This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Starting now, and through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."
Teenaged Finnish point guard Petteri Koponen entered the draft process facing some long odds. Finnish league experience? NBA teams barely care, especially as he had only OK numbers. Of course, big men can get a second look no matter where they're from, but little point guards? They had better be lights out shooters to get anyone too excited. Koponen, however, is a serviceable shooter by all estimations, but he's not coming to the NBA to nail threes all night. He's not here as a specialty player at all. If he makes it in the NBA, it'll be as full-on basketball player.
And, despite those long odds, he is in the mix to be a mid to late first-round pick. ESPN Insider Chad Ford wrote on Friday that Koponen is good enough that he might cause one team to pass up their shot at Mike Conley, Jr.:
Part of the reason that the Grizzlies are leaning toward [Joakim] Noah is that both Jerry West and Wallace are very high on a point guard they can get much later in the draft -- Petteri Koponen. West was the only GM in the league who actually went to Finland to see Koponen work out. Wallace fell in love during Koponen's workout in Orlando for around 10 teams.
The problem is that the Knicks, Suns and Spurs also like him as a prospect for the late first round. That means that if the Grizzlies really want him, they'll likely have to pry a pick away from a team in the 20s -- maybe a team with multiple picks, such as Philadelphia or Charlotte.
Chad Ford has watched Koponen work out, and has also recorded a podcast interview with him. In the 4.0 version of his mock draft, Koponen is predicted to be heading to San Antonio with the 28th pick. DraftExpress has him one pick later, to the Suns. (UPDATE: In Ford's 5.0 mock draft, Jared Dudley is going to San Antonio 28th, and Koponen is going 29th to the Suns.)
I asked Koponen's agent, Marc Cornstein, how a player who averaged 13 points and four assists for the, I'm not making this up, Honka Espoo Playboys, could wow NBA front offices. Cornstein was quiet for a moment and then said, thoughtfully: "He's really good."
He also must be putting on a pretty good show for executives. Near the tail end of a string of workouts, Koponen was nice enough to answer some of my questions, by email, over the weekend.
Have you spent much time in America? This must be the strangest kind of tour: gymnasium, airport, restaurant, hotel, gymnasium, airport, restaurant, hotel ...
I have been here about a month. First two weeks I was in New York, where I´m staying, preparing for workouts. And after that all these workouts started ... he he ... Yes, it has been an interesting experience and I have been in many different cities, or actually different hotels and airports. :/
And everywhere everybody is asking which city do you like most. It´s a hard question to answer because I haven´t actually seen anything, except New York. :)
How are the workouts going? Who have you played against? Do you get nervous? (They say Bill Russell used to puke before almost every game.)
Well, workouts have been good. Some of them a little bit better and some of them not as well as I would have liked, but I think that is normal. It has been nice to play against players who I have seen on TV, players like Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey from Florida. Of course I´m a little nervous before workouts, but I think it´s better like that because I know that I concentrate much better then. But I just go there and try to do my best and show what I can do. I´m working hard to achieve my dream (to play in the NBA). Will see on Thursday what will happen.
Linus Torvalds (the guy behind Linux), Aki Kaurismaki (did you ever see "Leningrad Cowboys Go America" speaking of crazy tours of the US), Nokia, fine glassware, berry pies ... that's about all I know about Finland. Can you help? What should we Americans know about your mother country that we do not?
He he, you know a lot about Finland. Well I think sauna (it's from Finland) is one thing that people should know, and also that Santa Claus is from Lapland -- which is a northern part of Finland -- not from North Pole, as you people think here in America. :)
Did you watch a lot of NBA as a child? Which teams?
They don´t show the NBA games in Finland, but I downloaded games from the internet, and usually tried to watch and learn something from point guards like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.
Where is home these days? Where are all your possessions?
Well that is a good question. I can say that New York has been like a home this last
month, but we'll see what will happen and where I will end up.