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NBA Draft 2012: Thomas Robinson, The Wizards And The Difference Between 'Need' And 'Fit'


When we reach the end of a dreary regular-season, there's a tendency to blow up any positive development that occurs. It's human nature, really. We're told by so many (especially our favorite team's owner) that positivity is good for everyone's health. It's certainly good for being a fan of a sports team, because otherwise, why bother?

I bring this up because I came across an article by WUSA9's Kevin Jones that mirrored a lot of what is being discussed here. Jones' argument is that, because of the flashes shown by Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker at different points this season, it would be incredibly foolish for the team to even consider drafting Thomas Robinson of Kansas.

Why would the Wizards be setting themselves back if they drafted such a touted prospect like Robinson? If you watch the team intently, you should already know the answer. Washington is completely set at the power forward position.

I respect Jones' work, but I think he's overreacting to some positive flashes we're seeing at the end of the year. In doing so, some cold, harsh realities the team must face are getting ignored.

There's a specific response to Jones' point, and there's a larger, philosophical response. Both are needed to make the point, but they're also separate ideas.

Let's start with the specific. Yes, it is true that Booker, Seraphin and Vesely have made strides this year. Booker was one of the team's best players for a two-month stretch, displaying great defensive energy and an improved offensive game. Seraphin and Vesely have both seized the opportunity they've been given to play, with Seraphin flashing a nice post game and Vesely starting to more consistently impact games with his energy plays.

But to make the jump and say that their presence should rule out one of the four best prospects in the draft? Here's where we start to overvalue the Wizards' talent because we're thinking of it against everyone and everything else we see every day. For all of Booker's strengths, he's still a weak jump shooter and rebounder, and he still isn't completely polished in his pick and roll defense. Seraphin's breakout has only been brief, while Vesely still has no jump shot, fouls too often and has little confidence in his own offensive game. The hope is that they continue to develop into useful players, but none have shown nearly enough for a long enough time to demonstrate that they are untouchable. If they aren't untouchable, then why rule out a top-five pick because he plays their position?

We have to keep in mind that the Wizards are the second-worst team in the NBA right now. The only untouchable on this roster -- and by extension, the only player who immediately should rule out a number of draft prospects -- is John Wall, and that's mostly due to circumstances instead of performance. Without Wall, there is no rebuild, so you kind of have to leave his position alone, at least through the duration of his rookie contract. Everyone else, though, simply hasn't shown enough over a long enough period of time to merit the untouchable status. A few good games in April at the end of a lockout-compressed season gives us a silver lining, but it shouldn't move the needle as much as we'd like it to.

To take a step back, that specific response rests on a larger point. There's a major difference between drafting for "need" and drafting for "fit."

There's correctly been a stigma around the league of teams that draft for "need" at the top of the draft. Drafting for "need" refers to looking at your roster and trying to plug immediate holes. When the Timberwolves drafted Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins, Ekpe Udoh or Greg Monroe, they did so because they thought to themselves, "We have Kevin Love already and we don't have any good perimeter players, so we must take a perimeter player." The problem with that is that you aren't drafting a guy for one year. You're drafting him in the hopes that he plays with you for many years on many different rosters with many different coaches. A draft pick, especially a high draft pick, is a long-term investment, so using short-term thinking to inform the pick can be very risky.

Drafting for "fit," though, is different. That's more about finding a player that fits your culture and that has the right mindset to success with your franchise in your market. The classic example here is what happened with Oklahoma City in 2009. Pressed with a tough decision, they selected James Harden over Tyreke Evans because they believed Harden's mindset was more deferential, which was a better fit with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It wasn't about Harden's game or position, because he and Evans are ultimately similar players (ball-dominant off guards that make plays with the ball in their hands). It was about the Thunder's belief that Harden would be more able and/or willing to play off their other stars than Evans would. They ended up being right, and the rest is history.

I think we use the two terms interchangeably because figuring out which player is the right "fit" is a very tough thing to do. How do we really know who fits a culture bests? Teams answer this question with interviews, character evaluations and all sorts of stuff that we don't even know about. Therefore, we conflate "need" with "fit" as a way to wrap our heads around an unscientific process like scouting.

I think there's an element of that happening when it comes to Jones' piece on Robinson. Robinson "does not fit" with the Wizards because he isn't needed, but "fit" and "need" are two very different concepts. For all we know, Robinson is a great fit culturally. He certainly is relentless on the court, a characteristic that the Wizards have (and should) emphasize when trying to find the right mix to surround Wall. I see no reason why he wouldn't be a good fit. Maybe the Wizards find something out that changes their mind, but as far as I know, he has great character and seems deferential enough, considering he sat for two years on the bench. As long as he doesn't play Wall's position, he shouldn't be ruled out.

All this is to say: if the Wizards decide not to draft Robinson, it's because they don't think he's good enough to justify a high pick. It shouldn't be because this current roster of promising, but untapped youngsters doesn't need him.