The Lottery Trail

A year ago, when we were pondering the possibilities for the Pistons with their pick at No. 8, I looked back at the 2010 draft and detailed why it’s not only where a team is slotted in the lottery that determines whom it will pick but also the order of the teams that pick ahead of it.

Maybe only Minnesota picking No. 4 would have taken Wesley Johnson, leaving DeMarcus Cousins to Sacramento at No. 5, where the Kings most likely would have taken Greg Monroe had Cousins been gone. Maybe only Golden State among all other NBA teams would have taken Ekpe Udoh at No. 6, leaving Monroe to the Pistons. It took Golden State getting bumped back a pick, too, to prevent the Warriors from their shot at Cousins.

So let’s apply that sort of analysis to the 2012 lottery, which played to form except for one minor blip: New Orleans moved up from No. 4 to No. 1, bumping the favored 1-2-3 teams down a notch.

Here’s a pick-by-pick best guess at what happens from 1-8:

1. New Orleans – A no-doubter here. Anthony Davis would have been the pick of all 30 NBA teams, the Pistons included.

2. Charlotte – As the terrific Charlotte Observer Bobcats beat writer Rick Bonnell Tweeted, the Bobcats went from having the easiest decision to make – taking Davis at No. 1 – to the toughest. There is nothing close to a consensus of opinion as to the identity of this draft’s second-best talent. The good news for the Bobcats: They’re so bereft of quality talent that they can completely adhere to the “best player available” dictum. I’m torn as to which way they’ll go: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson. Both play at a high rev, which surely will appeal to Michael Jordan. Charlotte’s need at power forward is as great as its need at small forward. In the end, if GM Rich Cho gets to make the call, I suspect he’ll go with Kidd-Gilchrist on a tiebreaker: at 18, he’s 2½ years younger than Robinson. If Robinson gets past Charlotte, he could fall a few more rungs, which would delay, and perhaps eliminate, the type of run on big men that saw Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo go 3-7 last year ahead of the Pistons’ pick.

3. Washington – Whichever player Charlotte passes over – Robinson or Kidd-Gilchrist – is going to be tempting to the Wizards. But after watching Washington play the Pistons and struggle so mightily to score in its half-court offense, there’s going to be a strong tug to go with a player who can put the ball in the basket – especially if he can consistently drain perimeter shots. That sounds a lot like Bradley Beal, a guy NBA scouts have really liked since before he got to Florida. If he didn’t wow everyone as a Gator freshman, most are willing to chalk it up to being asked to do things out of his comfort zone.

4. Cleveland – How Washington goes will dictate Cleveland’s move. If the Wiz go for Beal – the guy I suspect the Cavs hope is there at 4 – then Robinson is the consensus next best talent on the board. But the Cavs already have their power forward of the future in the 2011 No. 4 pick, Tristan Thompson. They’re both slightly undersized, athletic fours with limited shooting range. Having both on a roster with so many other holes is a luxury they’re in no position to afford. So, easy call if Beal is on the board, much tougher if he’s gone. In our scenario so far, he’s gone. What next? Andre Drummond would be ideal – if you can trust that he’ll be closer to his ceiling (Dwight Howard) than his floor (Kwame Brown). Too big a risk at 4, most likely. The Cavs are thought to really like Harrison Barnes, though, and he fits a big need at small forward and appears an ideal sidekick for Kyrie Irving.

5. Sacramento – A couple of the most respected draft experts say Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins would be complementary parts. I don’t see it. I think they’d get in each other’s way. But there’s another equally compelling reason why the Kings and Drummond seem a lousy fit: Sacramento needs a high-character, self-starter type. Drummond, though nobody is suggesting behavioral issues, lacked productivity as a UConn frosh and his fire doesn’t burn hot. A franchise still looking to get public support for a new arena needs something it can sell fast. Trading the pick is a possibility, yet in a draft with depth but no obvious star power in this range, the No. 5 pick would seem to have less cachet than usual. If you can get a similar player at 12, why trade up to 5, in other words. It’s certainly possible Robinson goes as high as No. 2. He could just as easily go No. 3. But in our scenario, he’s still there … and a perfect fit for the Kings.

6. Portland – Now it really gets murky. Drummond is in play here in a big way. There are rumblings the Trail Blazers like Jared Sullinger, though they might be willing to wait until their pick at 11 and take the frontcourt player remaining they see as the most compatible fit next to LaMarcus Aldridge. That could be Tyler Zeller or Meyers Leonard if Drummond is still too risky. But the Blazers’ might base their pick here on what they think will happen at picks 7, 8, 9 and 10, as well. At least one of Zeller or Leonard will be there at 11. Toronto is almost certainly going to take a perimeter player at 8. Barnes would be the ideal option for them in the eyes of some who believe they have insight into the Raptors’ thinking. But if Barnes goes to Cleveland, then what? Point guard and small forward are needs. Damian Lillard could go to the Raps. The Blazers might look hard at him here if they don’t think he drops to 11. They might also fall hard for one of the shooting guards – Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross or Jeremy Lamb. In the end, perhaps Drummond’s enormous upside overrides all else. Go with Drummond here, but write it in pencil.

7. Golden State – Small forward is the biggest hole on the roster, so if Cleveland goes in another direction and leaves Barnes for the Warriors, this is a potential landing spot. After Kidd-Gilchrist and Barnes, there isn’t another small forward who jumps out – unless the Warriors convince themselves that Kentucky’s Terrence Jones is more small forward than power forward. Washington’s Terrence Ross is an intriguing name generating plenty of early buzz. Most GMs probably see him as a shooting guard, but he’s highly athletic and if he checks in at a legit 6-foot-7 next week in Chicago, he’ll put himself in the mix here. The Warriors are moving away from Nellie Ball. The front office has been remade, Mark Jackson is in as coach and the Monta Ellis-for-Andrew Bogut trade pointed the Warriors in a new direction. If Ross (or the other perimeter candidates) don’t wow them, they probably will look at the strength of the draft, big men. Jared Sullinger is a name commonly linked to the Warriors, though that’s more than likely herd mentality more than anything legitimate. But he makes some sense next to Bogut and could make David Lee expendable eventually. Lee has been labeled a porous defender and might not fit in Jackson’s system. Let’s go with Sullinger, very tentatively.

8. Toronto – Beal is certain to be gone. Barnes, in our scenario, went fourth to Cleveland. If he gets past the Cavs, he could tumble to Toronto. Tough to see him going beyond this spot, though. But if there’s no Barnes left for the Raptors, my hunch is they’re going to want an athletic wing player. Dwane Casey was hired just last year to transform the Raptors from one of the league’s most offensive-minded teams to one that focused intensely on defense. One key to Toronto’s thinking: Does Casey think DeMar DeRozan can play small forward? I’ve always thought that might be his best spot, at least until he develops a little more shooting range and consistency. If Casey concurs, then the Raptors can pick the shooting guard they like best from among Jeremy Lamb, Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross or even Austin Rivers. If they like Damian Lillard, he’d make sense with Jose Calderon a year away from free agency and a defensive liability. They’re unlikely to go big, not with Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis all in the rotation now and Jonas Valanciunas, last year’s No. 5 pick, arriving amid heavy expectations from Lithuania. Lillard has a lot of buzz behind him. Go with him.

That would leave the Pistons with their choice of big men: John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Perry Jones III, Terrence Jones, Arnett Moultrie and Meyers Leonard.

We’ll be looking at them in depth over the course of the next four weeks leading to the June 28 draft. Stay tuned.