Basketball’s ‘Draft Lottery’ is a smokescreen.
Every year the NBA makes a TV event out of their lottery to
decide who picks first in the draft. However, when the draft itself comes
around, teams have a better idea of what they are getting than in perhaps any
other sport. Analysts agree that the odds of finding a marquee talent are
minimal when you get beyond the first half of the first round.
Just take a look at the draft position of these notable
basketball Hall of Famers who make the NBA’s all-time top 50 list, plus current
LeBron James: 1st round, 1st overall
Dwight Howard: 1st round, 1st overall
Kobe Bryant: 1st round, 13th overall
Magic Johnson: 1st round, 1st overall
Michael Jordan: 1st round, 3rd overall
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1st round, 1st
Julius Erving: 1st round, 12th overall
Oscar Robertson: 1st round, 1st
Bill Russell: 1st round, 2nd overall
Notice a pattern?
The NBA draft is the most predictable in American
professional sports, both in terms of who teams will take, and the success they
will have with them.
Compare that to baseball – the least predictable in both respects, with a sampling of the greatest
Hall of Famer and current players since the draft was instituted in 1965,
according to a 1999 list compiled by The
Albert Pujols: 13th round, 402nd
Alex Rodriguez: 1st round, 1st overall
Barry Bonds: 1st round, 6th overall
Greg Maddux: 2nd round, 31st overall
Johnny Bench: 2nd round, 36th overall
Mike Schmidt: 2nd round, 30th overall
Tony Gwynn: 3rd round, 58th overall
Rickey Henderson: 4th round
Reggie Jackson: 1st round, 2nd overall
Roger Clemens: 1st round, 19th overall
What does this all mean? Several things:
physical skills alone will get you further, quicker, in basketball than
baseball, where complicated motor skills take many years to develop and
draft system is more likely to produce parity in the league than baseball, as
the worst teams are much more able to draft a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect than their
baseball counterparts. Witness the Pittsburgh Pirates’ epic run of futility in
recent years. Their last Hall of Famer was Roberto Clemente (d.1972), their
last winning season was 1992 (not coincidentally, that was the last year they
had Barry Bonds), and their best effort at a winning record since then was 1997
when they finished two games under .500.
Consider also that their two
number one overall draft picks in that time, Kris Benson and Bryan Bullington
are, in turn, staggeringly mediocre and a gigantic bust.
rewards the rich teams who invest millions of dollars on academies in central
America and the Caribbean, as players from outside the USA are not subject to
the draft system. Only a spending cap or an expansion of the draft system are
going to change that, and neither suggestion are ever likely to be accepted by
scouts should earn way more than their basketball counterparts, as it’s quite
clearly a more difficult job. Either that or baseball teams should operate a
draft-by-roulette policy to ensure they take human error out of the equation
and abandon scouting altogether.
All that said, not everything in basketball can be predicted
by draft order. For example, do you think the Portland Trailblazers have
forgiven themselves for drafting Sam Bowie at no.2 overall in 1984, ahead of a
certain Michael Jeffrey Jordan?