The NBA Draft Lottery is one of my favorite TV events of the year. It shows just how fickle and random success in the NBA can be. The fates of multi-million dollar franchises are decided by a bunch of floating ping-pong balls picked out of a plastic sphere as 14 representatives from those franchises watch breathlessly while their phones are temporarily confiscated by league officials.
Later, the results are read out in front of 14 other representatives of those teams on live television. For one night, the entire future of the NBA rests on a few plastic spheres. If they bounce one way or another, lives are changed, jobs are lost and the power structure of the league shifts one way or the other.
In 2012, Anthony Davis, the runaway favorite for the No. 1 pick, was set to be the saving grace of one team. The Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets had the best odds to earn the right to take Davis, with the Bobcats owning the most ping-pong balls thanks to a wretched 7-59 campaign.
The Cavaliers got the fourth pick (Dion Waiters) and the Wizards received the third pick (Bradley Beal), leaving Charlotte and New Orleans as the two remaining teams. New Orleans, much to Charlotte’s chagrin after such a bad season, ended up winning the pick, and when they went to interview Davis immediately after, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone look so relieved.
While Davis’s talent is undeniable now, situation plays a big role in a player’s development, and putting him in such a tough position to succeed may have hindered that development, which currently has him on track to be the best player in the league. What would’ve happened if a ball bounced another way and Davis had gone to Charlotte?
First, New Orleans would be much, much worse. Whether they took Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal, neither player would’ve been enough to pull New Orleans up like Davis has done. They would’ve continued to put up sub-par results and be a perennial high lottery team to this day.
As for Charlotte, they still would’ve been pretty bad their first year with Davis, and the lack of support could’ve potentially hurt his development early in his career. In Davis’s rookie season in New Orleans, there were other players to help carry the load both offensively and on the boards. New Orleans had Robin Lopez and Eric Gordon (for half a season at least) to ease Davis into playing in the NBA rather than dumping him in the deep end and expecting him to swim. On Charlotte, Davis’s best teammate would’ve been Kemba Walker starting his second year in the league.
While Walker played well that season, leading the Bobcats in scoring and assists, Davis was better served playing in a slightly smaller role for New Orleans than he would’ve had as the primary big man for Charlotte. Of course, if he’d been selected by Washington, he’d be playing with fellow Kentucky alum John Wall, and who knows how good that Washington team would be right now.
Thanks to his natural talent, Davis still would’ve panned out in Charlotte. But it’s fair to wonder if he would’ve been so good, so fast. There’s no doubt that things have worked out well for him, and fans in Charlotte can only dream of what could’ve been.