Draft Thoughts a Week Before the Lottery

I realize that there's not a lot else for lottery teams to talk about during early May, but Mock Drafts are a little silly, especially before the lottery.  It's silly enough trying to predict what teams are going to do in the draft in six weeks, considering that none of the players have worked out for any of the teams yet.  But to try to do it when the order isn't even set is just crazy.

Having said that, I'm nonetheless going to wade in to the discussion, albeit hesitantly.

The Clippers are in a delicate situation with this draft.  They pretty desperately need a small forward.  As of now, there seem to be three of them that are really good - Evan Turner of Ohio State, Wesley Johnson of Syracuse and Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest.  Unfortunately, they're so good that, at this point, there's a pretty good chance that they'll all be picked in the first seven picks, before the Clippers get a crack at them at number 8.  Turner is a likely top two pick, so he's far out of reach barring a lottery surprise.  Johnson and Aminu could then get drafted anywhere from 4 to 8, based on current projections.

 

The problem for the Clippers is that the best players likely to be on the board if Johnson and Aminu are gone are all bigs - guys like Cole Aldrich and Greg Monroe and Ed Davis and Ekpe Udoh and Patrick Patterson.  It's hard to believe, considering that they only have five players signed for next season, but the one thing the Clippers really don't need is a big.  (OK, that's not true, you can always use a good big, yadda, yadda...)  They have leading scorer Chris Kaman (coming off an all star team selection) at center, 21 year old Blake Griffin (the first player in last year's draft ready to start his rookie year after red-shirting) at power forward and the very promising 21 year old DeAndre Jordan coming off the bench.  They also have the rights to Sofoklis Schortsianitis, aka MBFGC, whose Olympiakos contract is up and who seems destined to finally make his NBA debut seven years after he was drafted.  In other words, of six players we can reasonably presume will be Clippers next season, four of them are bigs, and two of them are the obvious starters.  Would Greg Monroe be better as the power forward off the bench than MBFGC?  Probably, but when you don't have a starting small forward or a single guard in reserve, drafting for need has a little more urgency.

Of course the conventional wisdom is that you draft the best player available, even if your needs are great.  But wouldn't it be nice if the best player available actually fit the team's needs?  If Johnson or Aminu slips to the Clippers, then it will all work out.  But if the three top small forwards are gone by the time the Clippers pick, there's a really big gap to the rest of the small forwards available - guys like Gordon Hayward and Paul George and Luke Babbitt.   I love me some small school players, and no one enjoyed Butler's run to the final game of the NCAA tournament more than me this year, but 8 is simply too high for Gordon Hayward.

Based largely on my input about team needs, Scott from Ridiculous Upside had the Clippers taking Xavier Henry at 8 in his first mock draft.  The issue there is that (a) 8 is still a stretch for Henry (though perhaps not as much of a stretch as it is for Hayward) and (b) Henry projects as a shooting guard more than a small forward.  Even so, a competent wing like Henry certainly fits the needs of the team better than the slew of power forwards that figure to be at the top of the board when the Clippers are picking. For what it's worth, in version 2 of the RU mock draft, Scott's got the Clippers taking Monroe, largely because Citizen Regulan called the Henry pick "Ridiculous".

It didn't get much notice, but when Jan Vesely opted not to enter the 2010 draft, the decision may have hurt the Clippers more than anyone.  The 6'11" highly skilled 20 year old Czech projected as the fourth small forward worthy of a top ten pick in this draft.  Vesely's presence in the draft probably would have meant that he or Johnson or Aminu would still be around at 8.  With him waiting until 2011, the odds get much worse.

Speaking of odds, there's no guarantee of course that the Clippers will even pick 8th, which is why projecting the draft this early is so pointless.  Remember that LA won a coin toss to have the 8th pick, with Utah having New York's pick at 9.  As for the lottery chances, the Clippers and Jazz split the ping pong balls that are allotted to positions 8 and 9, with the Clippers taking the extra ball.  That gives the Clippers 23 chances in 1000, a 2.3% chance, to get the first overall pick.  By my math, the Clippers full odds look something like this:

Position

1st

2nd

3rd

8th

9th

10th

Odds

2.3%

2.7%

3.2%

76.9%

14.4%

0.5%


There's actually a mathematical chance they could pick 11th, but it would involve three teams from 9 through 14 all jumping into the first three spots, and the odds of that happening are very remote.

So there's about 3 chances in 4 that the Clippers indeed stay exactly where they are in the eighth position, and a cumulative 8% chance that they jump up into a top three spot.  Of course, the bad news is that there's a much better chance that they drop down to 9 than that they jump into the top 3.

Even if they stay at 8, the positions of the teams in front of them will likely change, which could affect the draft.  And of course there's the simple fact that the draft stock of the prospects always shift when they start working out for teams.  Some guys are going to rise in the draft - some are going to fall.  If anyone is falling, hope that it's Johnson or Aminu (just a little).  And hope for some of those power forwards to have terrific workouts for teams like the Pistons and the Sixers.

We'll know more in a week, when Andy Roeser wears one of his fancy jackets to Secaucas.  For now, cross your fingers that the Clippers get lucky (or at the least, don't get unlucky) in the lottery, and that one of the top small forwards is still around whenever they pick.

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