Could a Top Three Draft Selection Be NBA Team's Ticket Into the Playoffs?

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Normally teams with a top three selection in the NBA Draft have a long rebuilding process ahead of them. For the top three teams in this year's draft, however, a postseason bid may be more in reach than usual.

Though watching the ping-pong balls fall in your team's favor at the NBA Draft Lottery can be a cause for immediate celebration, the fact that any team is in the lottery in the first place is usually a cause for the concern. There may be hope for the future, but a team's place in the lottery also often represents their failures of the past.

As many deserving fan bases have come to know and understand all too well, a rebuilding process isn't the most fun thing to watch a team go through. Still, the three teams that were awarded the top three selections in next month's NBA Draft are perhaps closer to soon snagging a spot in the playoffs than most lottery teams usually are.

With that in mind, could a solid selection in the NBA Draft be that extra piece that eventually punches a young, up and coming squad's ticket to the postseason next year?

Injuries proved to be the downfall of two of three teams with top selections in the NBA Draft. The oft-injured (dating back to his freshman year at Duke) Kyrie Irving displayed flashes of greatness this past season. The 21 year old proved that not only can he handle being the leader of his team, but can also shine in the pressure-filled moments. Playing as good as any M.V.P. candidate during Cavaliers' wins (they did, however, only have 19 of them with Irving on the floor), a bevy of NBA teams could only watch as Irving scorched them and left them for dead.

But as even superstars like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant (who was without Russell Westbrook) proved this postseason, sometimes they too are unable to carry their teams and do it all alone. Who can expect Irving to?

Anderson Varejao showed signs of a potential career-year, but he too saw himself shut down due to injury. Towards the end of the season, Dion Waiters also missed a few games, forcing the Cavaliers to sign D-League starter Chris Quinn. Clearly, there needs to be more help than that. Cleveland has a future M.V.P. candidate in town, but in order to hold onto him for years to come, they need to show progress and a commitment to winning. If their players can remain healthy, perhaps all the Cavs really need to put them over the top is an athletic big man to do the dirty work along with Varejao; someone who balances the offensive production they get from the backcourt. Nerlens Noel could be the answer, should the team not look to trade the pick.

With the number two selection in next month's draft, perhaps the Magic have a bit more work to do than Cleveland...or so it would seem. In a league watching its elite teams build themselves up around massive star power, the Magic don't have that luxury after losing Dwight Howard last summer. Still, with a team full of promising youth and ridiculous upside, Orlando could be more committed to modeling themselves after a team like the Denver Nuggets.

Having acquired Tobias Harris (among others) in a trade for J.J. Reddick, the Magic have given the young forward more of a stage to strut his stuff and put his versatile skill-set on display. Emerging as one of the more promising players in the game after coming to Orlando, Harris could stand to be a perfect number two or three option on any other borderline playoff team.

In addition to Harris, the Magic now feature other young talents like Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, and Doron Lamb. Like Harris, Aaron Afflalo also represents the perfect type of complementary player who has been forced into more of a starring role with Orlando. Perhaps the two will continue to grow and emerge as leaders together.

The Magic could go in two different directions with the draft selection. Should they ultimately decide star power is necessary, perhaps the pick can be packaged with any number of their more expensive veterans (such as Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, and/or Al Harrington) in order to reel in a more talented player. If not, any prospect they select will undoubtedly fit right in with this already eclectic group.

Like the Cavs, the Wizards (who own the third pick in next month's draft) are likely closer to breaking in to the playoffs next season. With a bonafide all-star already leading the way in John Wall, the rest of Washington's roster looks really promising on paper. Balanced by some promising young talent (Bradley Beal & Chris Singleton, among others) and a couple of proven veterans (Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, and Nene), perhaps all that's needed for them to squeeze into the postseason is a healthy Wall.

Even so, some extra help never hurts. Though the Wizards may be poised to compete next season (even at where they stand now), there's no doubt they could capitalize and take advantage of what Wall's half-season has earned them: a highly coveted draft pick. Ernie Grunfeld certainly agrees, and apparently already has someone in mind who he'd like to bring into the fold.

Any of these teams may simply be nothing more than a move or two away from ultimately earning a spot in the NBA postseason next year. It's up to the very executives to capitalize on the options available to them to ensure they won't be in the same spot next year as well.

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