Friday, June 27, 2014
As draft ends, even more questions arise
By J.A. Adande
The most intriguing draft in years is over, and it still doesn’t feel like we know anything.
How many of the top 10 picks have you feeling like you can confidently describe what they’ll bring to their teams next year?
How well rookies contribute is always a question. The difference this year is trying to anticipate exactly what offensive skills theses guys will perform –- and for how many games?
Will Joel Embiid’s fractured foot allow him to play at all? Will Julius Randle need to take some time off to have his foot tuned up?
And those are just the injured guys. Exactly what does Dante Exum bring to Utah? Or Noah Vonleh to Charlotte?
Andrew Wiggins led a host of teenagers taken in the 2014 draft. Which youngsters will develop into stars?
For years we were sold on the potential of this draft, and now that it’s over it’s still about potential. That’s what happens when teams place a greater premium on upside and combine measurables than basketball experience.
The first nine picks had an average age of 19 and consisted of six freshmen, two sophomores and the Australian, Exum, who didn’t go to college in the United States.
Doug McDermott, a senior who was the NCAA player of the year, went No. 11. Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, the best player on the best college team in the regular season, wasn’t selected until the second round.
It’s obvious why Adam Silver has made raising the minimum entry age a priority. Otherwise these NBA general managers can’t help themselves.
I definitely don’t blame the players for fleeing the serfdom of the NCAA. If the NCAA loses the lawsuit brought by Ed O’Bannon, and players are ultimately allowed to be compensated for their likenesses, it could be the best thing to happen to everyone involved.
Staying in school might be a lot more appealing to players if they could get paid six figures to do so. They’d have fewer responsibilities and more time to learn and compete against players their own age. College basketball would have a better talent pool, and the TV networks providing all that money would have a better product to showcase.
The NBA could get more time to evaluate these players before making multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitments to them. Or, as MSG Network’s Alan Hahn suggested on Twitter, if we did away with the fallacy of amateurism, teams could draft American players and stash them in college to develop -- similar to the strategy that is used with Europeans. It could even allow players to wield a bit of influence regarding where they’re drafted if they could hold the threat of staying in school against undesirable teams that wanted them to enter the league right away.
Players should be encouraged, not forced, to stay in school longer. But as long as NBA teams are tripping over each other to take the least accomplished athletes, they’ll keep making the leap regardless of preparation level. The top three picks in this year’s draft can claim one NCAA tournament game victory between them (Andrew Wiggins at Kansas). That’s the fewest for the top three since the “one-and-done” era began with the 2007 draft, and barely surpasses the zero from 2001, when two high school players (Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler) and a Spaniard (Pau Gasol) went with the top three picks.
I’ve had general managers tell me they don’t even scout the NCAA tournament, that if they don’t have enough intel on a player by the time March Madness arrives they haven’t been doing their jobs properly. I disagree. The best of the recent Charlotte draft picks, Kemba Walker, is the guy who led his team to a championship.
More NBA Draft Coverage
The Cavaliers kicked off the draft by selecting Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins. Recap ESPN's coverage of all 60 picks. DraftCast
Joakim Noah helped Florida win a championship, then defied draft projections to stay in school and help the Gators win another one. He was punished for it, falling to the ninth pick in the 2007 draft. Yi Jianlian of China and Brandan Wright, a freshman from North Carolina, were among those who went ahead of Noah. Lucky for the Chicago Bulls, they wound up with a player who was the Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-NBA this past season.
Maybe LeBron James was onto something when he raved about Shabazz Napier on Twitter, and the Heat made sure to accommodate him by trading with Charlotte to acquire the former UConn point guard. Somehow the guy deemed the most outstanding player of the 2014 NCAA tournament was still around at No. 24. Perhaps winning two championships with Shane Battier, the most outstanding player of the 2001 NCAA tournament, helped LeBron realize the value of collegiate championship pedigree. It's kind of ironic that a guy who entered the league straight out of high school places so much importance on college accomplishments.
Just as some teams were in the dark about certain players’ medical records, teams drafted without much evidence of the top prospects coming through in the big games.
High draft picks are expected to dominate, to alter the course of their franchises. But the safest expectations these days might be no expectations. When my colleague Ramona Shelburne asked Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak if his team’s selection with the No. 7 pick, Randle, was the type of player to build around, Kupchak’s answer was telling.
“He’s young, and you don’t know how somebody’s going to develop,” Kupchak said. “There’s really no reason why he can’t continue to improve. To make a decision about building around a 19-year-old player right now is really premature.”
In that light, grading any draft for the teams in the top 10 is premature. Not only do we not know, we know even less than we usually don’t know.