But the New Orleans Hornets are in a ripe position to steal the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, as they possess the fourth-most ping pong balls. Along with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Hornets hold a 13.8 percent chance of having their name called alongside the No. 1 draft slot.
Not only that, but the Hornets and Cavs each have a 42.4 percent chance at landing in the top three of the draft.
While those odds may not seem stupendously great, they are better than all but two teams. Only the Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings have better odds at obtaining the No. 1 pick.
And what should provide even more optimism for Hornets fans is that the basketball gods have historically looked favorably upon teams such as theirs, which finished the 2012 season strong. Monty Williams's team played the last few weeks as if it was fighting for a playoff bid, not the No. 1 pick. The Hornets finished 21-45, but at one point in the final month won seven of 10 games.
Teams such as San Antonio in 1997, Houston in 2002 and Orlando in 2004 were all stable organizations who were one piece away from becoming great teams when they received the No. 1 pick. And of course, all three teams earned that pick and used them on big men who surely could not fail (Tim Duncan, Yao Ming and Dwight Howard, in that order).
The 2012 draft has another can't-miss big man high atop everyone's draft board—Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, in case you somehow didn’t know who I was talking about.
Though many draft experts have claimed this is a deep draft, there is little doubt the ultimate prize is Davis. Any team that has to pick after No. 1 is going to be very disappointed. Whereas last year’s draft was underrated at the time, this season’s is overrated.
Neither Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond or Harrison Barnes would significantly upgrade the Hornets’ roster or skill level at any particular position.
Robinson is an unathletic bruiser. While that kind of player is unlikely to bust completely, he is also unlikely to ever be a star—which you’re of course expecting when picking in the top five of the NBA draft.
Kidd-Gilchrist is a guy who plays with plenty of energy, but lacks any single trait that could make him a great player. For that reason, he really wouldn’t be an improvement over Trevor Ariza.
Drummond is much too ripe and figures to be no more than a backup to Emeka Okafor. Heck, based on the progress of Gustavo Ayon, there’s no guarantee the UConn freshman would even earn playing time in Year 1.
And though Barnes possesses all the physical traits of a great NBA player, he lacks the most crucial—heart. He seems to be a carbon copy of Marvin Williams. Ask Hawks fans how that’s worked out (if you can find a Hawks fan anywhere).
But the No. 1 overall selection would guarantee that Davis would join a Hornets team that prides itself on defense and only improve that aspect of the team’s play immediately. Imagine how good a shot-blocking team the Hornets would be with Okafor and Davis.
They’d also be one of the top rebounding teams in the league and would be able to match some of the prominent teams in the Western Conference when the ball goes down low. Davis and Okafor could match the Lakers’ frontcourt duo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, Utah’s Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap and Memphis’s Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Shutting those teams' post games down would become much more doable. Against any of the other teams in the west, the Hornets should not only neutralize the opposing frontcourts, but dominate them.
Aside from those factors, Davis is young and talented enough to grow into a tremendous offensive player. By Year 2, he figures to become a guy who can hit from 20 feet while also being able to score when the ball is thrown down to him in the post.
We already know he’ll be a great lob guy, which would fit well if the Hornets can snag an Austin Rivers or Kendall Marshall to run the point. And if they are able to do that, Davis should also become one of the best pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop forwards in the game.
Combined with Eric Gordon (making a huge assumption that he returns), the Hornets could quickly develop a great one-two punch, and possibly three-man combo if they make good on the second of their two lottery selections.
Think about having guys such as Ayon, Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack coming off the bench. Suddenly the depth and scoring punch is significantly improved. Include Marco Bellinelli to that group and the Hornets suddenly begin to look a little like San Antonio, at least in terms of depth and shooting ability.
Going forward the Hornets need a player such as Davis with his versatility and ability to solidify the frontline unit. They need a star, a guy to build around in general and a guy to build around along with Gordon (who is still just 23 years old).
Neither Robinson, Drummond, Barnes or Kidd-Gilchrist are franchise players. Only Davis fits that profile. And that’s why the Hornets need him so badly.