A Friendly Post-Lottery Chat

May 21st, 2013 by Colin McGowan

Colin: The Draft Lottery itself is a spectacle to behold. Or not behold, exactly, but mock? I feel like it should be mockable—unintentionally doofy, at least—but it’s mostly just drab television, what with its suspense being driven by its inherent drama and absolutely nothing else. It’s mostly a bummer, and really, if your team isn’t involved, you’re the saddest sort of NBA obsessive.

Heather Cox awkwardly explains that the Draft Lottery, you see, is a game of probability, thus explaining to the American public what a lottery is while pretending that literally every American over the age of 12 doesn’t know exactly what a lottery is and how it works. This is not Heather Cox’s fault at all, just the nature of the beast. She has to smile and talk needlessly through a half-hour of television, of which anyone watching only cares about, give or take, 45 seconds.

But anyway, a room full of uncomfortable, uncharismatic old men sit alongside wholly unenthused young players do a soft-shoe if Cox tries to engage them. “Boy howdy, Holly, I hope we win!” is maybe the only acceptable answer one can give in this scenario, and so all we get are variations thereof, save for the part where Damian Lillard talks about being really good at basketball in a strange, humble way, like the kind-of-terrible Blazers were doing him a favor playing him 39 minutes a game, as if he was stealing minutes from a 25-year-old Isaiah Thomas. Maybe these interviews would be less weird if the interviewer and subject weren’t separated by a podium? They would probably still be weird.

Also, the Gilbert family bowtie thing is stupid, despite its apparent mystical powers. But none of the above stuff is actually important. Nate, Nerlens Noel or NERLENS NOEL!!! or Nerlens Noel? Or perhaps you’re a Ben McLemore fan? (I know you’re not.) Give us some sense of your enthusiasm level.

Nate: It was definitely a strange dynamic, as it always is.  The Lottery is a collection of old executives, players whose teams want to appease or showcase them, coaches who’d rather be somewhere else, and Adam Silver who looks like he just stepped out of a flying saucer.  What a strange-looking man.  And then there’s Nick Gilbert: the human horseshoe.  There’s something very refreshing about him.  Yeah, he’s a rich guy’s kid, but by all accounts he’s had a pretty rough go of it. Yet he always seems to exude positivity and smiles.  I’m probably grafting an emotional response onto a positive memory, but I just can’t help but like Nick Gilbert.

Watching the reactions is always bizarre too, as everyone tries to stay poker faced and not give away too much disappointment—well, except for the Jazz’s Randy Rigby who mouthed a minor obscenity as his envelope was revealed at 14.  I guess he overestimated that 1.5% chance of getting in the top three.  And Charlotte’s Fred Whitfield looked like he was going to burn down the studio with his look of disdain.  But it was all eclipsed by the Gilberts (who had a large contingent).  Dan’s wine colored Cavaliers monogrammed sport jacket was special, in its own way.  The pink shirt and bowtie really completed the ensemble.  He looked like a really bad magician. [Ed: so, any magician, really.]

But yeah, Nerlens Noel!  I am much more excited than I thought I’d be.  Most of you guys don’t live in the Cleveland area.  I’m pleased we Clevelanders are going to be talking about it around the water cooler for the next few weeks.  The Cavs have some juice, the Indians are winning, the weather is lovely.  All seems right with the world.  And Nerlens Noel is an intriguing prospect.  Calipari seems to coach big men to block shots to teammates rather than into the third row like Dwight or Serge.  I’m eager to see Noel in a Cavs uniform in 9 months.  What about you, Colin?  Did you think this was possible?  No one I know seems to have been able to fathom the Cavs had a chance at landing this pick.  I think it’s because there’s only like 10,000 people in the world that understand probability.

Colin: I think a lot of us harbored less-than-discrete hopes that Anthony Davis would become a Cavalier. Like, if you asked us straight up if we thought the Cavs would win the lottery two years in a row, we would’ve denied it, but a Kyrie-Brow core was too tantalizing to not hope for. Plus, in the Davis draft, the Cavs ended up with the fourth pick, which was a decidedly “Well, [crap]!” sort of moment, especially since so many of us were attached, in the wake of a lottery non-miracle, to the idea of the Cavs drafting Brad Beal or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. (Ay, Dion: keep turning our disappointment into fireworks, buddy.)

In this lottery, I don’t think we dared to dream. In part because the dream itself wasn’t an Anthony Davis-level prospect: it was Anthony Davis Lite with a knee injury that’ll keep him out until at least late December. Because of Noel’s bust potential or otherwise, we—and jeez, I’m generalizing here in a way that makes me uncomfortable, but I think I’m echoing the Cavs fan consensus here—resigned ourselves to Otto Porter-dom. Were we all thrilled about Otto Porter? I don’t think so, but it was at least a near-certainty the Cavs could and would get him. Now we’re all woozy and disoriented, I think. We didn’t much ponder the Nerlens Noel Era, either because of the Cavs’ not-great odds or Porter love (which I can’t quite understand) or… fatalism? We’re looking at the Cavs having—draft strength be damned—four top four picks in three years, two of which were first overall. It’s hard to complain, y’know? You can talk about luck and how the Cavs have had high picks in purportedly weak drafts, but the lottery balls have been kind to them, on the whole. I beg of you not to fret, Cavs fans: if every other force in the world is raining down crap on the jewel of the rust belt, math certainly isn’t.

Nate: It amazes me the way teams and communities of fans talk themselves into players because they fit a need.  Porter was more likely to be available than Noel, but he wasn’t necessarily even the fifth best player in the draft.  At least now you don’t have to have an internal Alex Len debate. [Ed: This debate would not have been pleasant.] With that in mind, is Noel the guy?  Is there any part of you that wants …McLemore?  …Oladipo?  …Porter?  I was super wary before the draft.  Truth be told, I thought Oladipo was the most can’t-miss player, and he didn’t fit on the team, at least in any sort of conventional way.  Does Noel’s weight bother you at all?  If there’s a player he reminds me of, it’s Alonzo Mourning: similar bodies, similar explosiveness, similar defensive instincts.  Mourning was always lighter than the players he played against but made up for it with mettle and tenacity.  If Noel can perform similarly, it should make for good times.

One thing that bodes well for him is that successful ACL surgery is more likely the younger a player is, and by all accounts Noel is progressing well.  Additionally, players often come back as better shooters after ACL surgery because as they rehab, there is little other basketball-related activity they can do.  So, let’s hope ol’ Nerlens pumps up that free throw percentage and gets a shot out to 15 feet.  Just don’t let Tristan teach him push shot jumpers, because I don’t think that kind of kismet can be replicated.

In parting, I’m excited for the summer: pictures of Kyrie play-acting with TT and Noel, Summer League, free agency, etc. I’m pretty sure this is the start of a new subsection in the Wikipedia history of the Cavs.  As Nick Gilbert said, the goal is to not be back in the lottery next year.  I think that’s an admirable goal, even if it’s going to be harder to achieve than many people think it will be.  The post-LeBron dark ages are over.  I can feel it.

Colin: To answer your most urgent questions: yeah, Noel’s the guy because the Cavs need a rim protector—plus, you can’t pass on a guy who might be a transformative defensive player—and yes, Noel’s going to have to add some weight because, wow, he’s a twig. He’s at 204 right now, though when he was walking around on two sturdy limbs, he weighed something like 215 pounds. I think he’ll be able to pack on some muscle over the next few years. He’ll need to if he wants to play center. And hell, I’m flying high: in my mind, he’s a more athletic Tyson Chandler. Don’t you dare tell me otherwise, and also, if you could send me some photoshopped images of Noel with the sort of Castro-ish beard Chandler favors, that’d be great.

To answer your other questions: I like Oladipo, but he’s a guard. I like McLemore even more, but he’s a guard. (It’s a post-Saint Weirdo world, if you’re contemplating draft scenarios in which either one of them ends up a Cavalier.) I like Porter just fine, but if the Cavs draft him with the first overall pick, I’ll have a meltdown. I mostly—and I know we can and will ponder flipping the number one pick for established talent—just want to settle into and accept a reality in which the Cavs have a Noel-Irving-Thompson-Waiters core. I like the idea of that. I think it’s the makings of a team that will, yeah, perhaps stumble a bit but eventually become interesting and fun to watch and—we can only hope—able to win a fair share of basketball games. This is a good night, no matter your angle.