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Posted: Saturday, Jun. 16, 2012

Top-5 picks offers stars - but not yet to Bobcats

By Rick Bonnell
Published in: Building the Bobcats

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For the fourth time in franchise history, the Charlotte Bobcats will have a top-five pick. Missing on these rare opportunities has cost them.

None of those previous three draftees – No. 2 Emeka Okafor in 2004, No.5 Raymond Felton in 2005 and No. 3 Adam Morrison in 2006 – is still a Bobcat. Morrison is out of the league entirely and Felton is an unrestricted free agent coming off a disappointing season with the Portland Trail Blazers. Okafor, now with the New Orleans Hornets, missed most of last season with injuries.

In 2012, the Bobcats have nothing to show from those players’ departures and are coming off a league-worst 7-59 season.

Those events aren’t unconnected. An Observer study of the top-100 players in the NBA shows hitting with top-5 picks is essential to roster-building. That’s how now-Bobcats general manager Rich Cho helped get the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals. Top-five picks Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden formed that team’s core.

Thirty-six of the NBA top-100 were drafted with a top-five pick. And when the Observer grouped the top-100 into three tiers – franchise players, core players and long-term starters – 11 of the 15 “franchise’’ players (the elite of elite) were chosen with top-5 picks.

“If you’re looking for a franchise player, how you use those very top picks is crucial,’’ said Ryan Blake, the NBA’s senior director of scouting operations.

All the more so when you consider what happens picking outside the top 10. Fifty-six of the top-100 were chosen with top-10 picks. But outside the top-10, the Observer’s study suggests drafting an impact player is a random exercise: An NBA team is no more likely to find a top-100 player with the 11th pick than the 30th or 60th.

Blake said he wasn’t surprised by that finding, but he cautioned that not getting a player with top-100 potential outside the first 10 draft picks doesn’t make the rest of the draft pointless.

“You can still find a guy like(New York Knicks reserves) Landry Fields or Jeremy Lin late in the first or the second round – guys who can definitely fit in your rotation,’’ Blake said. “There’s such a fine line between becoming a pro or not. So many other things go into it, like opportunity.’’

It’s questionable whether the Bobcats can find a franchise player, or even a core asset, with this No. 2 overall pick. The prize of this draft is Kentucky big man Anthony Davis, sure to go No.1 overall to the Hornets, who won the draft lottery.

There are probably six other players who a team could justify with the second pick. Players the Bobcats might consider with their top pick are small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky and power forward Thomas Robinson of Kansas. It’s also conceivable the Bobcats could trade down to get an extra pick or a veteran player.

The Bobcats will consider all draft options including trading out of the first round if the right veteran is available. But trading quality (one high pick) for quantity (multiple lower picks) seldom works in the NBA, as the preponderance of top-5 successes confirms.

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