When it comes to the NBA draft, there are basically two lotteries. One occurs every May in Secaucus, N.J., when David Stern gathers various lucky charm-toting general managers, coaches and former players to determine through a weighted draw which team will select first. The other lottery occurs somewhere in the heavens where Whomever Is In Charge Up There decides how many stars will be created in a given season and thus available for teams to draft.
From one crop to the next, it's basically a crapshoot as to what kind of player will be there for teams to select. Take a look back to the late ‘80s, for example. One year, the San Antonio Spurs won the lottery and drafted David Robinson; two years later, the Sacramento Kings got the first pick and ended up with Pervis Ellison. You never know.
In more contemporary times, the 2003 draft looks like it will include a handful of Hall of Famers and eventually be one of the greatest in league history. The Chicago Bulls picked seventh that year and were disappointed that Dwyane Wade was off the board by then, but they ended up with a guy who could be an All-Star point guard the next eight years in Kirk Hinrich. Most of the top picks from that class – LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Wade, Chris Kaman and Hinrich – played right away and had a hand in turning their respective teams around almost immediately.
The 2006 rookie class, on the other hand, looks much less promising. Of the top 10 selections, only three are playing regularly, and no one is showing the potential to turn his club into an instant winner.
The top pick, Andrea Bargnani, is playing about 10 minutes per game for the Toronto Raptors and clearly needs strength and experience before he can be expected to contribute. The man who followed him in the draft – LaMarcus Aldridge – suffered a shoulder injury in August and finally made his NBA debut this week with the Portland Trail Blazers. He also needs strength and will take time to adjust to the physical nature of the NBA game.
The fourth pick, Tyrus Thomas, appears physically capable of contributing to the Bulls' efforts, but his strength and speed won't be enough to overcome his raw, inexperienced game. Thomas has had his moments, particularly defensively, but he has yet to earn Scott Skiles' trust, averaging just eight minutes of action per game.
Only the third pick, Adam Morrison, is averaging 30 minutes or more of playing time. Morrison has had a solid start, scoring 13.1 points a game, but he hasn't been good enough to lift the Charlotte Bobcats out of the Southeast Division cellar.
Portland's Brandon Roy – the guy who many people predicted would be Rookie of the Year – enjoyed a 20-point debut in Seattle, but he has spent the past couple of weeks injured and on the shelf.
A few rookies are playing roles for their teams – Shelden Williams, Rudy Gay, Thabo Sefolosha, Marcus Williams and Rajon Rondo – but none can be classified as a "star" by any means. Some might eventually develop into top players, but maybe none will. It's difficult to really say.
Other than fate, is there a reason drafts can be so unpredictable? I believe the influx of young players into the league has made it much more difficult for scouts to judge talent. LeBron and 'Melo were no-brainers – physical specimens with tremendous skills and basketball IQs – but for the most part, the guys coming into the league in the past six to eight years have been incredibly raw.
So with players having either little or no college experience, how do you judge their understanding of the game? How do you figure out if one is going to be durable? How can you know if one gets along well with teammates or responds to coaching? In the past, NBA scouts usually had four years to watch these prospects in college, and those questions were easy to answer. Today? Who knows?
Maybe guys such as Thomas, Aldridge, Gay and Bargnani will become stars. Maybe they won't. But unless teams get lucky and find a LeBron or Carmelo staring them in the face, the draft will continue to be a major crapshoot.