- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Look around the NBA playoffs, and what do you see? In the Eastern Conference finals, you see the 76ers, led by former No. 1 pick Allen Iverson, preparing to do battle with the Bucks, led by former No. 1 pick Glenn Robinson. Out West, you see the Lakers, led by former No. 1 pick Shaquille O'Neal, going up against the Spurs, led by former No. 1 pick Tim Duncan.

Each member of the NBA's Final Four, in other words, is blessed with a player who was taken first in the draft. More than a coincidence, wouldn't you say? The fact of the matter is, few events can be more life-changing for a franchise than to win the draft lottery (or, in the Lakers' case, to come into possession of a former top selection). If you get the Right Guy, he can over time have your team stalking a championship.

The Wizards haven't been serious title contenders since they lost in the finals in '79. We're talking about 22 years of deprivation. But they took a (potentially) big step in that direction Sunday when the Ping-Pong balls bounced right for them. For the first time in their Baltimore-Washington existence, they can choose anybody they want on draft day. Or they can swap the pick for more immediate veteran help. At long last, they have options exciting options.

When his back spasms have abated, Michael Jordan will begin to sort through those options and come up with a plan. Michael sounds like he wants to keep the pick. Assistant GM Rod Higgins, on the other hand, sounds like he's more open to a trade, seeing that there's no one in the draft pool who's head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe they'll settle their differences on the practice court by playing a game of H-O-R-S-E or something. (If Higgins prevails, Jordan might want to reconsider coming out of retirement.)

Some of the offers for the No. 1 pick undoubtedly will be tempting. Golden State practically handed Orlando a blank check for Chris Webber in '93, giving the Magic Anfernee Hardaway (the third selection) and three first-rounders. When the Warriors made another deal for the top choice in '80 (the regrettable Joe Barry Carroll), they helped the Celtics lay the foundation for three championships by sending them Robert Parish and the third pick (Kevin McHale). For Bostonians, it almost made up for the Babe Ruth heist.

But there's a key distinction here. Orlando was able to trade the No. 1 pick because it already had O'Neal and the Celts were able to do it because they already had Larry Bird. The Wizards don't have any players comparable to those two. They're pretty much at Square One, empire-building-wise (though the possible return of Jordan is intriguing). On top of that, it's hard to imagine them coming away with a Parish and a McHale or a Hardaway and a fist full of first-rounders unless, of course, Golden State decides to get stupid again. In this draft, ridden as it is with unproven high school kids and college undergraduates, the No. 1 pick just isn't worth as much.

No, Jordan's gut reaction was the right one, for my money. The Wizards should hang onto the pick, put their collective heads together and select not the player with the Biggest Upside boy, do I hate that term but the one who's the surest thing. And if that player Shane Battier, say happens to play small forward, where the team already has Courtney Alexander, then Jordan should trade Alexander for additional help. He shouldn't trade the No. 1 pick.

One of the more dubious suggestions floating around is that the Wizards should move down a few spots in the draft and gain another starting quality player while still retaining a high pick. Let's crunch the numbers on this one, shall we? Since 1980, nine No. 1 picks have reached the NBA Finals (which is, after all, the point of all this dribbling). When Iverson or Robinson makes it this year, it will bring the total to 10.

You know how many No. 2 picks have reached the finals in that time? Four. (And only Isiah Thomas and Gary Payton played leading roles on their teams). The most recent No. 3 pick to make the finals was Hardaway (drafted in '93). The most recent No. 4 pick to make it was Dennis Scott (a '90 draftee). The most recent No. 5 pick to make it was Scottie Pippen (an '87 selection). The most recent No. 6 pick? Hershey Hawkins (class of '88).

The results are fairly clear. If you're looking for a player who's going to help put you in the finals, you're much more likely to get him with the first pick than with the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth pick even in a so-so draft year. Let's not forget, people had plenty of reservations about Iverson when he went No. 1 in '96. Some wondered if he would go the way of Isaiah Rider. But here he is, MVP of the league and four wins away from the championship series.

As for Robinson, a lot of folks thought Grant Hill, the third selection, was actually the best player in the '94 draft. And as recently as a couple of years ago, when he averaged 18.4 points a game, "Big Dog" didn't look capable of leading the Bucks to Sheboygan, much less to a title. But look who got to the conference finals first Robinson, not Hill.

So trust your instincts, Michael, and keep the pick. Like they say, some of the best moves are the ones you don't make.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide