NBA Draft: Best Available or Best Fit?

Justin KidwellContributor IJune 26, 2008

As we are surrounded by the frenzy that culminates in tonight’s NBA Draft, our minds reflect on the issues and topics swirling around the annual event.


A couple of trades have already been announced, rumors of potential deals fly about, information about secret workouts is revealed, and everyone has their own theories about who should be drafted and when—and this list of discussion points is the tip of the iceberg.


In all of this draft mayhem, one debate that arguably defines the core of draft strategy is either barely touched on or not mentioned at all: Should one draft the best available player, or should one draft the player that best fits the most pressing need for the organization on the clock?


Since there are few—if any—players who possess all of the skills necessary to win a championship in any sport, front offices are charged with the daunting task of evaluating players to determine the best choice for a given franchise.


There are so many constraints that need to be managed that one team’s answer to this question may change daily because of adjustments to the team, league, and/or macroeconomic framework.  Players are analyzed, in the scope of the team’s philosophies, for their effectiveness both on and off the court, field, or ice.


Additionally, the team evaluates the relative value of each player in the draft pool, the possibility of gaining the opportunity to draft each player, the possibility of signing each player, and the cost incurred for the consummation of the contract.  My head spins when thinking about the extent of this analysis, and this is only the beginning.


League changes such as salary caps, league alignments, opposing teams’ adjustments, and more serve to cloud the issue, not to mention the major media dollars and markets that figure into teams’ decisions.


It is clear that the draft process is involved and fluid, and that the answer to the question is that a team always opts for the player that best fits the team’s framework.


What seems to be lost in the discussion is the fact that a team drafting a player who fills a need already addressed by players on the current roster still chooses the player who is the best fit for the team.  It just happens that the decision is based on other changes that will be made by the team to incorporate the draft choice into the fabric of the organization.


This is demonstrated by the decision faced by the Chicago Bulls in this year’s NBA draft.  With point guards Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon (and Ben Gordon, who is viewed by many as an undersized shooting guard) already on the roster, it is highly anticipated that the Bulls will select Derrick Rose—another point guard—with the first pick in the tonight’s draft.


Many people may view this with skepticism, but there is more at play than simply adding a point guard to a roster saturated with guards.  The Bulls may attempt to play a more guard-oriented style of basketball, one where the ball is pushed up the floor offensively and where more pressure is applied to opposing backcourts to further attempt to force the tempo.


The Bulls may attempt to build depth on their roster, gradually introducing Derrick Rose to the rigors of the NBA game by limiting his minutes on the court.


More likely, Derrick Rose serves as an upgrade to the point guards already on the roster due to his Chicago roots and his ability on the court, and the organization may attempt to use the point guard(s) currently on the roster to make other improvements to the team’s overall makeup.


One can point to other situations and see the focus on the best choice for the team.  The rumors about the Miami Heat looking to draft O.J. Mayo instead of Michael Beasley are proof of this theory.


Many believe that Beasley has been the best performer of any player in this year’s draft, and the current Heat roster seems like it could use more help in the frontcourt than on the perimeter.


But apparently there is a reason to entertain O.J. Mayo, a fantastic perimeter player with some character questions surfacing over the last few weeks, as a choice to play alongside Dwayne Wade in the backcourt.


Maybe the fact that Shawn Marion decided to stay with the Heat changed the team’s outlook on the draft, but it shows how quickly ideas fluctuate about changes to an organization.


The fluid nature of professional athletics, combined with the thrill of the unknown, makes draft season a great one for all sports fans.  We hypothesize and analyze the situation from our positions, and we enjoy the analysis and attempt to figure it all out.


However, we are not privy to the same information as these sports managers, so while the fans may designate a player as the best available, I contend that these managers are more accurate in their determination of the players’ value.


If a player is chosen, that player is both the best fit and the best available to the team.


Regardless of the choice, we fans will always give our post-draft analysis!