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October 11, 2009

Some contrarian thinking on 1st-rounders

Researching a Sunday column on Alexis Ajinca's contract situation -- http://www.charlotteobserver.com/206/story/995833.html -- confirmed something I suspected for a long time:

First-round picks in the NBA just aren't as valuable as some of you treat them.

I'm not talking ALL first-round picks. Michael Jordan should feel significant regret for using top-three picks on Kwame Brown (with Washington) and Adam Morrison (with Charlotte). My point is some of us treat all first-rounders as game-changers, and that's just not consistent with reality.

At least seven of the 30 first-round picks in 2006 didn't reach the summer when teams would have to decide whether to tender qualifying offers to make them restricted free agents. If roughly one out of three first-rounders were ousted that quickly, then maybe the draft isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Watching the Bobcats this preseason, I've been marginally more impressed by second-rounder Derrick Brown than lottery pick Gerald Henderson. That doesn't mean Henderson is a bust and Brown is a coup. And if Ajinca doesn't work out, I still think it was a good call to trade into the 20th spot. It's rare that you have a chance that late in a draft to explore a big man's possibilities.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 11, 2009 at 10:07 PM | Permalink


Rick - the value of the draft choices (and certainly the 1st rounders )is that this is a game of building assets. There are 3 ways: a) draft, which I admit is sometimes a 'crap shot', b) trades, which are often challenging to pull off because so many teams are over the salary cap creating complexity, and c) Free agency, and the top flight FA's are few and far between!

a GM has to be good at all three to get a great set of assets (wasn't LB talking about assets the other day?)

Even if the 1st rounder doesn't help your team on the court, it's an asset that can be used in trade to improve your collective set of assets.

Poor 1st round choices diminish the value of your assets and limit your ability to trade from a position of strength. see the A. Morrison trade as a trade from a weak position - gave up a good asset (Brown) to make the salary cap number work to get a player (Rad) with more financial liabilities than we gave up!

1st rounders are valuable as it's the one way of the 3 mentioned that you are in most control of your destiny. They are often the cheapest of the 3 as the contracts are based on a scale and not the open market, yet they are the riskiest. which is why the GM has to be a good 'craps shooter'. The other two require either the player to agree to play for you (free agency) or another team to agree to trade with you.

Posted by: bobfan1 | Oct 11, 2009 11:19:02 PM

You're totally right that the key to first round picks is they are cost-effective. The part you might be missing is how often they don't work out. It's a natural process, if an expensive one.

Posted by: Rick Bonnell | Oct 11, 2009 11:26:58 PM

hey the year michael jordan picked Brown, everyone was picking him at the top. And look at the 1,2,3 picks from that year. It was Brown, curry, chandler...all three big high school kids that did not turn out to be stars. WHo would you have picked first, in hindsight? Chandler, Curry, Brown. Brown is now starting for Detroit while Curry is stinking up entire state of New York and Chandler is having his own health issues. So lay off the Brown pick. He was still the pick everyone else would have picked. And Morrison? He was obviously a white guy-fan pleasing pick for a franchise badly in need of approval that did not pan out.And what about Valentine and Ajinca? That is turning out to be a great pick. ANd that..you probably give credit to Larry Brown. Why? The buck stops with Jordan. It was when they selected Brwon and Morrison...and it does when they picked Valentine and Ajinca. It goes both ways. Valentine and Ajica have potential to be very good players. Don't be biased. Jordan has done a good job here in Charlotte. The only bad move was hiring Sam Vincent for one year until Larry Brown was ready.

Posted by: jay | Oct 11, 2009 11:46:13 PM

Oh...and Derrick Brown also. If Kwame is Jordan's pick...then...Derrick Brown is also his pick. You win some and you lose some. If I were a betting man, I'd put my money in the ultimate Champion-Michael Jordan. And that team in Washington..what have they done for 10 years since Jordan left? NOTHING. They were nothing before Jordan got there (hadn't been to the playoffs or won a playoff series for about 20years?) and they are still nothing. At least, Jordan put fans in the sit and made them relevant.

Posted by: jay | Oct 11, 2009 11:52:05 PM

And do not underestimate the value of a draft pick...in the days of salary cap. There is no way you can have solid veteran lineup to fit under the salary cap. You need a bargain cheap draft choices to round out the roster.

Posted by: jay | Oct 11, 2009 11:55:17 PM

who's Valentine?

Posted by: kevin | Oct 11, 2009 11:55:40 PM

Valentino the DJ Augustine

Posted by: jay | Oct 12, 2009 12:00:03 AM

Rick Bonnell = MJ hater.

Posted by: afan | Oct 12, 2009 12:46:08 AM


Posted by: emeka | Oct 12, 2009 1:52:19 AM

Jordan also drafted Jared Dudley. He's obviously no longer here, but was productive in Charlotte.

Posted by: Yeah? | Oct 12, 2009 1:56:27 AM

Jordan gets credit for picking Larry Brown AND for allowing some of his wishes turning into draft picks & trades. Rod Higgins deserves some credit too, yes he was a Jordan pick, but unlike some of the other UNC pedigree people in the organization (no, not Larry) Rod actually was succesful at his current position for another NBA team (Golden State) without Michael's involvement.

I think Morrison's pick by Jordan was more about him thinking Morrison was the next Larry Bird or Pistol Pete. Would that have captured the hearts of the college basketball rich Carolinas, certainly, but at the time of the draft their were too many mixed signals about Rudy Gay and Brandon Roy being a better NBA talent....and history has certainly shown that.

A Bigger bone-head move was extending the qualifying offer to Sean May at the same time as Raymond Felton three summers ago. Ray deserved that, May did not and it hurt our team last season, I think Higgins learned from that and that is why they are being so cautious with Ajinca.

Posted by: BlockParty | Oct 12, 2009 6:20:53 AM

Rick - I agree that 1st rounders often don't work out, but since they are the most cost effective way of building assets, better to bet wrong on a 1st rounder than a poorly executed trade or free agent signing. HOWEVER, it's a three legged stool in this league to be a successful asset gatherer. You simply cannot wiff year in and year out in the draft and be successful (May, Morrison) and when you have a high pick (normally meaning you have a bad team), you need to make the most of that asset otherwise it can haunt you for years.

Posted by: bobfan1 | Oct 12, 2009 7:34:29 AM

ESPN's D.R.A.F.T. initiative did some great work on the draft and how top 5 picks in particular matter. If you think about every championship team in the last 10 years they all drafted at least one of their top two players. Duncan, Kobe, Wade, etc. The lone exception ironically is LB's Detroit squad.
The draft piece also flies in the face of conventional wisdom because it makes the argument that you SHOULD draft for position not talent after the top 10 because that picks value over a replacement player V.O.R.P. This is an insider piece but it's well worth the price

Posted by: James Hamlin | Oct 12, 2009 9:04:06 AM

MJ has done a fairly good job with his Bobcat draft choices. His only real bust was Sean May. In hindsight it would have been better to package the two first rounders that year for a better draft position and picked up CP3 or D. Williams. But who knew? Both of those stars did not show the explosiveness in college that they do in the pros. Its a crap shoot. The Ammo pick was obviously for the fans to build Team Support, but not a bad choice... the kid did lead the nation in scoring his senior year. That young man had the weight of a City on his back and simply cracked under the pressure. Im glad he got a fresh start in LA, but the pressure of playing out there is probably even greater. I just wish we didnt have to give up Shannon to get rid of him. I think Ajinca might turn into a decent pro. The kid has agility and skills, which you dont find in too many 7 footers. He just needs some time to grow into his body. Hang on to this one MJ.

Posted by: FuriousStyles | Oct 12, 2009 9:10:44 AM


You are right and wrong at the same time. Successful teams make great picks. Bad teams don't. Of those stats you threw out there, how many of the failed picks were on teams now in the lottery? Bet it was high....

Posted by: HJ | Oct 12, 2009 9:45:17 AM

rick i disagree big time with your stance (and a lot of peoples stance) regarding ajinca. sure the team should wait till the deadline to sign the option to motivate the kid to develop faster, but the option should be a no brainer. its clear he's talented and young and under developed. its also clear he's better than mohommad and diop. so we're gonna pay our other 2 bigs 6 mil a year to be below the depth chart than the 21(?) year old with huge upside that you can get for how much over the next 2 years? like 3 million or something? thats cheap labor.

management can live with mistakes that cost the team a million or so in cap room per year especially when its for a young big with potential upside that you used a 1st rounder on. but to blow 12 million a year on guys that flat out don't deserve it is what costs them jobs.

don't get me started on how we gave up on morrison and may too early when their careers were halted by injuries, not lack of skills. i remember watching sean may dominant a few nba games. not contribute, dominate. i remember watching morrison go off in games. the talent was there, the situation and patience wasn't. i pray they don't do the same to ajinca. the guy really is a talent and a steal as far as i'm concerned for a future 1st rounder to get him and get the opportunity to have larry brown develop him for 4 years.

wait till the deadline, but jesus, give the guy the option.

Posted by: charlottean | Oct 12, 2009 11:55:38 AM

Jordan didn't pick May (or fail to combine May/Felton for Paul) that was Bickerstaff's oversight. Jordan's watch allowed (again with Bickerstaff's suggestion) to offer May an extension for the 08-09 season during the summer of 2007...that was a huge mistake on Jordan's part. Felton had earned it, May never came close.

Point well taken about Ajinca's possible salary, any drafted player is less expensive than a mid-level exception veteran, with the exception of the busts. I still wonder about the Diop trade (his salary increases over time, Carroll's decreases over time and Hollins $1M expired at the end of last season). If Diop can't get off the bench for productive minutes, that decision will cost us $3-3.5M per year the next 3 years.

Posted by: BlockParty | Oct 12, 2009 1:02:47 PM

Hey Rick, good points, but I just thought I'd point out that 7 is a little less than 1/4 of 30, a lot less than 1/3. 7*3=21, 7*4=28.

Posted by: Jon | Oct 12, 2009 1:06:49 PM

I agree and disagree. You should try and build your team a number of different ways, but draft picks matter a great deal for a young team. If people were upset, it was with the people they could have drafted and gone on to success. I think these last two drafts were very good by the cats, but I was one of the people who thought they should have gone after Lopez instead of DJ.I think there are two things that ring true of the draft: 1.those who arent very good at developing their own talent seem to get alot of practice at picking at the top, year after year. 2. Since people are coming out so early the drfat is getting deeper, and their is talent in the 2nd round.( Paul Milsap, glen davis, gilbert arenas,carlos boozer are just a few player selected in the 2nd round

Posted by: flipster | Oct 12, 2009 2:29:24 PM

Mind if I fine-tune something you said? I don't know that players turning pro early makes drafts deeper. But it might make the drafting process less precise because you have less data on which to base picks.
In other words, there might not be a big difference between the player taken 20th and the player taken 38th. But there's a big difference in their salaries and contract security.
I wouldn't be surprised if the NBA tries to address that in the next collective-bargaining agreement.

Posted by: Rick Bonnell | Oct 12, 2009 4:59:40 PM


If we had drafted Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay as opposed to Morrison, are you writing that blog entry? Not to mention Granger over May? Young players not only serve as building blocks (Orlando in Jameer and Dwight Howard), but trade bait (Celtics never get Garnett if they don't draft Jefferson). Look at the historically weaker franchises (Clippers, us for now, Bucks) and you will notice a draft trend.

Posted by: HJ | Oct 12, 2009 9:29:10 PM

In general, once you get past the first 10 or so picks in a given draft, you are left with role players. Doesn't mean you can't find valuable assets later in the draft, but the odds of finding a true game-changer are slim. The vast majority of elite players are high lottery picks.

That's why we shouldn't expect too much from Gerald Henderson. If he becomes a solid back-up, that's probably about all you can expect from the #12 pick.

Posted by: G'boro Cats Fan | Oct 13, 2009 10:46:36 AM

let's not forget to include that most gm's have had their head up their.........and have been drafting guys that have no business in the nba over guys that proved themselves for years in college. look at san antonio grabiing dejuan blair in the 2nd round and the guys probably gonna be a 10 year starter in the league.

Posted by: charlottean | Oct 13, 2009 11:18:34 AM

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