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A Roll of the Dice

The hazards of rolling the dice in the NBA Draft - The Kandi Man and Tim

The hazards of rolling the dice in the NBA Draft - The Kandi Man and Tim "Fugazi" Thomas...

Besides the whole idea of deciding where a team picks based on a random draw, the same inferences could be drawn in terms of the players selected.

Will Michael Beasley be the next Elton Brand or the next Derrick Coleman?

Will OJ Mayo be the next Chauncey Billups or the next Rodney White?

The NBA Draft, even after the lottery portion is complete, is still a big game of luck. You can scout till the cows come home and interview players till you’re blue in the face. But you can’t prepare for a player that just doesn’t care or injuries that happen after the fact. Prospects that look like the sure thing (Michael Olowokandi) can become the ultimate bust, even with all the physical tools in the world.

Therefore I found it interesting that several posters recently commented on the fact that they didn’t care to discuss "potential" and wanted a "proven" player.

To them I say, wait till July when we get into free-agent mode. When you’re talking about the draft, there’s just no such thing as a sure thing. These draftees may have proven themselves at a college or international level, but none have proven themselves in the NBA. And furthermore, so many other factors come into play after a player is selected that even if you believe to be picking the "sure thing," things can go terribly wrong unexpectedly.

Take Greg Oden for example.

Along with the Tim Duncans and Shaquille O’Neals, Oden was a perfect example of a player labeled as a "sure thing" from the moment he entered the draft. However after undergoing serious knee operations last year, who really knows how he’ll respond next season. And even if he still plays at a fairly high level and maybe even becomes an All-Star, if Kevin Durant surpasses him in stardom, won’t critics always hammer home the point that Portland should have made Durant the top choice?

Hindsight is always 20/20 and that’s why teams draft Darko Milicic instead of Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade.

That’s also why when discussing the NBA draft, you HAVE to talk upside. The order of selections on draft day never reflects the future sequential value of players in the league. Some start strong and flare out, some are late bloomers, and others of course never pan out at all.

In particular, the Raptors with the 17th pick have little to look at but upside. It’s one thing perhaps to look more closely at "who the sure thing is" if the team has a top three pick…but at 17? Toronto could be drafting the next Josh Smith or the next Zarko Cabarkapa (both 17th picks in 2004 and 2003 respectively.)

My point is that the draft is all about potential, and which teams and their management can get the best read on it. Yes, scouting has a lot to do with teams’ success (look at Detroit, San Antonio and the Lakers, teams that have consistently refueled their tanks via the draft) but sometimes players just don’t work out for one reason or another. The Raptors have seen this many a time and as a perfect example, Joey Graham looked to have all the tools to be a solid pro, yet is probably a year or two away from being out of the league.

So to examine this topic more closely, I took a look at two very different drafts to further analyze just how different draft classes can be, and to illustrate how hard it is to grab that "sure thing."

First off, I’ve chosen the 1996 draft. I’ve picked out frequent All-Stars from the class and in brackets I’ve denoted where they were chosen. Then, I’ve done the same with the following year’s draft, 1997.

1996: All-Star caliber players: Allen Iverson (1), Marcus Camby (2), Stephon Marbury (4), Ray Allen (5), Kobe Bryant (13), Steve Nash (15), Jermaine O’Neal (17) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20.)

This draft, my favourite of all time, also produced other All-Stars and valuable role players like Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3), Antoine Walker (6), Kerry Kittles (8), Erick Dampier (10), Peja Stojakovic (14), Derek Fisher (24) and Jerome Williams (26).

1997: All-Star caliber players: Tim Duncan (1), Chauncey Billups (3), Tracy McGrady (9).

A LITTLE different in terms of talent isn’t it? The only other players from this class worth mentioning are Keith Van Horn (2), Antonio Daniels (4), Derek Anderson (13), and Bobby Jackson (23.) The rest of the draft was filled with eventual bench fodder like Tony Battie (5), Tim Thomas (7), Adonal Foyle (8), Danny Fortson (10), Austin Croshere (12), Scot Pollard (19), and Jacque Vaughn (27.)

Now let’s look at this year’s draft. Many are saying that this is a very deep draft, and a useful player could be had even late in the first round or into the second. But what exactly does that mean? I chose both the 1996 and 1997 drafts as examples as both were "deep" drafts. However one was deep in star-power, the other, deep in bench and role players. Who’s to say which side of the fence this upcoming draft falls on? In fact, the very next year’s draft after the two we discussed saw the star level go back up with players like Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter (drafted ninth and 10th, fourth and fifth respectively) selected. And 1999 saw another influx of stars as Brand, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Corey Maggette, Ron Artest, Andrei Kirilenko and Manu Ginobili entered the league. But this year, who really knows?

That’s why saying that Toronto needs to take the "sure thing" is a bit like saying they need to draft someone. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder which is why one GM’s Tskitishvili is the next’s Amare Stoudemire.

Even Andrea Bargnani’s draft just two short years ago is starting to look like it will fall on the 1997 side of the fence when all is said and done. It was purported to be a very deep draft but aside from Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge, no one other than Rajon Rondo has really made much of a name for themselves. Shelden Williams, Patrick O’Bryant, Saer Sene and Quincy Douby all seem to be following in the paths of Battie, Foyle, Fortson, and Vaughn and many of their peers aren’t faring much better.

Therefore as excited as I am about the draft, the reality is that it will be via trades and free-agent signings that a team such as Toronto has a chance to really improve. As fans we all know quite well what areas this team needs to address and if some gaps can be filled through the draft, than that’s great. But I expect the bulk of the heavy lifting to come just after draft day.

On June 26 Bryan Colangelo will roll the dice and hope that whomever he drafts will at least find a role with the club. Will the player become that missing swingman or defensive post-presence for the Raptors?

It’s impossible to say.

Everyone will have an opinion on who Toronto should select and only time will tell if the correct choice is made.

However for now here at the HQ, we’ll be trying to gather as much information as we can on the options available for the Raptors.

And coincidentally…the same year as Vince was drafted, the number 17 pick was none other than Rasho Nesterovic.