June 21, 2016

Get Lucky!

Let's start this blog post with a test. Raise your hand if you think Ernie Grunfeld is a below average NBA general manager. Keep your hand up if your judgment is based in whole or in part on his drafting history. I'm guessing a lot of people reading this have at least one hand up. If you do, is it because he drafted Oleksiy Pecherov, Nick Young and JaVale McGee in the first round of successive drafts or is it because he selected Jan Vesely over Klay Thompson, Tomas Satoransky over Draymond Green and traded a pick that he could have used on Stephen Curry? Put both hands up if it's all of the above. Pretty damning, right? I mean this guy really doesn't know what he's doing.

So who do you think drafts well? How about the Golden State Warriors, since in the last seven drafts they've selected Stephen Curry (2009), Klay Thompson (2011), Harrison Barnes (2012), Festus Ezili (2012) and Draymond Green (2012)? All five are still with the team and three of the five (Curry, Thompson and Green) have made at least one NBA All-Star Game, not to mention Curry being named MVP of the league two years in a row and the franchise appearing in the last two NBA Finals (winning just one thanks to Keke Vandeweghe).

Sounds pretty good, right? Never mind the fact that there was a different general manager in place in 2009/2011 vs. 2012 and that the same guy who drafted Stephen Curry in 2009 selected Epke Udoh with the number six overall pick a year later. And if anyone thinks the strategy used by the Warriors to select Draymond Green with the 35th pick in the 2012 Draft was genius, consider that if they had to do it all over again, they might select him over Harrison Barnes at the seven spot but they would for sure certainly pick Draymond ahead of Festus Ezeli five picks earlier. Draymond's game only took off after he lost 20 pounds one year after he was drafted. The Dubs for sure got some good bounces on this stuff.

Let's try another test. Raise your hand if you would have selected Kevin Durant over Greg Oden with the number one overall pick in 2007. Or Marc Gasol over Nick Young that same year. Raise your hand or keep it up if you would have grabbed Russell Westbrook over O.J. Mayo or Michael Beasley the very next year. What about in 2011? Raise one hand if you would have picked Kawhi Leonard, two for Jimmy Butler or zero for Derrick Williams if you have the number two overall pick. Did you have at least one hand raised throughout this paragraph? If you did, I say you are lying or your memory is really short.

In the 2007 Draft, at least half of the teams would have selected Oden over Durant. Heck, the Seattle SuperSonics might have selected Oden if they were unlucky enough (as it turned out) to have the number one spot that year. Know how many teams passed on Marc Gasol? 25, including the Los Angeles Lakers who drafted him. But only after they picked up Javaris Crittenton and Sun Yue before him. In 2008 the whole debate about who goes number one centered around Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose; Russell Westbrook was NEVER an option. And Leonard (drafted 15th) and Butler (drafted 30th) would never in a million years have been selected by any team ahead of Derrick Williams in 2011. Discussing anything else is revisionist history.

Let's get back to Ernie Grunfeld. Assuming he still trades the 2009 five pick for Randy Foye and Mike Miller (total bust of course), he still could have drafted Rajon Rondo or Paul Millsap or Kyle Lowry in 2006 instead of Pecherov; Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler in 2011 instead of Vesely; and then of course Draymond Green over Tomas Satoransky in 2012. But who's he supposed to take in 2007 instead of Nick Young? Al Thornton? Acie Law? Julian Wright? Oh wait, all those guys were gone already. What about Daequan Cook? Wilson Chandler? Morris Almond? I mean I get Mo Almond was about the most successful Wizard ever (6-0 record) but look at the list and tell me who he's supposed to pick with the benefit of hindsight. That year was just a bad year.

What about John Wall? That pick was pretty good, don't you think? Would you rather have Evan Turner, who was really the only other option at number one anyway? The answer is no. You might say you want Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins but you wouldn't have claimed that so articulately back in 2010. And don't tell me Grunfeld had no other choice but to take Wall and therefore gets no credit whatsoever because there was another choice. There's were tons of other choices.

Should we pick on the Bradley Beal or Otto Porter picks? The Wizards could have Steven Adams or C.J. McCollum instead of Otto. Or Damian Lillard or Andre Drummond instead of Beal. At this point, is there really that much of a difference here? Remember the Wizards could have opted for Thomas Robinson (selected ahead of Lillard and Drummond) or Ben McLemore (picked ahead of McCollum and Adams) but didn't. Yes, Lillard and Drummond have made the All-Star Game but Derrick Rose won an MVP and can't stay on the court any more. Wait a few years before you start picking on Beal and Porter.

So what's the point here? Well, it's certainly not to exonerate Ernie Grunfeld for all his past draft mistakes because for sure there have been some (Pecherov sticks out really badly to me). But it is to remind everyone that we can't just go back and re-write history to complain about what ifs using the absolute best possible outcome from every draft year. It doesn't work that way. Do you remember how Grunfeld got trashed for picking Vesely in 2011? No? Know why? Because he didn't.
Fox Sports and NBADraft.net gave the Wizards a B that year; Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick and Ball Don't Lie gave the Wiz an A+. A+!!!!! For Vesely, Singleton and Mack. Everyone that year was convinced the Wizards needed an athletic big man to run with John Wall and plenty of people loved Jan Vesely in that role. Nobody knew that pick was going to turn out horribly.

When the selections start Thursday night, rest assured there are about a million mock drafts out there that all look relatively similar. And if any team picks much outside that order, whatever general manager has dared to deviate from the plan will get immediately crucified like the second coming of the Kristaps Porzingis pick last year. Oh wait a minute...so far that pick's looking pretty good. There's no crystal ball, no surefire thing. There's a ton of luck and things breaking the right way here. And there are a lot of things to derail any exciting draft pick.

At the end of the Draft this week, every team is going to go home convinced they did the best they could and they made some smart picks (well, maybe not the Wizards because we don't have any picks). But we won't really know until next season, or the season after or maybe five or six seasons from now. There's so much luck involved in this process. Well, unless maybe you select Jonny Flynn fifth overall...because what was David Kahn thinking that year? Don't overreact to anything about the Draft this week. It's a little bit of a crap shoot after all. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And sometimes you have to wait a while to find out.
Jonny Flynn...we hardly knew ye.


  1. there seems to be an inherent contradiction in saying that "we can't just go back and re-write history to complain about what ifs using the absolute best possible outcome from every draft year" while seemingly using the lack of obvious consensus alternative picks as a defense. some GMs are lucky, some are unlucky, but only grunfeld is so incompetent that he wasted two 1st round picks in the same draft (in 2011) on guys who never played a minute in the NBA after their original rookie contracts.

  2. First, thanks for reading and commenting; not many people do. I'm not arguing the draft record for Ernie Grunfeld has been anything but mediocre. The point was more to point out the ridiculousness and randomness of the whole process that we spend so much time talking about. This summer is the test and we've already lost Plan A. Grunfeld won't be evaluated on draft picks. Everything's been pointing to this next week and couple of months in free agency. And he has to make it work. There can't be any excuses. Otherwise I may as well be the GM if an excuse (like the salary cap escalating and giving tons of teams the cap room we've worked hard to create) is going to make us keep doing the same thing again and again.