The 2012 NBA draft has, for nearly two years now, been pronounced a draft full of talent primarily due to the expectation, then reality, that a number of top college players would avoid the risk associated with an NBA lockout and stay in school one more year. This proved true to an extent that's not fully determined, but certainly some of the collegiate stars of 2010-11 (Barnes, Jones, Sullinger) stayed in school, as did a number of players with first round potential who will definitely improve their stock, if not their draft position (P. Young, D. Lamb, T. Jones, T. Ross).
Meanwhile, and stop me if you've heard this one, our beloved Timberpups and fearless former leader Kevin McHale dealt away their own 2012 1st round draft choice to the Clippers, a draft choice which is almost certainly be a top 12 pick. We all know it will actually be a top three pick, but that's another story. Our POBO David Kahn tried to mitigate the effect of "Clippergeddon" by selling Big Al Jefferson to Utah for two heavily protected first round draft picks.
The first of these picks (originally a Memphis pick) was "used" last year and netted the Wolves Malcolm Lee, another heavily protected 1st rounder (first potential use=2013), and possibly Rick Adelman. For those who are so biased against Kahn they refuse to see anything he does as good, this was probably good. Unless, of course, Marshon Brooks turns into a star and the Wolves would have gotten Adelman anyway.
The second of the picks from Utah was their own pick protected currently through the fourteenth selection of the 2012 draft. If not transferred this year, the pick is top 12 protected in 2013, and in 2014, if the pick is still not transferred to the Wolves, our favorite team has the right to swap its first rounder with Utah's first rounder, as long as Utah's is not a top 9 pick. If Utah's first round pick is not transferred according to one of the above scenarios, Minnesota gets stuck with Utah 2nd round draft choice in 2014 and that part of the Big Al deal is completed, as far as Utah is concerned.
I thought periodically we might look at how our pick is looking both in terms of the likelihood it transfers to the Wolves in 2012 and who might be available. Updated standings are below the break. Remember that Utah needs to finish 9th-15th place in the West for the Wolves to get the draft pick.
Current standing the morning of 1/16/12:
Western Conference Standings
Southwest W L Pct GB Home Road Div Conf Streak L10
San Antonio 9 4 .692 -- 9-0 0-4 3-1 9-3 Won 3 7-3
Dallas 8 5 .615 1.0 6-2 2-3 1-1 4-4 Won 5 8-2
Memphis 5 6 .455 3.0 4-2 1-4 2-1 4-5 Won 2 5-5
Houston 5 7 .417 3.5 4-1 1-6 1-2 3-6 Won 2 4-6
New Orleans 3 9 .250 5.5 1-5 2-4 0-2 2-8 Lost 3 1-9
Northwest W L Pct GB Home Road Div Conf Streak L10
Oklahoma City 11 2 .846 -- 6-1 5-1 1-1 9-2 Won 6 8-2
Utah 8 4 .667 2.5 6-1 2-3 1-1 4-4 Won 2 8-2
Denver 8 5 .615 3.0 6-2 2-3 1-2 5-5 Lost 1 6-4
Portland 7 5 .583 3.5 6-1 1-4 2-0 5-4 Lost 3 5-5
Minnesota 4 8 .333 6.5 2-5 2-3 0-1 3-2 Lost 1 4-6
Pacific W L Pct GB Home Road Div Conf Streak L10
LA Clippers 6 3 .667 0.5 5-1 1-2 2-0 4-2 Won 2 6-3
LA Lakers 9 5 .643 -- 8-1 1-4 2-2 7-4 Lost 1 7-3
Phoenix 4 8 .333 4.0 3-4 1-4 1-1 3-5 Lost 4 4-6
Golden State 4 8 .333 4.0 3-4 1-4 0-3 0-5 Won 1 3-7
Sacramento 4 9 .308 4.5 3-3 1-6 1-0 2-5 Lost 2 3-7
Currently Utah has the best record among non-division leaders, but it's obviously early. Still, if the draft were held today, the Wolves would get Utah's pick. Unfortunately, as of today, it would be a late pick. The good news and bad new both is that Utah isn't likely to be fighting it out for a top playoff seed. If the Jazz make the playoffs, it almost certainly will be as a very low seed. The flip side of this is that they might not make the playoffs at all, thereby retaining the pick in this very quality draft year.
Coming into this season, LAL, OKC, SAS, Denver, and Dallas were considered locks to make the playoffs yet again. The Clippers locked in with the Chris Paul acquisition, and Portland and Memphis were considered very likely to make the playoffs. The rest of the teams in the West were largely considered afterthoughts, with respect to the playoffs. Here's where a cogent quantitative analysis would come in handy, so I apologize for not providing one. What follows is a my subjective take based on having watched early season action.
First, barring crippling injuries, LAL, OKC, and Denver are still locks. San Antonio continues to amaze, even without Manu. I'd like to say they're vulnerable, but the players just don't know how to not win. Popovich is a helluva coach. The Clippers appear to be living up to the hype, and so, in my mind, five playoff teams are set. For the Jazz to make the playoffs, they will have to beat out one of Memphis, Dallas, and Portland.
If I had to vote which team would be left out at this point, it would still be the Jazz, but all three other contenders have weaknesses. Memphis is hurt by the loss of Randolph, Dallas is not as good this year as they both age and suffer from the attrition of the offseason. Portland has been inconsistent. While Memphis is currently under .500, the Grizzlies are only 2.5 games behind Utah, and Dallas/Portland is closer. Personally, I'm cheering every Utah win and each loss from the other three. I put Utah at a very subjective 30% chance of making the playoffs and allowing the Wolves to have a 1st round pick this year.
So who is out there to help out our Wolves if they get Utah's pick in 2012? Wolfen has a nice piece on Terrence Ross of Washington, and the following are the mock draft choices I've seen (note, some are specified as Wolves' picks, some are the first wing after the lottery):
NBAdraft.net: #19 Doron Lamb, Kentucky so. (Wolves-specific)
Hoopsworld.com: #19 Terrence Ross, Washington so.
NBA-Draft.com: #19 Meyers Leonard, Illinois (Wolves-specific)
DraftExpress.com: #18 Austin Rivers, Duke
HoopAddict.com: #15 Terrance Jones, #16 Quincy Miller, #18 LeBryan Nash