Monday, July 03, 2006

More NBA Draft Philosophizin'
By Blogger

Henry Abbott, of TrueHoop, wrote a piece a few days ago about NBA roster management and how it relates to the draft. The column resonated with me because (to use English major lingo) it complicates my notions of the best way to build a team. To sum up, Abbott points out that, in certain situations, teams are better off drafting a player that won't play for them right away, because it frees up a roster spot that can be used on a more useful player.

Zach and I have sharply criticized teams that draft players in the hope that three or four years down the line they'll be better than players who are superior today. The idea is that you don't want your team wasting money and a roster spot on someone who management knows isn't a quality player, even if you're convinced in your heart of hearts that the player will contribute in future seasons. Using the classic example, Darko spent two and a half seasons languishing on the Pistons' bench, getting more and more frustrated at his lack of playing time, and possibly stagnating in his development because he was getting so little in-game experience. Detroit essentially wasted their draft pick on him.

However, the story might have played out differently if Joe Dumars had elected to let Darko play in Europe instead of buying out his contract and bringing him to the States. In essence, Darko would have gone through a minor league apprenticeship and then joined the Pistons a couple years later, starting with a rookie contract, either when his deal with Hemofarm ran out, or when Detroit chose to buy him out. The Pistons, like the San Antonio Spurs every year, were in a position where a young player probably wasn't going to crack the starting lineup, and the roster space and money could have gone to a player with a better chance of contributing that season.

Thus, if there are no "organizational soldier" types available late in the first or at any time in the second round, why not swing for the fences and choose a Kosta Perovic type of player? He's not good enough to play in the NBA yet, but he'll play overseas for a couple more years, at which point Golden State can decide whether or not to bring him to the Bay Area. If he still doesn't pass muster, they'll simply let him go, no harm no foul. The key, though, is that instead of keeping a project player on the bench, the team now has both roster and salary room to sign a useful free agent, even if it's a guy who only pushes his teammates in practice and will only see game time in case of widespread injury. Brian Scalabrine (at a reasonable price), or Kosta Perovic? Scalabrine, for all his sub-mediocrity, is the better choice to park his butt on the bench because he's better right now.

The immediate issue that arises, though, is that the strategy only works with foreign players. The NBDL assignment rules are too restrictive to allow this sort of roster maneuvering, so it doesn't make sense to treat American players the same way. Thus, someone like Shannon Brown, a late first round pick out of Michigan State, will either sink or swim in the NBA, whereas Sergio Rodriguez, also a first round pick, might jump into the NBA at a more ideal location in his developmental curve simply because he didn't play college ball in the States.

Finally, some quick thoughts on a three teams' draft hauls...

BOSTON - Leon Powe, Leon Powe, Leon Powe... Let me repeat what I wrote about him previously: "Cal's big man is prototypical PF size and averaged 20 and 10 in the Pac Ten last year. Yes, he has injury issues, having had to sit out what would have been his sophomore year recovering from knee surgery, but he played all of last season and produced." So, he's got the body, he's a superior athlete, the injury fears should be mostly alleviated after a healthy season, and he put up numbers in college. There was no good reason for him to drop as far as he did. With Denver locking up Nene to a big deal and still saddled with Kenyon Martin's contract, they weren't going to have a place for Powe, so Boston did well to land him for nearly nothing. And, for what it's worth, my dad says Powe was the best high school player he's ever seen in person (Oakland Tech). I'm telling you, he'll play, and I'm convinced he'll be the best player out of this year's second round and better than a bunch of the first rounders.

ORLANDO - I'm interested to see if someone like J.J. Redick will ultimately be more valuable than someone like Rudy Gay, or someone like Rodney Carney. In other words, everyone knows Redick can do at least a couple things very well, and is either average or poor at most other aspects of his game. Is that a more desirable player than one who does a lot of things slightly better than average, but nothing exceptionally well? I don't know.

PORTLAND - They got the two best players in the draft RIGHT NOW in Roy and Aldridge, plus two intriguing foreign players they can allow to play overseas and develop in Sergio Rodriguez and Joel Freeland. The two Americans are the most likely to pan out from this draft, Spanish Chocolate might be the best point guard under 20 in the world, and the 6-10 former grocery bagger is supposedly athletic enough to project well as a defensive presence. If everything falls right--a huge "if"--Portland could be a dangerous squad quickly. Even if things don't go swimmingly, they still probably made out with the two best ballers to find a new team that night.


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