New Orleans Hornets and Teams That Did Most to Win in 2012 During NBA Draft
The NBA draft is all about building for the future around basketball's stars of tomorrow, but if a team can stick to its long-term blueprint while improving its prospects of winning in the short term, then even better.
After all, assuming the ultimate goal of any draft strategy is to get better, doing so right away should validate the success of said strategy, shouldn't it?
In any case, turning a team's fortunes around from one season to the next is no easy task, though it has been done before. Just ask the Orlando Magic, who made a 20-win jump with Shaquille O'Neal, the Dallas Mavericks, who leaped from 13 wins to 36 with Jason Kidd, the San Antonio Spurs, who went from the lottery to playoffs twice (with David Robinson in 1989-90 and Tim Duncan in 1997-98) or the Chicago Bulls, who pulled off similar turnarounds with Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose, albeit a quarter of a century apart.
That's not to say that these five teams (listed in ascending order according to their highest pick) are all bound for postseason glory in 2013, but rather that they figure to fare considerably better this coming season than they did during the one that landed them such primo draft picks in the first place.
Golden State Warriors
2011-12 Record: 23-43 (.348 Win Percentage)
The Golden State Warriors might've actually been a half-decent team last season had Steph Curry's bum ankle not given the front office an excuse to go into full-on tank mode. As it stands, Mark Jackson could have the playoff contender on his hands this fall that he'd originally hoped for.
That is, IF the ankles of Curry and Andrew Bogut are sufficiently healed in time for the 2012-13 season. A starting five of those two, sophomore-to-be Klay Thompson at shooting guard, former All-Star David Lee at power forward and No. 7 pick Harrison Barnes at small forward may be formidable enough to put the Warriors within striking distance of a winning record.
On the offensive end, anyway, though Barnes has the physical skills and the mental acuity to be a lockdown defender on the wing. His scoring skills should make him a nice fit as well, what with his sweet shooting stroke from deep, his ability to attack the basket and a dose enough of craftiness to put the ball in the basket from just about anywhere on the floor in between.
As glowing a report as that may be, Barnes is by no means a bona fide star. Concerns about Barnes' strength, ball-handling, shot creation and general passivity will persist until he proves them to be false or, rather, plays to the expectations.
But, to his credit, Barnes possesses the requisite talent to be something more than "just" a steady rotation player, and his game may well be better suited to the professional ranks than it was to the confines of the college game.
The additions of Festus Ezeli at No. 30 and Draymond Green at No. 35 should do no worse than bolster the Dubs' bench as well.
Ezeli was arguably the best player on a Vanderbilt team that sent two others (John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor) into the draft before an injury slowed him down during his senior season. And, at 7'0" and 264 pounds (with a 7'6" wingspan), the big kid out of Nigeria is, at the very least, a solid insurance policy in case Bogut's ankle remains balky and Andris Biedrins continues to struggle.
As for Green, he'll give Golden State a little bit of everything as a sub at either forward position, including a hefty helping of leadership and winning know-how.
2011-12 Record: 22-44 (.333 Win Percentage)
Hop on the 80 East in Oakland, drive for about two hours (an hour-and-a-half if you're lucky) and you'll stumble upon another team (the Sacramento Kings) that put itself in position to move ever close toward its first playoff appearance since 2006.
GM Geoff Petrie must be thanking his lucky stars that Thomas Robinson fell right into his lap.
The bruising power forward out of Kansas should pair perfectly with budding All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in Keith Smart's frontcourt. T-Rob won't have to worry about piling up points next to a skilled post-scorer like Boogie, though the Kings can only hope the rookie's tireless work ethic and terrific attitude will rub off on his hot-headed partner in crime.
At the very least, Robinson—with his 6'9", 244-pound frame, his length and athleticism and his bulldog mentality—should be able to compete defensively and on the boards with his more seasoned counterparts.
Whether the rest of the team shapes up into something more than the sum of its parts remains to be seen.
Tyreke Evans has yet to turn the corner, albeit with injuries and attitude issues curbing his development. If the Kings can count on Marcus Thornton and All-Rookie performer Isaiah Thomas to continue to grow together in the backcourt, get Boogie and Robinson going up front and either flip Evans for another asset or get him back on the straight-and-narrow to stardom, then the cowbells might just be ringing with joy before too long.
At least, until the team picks up and moves to Seattle or Anaheim.
2011-12 Record: 21-45 (.318 Win Percentage)
The Cleveland Cavaliers managed to improve their win total by two games this past season, even amidst a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule, thanks in large part to the extraordinary efforts of Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.
Now, nobody's suggesting that Dion Waiters, the Cavs' top pick in this year's crop, will have nearly the same impact during his rookie campaign, though his arrival should coincide with another significant step forward in Cleveland's latest basketball renaissance nonetheless.
That being said, Waiters' combination of pros (strength, athleticism, scoring, ability to attack the rim) and cons (less-than-ideal size, an inconsistent shot) have some comparing him to a young Dwyane Wade.
Not that Clevelanders should necessarily expect Flash 2.0, though if Waiters proves to be a capable slasher off the wing next to Kyrie (and any measure of an upgrade at shooting guard over Anthony Parker et al.), Byron Scott's squad should steal at least a few more wins next season.
Of course, as was the case when Cleveland reached for Tristan Thompson at No. 4 last year, there's plenty of risk involved with Waiters this time around when considering who else was available. The Cavs could've easily upgraded at power forward (with Thomas Robinson) or small forward (with Harrison Barnes), or gone with a smoother shooter like Austin Rivers at the 2.
Still, Waiters has some serious star potential, even if his two years as a sub at Syracuse might not suggest so at first glance.
The same can't quite be said for Tyler Zeller, whom the Cavs acquired in a draft-day trade for the No. 17 pick. To Zeller's credit, though, the ACC Player of the Year out of North Carolina brings plenty of size and a dash of skill along with an ability to run the floor, which should play well on the break with Irving and Waiters.
2011-12 Record: 20-46 (.303 Win Percentage)
The Washington Wizards are something of a mixed bag at this point, though even that could be enough to shuffle them into the Eastern Conference playoff picture next spring.
GM Ernie Grunfeld has just about purged all the bad seeds from last season's first-half laughingstock, moving one flex of his franchise's amnesty muscle away from sending Andray Blatche and his albatross-of-a-contract packing forever. He's done fairly well to re-stock the Wizards' roster with high-character professionals like Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, albeit at a steep price to the future payroll.
That cost, though, may well be worth it, if only to ensure that John Wall doesn't go from prized pick to complete nincompoop before his career is over.
The addition of Bradley Beal with the No. 3 pick should help in that regard, as well. The 6'5" guard out of Florida brings a much-needed measure of outside shooting to a squad that ranked 28th in three-point percentage last season.
Beal will likely be asked to summon his inner Ray Allen or Eric Gordon or whoever else to stretch defenses with his sweet stroke from deep rather than crash the boards and attack the basket, which have also been his calling cards at times.
If Beal's good enough to displace Jordan Crawford at shooting guard, then the Wiz, while still far from unbeatable, will be well on their way to recovering from the setbacks of the ill-fated Gilbert Arenas-Antawn Jamison era in DC.
New Orleans Hornets
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2011-12 Record: 21-45 (.318 Win Percentage)
"Hope" is the operative word these days for the New Orleans Hornets, because, after a year replete with mediocrity and controversy, they're finally flush with it.
Where once the outlook was bleak, with Chris Paul demanding a move out of the Bayou and the team under David Stern's thumb, now the Hornets can look forward to a bright future in the Big Easy, with Tom Benson assuming ownership and Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers coming to town.
To be sure, climbing out of the cellar of the Western Conference will be no easy task for the Hornets, much less vaulting into a crowded playoff picture.
Davis may possess some yet-unseen offensive skills and be the best shot-blocker to come around in years, but he's still rail-thin at 6'11" and 222 pounds and is far from a finished product with his back to the basket. That could be a considerable concern in the interim, with only Gustavo Ayon and Jason Smith presently on the payroll in the Crescent City to support and surround The Mighty Brow in the paint.
As for Rivers, his ball-handling, shooting and overall confidence might not make up for his physical shortcomings, even if they translate better to the pro game than they did during his single collegiate season at Duke.
And if the Hornets opt to retain Eric Gordon, a restricted free agent who missed 57 of 66 games last season due to injury, how do they plan to reconcile their two gifted shooting guards, neither of whom is ideally suited to the point?
With all of that said, Monty Williams is a good coach with a solid-enough rapport with Rivers to mesh the talents of his talented backcourt tandem.
And, frankly, so long as one (or both) of them can toss the rock up within range of Davis' 7'6" wingspan and massive mitts, the Hornets shouldn't have too much trouble putting the ball in the basket.
Hoops heads in New Orleans shouldn't expect a speedy return to the postseason, though a 30- to 35-win season should be well within the Hornets' collective reach if all goes according to plan.