A few weeks ago, Michael Pina of Both Teams Played Hard wrote a nice article asking the basic question: “if you could draft one player to start your team today, who would it be?”. This is an interesting spin on the more asked (and usually beaten down) question of “who is the best player in the NBA?”, because, to evaluate who you would draft involves analyzing who would give you the best opportunity to win championships, who has the greatest longetivity, who would be the best cultural fit, etc..
Pina’s top 5 were as follows:
2. Derrick Rose
1. Kevin Durant
While Pina makes some good arguments about why each of these players belongs on the list, my take on this subject is slightly different. Let me explain.
Lebron must be #1 on this list.
Regardless of his Finals performance (or rather last 3 games), I don’t see any way you can leave Lebron off the list (or for that matter, not #1). The addition of Lebron (and ok, to a lesser extent, Chris Bosh) to the Heat and subtraction from the Cavs took one team from mediocrity to within 2 games of the championship, and sent the other straight to the bottom rung of the NBA ladder. Add on top of that the fact he is 26, is the best player in the NBA, has a steadily improving game, has become a defensive monster, AND makes his teammates better – and there seems to be no question who should be at the top.
The recent history of the NBA has shown that, while we are in a golden era of the 6’3” point guard currently, the players that win championships tend to be either superstar wing players or dominant centers. A history of the last 20 years have players like Jordan, Pippen, Olaujuwon, Duncan, Kobe, Shaq, and Wade winning the vast majority of championships. There have been exceptions such as the 2004 Pistons or the 2008 Celtics, however these teams were much different in that they had no single superstar, but rather a collection of All-stars that blended extremely well as a team (and happened to play world class defense). One could argue that Duncan and Nowitzki were power forwards, but even here, each of these players have the size of an NBA center and are often asked to play that position during the season.
What does this mean? Just that players like Russell Westbrook, Rose, and Griffin, while great players in their own right, face a steep climb to win an NBA championship as their team’s primary go-to player.
I would rather have 5 legendary years from a player than 10 years from a high-level All-star.
Legends win multiple championships, all-stars just help their teams to playoffs. At the end of the day, there are only a handful, and you must overweight any draft of this nature to acquiring legends, even if it costs you a few years in the process (within reason, of course). Again, there are exceptions to this rule, but generally speaking there are only a few players in the NBA that are truly “bankable”. A corollary to this statement is, as most savvy NBA fans will admit: you would rather have 2 superstars on your team than a handful of high achieving All-stars. If you are going to draft players to start your team, you MUST ensure they are superstar caliber. In this instance, I’m not convinced that Blake Griffin (despite his “legendary” rookie year) or Russell Westbrook, will meet this criteria over the course of their careers.
Clutchness is an important factor.
None of a player’s physical talents matter if they fail to deliver when it matters most. The greats get it done down the stretch. Despite Lebron’s failings in the final games of this year and last year’s playoffs, his clutchness has steadily improved over time – a look at the clutch stats show he has been one of the most clutch players in the NBA for many years now. For other players, like Kobe Bryant (unless you’re Henry Abbott or The NBA Realist), Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade, their clutchness among current NBA players is unquestioned.
So my top 5 are…
5. Derrick Rose
4. Dwyane Wade
2. Kevin Durant
1. LeBron James
As stated, Lebron at #1 was an easy choice for me. From there, I agreed with Pina that the next obvious choice is Kevin Durant. Not only does KD have perhaps the best offensive game in the NBA, he is showing signs of life in both the leadership characteristic as well as defense – perhaps the two lingering questions regarding his game. You also get the sense with KD that he has just scratched the surface of his potential, so for that reason alone, he is our next best bet to build a team around.
Dwight Howard, despite what most would say is a lack of clutchness, comes in at #3 because in an era marked by a lack of dominant centers, Howard stands several notches above the rest. Even with really no other legitimate All-stars to speak of on his 2009 team, Howard was able to lead the Magic to the NBA Finals. Howard will go down as the best center of his current generation, and it stands to reason if you can combine him with just one reasonable piece, the team you would draft would contend for a championship for years to come.
Wade beats out Rose in my book for two reasons: (1) he has been there and done it and (2) as I mentioned, I value scoring wings over small point guards. In addition, I’m not convinced that Rose, as a scoring point guard, would be as easy of a player to build around as Wade (e.g., if you brought in a scoring wing for Rose, would that diminish his performance? Can he be a pass first point guard?) Finally, of all the players on this list, I believe Wade is the guy I would hands down want on my team with the game on the line in the Finals. Wade is definitively one of the top 3 players of this generation and a future legend. All this means that even though I get Wade for perhaps 5-6 less years than Rose, I would rather take my chances with him first.
Lastly, it is a compliment from my perspective that Rose makes the list at #5. While I believe there may be better all-around point guards (see: Chris Paul), Rose brings intangibles of toughness and clutchness , which, as I mentioned above, cannot be underestimated. He seems to play biggest when the lights are brightest – and that is something you cannot teach. Add that to the fact he is 22 years old, and Rose makes our final slot.
What would your draft look like?