I’m a recovering NBA draft follower and have been for at least a decade now, maybe more. This reporter, who started watching the league when it was only shown on Sunday afternoons on ABC in the 60s, went cold sober I believe in 2005 after a new CBA provision that allows draft prospects to be at least 19 years old and a year out of high school to be eligible. The league lost me when teams began drafting not so much ready-for-prime-time prospects but rather so-called potential players.
Personally, if a player thinks he is pro-ready as soon as he receives his high school diploma, then allow him that opportunity. But if he flunks out in his initial attempt to make a NBA roster then he should be allowed to go play either in college without penalty, or head to the D-League for further development and try again for the big time at some later time.
For too many years the annual NBA Draft, which is Thursday, has virtually become a ‘Who? What?’ draft. That evolution forced me to seek draft sobriety and I stopped spending cash on pre-draft material for cram sessions.
Full disclosure — I still follow the annual WNBA draft mainly because I’m more familiar and have seen the players play. Plus it also doesn’t last as long.
The MSR, however, couldn’t pass our first-ever invite on the June 17 NBA pre-draft media conference call last week with ESPN’s Chad Ford. We got assurances from my draft sobriety counselor that we were not in any danger of wagon falling.
“This draft is so fluid,” Ford pointed out. Philadelphia, with this year’s top pick, more than likely will select Ben Simmons out of LSU. After that, according to Ford, is anyone’s guess.
After an hour or so listening to draft speak, we asked Ford what he hasn’t been asked in the weeks leading up to last week’s call: “I would say a couple things, and maybe they’re ones that nobody really wants to write about,” responded Ford. “One, I do think this is a strong international draft…that maybe that’s the value of the draft right now.
“So whether it’s Dragan Bender (Croatia) or Furkan Korkmaz (Turkey) or Ante Zizic (Croatia) or Ivica Zubac (Bosnia) or Timothe Luwawu (Serbia) or Juan Hernangomez (Spain), Guerschon Yabusele (France) — we’re talking about a group that might include seven or eight international players drafted in the first round. Zhou Qi out of China is another one.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that in the draft, and this isn’t necessarily teams overreaching.”
Bender and Zubac are both seven footers. Qi is 7-2. Zizic is 6-11. Hernangomez is 6-9. Yabusele is 6-8 and Korkmaz is 6-7.
Ford continued, “We have a really solid group of international prospects that frankly might be better than some of the American prospects that are going ahead of them because of the familiarity that’s there. I think that’s one note to really take.
“I think the other note is just to watch the trends in the NBA. Guys that can play multiple positions, guys that can shoot the basketball, including bigs, and guys that can defend, that is what teams are really looking for now.”
Although they lost in the Finals, Golden State’s “small ball” approach still is one many teams are looking to emulate.
“Low post scoring doesn’t seem to be that big of an attractive feature anymore,” explained Ford. “Right now everybody is looking at the Warriors, and [teams] are saying we want players like the Warriors have, whether it’s Draymond Green or Steph Curry or Klay Thompson or Andre Iguodala. You’re going to see draft decisions that are going to reflect that, I think, throughout the draft… ”
In my former draft life we didn’t do mock drafts or draft mis-predictions, and this recovering NBA draft follower isn’t going to fall off the wagon doing such this year either. But we’d be amiss if we didn’t ask Ford to briefly talk about the Minnesota Timberwolves, who has the fifth overall pick on Thursday.
“Obviously [new coach Tom] Thibodeau looks at his roster and says that he has his two young building blocks in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, so how do I use some of these other assets to start putting veterans — not old veterans — but young veterans who can teach us how to win,” surmised Ford. “I do think that they’ll be happy with a fifth pick if there’s guys they like there. But if they can package that fifth pick and maybe some of the other assets that are not Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns to bring in a Jimmy Butler type, someone like that, there’s going to be a lot of appeal there for them to do that, and I actually think it’s the right move for them.”
Finally, Ford forecasted that next summer’s draft in 2017 “looks absolutely loaded with talent,” he predicted.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.