The Lottery Effect

Order of selection plays a big part in shaping Pistons draft options

Had last year's draft order played to form, Greg Monroe may not have become a Piston.
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If the lottery had played to form last year, there’s a very real chance Greg Monroe would have been well out of reach of the Pistons. It’s impossible to say, of course, because teams generally don’t have fully formed opinions about top prospects until the final days and weeks leading to the draft – and until they know where they’ll be drafting.

The lottery order sets in motion the events – including the individual workouts that separate candidates in the eyes of the teams making the picks – that determine the way draft night unfolds.

Let’s recall how the odds say the 2010 lottery should have fallen – as a useful exercise to better grasp how the results of the May 17 lottery could affect who’s ultimately available to the Pistons if they stay at No. 7.

New Jersey, Minnesota and Sacramento went into the 2010 lottery with the best odds of landing a top-three pick. All three got bypassed by two other teams – Washington going from fourth to No. 1 and Philadelphia from sixth to No. 2.

The top six picks wound up being: Washington, John Wall; Philadelphia, Evan Turner; New Jersey, Derrick Favors; Minnesota, Wesley Johnson; Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins; Golden State, Ekpe Udoh.

Now let’s say form had held and New Jersey, Minnesota and Sacramento had drawn the top three picks. The Nets surely would have taken John Wall – I doubt there was a lottery team that wouldn’t have, with the possible exception of Utah, which at the time still had Deron Williams – and Minnesota just as certainly would have selected Evan Turner, whom they attempted to get by trading with Philadelphia into the No. 2 pick.

It’s not a huge leap to believe Sacramento would have gone for Favors at No. 3. It’s possible they’d have taken Cousins, but a power forward to slot next to Samuel Dalembert would have been a natural fit. And, right to the end, it was thought Sacramento needed to be wowed by Cousins in workouts to accept the level of risk inherent in choosing him at No. 5 it believed his maturity level and behavioral history represented.

That would have left Washington to choose between Cousins and Greg Monroe. And there’s a good shot the Wizards would have taken Monroe with the No. 4 pick.

It wouldn’t have hurt that he played at Georgetown, whose home games were played in the Wizards’ own arena, but also consider the bigger picture. The Wizards’ patience with Andray Blatche was known to be wearing thin. Forced to choose between building around Blatche or JaVale McGee, McGee would have been the hands-down choice. They were also fresh off the Gilbert Arenas debacle and had no room to gamble on the mercurial Cousins. Besides, Cousins, like McGee, is strictly a center. Monroe could have played alongside McGee at power forward or, if it came to that, alongside Blatche at center.

Golden State would have taken Cousins over Ekpe Udoh, or perhaps gone for the athletic Wesley Johnson, who fit like a glove in the Don Nelson system. Philadelphia likely would have taken whomever was left: Cousins or Johnson. That would have left the Pistons with the choice they expected to face: Ed Davis or Udoh, with an outside chance that both Golden State and Philly would have gotten cold feet and passed on Cousins.

It was important to the Pistons that Johnson and Udoh went before their pick to get one of the three players they coveted – Monroe, Favors or Cousins. It’s worth wondering if Minnesota hadn’t picked ahead of the Pistons if another team would have taken Johnson, but perhaps the only scenario that legitimately allowed Monroe to fall was Golden State getting bumped back to sixth from the No. 5 position it carried into the lottery. Would any other team have taken Udoh over Monroe? Impossible to say today.

So what are the key elements to watch in this year’s lottery? Assuming the Pistons stay at No. 7, which players will need to come off the board in order for them to get someone who can offer immediate help? And are there any keys to how lottery results affect the order ahead of them to facilitate those players being gone ahead of their pick?

Here’s a guess: Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight need to be gone. Now, it’s possible that Joe Dumars and his staff love one or the other and, despite a roster already heavy with backcourt options, it’s possible they see Walker or Knight as a charismatic floor leader whose presence would alter their mix and bring out the best in the rest of the roster.

But let’s set that thought aside and take the more conventional tack: For a team that finished 30th in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, getting longer and more athletic – or at least one or the other – in the frontcourt is the likeliest course.

So Walker and Knight need to be gone. What makes that happen?

Sacramento and Utah can’t draw into the top two, for starters. If they do, you can safely assume they would take the top two consensus players, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams.

But if they stay where they are, fifth and sixth, that will be the best chance for Walker and Knight to go ahead of the Pistons. The teams they would push down – Minnesota, Cleveland, Toronto and Washington – should they leap into the top two are far more likely to pick for frontcourt help.

Wall’s presence means Washington won’t be in the market for a point guard. Toronto would jump at the chance to get Irving, but would the Raptors at No. 3 go for Walker or Knight over a big man when they would love to add a physical presence that would allow them to move Andrea Bargnani to power forward? Nope.

Cleveland has Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions to play the point. Even if you concede the Cavs will look to deal Davis, they have too many holes in their frontcourt to go for a guard other than Irving. Minnesota is a wild card, but could a team that’s invested high draft picks in Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn really go for either Walker or Knight?

But if Irving and Williams are off the board at 1-2 and whoever is picking third and fourth do the expected and pass on Walker and Knight – for the sake of argument, let’s say Enes Kanter and Jan Vesely are picked there – then Sacramento and Utah could make credible cases for taking the two guards at the fifth and sixth spots.

Both teams are pretty well-stocked up front. The Kings were shorthanded in the backcourt a year ago and seem more inclined now than then to move Tyreke Evans off the ball. Utah, even if it keeps Devin Harris, needs depth and options and scoring punch in its backcourt.

And that would leave the Pistons with their choice of the remaining big men. Jonas Valanciunas, if his contract buyout isn’t oppressive, would be attractive. Bismack Biyombo, a potentially dominant defender and rebounder, would draw strong consideration if teams are satisfied he’s 18, as his documents attest, or reasonably close to it.

The Morris twins of Kansas could improve their stock in predraft workouts. Texas freshman Tristan Thompson is similar to Biyombo – raw offensively, but a high-energy rebounder and defender. A late riser, like Udoh a year ago (Kenneth Faried, to throw out a name), could yet factor into the decision.

The general consensus is that this draft is of lesser quality than last year’s. Players are going to be pushed five or 10 spots higher than they would in a normal draft. But the Pistons still believe there’s a chance they can come out of this draft, should they stay at No. 7, with a player good enough to offer immediate help. Their chances improve if Utah and Sacramento don’t move into the top three.