Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> Do you see a lower-level lottery team that, through smart picking alone on Thursday, can change its fortunes this season and make the playoffs? What makes you say that?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The question seems to be twisting our arms in Phoenix’s direction (No. 14) or maybe Denver’s (No. 11) because the teams around them – Minnesota, Orlando, Philadelphia – deep in the lottery (Nos. 1-14) don’t seem ready to be transformed so quickly, and Charlotte (No. 9) made the postseason two months ago. But that’s fine, because Denver is the right answer anyway. The Suns came close last season and I’m eager to see coach Jeff Hornacek‘s second act, but the Nuggets could add a valuable piece – think shooting guard – and take a mighty stride thanks to the return of various injured contributors (JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson) in Brian Shaw‘s second act.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I guess it’s too easy to say Phoenix, since the Suns barely missed out last season. So I’m gonna cheat on you a little bit and take a team that has picks in the top (4) and bottom (12) of the lottery and say the Magic. If GM Rob Hennigan hits on both picks, with the core of young talent on hand, I could see the Magic making a bid for the playoffs in the (L)east.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Here’s the deal, as bad as the East was this year, I don’t see any of the so-called “lower-level” lottery teams — which I’ll consider the bottom four in each conference — making a significant enough leap to get into the playoffs. So let’s go West: Sacramento. Stop laughing. Once Rudy Gay arrived he transformed into Mr. Efficiency. DeMarcus Cousins could have been an All-Star last year — and probably would have been Dwight Howard‘s backup had the center position still existed. Let’s assume Isaiah Thomas remains. Ben McLemore enters his sophomore year. And there’s some decent role guys on a roster that heads into Year 2 under coach Michael Malone. So now add the eighth overall pick in a deep draft. The problem in the West is finding a team that drops out of the playoffs. Does Dallas slip? Memphis? It’s difficult to think of any of the top six dropping out.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The obvious thought would be the Suns, in a good position to make the playoffs anyway, except that they will have to be pushed over the line next season by returning players and whatever moves are made via free agency or trade, not when No. 14 is the best pick. If you’re looking for draft impact for a team that is not coming off a playoff appearance — eliminating Charlotte, in other words — Cleveland could do it if the pick is Jabari Parker, more NBA-ready than any of the top prospects. The Cavaliers have the obvious advantage of getting close last season. I would put Orlando in there as well, with two picks in the lottery, as long as No. 4 isn’t spent on Joel Embiid. It’s got to be two players expected to be in uniform opening night. Making up 15 games is a big jump, but it’s the East. What are we talking, a good week?
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The obvious answer is Phoenix, but the Timberwolves (plus-219) had basically the same point differential as the Suns (plus-216) this season, and it was mostly awful late-game execution (and defense) that kept the Wolves from winning eight or nine more games. If they keep Kevin Love or if they get a couple of good players (David Lee and Klay Thompson, perhaps) for him, add a No. 13 pick that can contribute right away, and improve their defense under Flip Saunders, the Wolves could be in the playoff mix next year.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t. And it’s not because of the team picking but because even for what everyone deems a deep draft, a lower-level lottery team would need to unearth a surprise pick that no one saw coming in the lead-up to the Draft. It’s been years since we’ve had a genuine Draft stunner like that, a talent capable of lifting a lower-level lottery team to change it’s fortunes in such a short period of time. We’re talking all the way back to the heralded 2003 Draft and what Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade did for their teams (Denver and Miami), in terms of a fist-year impact like that.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I almost answered this with a simple “No,” but I knew doing that would mean a series of angry emails and phone calls from The Powers That Be, so I’ll go with Phoenix, mainly because they just missed the playoffs last year. Also, they’ve got a system that looks for and rewards energy and effort, and while it may take some picks time to learn the NBA game, energy and effort are the one thing every player comes armed with. Other than PHX, I don’t know what “lower-level” lottery teams I’d expect to make a run at the postseason this year. Most of the teams are building for some vague future, from Orlando to Philly to Charlotte to Sacto. Phoenix is the only team that plays and prepares as though the future is now.