There are 2 critical dates this post-season which will impact the Raptors and their fans, prior to next season. May 30 is Lottery Day, and June 28 is Draft Day. Let’s quickly summarize these days. Then we’ll understand why the Lottery comes before the Draft, and what the Raps braintrust will be doing in the month between knowing where we’re drafting, and making the choice.
The Draft Lottery has been around since 1985, and is the NBA’s prized weapon to combat tanking. In case you’re not yet a citizen of Tank Nation, or even know what that is, be aware that out-of-the-playoffs teams have been suspected of losing deliberately (i.e., “go in the tank”, an expression I first heard in a tennis context). The Association became deeply concerned that hopeless teams would put their feeblest possible lineup on the floor, in order to close the season with the worst record, thereby receiving the automatic first pick in the NCAA draft. The advent of the Lottery gives the worst team the most ping pong balls in the cornpopper, which means they have the best chance of winning the top pick, but not a guarantee. The Lottery has become a media event, which is a happy by-product for the NBA.
The implications of winning the Lottery are huge, largely because of the enormous drop-off in talent from #1 to (say) #7. Talent is a pyramid, and this season’s NCAA draft crop is no exception. The consensus #1 pick is Anthony Davis, a precocious rim-protector with growing skills on offence. FWIW, and I’m not a big college hoops guy, I think the consensus is right. This kid is smart, coachable and physically gifted. He’s blessed with the height of a centre, and the hands and speed of a guard.
The Raptors have about a 3.5% chance of winning the Lottery, and picking first. By contrast, the toothless Charlotte Bobcats, who turned in a crisp 7-59 record (no, that’s not a typo), have the best chance at 25%, with the 12 other lottery-bound teams in between.
Once the ping pong balls have tumbled out of the popper, we’ll know what every team’s draft position is. Then we’ve got draft night to look forward to.
There being no harm in speculation, let’s consider what happens to the Raptors’ roster if the balls bounce right. Should Anthony Davis become a Raptor, intense speculation would instantly arise as to the fate of Jonas Valanciunas, last year’s pick at #5, and next year’s pencilled-in centre. Jonas doesn’t have a contract yet with the Raps, and might refuse to sign if he thinks he’s going to be a second banana. Therefore Colangelo would either have to trade his rights, and get back much less than he paid, or entertain other possibilities, like declaring Jonas the Power Forward, Davis the Centre, and Bargnani the 6th man, or trade bait. BC could also put the #1 pick in play, thereby giving him the hottest cellphone in town. Suppose Sacramento, which is currently #4, called and was the most desperate of all BC’s newfound friends. If BC could extract a Kings’ ransom (their pick this year and 2013, and a rotation player like Tyreke Evans), he’d certainly have to give the deal a lot of consideration.
The other option I want to consider is what happens if the balls fall exactly as percentages say they should, and the Raps have the 8th pick. By then, the studs (Davis, Robinson, Kidd-Gilchrist) will have shaken hands with the Commish, and wearing other teams’ caps. My guess is the choices will be smaller both in height and capability. Colangelo will probably pick a guard, which won’t have a huge impact on the roster or our record. I’ll flesh this thought out more after we know the draft order, i.e., after the Lottery.