First off, Happy Father’s Day! Now onto more pressing matters...
As I study this draft, it makes the most sense to me to look at it from the perspective of risk, and try to get into the heads of each GM that way. I think thats the best way to anticipate what these teams will do, in particular teams sitting at #2, #3, #4, and, drum roll please, pick #5.
A lot of buzz words get tossed around this time of year :
- Upside, downside
- Red flags
- Risk versus Reward
- And the dreaded P word 'potential'
But I keep coming back to the concept of risk, because I think it is the predominant consideration that govern GMs decision-making process, and the player they will select this Thursday.
A few ideas on risk: (1) There is a correlation between size of investment and level of risk someone is willing to take. Personally I have never played the lottery. But it would take little coercion for me to plop down a $1 on a lottery ticket for a $300 million jackpot. Betting my entire paycheck would never happen because of the level of risk involved. Among other financial obligations, I have an NBA league pass subscription that needs be renewed annually.
In the NBA, level of assumed risk corresponds inversely to where a team is picking, due to a sliding contract scale, and the opportunity cost of a relatively high (low) draft pick. Last year, all 30 NBA teams (or however many had picks) were unwilling to give guaranteed first round money to a player with two missing ACLs. The Spurs were inclined, however, to take a chance on DeJuan Blair at the 37th pick in the second round because, by then, risk was deemed sufficiently diminished.
The risk incurred by the Spurs has paid off exponentially, so far. Perhaps future second rounders should take heed, and become organ donors.
A formal application of this concept is that the same team, unwilling to select a player at pick #2, say DeMarcus Cousins, would under alternate draft order and lotto ball bounces, take said player at pick #5. It is not a lack of recognition of upside that drives decision-making, as under an ideal scenario the player could be envisioned as a perennial 20/10 performer, it is the risk inherent in where the team is picking that supersedes best case projections. Risk trumps potential reward.
A second idea on risk: An ability to take risk corresponds with the length of successful tenure and track record of the risk taker. Warren Buffet comes to mind as a highly astute investor, taking contrarian positions in companies deemed too risky by many counterparts. His mental fortitude to incur risk, and pour millions into fledgling entities, certainly is bolstered by a genius financial mind, and a portfolio of past winners.
Among the three teams picking ahead of Sacto, we see one team with a new owner (Nets), two teams with new coaches (Coach Collins and Coach Avery), and a third team with a GM barely done in his first season at the helm (GM Kahn). Last season they won 12, 15, and 27 games, respectively. Their most recent draft picks are Terrence Williams, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, and Jrue Holiday. Only one pick (Holiday) has not been subject to criticism, and early second guessing. This is not exactly a stable or shining near term track record to write home about, to Mom, Dad, or Uncle Warren.
In this light, conservatism abounds. New decision-makers are eager to get off on the right foot. Risky screw ups are never well-timed, particularly your first day on the job.
By contrast, Geoff Petrie has full support of his owners, a virtual lifetime contract, and is coming off his best draft ever. He just picked the ROY, and a double digit scorer at #23 and best SF performer of the draft class. Granted his team stunk it up in the win-loss column, but compared to David Kahn, Petrie is the Warren Buffet of the basketball world. Accordingly, whereas other GMs must temper their ability to take risk under pressure to appease new bosses, and restless fan bases, Petrie has open reign to mold his roster. Emboldened by the picks of Tyreke and Omri, a changing team culture, and an unwavering trust in his own judgment, calculated risk can be absorbed.
I don’t doubt that several personnel executives of the 76ers, Nets, and Minny, squint at DeMarcus Cousins, and envision a young Moses Malone, or an earth-bound, vintage Shaq, if his growth as player, and person, occurs optimally. But can they take the risk to find out? I say ‘no’. In fact I already have. (Top 5 Picks, Sealed and Delivered) Evan Turner, Derrick Favors and Wesley Johnson have more predictable development curves, and fit the risk profiles for their soon-to-be new teams. They are also all-around swell guys.
When you are down and out, out of the playoffs annually, that is, like the three aforementioned clubs, why not roll the dice? Land a franchise big, and your fortunes are immediately reversed. Common sense, and suitable risk constraints, suggest refrain. Is it wise to bet your last stack of chips and split a pair of 6s, when the dealer is showing an ace up? Down three runs in the bottom of the ninth, a rally is best started with a bunt single rather than trying to swing for the fences. I will bet the 76ers, Nets, and Wolves take conservative at-bats next week, content with solid contact, and a line drive up the middle.
Fortunately, Geoff can afford to step up to the plate, and a take a big swing. Here’s hoping he connects with the sweet part of the bat.