme will make the catch in the end zone, the Spurs can't know whether their rookies will succeed. But what they can do is put their team in the best position to exploit the draft choices they're given each year; just like Manning can change the game plan and still exploit the defense completely by making pre-play audibles.
The Spurs are persistently, compulsively, looking for that edge every season. No different than Manning yelling out instructions to his teammates in the huddle. It may not always be pretty, but it's successful.
Every year it's the same story. Teams like the Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers, and Celtics are model NBA franchises from top to bottom. They all understand that the draft is like playing the lottery.
Instead of putting all their eggs into one basket by pursuing the Mega Millions Jackpot (a big name first round talent) which may or may not pan out, they play the percentages and stockpile basic lottery tickets (additional draft picks) by taking advantage of desperate teams looking to move up to draft what they hope will be the next franchise cornerstone like the one and only Michael Jeffrey Jordan. But for every Jordan, there's at least another four or five Sam Bowies.
There are many methods that lead to prosperity in the NBA Draft, but hoarding future picks, or if not, taking the best player available regardless of need, is the most consistent way to “win” the Draft. Picking the right players is still important, but with a hundred different variables determining a guy's success in the pros, nobody can get them right all the time.
One variable you can control? Having the most chances at success, even it means picking lower, and adding less-prestigious players.
To make this simpler: imagine the draft is like chess, where ideally, every piece you add makes you better. Would you rather mortgage your draft to trade up for a chance at a King or Queen in the top ten, or stand pat and draft one bishop in the late first, and a Pawn with the potential to become a Knight or Rook in the second round?
Think about it: every single time, a team with more good pieces beats a team with only one King and that's assuming that every top ten pick pans out, which we know is not the case. This is why we see so many of the same teams, like the Washington Wizards or Charlotte Bobcats recently, end up drafting in the top ten every year.
They keep hoping for Kings, when the winning teams are happy to add a handful of Bishops and Rooks. But I'll leave it up to our readers: If you were in an NBA front office position, which method would you use? The future of your team rests on your decision; so make a move, because you're on the clock.
Be sure to follow Beard And Stache on Twitter @BeardAndStache, and also Adam @Adam_Parker43, Like our Facebook page HERE!

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