One of the more interesting debates that rages each June is whether an organization should draft on need, or take the best player available on the board. There are those who believe that an NBA team should draft the best available player, irrespective of need. The more traditional school subscribes to a need-based view of the draft. If your team’s franchise player is a point guard, it would be redundant to select another PG, especially if the there’s nobody of value in your frontcourt.
The most sensible strategy incorporates both need and a recognition of a player’s overall talent. John Hollinger introduced a new system for evaluating pro prospects ahead of the 2007 draft that assigned a value to each incoming collegiate player. Say you’re deciding between two players — a point guard [a luxury because you have an established veteran under contract], and a big man [a need]. If the PG is only negligibly better than the big man, then it probably makes sense to opt for the big man. But if the PG is stratospherically better by all measures, then snatch him up, and worry about depth chart issues later.
What kind of basketball the Clippers will play when Baron Davis, Zach Randolph, and Chris Kaman return is anyone’s guess — as is the timeline of their return, for that matter. Maybe they’ll be the .500 team they were when Davis and Randolph were on the court together. Either way, the Clippers are looking at another high draft pick next season. The 2009 draft class lacks the depth of talent of last year’s crop, but the more challenging question for the Clippers is quantifying their needs. Several lottery teams — Sacramento or Golden State, for instance — have holes all over the court. But the Clippers are an odd case. They have high-dollar talent locked up at three positions [PG, PF, C], a promising rookie at SG, and a mercurial scorer at SF.
Looking purely at need, the Clippers are weakest at small forward, where Thornton’s long-term value as a starter is questionable. Even if you’re comfortable with Thornton, the Clippers desperately need some depth at the wing. But as luck would have it, there will be few impact small forwards in the 2009 NBA Draft. Peruse these lists and you’ll struggle to find any sure-fire talents. Wake Forest freshman, Al-Farouq Aminu, is the first small forward on Chad Ford’s list. He’s a raw, athletic talent and a superb rebounder, but he’s very likely to stay at Wake for another year of seasoning — and whether he’s be any better than Al Thornton is a matter of debate.
I love Louisville junior Earl Clark’s game, but ask any Cardinal fan about Clark and you’ll get a heavy sigh, followed by an account of his inconsistencies. If you watched Rick Pitino’s squad battle UNLV and Kentucky on television over New Years, then you saw Clark disappear in the offense and look like a marginal prospect.
Few college prospects have taken more precipitous dives down the mock draft list over the past year than Arizona’s Chase Budinger and Gonzaga’s Austin Daye. Once thought to be a lottery lock, Budinger’s game has regressed. The 6′ 10″ Daye — once thought to be an NBA matchup nightmare with a varied skill set — looks soft this season, possibly due to an mild ACL tear he suffered over the summer.
Taking into account all the variables — the prospect list, existing contracts, depth chart — the Clippers look ripe for a need-based need-blind draft. For an organization that has failed more than it has succeeded over its draft history, that might not be a bad thing.