Tenth Pick Tournament Round One: Damian Lillard vs. Trading for a Veteran

Published: June 7, 2012

Mason & Jake square off in this Hornets247 Tenth Pick Tournament matchup which pits PG Damian Lillard against the idea of trading the pick for a veteran NBA player.

Damian Lillard

(by Mason Ginsberg)

Why Lillard?

With apologies to the biggest Lillard hater I know (looking at you, Mr. McNamara), the general consensus from every major NBA draft analysis site that I’ve reviewed lists Lillard as the #1 point guard available in this year’s class and places him no lower than 11th overall in mock drafts. See for yourself:

ESPN (Chad Ford) – 1st among PGs, 11th overall in mock draft
Yahoo! Sports (Draft Express) – 1st among PGs, 10th overall in mock draft
Sports Illustrated (Sam Amick) – 1st among PGs, 8th overall in mock draft
CBS Sports (Jeff Goodman) – 1st among PGs, 11th overall in mock draft

Furthermore, let’s take a look at some quotes from Chad Ford’s assessment of Lillard from only 9 days ago:

Lillard put on one of the most impressive workouts I’ve seen in a while. The grueling 1½-hour session had Lillard going full speed for the entire workout… as the sweat poured down his face, he just kept hitting shot after shot after shot.”

There are very few holes in Lillard’s game. He’s got a terrific jump shot with excellent range… he’s consistently measuring out with a 40-inch vertical. On Saturday he was still exploding off the floor for emphatic dunks, even at the end of the workout. Lillard is quick with the ball and has a tight handle.”

“Once they (NBA scouts and GMs) see him in workouts, the few teams that are holding out (on believing he won’t be the first PG taken in the draft) are likely to come into the fold.”

“Above it all, everyone who knows him says that the most impressive thing about Lillard is his work ethic. He is constantly trying to improve his game, and it’s hard to get him out of the gym.”

It was necessary to start things off with that data and evaluation so any biased anti-Lillard sentiments previously expressed by others can appropriately be taken with a grain of salt. Ford accurately explained how good he can be on offense, but just as important is the fact that Lillard’s skill set should help Coach Williams mold him into a very good two-way player on this defensive-minded Hornets team. He is 6’2″ with above average wingspan for his height, and (as Ford noted) he is very athletic and hard-working with very good lateral quickness. If you’re Monty and have those attributes to work with on defense in addition to what he brings to the table on offense, what’s not to love? The guy can play, and there are tons of great basketball minds out there who agree.

Why not Trade for a Veteran?

The reason why the Hornets should opt to draft Lillard instead of trading for a veteran is quite simple and logical. Even with a potential duo of Anthony Davis and a completely healthy Eric Gordon, this Hornets team is still at least a couple of years away from being considered a legitimate title contender; in fact, my opponent even admitted that fact just yesterday (which makes his desire to trade the pick for a veteran a rather peculiar one). Not only do they need to give Davis time to develop from an excellent defender into a top tier all-around player, but they also can’t force round pegs into square holes when looking for the right pieces to surround their two stars (remember Morris Peterson and James Posey?). In fact, just the other day, Mike perfectly explained why trading for a veteran could be a mistake while trying to build a successful franchise via his “rushing the process” point.

Another point worth mentioning is the salary cap implications of trading a draft pick for a veteran. The 10th pick will make an average of about $2 million per season over the next four years, and then would remain under his team’s control as a restricted free agent. By dealing the pick for a current NBA player, not only would the Hornets drastically shorten the time period until the player can become an unrestricted free agent, but they would also be paying that player at least two or three times what they would be paying their draft choice.

Even if the team could somehow find a way to flip the pick for a talented veteran on a reasonable contract, the Hornets run the risk of seeing the prime years of that player pass before the team is truly ready to win a title. The only way that trading the pick for a veteran makes sense is if the Hornets can bring back a player no older than 26 who has already shown an ability to contribute meaningful minutes to a quality team. There, unfortunately, is where the problem lies; teams typically shy away from trading a known commodity in exchange for an unknown one, and therefore the Hornets would likely be unable to get acceptable value in return by dealing that 10th pick for a current NBA player. If my opponent decides to suggest any potential trades, remember to consider them from the other team’s point of view and determine for yourself whether or not they are actually realistic possibilities; for some reason, I have a hunch that they won’t be. Drafting Lillard in that 10th spot is much more sensible, and if he realizes his potential, he could be the final piece of a 3-man Lillard-Gordon-Davis core that looks eerily similar to Oklahoma City’s current Westbrook-Harden-Durant big three.

Trade for a Veteran

(by Jake Madison)

When I wrote the first draft of this piece I wasn’t going to focus on Lillard a whole lot. Instead I was going to sell you on why trading for a veteran player was the best choice without any specific examples. Then I read Mason’s argument and I realized that including potential trades is fun. So lucky you, dear Hornets247 reader, for you will get everything in this post. Let’s start with what Mason said…

Mason doesn’t really talk about Lillard’s game at all. Instead he gives us a bunch of quotes. I’m more interested in specifics of Lillard’s play. I wonder if Mason, or even most of our readers, even watched one Weber State game. Are you really going to vote for a player, who very few people here have watched, based more or less only off of his stats and YouTube?

Please don’t. And let me tell you why.

At first glance, Lillard’s numbers look great. But don’t forget he played against inferior competition in the Big Sky conference. Weber State’s best win all season was against Montana–who had a lowly Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 77. In the two games Lillard played against big conference, tournament teams (BYU and Cal; hardly dominant teams), he went 9-29 and averaged 14.5 points and only 2.5 assists. That doesn’t scream NBA ready prospect to me.

Three other stats concern me. The first is Lillard averaged only 4 assists per game. That would be fine if he wasn’t a point guard. At Weber State, Lillard was a scorer who often times missed open teammates or simply couldn’t make the pass. There are concerns if he can become a distributor in the NBA. The second is 15.5 field goals attemps per game. That tells me that Lillard is a shoot first point guard. The Hornets will have a core of Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis and I don’t want someone taking shots away from either of those two. Gordon in particular is more effective with the ball in his hands. Lillard is more likely to shoot than pass to the Hornets star shooting guard.

Lastly, and this goes hand in hand with the Eric Gordon point above, is his 3-point shooting percentage. Lillard only shot 40.9% from deep this past season. It’s not terrible but it is far from elite. Gordon is most effective playing with another guard who is a strong 3-point shooter. Think Stephen Curry of the Warriors (hint hint).

Defensively, Lillard has trouble when his opponent takes him off the dribble. In those situations he yielded a bad 1.09ppp according to draftexpress.com. He gives up an even worse 1.19ppp against players coming off screens which causes me to worry about how great of a pick and roll defender he can be.

Now that we got that out of the way, let me explain why trading for a veteran player is the best choice.

One thing I’ve noticed while reading the comments on the site, twitter and talking with fans is the concern about a prospect’s risk factor. Go read the comments in the debate of Perry Jones III and Terrence Jones. People are worried about Jones III’s risk. Well, there is risk associated with every pick other than our main man Anthony Davis. How about the Hornets eliminate that factor all together and trade for an established player? Other than injury, there is almost no risk. The Hornets know exactly what they are getting. It’s risk mitigation.

It’s also the option I think is most likely to happen. Hugh Weber has talked a lot about the team targeting “young veterans,” players 26 and younger who have been in the league for a few seasons. In the trades below, that is exactly the type of player the Hornets get in return. The Hornets want to add to the core of Gordon and Davis; not maybe add to it if the drafted player pans out. The only way to guarantee, barring injury, is to make a trade. And I’ve got some great and realistic options for you.

I’d be nice to say the Hornets will trade the 10th pick for Dwight Howard, LeBron James, or use it in a sign and trade for Deron Williams, but that is just not happening. But below are three trades in reverse order of my preference, however I would be thrilled with any of these.

The Rockets trade Kyle Lowry and the 16th pick for Jarrett Jack and the 10th pick

This move paves the way for the Rockets to resign Goran Dragic and move up in the draft. The Hornets get a point guard in Lowry who posted career high numbers and was playing near an All-Star level before he got hurt. He’s also only 26 years old and has a great eight years worth of experience. Lowry also has a very team-friendly contract for the next two season. The Hornets pick up their point guard of the future and only have to move back 6 picks in the draft where they will still have the chance to pick one of the players in our tournament.

The Bucks trade Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders and some cap filler for Trevor Ariza and the 10th pick

The Bucks make this trade because they know Jennings won’t resign with them long-term and getting Ariza and the 10th pick is a solid return. A Jennings/Gordon paring gives the Hornets a dynamic scoring backcourt similar to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.

Take a look at how similar Jennings is to Parker throughout their first three years.

Jennings 17 5.4 2.4 81
Parker 13 5.1 2.3 71

Jennings is also ahead in 3-pointers made and percentage, steals and rebounds. The only advantage Parker has is field goal percentage. Hornet’s fans have been desperate for scoring and the Jennings/Gordon pairing will certainly bring exciting offense with it.

Jennings has had some maturity issues, but one thing I’ve noticed so far in our 10th pick tournament is that most everyone thinks Monty Williams can help any player mature and develop. There is no reason to think that won’t happen with Jennings.

The Warriors trade Stephen Curry and Andris Biedrins for Trevor Ariza and the 10th pick

This is my favorite and works out very well for both teams. The Warriors have a huge need at small forward which Ariza fills, the unload their worst contract and now have two lottery picks to use or trade.

Curry, 24 years old, is the perfect type of player to pair with Gordon. The Hornets would end up with an elite backcourt to pair with Davis. For this trade, the Hornets would have to amnesty Emeka Okafor which would also free up some cap room. Biedrins salary, while big, isn’t killer so the Hornets can just wait for it to expire while Anthony Davis develops.

By trading for a veteran the Hornets are adding an established player to the core of Davis and Gordon. And I promise you, that whether they add Curry, Jennings, Lowry or someone else, it will be far better than a big three including Lillard.

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