NBA Draft Make-Or-Break For Rebuilding Teams

The 2011-12 NBA season came to a close last Thursday night in Miami where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company hoisted the trophy — just as James had promised shortly after “The Decision.”

The Heat had their own version of an NBA Draft during free agency in the summer of 2010, when Pat Riley pieced together three of the biggest names in the 2003 draft. “The Big Three,” in addition to Carmelo Anthony and Darko Milicic, rounded out the top-five picks in one of the most monumental drafts in NBA history.

Few organizations can afford to add to draft successes, or make up for their mistakes, by spending “New York Yankees money” on free agents, which is why the NBA Draft is so important.

For teams in the lottery, it can be the difference between taking a step towards becoming a playoff team again or sharing the basement with the Charlotte Bobcats. One pick can be the difference between Sam Bowie or Michael Jordan, Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, bust or NBA legend.

Many of those make-or-break picks come at the top of the draft, but the 2001 draft showed us that you don’t need a top-five selection to strike gold. With busts like Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry going in the top-four, teams found value elsewhere with Joe Johnson (10th), Richard Jefferson (13th), Zach Randolph (19th) and Tony Parker (28th).

This year’s NBA draft does not have nearly the star power of the 2003 draft — as there are not any “Chosen Ones” — but it will undoubtedly be filled with valuable assets for franchises in need.

Here is where some of the key players will land.

*Anthony Davis, Kentucky, PF (1. New Orleans Hornets)*

There won’t be any surprises when Davis is the first to walk across the stage on Thursday night — unless he shows up with two eyebrows. The 6-foot-10 freshman was dominant in his only collegiate season at Kentucky, helping John Calipari win his first national title. Davis was a force on the defensive end, leading the nation with more than four and a half blocks per game. Davis will be an instant success in the NBA with his rebounding and shot blocking, but his offensive game needs work if he ever wants to become one of the league’s greats.

*Thomas Robinson, Kansas, PF (2. Charlotte Bobcats)*

The Bobcats need help in multiple areas after putting together the worst season in NBA history. Taking Robinson at this spot would be a step in the right direction. With his rebounding (11.8 rebounds per game last season) and physicality, Robinson may be the most NBA-ready of any player in the draft, given his offensive advantage over Davis.

*Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky, SF (3. Washington Wizards)*

If you look up the definition of ‘athletic freak’ on any search engine, Kidd-Gilchrist will be the first to come up. As a freshman, he averaged more than 11 points and seven rebounds per game on his way to cutting down the nets. With his athleticism and driving ability, draft experts have compared him to Andre Iguodala.

*Bradley Beal, Florida, SG (4. Cleveland Cavaliers)*

Without question, Beal is the best pure shooter in the entire draft. While critics have complained about him being undersized (6-foot-5, 202 pounds), no one can doubt his ability to light up the scoreboard. His game is comparable to a young Ray Allen, making for a great player to team up with point guard Kyrie Irving.

*Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, SF (5. Sacramento Kings)*

Like Kidd-Gilchrist, Barnes is one of the best pure athletes in this draft. A flat-footed vertical leap of 38 inches (according to DraftExpress.com) proves that point. Known for his scoring ability, Barnes averaged more than 17 points for the Tar Heels last season. While he may not have reached his full potential in college, Barnes will be a lethal scorer for years to come in the NBA.

Damian Lillard, Weber State, PG (7. Golden State Warriors)

There is a reason why NBA Draft scouts are raving about “this kid from Weber State.” Easily the most underrated player going into combine workouts, Lillard is going to be on many teams’ radars on Thursday. Averaging 24.5 points per game last season (second in the NCAA), Lillard fits into the new breed of NBA scoring point guards, along with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. He has the ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, in addition to superior ball-handling skills. With rumors of Stephen Curry on his way out of Golden State, look for the Warriors to take this Oakland, Calif., product.

*Meyers Leonard, Illinois, C (12. Milwaukee Bucks)*

All over Champaign, people are talking about where Leonard will end up. With his 7-foot frame that boasts rare athleticism, the ceiling for Leonard is extremely high. He has impressed front offices around the league, getting one assistant general manager to say, “If Meyers Leonard were black, he’d be the No. 2 pick,” according to ESPN’s Ryen Russillo.

That is an interesting take, but Leonard’s raw offensive game, slender frame and immaturity have kept others on the cautious side. While he could go as high as No. 6 to Portland, Leonard would be a nice fit in Milwaukee after the departure of Andrew Bogut last season.

Derek is a senior in Media.