The NBA Disaster Draft - An Analysis

Mark Dadswell

Under an apocalyptic scenario in which an entire NBA team dies in some freak accident, what would occur?

Consider, if you will, the worst case scenario: a catastrophic plane crash, arena collapse, bus accident, or terrorist attack results in the death of an entire NBA team. In that case, what happens to the basketball future of that franchise?

Luckily, we have basketball semi-insider Bill Simmons to explain to us in a footnote of his Book of Basketball:

"We have a Catastrophe Rule: an emergency expansion draft in which every team can only protect four or five guys. Then that team gets the top pick of the next draft (plus its own pick). It’s a good thing this isn’t widely known because an irate Knicks fan would have tampered with the team’s charter plane during the Isiah era."

Basically, a Disaster Draft would occur. In this draft, the suddenly playerless team would be able to have their pick of the 5th or 6th least valuable players on any team's roster, as well as likely having two very good picks in next year's draft.

Because the rules presented by Simmons aren't exactly detailed, I'll assume some further logical rules:

1. Each team can only have one of its players selected. This rule makes sense, as it's in place in expansion drafts, the closest equivalent to a hypothetical disaster draft.

2. The team drafted must stay under the salary cap. Given that these players are being acquired without the use of exceptions, and must be able to play immediately, staying under the cap makes sense. We'll use the 2012-2013 salary cap line of $58,044,000.

3. We're going to assume each team can only protect 4 players. Given Simmons' lack of specificity here, this option seems like the most fun.

That's it! So what happens in this hopefully permanently fictional world?

Who do the Jazz choose to protect?

The Utah Jazz have a clear young core of players who represent the future of the team. The "protect 4" rule fits the Jazz "Core 4" of Favors, Kanter, Hayward, and Burks perfectly. The only question: are Millsap or Jefferson more valuable to protect than one of the core four in this scenario? Given Jefferson's salary and expiring status, a suddenly empty team which had to stay under the salary cap would likely be unwilling to select Jefferson. Therefore, even if the Jazz wanted to keep Jefferson badly, they would probably not need to protect him.

What about Millsap? He's an excellent player, indeed, I find it fairly unlikely that all of the core four reach his impact level. But he too is an expiring player, albeit at a reasonable salary. Do the Jazz find Millsap's services more valuable than, say, Burks' under his much cheaper rookie contract? In the end, I decided not. The Jazz simply must protect Favors and Kanter, and almost certainly would protect Hayward. This gives the team a foundation with size and a glaring hole in the backcourt, one Burks's talent, potential, and underpaid salary would be ideal to fill. While protecting Millsap would make the team better in the short run, the uncertainty as to Millsap's future plans, as well as his future salary, mean that the Jazz would likely protect Burks.

Who would the other teams protect?

This becomes really difficult to predict, and I welcome input from fans around the league. In particular, conundrums like Utah's above kept popping up: do you keep current, albeit expensive talent, or cheaper, younger talent? Ultimately, I decided that the following players would be available:

Team 5th Guy 6th Guy Others
Atlanta Harris Morrow Korver
Boston Terry Sullinger Bass Melo
Brooklyn Brooks Humphries Teletovic
Charlotte Sessions Mullens Haywood
Chicago Boozer Hinrich Belinelli
Cleveland Zeller Leuer Gibson
Dallas Collison Wright Brand Kaman
Denver McGee Chandler Koufos Miller
Detroit Jerebko Maxiell Bynum Daye
GSW Lee Rush Jefferson Biedrins Jack
Houston Jones Parsons Aldrich
Indiana Hill Hansbrough Mahinmi Green Augustin
LAC Crawford Hill Odom
LAL World Peace Meeks Jamison
Memphis Allen Speights Bayless Arthur
Miami Battier Lewis Chalmers Miller
Milwaukee Udoh Mbah a Moute Udrih
Minnesota Shved Ridnour Kirilenko Barea Budinger
New Orleans Aminu Smith Vazquez Lopez
New York Felton Kidd Smith Brewer Camby
OKC Perkins Sefolosha Collison Maynor Jones III
Orlando Harrington Harkless Davis Vucevic
Philadelphia Hawes N. Young Allen Wright
Phoenix Dudley Frye Beasley Morris
Portland Matthews Hickson
Sacramento Thompson Thornton Brooks Johnson Jimmer
San Antonio Splitter Blair Bonner Neal Green
Toronto Ross Davis Johnson Calderon
Utah Millsap Jefferson Mo Williams Marvin Williams Evans
Washington Singleton Okafor Seraphin

What's the best team possible to create in the Disaster Draft?

As a GM of such a team, you're in a real bind: everything that you've worked for is quite literally gone. You're feeling the survivors guilt of being alive. Still, you would have some good assets to work with, beginning with that 1st pick of the subsequent draft, along with your pick of some mid-tier young talent. In the end, this is the team I selected (all dollars in millions):

PG $ SG $ SF $ PF $ C $
Harris 8.5 T.Allen 3.3 Sefolosha 3.6 Millsap 8 Splitter 3.9
Sessions 5 M Thornton 7.6 Parsons 0.9 Sullinger 1.3 Udoh 3.5
J. Jack 5.6 M Brooks 1.16 Budinger 0.9 Hansbrough 3 Wright 1

This team has a cap number of about 57.4 million, just getting under the ~$58 million salary cap. This team isn't an excellent one, but it's certainly deep, as almost any team constructed in such a draft would be. A few notes:

  • Finding good SFs in the draft pool was difficult. In the end, 3 fairly average types was about the best I could work with.
  • The team has a lot of expiring contracts, In general, if they weren't a potential long-term piece, I tried to limit them to 1 year salaries. This opens up the team for free agency in the upcoming market, though this strategy would depend on the desirability of the market post-NBA apocalypse.
  • The team has a lot of middling youth. Parsons, Budinger, Sullinger, Udoh and Wright are all players who are good enough to play today, but also have the potential to take additional steps and join a potential future core (all revolving around the future #1 pick).
In short, the team involved could actually get back on its feet fairly quickly, depending on the #1 pick of the next season and how enticing the cap space is to free agents.

Now, let's be clear, I really quite hope this doesn't happen. But it's an interesting scenario to consider, isn't it?

Some footnotes:
  • How you draft the team really depends on the victim team. If it were one of the LA teams, for example, you'd probably want to be as good as possible to maintain a legacy and a semblance of a playoff push, remember, the standings wouldn't be affected, this team could still go to the playoffs. Furthermore, you'd want to get cap space to lure free agents with a decent core and warm weather. The team could recover fairly quickly. If you're not, though, a target market, you'd probably just want to do an Orlando: just try to suck for a couple of years to get the draft picks. Pick up a bunch of young players with any promise whatsoever, and hope that you can grow something in year 3-4.
  • Without the salary cap limitation, the protected lists and the drafts look really different. For example, McGee, Jefferson, Humphries, Terry, Bass, Kirilenko, etc. all probably become somewhat reasonable picks. It's just hard to keep the limit under $58M with those players on the roster.
  • The team also looks fairly different without the "1 player per team" limitation: Jefferson, Maynor, Speights, Morrow, Korver, Blair, Bayless, Collison, the Jazz' Williams twins, and others all make themselves options.
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