Toronto Raptors president Bryan Colangelo wasn't carrying a lucky charm when he represented the franchise at the NBA's 2006 draft lottery. The Raptors won the No. 1 pick and selected forward Andrea Bargnani(notes), who has yet to become an All-Star. Raptors fans can decide whether Colangelo's luck was good or bad.
Five years later, Colangelo will return to the draft lottery stage Tuesday night. He still doesn't plan to carry some totem to bring him good luck, and even if he did it might not matter. After the past four drafts produced Kevin Durant(notes), Derrick Rose(notes), Blake Griffin(notes) and John Wall(notes), 2011 isn't expected to offer any can't-miss stars. Whoever wins the lottery can't be sure they'll receive a franchise-changing player.
"You can only pick who's there," Colangelo said.
One Western Conference general manager was more succinct in his analysis of this year's pool of available players.
"It's horrendous," he said. "Every year we always talk about how bad the draft is. This year we really mean it."
Colangelo considers Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving and Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams the top prospects available, but said the rest of the draft holds a lot of "murkiness." Another NBA GM thinks Turkish center Enes Kanter and Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas could also merit consideration with the No. 1 pick.
Each of the four players, however, has blemishes. Irving missed most of his only college season with a right toe injury, and several teams in the lottery already have the point guard position filled. Some scouts consider Williams undersized and don't know whether he's more suited to play small or power forward. Kanter hasn't played in an organized game in more than a year after being ruled ineligible to play at Kentucky last season. Valanciunas would be a hard sell to North American fans, who know little about him.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have the best odds (25 percent) of winning the top pick in the lottery, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers (19.9), Raptors (15.6), Washington Wizards (11.9) and Sacramento Kings (7.6).
"Every team will probably look at it a little bit differently," Colangelo said. "Once the results of the lottery are known we will have a more clearer idea of what's going on up there. If Washington wins the lottery, it's pretty clear that they probably don't require a point guard – and if someone really wants a point guard they will probably make an attempt to make some type of a deal with Washington. That might go for a couple of teams as well."
The lack of projected talent in this year's draft made the New Orleans Hornets comfortable trading their first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for reserve guard Jerryd Bayless(notes) on Oct. 23. Less than a month later, the Hornets sent Bayless to Toronto in a five-player trade.
Several top prospects didn't want to declare for this year's draft for fear of the NBA entering a lockout this summer. That's contributed to the shallow talent pool. North Carolina forwards Harrison Barnes and John Henson, Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger, Kentucky forward Terrence Jones and Baylor forward Perry Jones III all disappointed NBA teams by electing to play in college another year. One GM said some prospects are jumping up "four or five spots" because of the talent drain.
"There are guys that are going to be lottery picks that weren't going to be," Warriors general manager Larry Riley said. "If you look at the tail end of it, there are going to be second-rounders that are going to be taken late in the first."
The lack of American college stars in the draft will also make it easier for international prospects to get picked higher. Along with Kanter and Valanciunas, Czech Republic forward Jan Vesely, Lithuanian center Donatas Motiejunas, Congo center Bismack Biyombo and Montenegro forward Nikola Mirotic all could receive lottery consideration.
When asked if the upcoming draft was strong in anything, Riley said: "Not especially." Colangelo thinks there will be some players taken next month who will have long NBA careers. In this light of a draft, it's possible the prospect taken 15th ends up being the fifth-best player overall.
"There's a little bit less to be desired at the top," Colangelo said. "There are two clear-cut choices at the top, and then it's very wide-open. That's not to say that there are players that won't have an impact and will ultimately be successful in the league. There is just not a lot of depth in regard to star impact."