- Jamie Squire/Getty Images
- Andrew Wiggins: Not-quite-ready-for-prime-time player
Waiting for a savior? Nothing wrong with that, so long as you’re not an NBA team.
I was impressed by a piece in the April Atlantic by Derek Thompson that argues the article of faith clung to by the hometowns of the NBA’s worst teams this time of year—and their front offices—is a dangerous delusion. Said article of faith: the way to turn around the team is to draft at the top of the lottery pool and bring in a superstar of tomorrow. To reach the top of the pool it’s acceptable to tank—blow off this year for the sake of next year.
Nearly 30 years of data tell a crystal-clear story: a truly awful team has never once metamorphed into a championship team through the draft. The last team to draft No. 1 and then win a championship (at any point thereafter) was the San Antonio Spurs, which lucked into the pick (Tim Duncan) back in 1997 when the team’s star center, David Robinson, missed all but six games the previous season because of injuries. The teams with the top three picks in any given draft are almost twice as likely to never make the playoffs within four years—the term of an NBA rookie contract, before the player reaches free agency—as they are to make it past the second round.
To Thompson’s argument I want to add this: this year’s Division One class of freshman phenoms is rated, in Thompson’s words, “historically good.” Jabari Parker of Duke is generally considered the most NBA-ready of the frosh and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas the most talented. I just watched Duke eliminated from the NCAA’s in the first round to a Mercer team that started five seniors. I’ve been watching Wiggins all season because my brother Pete went to KU and he’s reeled me into the net. Kansas finished its regular season 24-9 (Bill Self’s worst record in his 11 years as head coach there), and isn’t expected to survive its regional.
But Duke and Kansas are traditional college powers, their lineups full of superior players. If Parker and Wiggins couldn’t turn those teammates into champions why does anyone expect them to be able to do it with their new teammates in the NBA—say the ones in Philadelphia who have lost their last 22 games?