The University of Kentucky and the NBA each benefited from the Wildcats’ 67–59 win over Kansas in the NCAA tournament championship game Monday, April 2. Whether the NBA continues to benefit as richly as Kentucky, though, remains to be seen.
For Kentucky, the program’s eighth title — second-most all-time behind UCLA — restored the championship luster to a program that hadn’t won the national championship since 1998. The Wildcats won it all behind an incredible collection of freshmen and sophomores, many or all of whom would already be playing professionally if not for the NBA rule (spelled out in Article X of the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement) that requires all underclassmen declaring for the draft to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school.
The best of that bunch, by far, was freshman and consensus national player of the year Anthony Davis, who won Most Outstanding Player honors in the NCAA tournament and capped what will almost surely be a “one-and-done” career by collecting 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and “just” 6 points in the win over Kansas.
While Davis told reporters after the Wildcats’ win that he hasn’t made up his mind about declaring for the upcoming NBA Draft (the deadline for underclassmen to declare is April 29) his returning to Kentucky would be a bigger upset than a no. 16 seed knocking off a no. 1 seed — which has never happened. As soon as Davis declares, the NBA will have its next gate attraction as well as the bait dangling at the end of the line for the 14 non-playoff teams that are bound for the NBA Draft Lottery in late May, when everyone will be will be hoping to hit the jackpot and the chance to select Davis with the first overall pick.
The lottery is weighted so that the worst teams have the best chance at “earning” the top pick, so Davis declaring is the best thing that could happen this season to the Charlotte Bobcats (7–45), Washington Wizards (12–42) and New Orleans Hornets (14–40), who are the league’s three worst teams. (All records through the games of Wednesday, April 4).
Per figures from Basketball-Reference.com, all three teams rank in the bottom half of the NBA in attendance (the Wizards are 16th, the Hornets 22nd and the Bobcats 27th in the 30-team league). Tickets to their upcoming games are plentiful on the secondary market: As of earlier today, April 5, StubHub.com had 106 tickets available for $10 or less for the Wizards and Bobcats game scheduled for Monday, April 9 and as many as 186 tickets priced at $10 or less for the Hornets’ home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, April 7.
Tickets will very likely be tougher to get and pricier to obtain next season for the fans of the team that lands Davis. “I think the people who aren’t buying will be more interested to buy than they would be normally without the premier player,” Roger Jones of Denver-based Alliance Tickets told TicketNews.
Of the first five teams to have the No. 1 pick since the minimum draft requirements were installed, four saw a boost in attendance the season after winning the lottery: The 2006-07 Toronto Raptors, the 2007-08 Portland Trail Blazers, the 2009-10 Los Angeles Clippers and the 2010-11 Washington Wizards. (All figures per Basketball-Reference.com).
However, two of those teams — the Blazers and Clippers — had to wait an extra year for their top pick to suit up. Greg Oden and Blake Griffin, respectively, suffered knee injuries that required season-ending surgery prior to the start of the regular season. Griffin has recovered to become one of the NBA’s best players and has the Clippers on the verge of the playoffs for only the second time in the last 15 years, but Oden has played in just 82 career games and is recovering from the third season-ending surgery of his four-year career.
In addition, of the five teams to win the lottery from 2006 through 2010, only the Bulls have gotten out of the first round of the playoffs in that span, which suggests the work is just beginning.
“Being in the first five [picks] in the draft doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Jones said. “There are plenty of flops in the first five.”
Kentucky, on the other hand, will almost certainly reload if Davis declares for the draft and is joined by some or all of the rest of the Wildcats’ starters: Fellow freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. If Davis goes No. 1 overall, he will be the third Calipari recruit to do so in the last five years (Derrick Rose from Memphis in 2008 and John Wall from Kentucky in 2010).
And who knows? Perhaps the top overall pick in the 2013 draft is already committed to Kentucky, which, according to the New York Daily News, has already signed three of the top 40 players in the country and is in the running for a handful more.