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Draft remains critical part of team-building success in NBA

The NBA’s so-called “super teams” mostly crashed and burned in 2021-22, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Many other clubs that shaped their core groups via prominent trades also did not advance deep in the postseason. Instead, the recently-completed 2022 NBA Finals featured conference champions with foundations built heavily upon their own draft picks. Golden State drafted its historic trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and less famously, also acquired key contributors Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole via late-first round picks. Meanwhile, Boston obtained star wing scorers Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown via the draft, as well as vital pieces Robert Williams, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard.

Although a few trends surfaced over the past decade that seemed to threaten the significance of draft night – including, to be frank, a few underwhelming draft classes, most notably 2013 – the last few years seem to have reversed that development. Regardless of an NBA franchise’s current place in the standings and pecking order, constant misses in the draft are difficult to overcome, particularly as roster depth has become increasingly vital. Only five players in the entire league appeared in all 82 games during the regular season, making it more important that teams have other options ready to contribute. Compare that to other recent 82-game campaigns, and it’s easy to see the necessity of a deeper roster.

Total number of players appearing in 82 games by NBA season:

2021-22: 5 (4 other players appeared in 81 games)

2016-17: 17 (20)

2013-14: 29 (22)

2010-11: 32 (20)

2006-07: 36 (16)

In the 2010s, New Orleans often relied on major trades to build its core, surrounding Anthony Davis (No. 1 overall pick in 2012) with early-career veterans such as Ryan Anderson (2012 trade), Jrue Holiday (2013 trade) and Tyreke Evans (2013 trade). Eric Gordon arrived in a previous trade (2011). Though the Pelicans did turn a 2019 trade featuring Davis into forward Brandon Ingram – and later traded for CJ McCollum in February of last season – their recent approach has been much more reliant on the draft. Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes were obtained during the ’19 draft, as was the case for Kira Lewis Jr. (2020), Trey Murphy (2021) and Herb Jones (2021). Reserve point guard Jose Alvarado went undrafted last July, but he was a target for New Orleans immediately after the 60th and final pick was announced.

After being chosen eighth overall by the Orlando Magic last July, forward Franz Wagner outperformed his draft position in every objective measurement, perhaps most notably by being named to the NBA’s All-Rookie first team (he was joined by No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, No. 2 Jalen Green, No. 3 Evan Mobley and No. 4 Scottie Barnes). Aside from Wagner, however, recent eighth picks have generally not made much immediate impact, though players like Obi Toppin and Jaxson Hayes demonstrated tremendous progress during the second half of the 2021-22 regular season.

Production from recent No. 8 picks has been mixed bag

Prior to Wagner, the last No. 8 pick to be voted onto either of the two annual All-Rookie teams was Collin Sexton in 2018-19; he was a second-teamer. Marquese Chriss was a second-team choice in 2016-17. Those three are the only eighth picks over the last 10 drafts to receive that honor for first-year players.

Recent No. 8 overall picks

2021: Franz Wagner, Orlando

Michigan product finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, representing the best debut season by a No. 8 pick in recent history.

2020: Obi Toppin, New York

Dayton product didn’t play much as a rookie (683 minutes), but closed his second season with 35- and 42-point games.

2019: Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans (officially Atlanta)

Texas product was deemed a “project” big entering the pros. Best stretch of NBA career occurred after he became an every-game starter in February.

2018: Collin Sexton, Cleveland

A career 20.0 scoring average has highlighted a productive career for the Alabama product. Only played in 11 games last season due to knee injury.

2017: Frank Ntilikina, New York

Quality backcourt defender, but offensive limitations have resulted in him starting just 60 times in 269 career games. Left Knicks for Dallas in 2021 free agency.

2016: Marquese Chriss, Phoenix (officially Sacramento)

Started 124 games for youthful Suns in his first two seasons, but since then has played for four different NBA teams (Rockets, Cavaliers, Warriors, Mavericks).

2015: Stanley Johnson, Detroit

A rotation player with the Pistons for three-plus seasons, but since then has played for three different NBA teams (Pelicans, Raptors, Lakers).

2014: Nik Stauskas, Sacramento

Has played for seven different teams in six NBA seasons (spent two years as a pro overseas). Considered retiring but was deep reserve for Boston late this season.

2013: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit

Now on the Wizards, the Georgia product has started 541 of his 683 career games. Won a title at Disney with the Lakers in 2020. Played four seasons each for Detroit and L.A.

2012: Terrence Ross, Toronto

One of the NBA’s premier instant-offense reserves over the past decade, “The Human Torch” was dealt by the Raptors to Orlando at the 2017 trade deadline.