In 1988, the Clippers won the draft lottery and selected first in the draft. A decade later, in 1998, they won it again. This time it took a little longer, but 11 years after the last time they received the number 1 pick, the Clippers have won the NBA's draft lottery.
It's particularly fortuitous this year, because there is a clear consensus for the number 1 overall pick: barring a shocking turn of events Blake Griffin of Oklahoma is going to be the pick. He's been the consensus pick for the best player available essentially since he withdrew his from last year's draft, and he's done nothing but solidify that impression all along.
There's plenty to think about. Let's go with the 10 Questions format:
Is Blake Griffin definitely going to be the first pick? In a word, yes. During the conference call after the lottery, Andy Roeser stopped short of saying he was definitely the pick. But he raved about the guy's athleticism and talent, and said that the organization expects to make a decision very quickly. Roeser hadn't spoken to Sterling or Dunleavy or anyone within the organization yet, so he's certainly not going to announce the Clippers' pick: but unless the kid fails a drug test or does something else similarly bizarre, he's the guy.
Is Blake Griffin a franchise player? That's a much, much tougher question, and of course the real crux of the matter. The short answer is we don't know. Number 1 overall picks go on to have disappointed careers all the time: Kwame Brown, Kenyon Martin, Joe Smith, Andrea Bargnani and of course Michael Olowokandi were all first overal picks within the last 15 years. However, none of those guys were considered can't miss pros the way Griffin is. They were picked number one because no one else seemed better at the time. That's not the case with Griffin. He's not first by default. He's the consensus pick and consensus numbers ones have a damn good record in the NBA - we're talking Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson.
So, how good is this guy? He's good. Really, really good. His athleticism is off the charts, certainly for a guy his size. He's Amare Stoudemire with a work ethic. But here's what I really love about Blake Griffin: in the NCAA tournament, as the one guy on the Sooners that defenses simply had to stop, facing constant double and triple teams, he averaged 28.5 points and 15 rebounds per game while shooting 78% from the field. Great players play great in big situations. And remember, Oklahoma only lost to eventual champion North Carolina, and happened to give them their closest game of the tournament. Compare Griffin's NCAA tournament numbers to James Harden's (a guy who will likely be a top 5 pick). For that matter, compare Griffin's NCAA tournament numbers to any big man of the past 20 years. He's not the number one pick because this is a down year. He's the number one pick because he's a great, great basketball player.
So what could we find out that could kill the buzz? Well, we could find out he's really 6'6". He's listed at 6'10", but college heights turn out to be exaggerated all the time. Of course, it doesn't change his productivity in college. But if he's actually undersized to play power forward in the NBA, it changes his prospects. The good news is, at least one person who should know insists that he's 6'10" in his shoes, meaning he'll likely measure 6'9" barefoot, which is great. We'll get all of this physical data (height, wing span, vertical jump, etc.) from the NBA combine in Chicago which starts on May 27th, a week from now. You may recall that Kevin Durant turned out to be less athletic than people thought when they measured him - but that hasn't hurt him as a pro. I think Griffin's going to measure off the charts, but we'll just have to wait and see.
Will the Clippers try to move a big to make room for him? I think they will. Roeser didn't have much to say when asked the question tonight. But the issues remain what they have been for awhile. Chris Kaman's trade value is likely depressed by his recent injury issues. Kaman's the true center of the group, and probably a better post scorer than Griffin at this point, so he would seem to be the best fit on paper. Zach Randolph, the biggest overlap with Griffin, is virtually untradeable right now, given the size of his contract and his off court problems. Maybe the team will go ahead and move Marcus Camby now, as his productivity and expiring deal may be of interest to teams - but they may hold onto him as well for the coming cap relief. But on this subject I'll leave you with what Roeser said: "It's not a good problem - it's a great problem."
Any chance they trade the pick? No. I mean, I guess Oklahoma City could decide to overpay for him, and Roeser says they'll listen to offers. But it's not happening.
What, if anything, does this mean for Baron Davis? It's hard to say. My belief (or is it simply my hope?) is that the energy and interest and enthusiasm surrounding the number one pick will motivate Baron to get in great shape, to play hard, to be a leader. Let's face it - the team is loaded with talent at this point, and if the Baron Davis from Oakland in 2007 plays point guard for them, they could be very, very good. If last season's Baron Davis is the point guard, it's a very different team.
Does this have any bearing on Mike Dunleavy's status as the coach? It doesn't seem like it will. First of all, it's very unusual to wait this long into the off-season before making a change. It almost never happens. Secondly, if you believe that Sterling is looking for an excuse to keep Dunleavy to save money because he's already under contract for two more seasons, this is probably it. We know from comments on Clips Nation that Griffin by himself will bring many season ticket holders back, and will likely bring some new ones in as well. I asked the question of Roeser during the conference call, and he said he expects Dunleavy to be the coach: "We have every intention of opening camp with Mike Dunleavy this year."
How good will the Clippers' summer league team be? If all their guys play, I'd say pretty good. They need a small forward, but it figures that DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Mike Taylor could win some summer league games with my aunt Nancy playing the three. With those four guys and Al Thornton the Clippers could easily play significant regular season minutes with players acquired in the last three drafts - an impressive string.
So does this make the Clippers a playoff team? Maybe. But not just because of the talent infusion of Blake Griffin. The bigger impact Griffin can have is by reversing the negative feedback loop that's been plaguing the Clippers since last October. We've said it over and over, but from conditioning before camp, to injuries, to chemistry, to irrelevance, the Clippers 08-09 season went from bad to worse at every turn. If the team, which everyone agrees has talent, is going to turn it around, it will have more to do with the enthusiasm a high visibility pick can bring. Baron Davis (and of course team health) will be the keys. Eric Gordon will do his part, the bigs certainly have enough talent to hold up their end if they stay healthy and small forward isn't a big enough problem to scuttle the whole deal. If Baron plays well, the team can make the playoffs next year. But they can easily miss the playoffs as well. More importantly, with Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, two 20 year old studs, the Clippers may have a core for the future to stack up with any pair in the NBA.
The bad news in all of this is that we won't have nearly as much to talk about over the next month or so. We know who the Clippers are picking. We don't even have a second round pick to talk about. So what are we going to do around here?
Vegas, baby. Vegas.