It's basically a minor holiday for those who follow the NBA--the day ESPN activates their NBA Draft Lottery Simulator, allowing fans to spin the wheel in the hopes their favorite team lands atop the virtual selection order. Aside from being an rudimentary exercise in probability theory (the Bucks are the most likely team to win the lottery, but it's exceedingly likely that a team other than the Bucks wins the lottery!), it gives us a chance to see how one particular band of experts foresees the draft shaking out.
I ran the simulator six times before the Bucks finally won the top spot (BAD OMEN?!?), after which they won it five consecutive times (GOOD OMEN!?!). Each time the Bucks had the first pick, ESPN pegged them with Duke forward Jabari Parker.
I don't really have an issue with that by itself. Parker has been sensational for most of this college season and by most accounts is ready to make an impact in the NBA today. What concerns me is the rationale that seems to be guiding Chad Ford (ESPN's top NBA Draft expert) in his predictions for the Bucks. In a post today (ESPN Insider Only), Ford lays out his reasoning (supported, supposedly, by intelligence culled from executives around the NBA) for putting Parker and Kentucky forward Julius Randle in the top two spots on his board for the Bucks:
The Bucks' biggest need is a power forward who can draw a double-team, so Randle will get a long look from them. But the Bucks are also super intrigued with Parker and feel he can play both the 3 and the 4 for them. Wiggins and Exum are also possibilities, but both are riskier picks for a team that needs to show major improvement next year. Parker is the most NBA-ready player in the draft, and I think he's the favorite if Milwaukee gets the No. 1 pick.
A power forward who can draw a double-team? Yes, that would be wonderful. But "biggest need" is not a phrase that should concern the Milwaukee Bucks. Right now the Bucks are like an old wooden ship that has a big hole in the middle and is also being attacked by the Kraken. The biggest need is probably something to plug the hole, but any number of propelled explosives or harpoon launchers would also be quite helpful. The variability in the Bucks' needs is largely irrelevant; what's important is the variability between each need-filling option. It's the classic "draft for need vs. best player available" question: when you have so much that needs fixing, you grab the thing that will do the most good. For what it's worth, general manager John Hammond has previously laid out his team-building mantra: draft for talent, trade for need (ah, but for the execution...).
Aside: I could also argue that a double-team-drawing PF is not actually the Bucks' biggest need. Milwaukee is really in desperate need of a perimeter player who can consistently create good shots off the dribble. Also, a new arena.
Obviously Ford has to go on what he hears, or otherwise his best estimations. Parker is, by most accounts, the most NBA-ready prospect in college basketball. If a team wants a guy who can come in and contribute from day one, he's probably the guy. But I'm not sure other league executives, scouts, draft experts, or whoever have the greatest grasp of the situation the Bucks are facing right now. What tips me off is this line: "...but both are riskier picks for a team that needs to show major improvement next year."
Why do the Bucks have to show major improvement next year? To appease Herb Kohl? To drum up public support for the team and, by extension, public financing of a new arena? I think if there's one thing the Save Our Bucks movement has shown this year it's that there's a not-insignificant group of fans who don't care one bit if the Bucks are back in the playoffs next season. These fans are far more concerned with seeing the front office get its priorities in order (the contentiousness of the movement coming from a possibly oversimplified plan laid out by Save Our Bucks itself). They want the team on a track that has real promise, even if the end goal is a little farther away.
Garnering strong fan support will soon become a top priority as the Bucks shift their focus to securing a future in Milwaukee. What these anonymous executives and others apparently fail to realize is that, more than anything, many Bucks fans just want to see the team make the best basketball decision possible. It can't be about next year every time, not at the expense of the year after or the year after that. If the Bucks think Jabari Parker or Julius Randle have the best chance of being superstars for years to come, of anchoring consistently excellent teams, then by all means, snap them up (and it's certainly possible they do). But it could be a long time before that dream becomes reality, and the biggest mistake the Bucks could make right now, the mistake so many of us have been begging for them to stop making, is prioritizing tomorrow over next week, next year over the next five.
If the Milwaukee Bucks are fortunate enough to find themselves picking first overall next summer, they'll have a critical decision to make. Whatever they chose, hopefully it's for the right reasons.