There may be a lottery component to the NBA draft, but landing a player in the top half of the first round hardly qualifies as winning the lottery. In fact, Bobby Portis’ move to the Milwaukee Bucks serves as a reminder that any player taken in the first round is more likely to be a short-term rental than a long-term asset.
The 2015 NBA draft is a case study in how fleeting the relationship can be between the cream of the crop of rookies and the franchises in the world’s best basketball league.
The pace of movement is dizzying again
Holding its draft and the start of free agency so close together creates a dizzying pace of roster revisions for NBA teams this week. The process is more frantic than usual because the COVID-19 pandemic pushed everything on the league calendar back to within five weeks of the start of the new season.
Here’s a small example of how crazy the churn can be: Just 20 minutes apart on Nov. 20, the Detroit Pistons agreed to contracts with two free-agent centers, investing $25 million over three years in Mason Plumlee and bringing in Jahlil Okafor on a two-year deal.
The Pistons will be Plumlee’s fourth team since arriving as a first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, but that’s tame compared to Okafor’s frequent-flyer miles. Okafor came into the league in 2015 as the No. 3 overall selection by the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers traded him to the Brooklyn Nets in December 2017. He became a free agent at the end of the season and joined the New Orleans Pelicans, so the Pistons become his fourth team in less than three calendar years.
The class of 2015 didn’t stay put for long
Like Jahlil Okafor, Portis came into the league in the 2015 draft and has made multiple moves since. Taken by the Chicago Bulls at No. 22 overall, Portis was moved to the Washington Wizards halfway through the 2018-19 season. And then he signed with the Knicks in the summer.
And that pretty much sums up the 2015 NBA draft. Of the 30 selections in the first round, only three lottery picks and four players overall ended the 2019-20 season with their original franchise:
- No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves.
- No. 11 Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers.
- No. 13 Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns.
- No. 30 Kevon Looney, Golden State Warriors.
Towns has four years and a little more than $130 million left on his second contract. With career averages of 22.7 points and 11.8 rebounds a game, he has lived up to the standard a No. 1 pick is expected to set.
Turner, who has never averaged better than 14.5 points or 7.3 rebounds per game, is entering the second season of a four-year, $72 million contract. Speculation this week has had the Pacers moving him, potentially to the Boston Celtics.
Like Towns, Booker signed a five-year max contract but has his name come up in trade speculation. He is averaging 22.5 points and 4.7 assists a game.
Looney signed a new three-year, $15 million contract last offseason. He played only 20 games in the pandemic-shortened season and has made just 36 career starts with averages of 4.4 points and 3.7 rebounds. He’s about to be joined by fellow 2015 rookie Kelly Oubre, obtained by the Warriors after the team learned that Klay Thompson tore his Achilles.
The 2015 NBA draft highlights one of the worst aspects of sports
Player movement is a fact of life in all sports. Careers are short, teams sign players who don’t pan out, and athletes understandably pursue money or a better chance at winning when they become eligible for free agency.
Whereas only four NBA first-round picks from 2015 have stayed put, the NFL isn’t much better. Only seven of football’s 32 picks – and just one of the top 12 (Brandon Scherff of the Washington Football Team) — that year remain with their original team.
But it’s not the players or the teams who are hurt most by the constant movement. Fans may not change their allegiance, but seeing favorite players leave after just a few years has to have an impact on their passion.
It’s hard to argue the NBA is feeling a negative effect, but there does exist the potential for lower attendance, weaker TV ratings, and less merchandise purchased every time fans are given a reason to become a little bit more indifferent.