NBA Draft 2020: Golden Opportunity

Whether the Warriors keep winning titles could come down to what they do with the second overall pick in this year’s draft.

The 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs were terrible.

They finished 27th out of 29 teams in offense, and dead-last in defense. There’s a good reason for that – their best player, David Robinson, appeared in just 6 games due to injury. Their second-best player, Sean Elliott, made just 39 appearances. A 37-year-old Dominique Wilkins was their top scorer, norming 18.2 markers a game. Future head coaches Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson both averaged north of 25 minutes. The team went 3-15 under Coach Bob Hill, before he got the ax. It was so bad, front-office executive Gregg Popovich had to come down and take to the bench.

We all know what happened next.

The Spurs won the 1997 Lottery, and added Tim Duncan to the mix. They proceeded to become postseason perennials, with Timmy and co. coming out on top five times.

Sometimes, you take a step back to move several forward.

At least, that’s the blueprint the Golden State Warriors are hoping to follow.

Behind Stephen Curry’s dominance, and with Coach Steve Kerr calling the shots, Oakland’s finest went to the NBA Finals five straight times, and claimed the Larry O’Brien trophy thrice. However, the 2019-20 season saw things unravel, yes, even before 2020 began.

With Klay Thompson injured and out of action beginning in the 2019 Finals, the team saw Kevin Durant exit in free agency, but not before getting the front office to hand over some draft picks when they signed-and-traded him for D’Angelo Russell. Next, it was Curry’s turn to ride the pine due to injury, and Russell’s Warriors stint turned out to be a mere footnote, as he was dealt at the deadline for Andrew Wiggins.

The result was a 15-50 record, but also, the second overall pick in the 2020 Draft. For a team that claims to be “light years ahead,” it’s a nice consolation prize for enduring a nightmare season. Unlike the 1997 Spurs though, they don’t have the top pick, and even if they did, this isn’t the sort of draft where there’s a clear-cut must-get franchise-changing player, let alone a consensus on who second pick should be.

That means there is a wealth of options available to the team that now calls San Francisco its home. And if a return to postseasons, not just one postseason, is what they want, they’ll need to maximize that draft pick.

But how?

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Option 1: Draft the best player available

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But as mentioned above, this isn’t the caliber of draft where you’re happy to just pick whoever the team ahead of you passes on. There’s plenty of uncertainty as to who the Timberwolves will take, or if they will even keep the pick themselves. Making things murkier is the fact that two of the consensus top-three players, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards, occupy roster positions already filled out by the Splash Brothers. Furthermore, the third, James Wiseman, plays center, and the Warriors historically have gotten along just fine without a traditional big man.

In this scenario though, the Warriors front office simply throws up their hands and says “Screw it, we’re taking Player X”, trusts that talent trumps fit, and that the coaching staff will make it work.

The reason for this is twofold. First, you want the best player available because you want to get the Warriors’ core of Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green, as much help to win Playoffs series as possible. Second, knowing that time is undefeated (except against LeBron James, it seems), you’re hoping that the BPA steps up and becomes The Next Franchise Guy, for the team.

On paper “draft the best dude” sounds simple. But as we said, it isn’t. If the Warriors go this route, it’s because their scouts are insisting that someone on the board is going to become a superstar. And unless owner Joe Lacob has a time machine, there’s just no way to tell if a prospect will ever live up to his potential.

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Option 2: Draft the best player available…and then trade him.

In case I need to spell it out, the 2020 NBA Draft does not seem super-stuffed with franchise-altering players. As such, if the Warriors were going to trade this pick, they may not be getting a ton of offers, due to the uncertainty surrounding who’s available.

So for option 2, just like option 1, they take the best player available, but with the intention of showcasing him for a mid-season trade. Maybe, their reasoning will go, if we get Player X into training camp, and then have him spend half a season running with Golden State’s best, a desperate team might emerge at the deadline (which will reportedly be in March 2021).

This isn’t without risk though. Given that we’re (still!!!!) in the midst of a pandemic, rookies this season won’t have the benefit of a Las Vegas summer tourney to get their feet wet. Training camps will also be shorter, or more micro-managed to limit contamination, and the preseason will be over before you know it. In addition, showcasing a rookie when you’re also trying to return to the West’s top 8 may be very difficult, especially if there’s positional overlap, And in the worst-case scenario, what if the player you thought was the best available turned out to be a bust? Or even just fit really poorly in your system? That would rob the front office of plenty of leverage, resulting in weak trade offers.

Again, this might have been an option in other seasons, but it seems risky as heck ahead of 2020-21.

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Option 3: Trade back down in the draft

Ahead of the 2017 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics, who owned the top pick, were certain that the guy they wanted, Jayson Tatum, would still be there if they had a lower selection. Rather than just picking Tatum first overall, they found someone who wanted a different player for No. 1, the Philadelphia 76ers, who selected Markelle Fultz, and profited.

Boston got Philly’s No. 3 pick, plus an additional future pick, in exchange for the top selection. The Celts still got their guy, and they added Romeo Langford, No. 14 in the 2019 Draft, as a bonus.

If the Golden State Warriors can find another franchise desperate to move up, then they should do something similar.

It’s easier said than done of course. They first have to find a trade partner. Then, that trade partner needs to have a pick that’s somewhere in the range of where the Warriors think their guy can still wind up. If they didn’t do their homework, or if another GM goes rogue, their planning could be for naught, and then they’d be forced to go with one of the two above options.

All those caveats aside though, if a match can be made, the Warriors will absolutely bite. They’d still get someone they think can help right away, and have another future asset to use in trade or in a future draft.

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Option 4: Use the pick to get an established player

If there isn’t someone in the draft that can help the Warriors right away, or at least be a franchise guy down the line, then maybe there’s a star player out there looking for a breath of fresh air?

The Warriors want to win now, and keep winning, so they’ll be looking for someone (preferably!) south of 30 that could give them back that super-team sheen they lost when KD became a Net.

Identifying those players is one thing though. Seeing if they’re available, given the Warriors’ assets, is another.

We’ve already established the crapshoot nature of this draft, and so a team eying a rebuild would need to be in love with someone on the board to give up a more veteran guy. Would the Washington Wizards, just to pick a team out of a hat, prefer Bradley Beal, or the No. 2 pick and players like Eric Paschall and Andrew Wiggins? And if Beal were on the trade block, wouldn’t they get better offers than the Warriors’? Make no mistake – the Dubs would love a player of Beal’s caliber. But if you thought finding a partner to trade down was tough, this is likely more difficult.

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Option 5: Use the pick to trade down AND get an established player

Hey, they can dream, right?

Ultimately, there are plenty of doors open to Golden State. The problem is that where each lead to is unknown. This isn’t a situation that Steph and Klay can shoot away, or Dray can lock down. For the Warriors to keep thriving, it’ll be up to their front office to nail what they do with that No. 2 pick. Will the result be akin to snagging Green in the second round back in 2012? Or more Patrick O’Bryant in 2006? We’ll just have to wait for Commissioner Adam Silver to step to that (cyber)podium on draft night to find out.