It almost seemed like a cruel joke.
For the second year in a row, the Charlotte Bobcats were disappointed in the NBA draft lottery. Last year, they had the best chance for the top pick and ended up earning the second pick. This year, Charlotte had the second-best odds of winning the top pick and nearly a 60 percent chance of getting a top-three pick.
Instead, the ping-pong balls bounced Charlotte all the way out of the top three, giving them the fourth pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
But what was really lost by earning the fourth pick? Sure, Nerlens Noel is almost definitely out of the picture, but after that, everything is wide open.
It seemed like Ben McLemore would be the surefire second overall pick, perhaps even the top overall pick if the right team had won the draft lottery. But unless someone in the top three trades away their pick (which very well could happen), McLemore might fall all the way to Charlotte at No. 4.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, with their top pick, will probably take Nerlens Noel, unless they trade the pick. If the pick is traded, it's probably going to be someone who still wants Noel. It seems like a safe bet that he's going No. 1.
The Magic are almost definitely going to work to improve their backcourt in the draft. While they'd love a shooting guard that's a bit more dependable and has a higher upside than Arron Afflalo, their most pressing need is a point guard to replace their current starter, the aging Jameer Nelson. Nelson put up decent numbers last season—14.7 points, 7.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game—but the Magic are obviously in search of a replacement.
Nelson is 31 years old, and will turn 32 this season. His foot speed is obviously slowing down, his defense is slipping and it's becoming clear that he's more of a role player than a starting point guard. His playmaking skills are okay but not great, and while he was one of the more dependable players on the Magic's roster last year that's not saying much for a team that went 20-62 and has a blossoming frontcourt in the works.
This means the Magic will be taking a hard look at Trey Burke, Michigan's sophomore point guard. Last season in Michigan, Burke led his team to the NCAA Championship Game before they ultimately fell to Louisville in what was an exciting game. Burke still put up 24 points, three assists and four rebounds in the game, carrying his weight against the best throughout the entire tournament.
Burke finished the season with 18.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game on 46.3 percent shooting. He's being compared to current Charlotte starting point guard Kemba Walker due to size, explosiveness and overall play-style. With Kemba's success and Burke's strong combine, the Magic are likely taking a very hard look at Burke.
At No. 3, the Wizards seem like a lock to take Otto Porter. With the promising backcourt of John Wall at the point, Bradley Beal at shooting guard and some solid size at the 4 and the 5, the Wiz's biggest need is easily a highly polished NBA-ready small forward who can be counted on as a third-option scorer and can be a high-level facilitator for the team's big scorers. Porter also has good enough size to shift over to power forward if needed, so he also has versatility in position. He fits their team like a glove.
The Wizards are even less likely to take the highly talented McLemore after spending the third overall pick on Bradley Beal at shooting guard last season. Beal had something of an adjustment season as a rookie, but showed the team and the NBA that he's going to be a highly skilled SG, especially with a great team around him.
The Bobcats (soon to be Hornets) are then left with most of my favorite prospects left on the board if things shake out that way. Ben McLemore will be the best player on the board at that point and despite their needs, the Bobcats must take him. He has the potential to be an All-Star, has a beautiful jump shot, incredible athleticism and finishes at the rim with flair.
His biggest knock is creating his own shot, but that's a coach-able problem to fix. McLemore will do something for the Bobcats that they rarely do—put points up in a hurry with his ability to score from anywhere, including three-point land.
After McLemore, you have a slew of other candidates. If McLemore isn't available (and even if he is), the Bobcats should be looking toward power forward Anthony Bennett—a very strong, very explosive offensive player who needs coaching on defense, primarily in the effort department. He runs the floor like a fiend offensively, but then slowly jogs back to his man on defense. With a coach who can get him motivated defensively, and if he can work on backing in instead of going almost exclusively face-up, Bennett's going to be great.
With the return of the Hornets name, some are calling him Larry Johnson 2.0. That's a bit lofty, but with nearly identical builds, and with both coming out of the University of Las Vegas Nevada, it's hard not to make comparisons between the two.
Other targets include the polarizing shooting guard Victor Oladipo (who I'm not nearly as high on as McLemore or Bennett, but a lot of people love), who provided a major spark as an Indiana Hoosier this past season and has received extremely lofty comparisons to the likes of Dwyane Wade. I love Oladipo's athleticism, and his explosiveness is stunning. His finishing ability is high and he has a fairly accurate jumper, but his shooting mechanics are pretty rough and he isn't a great ball-handler or passer.
After that you have Alex Len, who some say could be the best big man in the draft, while others believe he will be a total bust. At 7'1", and with a wingspan of 7'3.5", Len might be worth the fourth pick. He has tremendous upside and potential, his height and length are fantastic, he proved to be effective offensively (more so than Noel) and was a good defensive player, blocking 2.1 shots per game last season with Maryland.
There are a few others Charlotte may look at, or they could even trade back to try to pick up a valuable role player, while drafting an underrated prospect like Mason Plumlee. There's no telling.
But the point of the article is simple.
Just because they got knocked out of the top three, things are going to be fine. With the No. 1 pick, Rich Cho would have been virtually obligated by outside forces to draft Noel, who will either be a solid NBA player and elite defender or a complete bust. And with the way the draft fell, it means that Charlotte is under significantly less pressure, and will still have a very good shot at drafting a high-impact player.
Who should Charlotte draft at No. 4 if things pan out?
And then there's the future. The Bobcats will improve next season but they'll probably still be one of the worst teams in the league, with a high lottery pick coming their way. This team is still a year or two away from full-development, and could have as many as three lottery picks next season, depending on the Detroit Pistons and the Portland Trail Blazers.
If they manage to get a top-three pick, they can't go wrong with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Julius Randle, plus several other strong players near the top of the draft.
Better to have the balls bounce unfairly this season than next, when basically everyone who will be taken in the top six or so could be game-changers.
Also, if the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have more luck than anyone in the NBA as far as the draft goes, somehow manage to not make the playoffs within two years, I think it's fair to say they should be the butt of every NBA joke. With as many top/very high picks as they've had, they should be a powerhouse soon.
It almost seems like it's rigged. NBA conspiracists, that was a joke. Kind of. Maybe.