During their entire franchise history the Miami Heat never had the first choice in the NBA draft. In fact they’ve picked in top three only once, Michael Beasley at #2, and top five three other times, Dwyane Wade #5, Steve Smith #5, and Glen Rice #4. Despite lacking elite draft picks, the Heat is the only team with multiple championships this decade, thus far. They’re also the only one with more than two visits to the NBA Finals since 2010.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ “Big Three” were formed from several number one draft picks: LeBron James (2003), Kyrie Irving (2011 via L.A. Clippers), and Kevin Love (via Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins). Since 2003 the Cavaliers have been the only team in the NBA with more than a single number one pick. In addition Tristan Thompson was a #4 pick in 2011, while Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith arrived via trade for former #4 choice Dion Waiters. The draft lottery has been kind to Cleveland lately.
The overall record though favors the Heat with their three championships, versus the Cavaliers with only one. Clearly top draft picks can create franchise dynasties, if they fulfill their potential. The debate centers on how often that happens. The Gods of chance have smiled broadly on Cleveland.
Pat Riley, by design, has crafted winners from a mixture of successful draft picks, trades and free agents. The rise of NBA Development League brings another venue for bringing talent to Miami. Only time will tell how the Cavaliers will fare after time takes its toll on LeBron James. By then the Heat might have a brighter long-term future fashioned on development rather than luck.
By “Average Draft Number” the Cavaliers rank second to the Timberwolves, while the Spurs and Heat rank among the bottom four. Given their sustained successes, Miami and San Antonio are home to the elite management and coaching staffs in the NBA.