Now that the NBA Finals is over and a new league champion has been crowned, we can finally devote our complete attention to all the off-court fun, which starts with this Thursday’s NBA Draft.
The NBA draft is a difficult and confusing beast to follow. In the weeks leading up to the draft, we are inundated with stories about how Prospect X’s red flags are explainable, fixable and are in fact positives because they represent untapped potential (whether it’s a new running style, injury history or: Hey! I really am athletic!).
We also get fabulous quotes from high-profile mercenary trainers, who say the prospect they are professionally training is one of the hardest workers they’ve ever seen, despite a history of not maximizing their potential. Prospects fall and rise with such regularity that it’s probably best not to get too invested in any draft analysts’ ‘Big Board.’
So what I aim to do with this post is to take a step back and simplify the draft by handing out superlatives for this year’s draft class.
The Dos Equis Most Interesting Men
Definition – The prospects whose future is the most murky, likely to have a wide range of opinions about their potential.
Emmanuel Mudiay – Obvious. Mudiay has the greatest amount of mystery of any of the top prospects, and that includes Kristaps Porzingis, whose bio — an athletic 7-footer who can shoot 3’s and hails from an Eastern European country — is the definition of an NBA draft mystery prospect. While Porzingis was playing in one of the better basketball leagues outside of the NBA, Mudiay played 9 professional games in China, the same league where Andray Blatche has suddenly become a mix of Moses Malone and Chris Webber.
Mudiay could either be a bigger Russell Westbrook or Jarrett Jack. Huge, atrium-style floor vs. ceiling potential. The former #1 overall prospect has been shut out of the top pick conversation, and is now in the mix with the second tier of prospects. No one seems to know exactly how good he will be, as there just isn’t a big enough sample size to project from. It’s tough to figure out whether Mudiay’s slide has more to do with how well other top prospects are performing in workouts, or if his poor shooting is scaring off teams.
I wonder if Mudiay is going to be this year’s DeMarcus Cousins, the prospect that everyone knows is talented but gets drafted later than he should for some off-the-court reason, and then ends up outperforming those drafted before him.
Robert Upshaw – He’s seven feet tall, 250-plus pounds, led the NCAA in blocks per game, and shot 59.3% from the field. Profiles as a top-5 pick, but he might not be taken until the 2nd round — if at all.
Why? He’s been kicked off two college teams and has admitted to having a drug problem.
This draft is top-heavy, with a strong group of potential All-Stars and then a big drop down to the ‘Hoping to be Role Players’ tier. Upshaw has the best chance of pulling a DeAndre Jordan. He’s not just a draft-on-potential prospect, either; Upshaw produced at a high level for University of Washington. Whichever team drafts him, its fan base will immediately latch onto the hope that Upshaw will keep his off-the-court life in check, so he can fulfill his massive on-the-court potential.
The Most Basketbally
Definition – Players that are Spurs-ian. Athletic measurables don’t add up but produces on the court. Often seniors from a Midwestern college who have captured the hearts and minds of college basketball beat writers. Hoosiers.
Frank Kaminsky – Think of the Basketbally superlative along the same lines as how you speak about a certain friend’s significant other: the first characteristic you list is their ‘great personality.’ Checks a lot of boxes, but lacking in the “look” department. These players do several things well, but lack the necessary athleticism to get scouts and fans excited.
Kaminsky is the living, breathing definition of this superlative. Dunks he does not favor. When he scores inside, it’s because he worked for his points, slowly pushing his way into the paint to put up a contested bank shot. But what will keep Kaminsky in the league is his ability to step out and hit 3’s, hitting 41.6% from deep during his senior season.
There is a word in that last sentence that negatively influences Kaminsky draft position: senior. He’s old for a prospect. Plus, in possibly the ultimate sin for a draft prospect; his wingspan is shorter than his height. (Jay Bilas would not approve.)
There isn’t a whole lot of projection left for the former Badger. He seems destined to become the 5th- or 6th-best player on a contending team. With today’s game pushing offenses further and further away from the basket, where spreading the floor and shooting 3’s is valued, drafting Kaminsky makes a lot of sense.
Bobby Portis – Another way to look at Basketbally is when you look at a prospect’s college production, you ask yourself why he isn’t rated higher up draft boards. The 6’11” Portis averaged 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game during his sophomore season at Arkansas. But yet he is projected to be drafted after someone like Kelly Oubre, who was in and out of favor with Kansas coach Bill Self (more on Oubre later).
Portis is being pushed down because of the dreaded ‘not athletic’ label. But if you were to take all the prospects in this year’s draft, put them on a court, and have them pick teams for a game of 5-on-5, Portis would be one of the first players chosen. His ceiling may not be as high as someone like UCLA’s Kevon Looney, but Portis will at worst be a valuable backup. Right now, he’s the leader in the clubhouse for being the ‘steal of the draft;’ the player most likely to fall to some playoff team and make every analyst say, ‘I love this pick.’
Biggest Scout Teases
Definition – The inverse of Basketbally players. The sum of the parts is worth less than the whole. Guys who seem talented but don’t produce up to the level they should. The stay-away prospects.
Kelly Oubre – Nothing gets my blood boiling more than a prospect who did little to nothing in college and will still have the opportunity to become a top 10 pick. Oubre is the poster prospect for this year’s “potential over production” player.
The former Jayhawks forward was a non-factor in Lawrence, despite playing for a coach that has had success coaching freshman, and playing on a team that could have used someone with his particular set of skills. When Oubre’s name comes up, it’s more about what he could be, not what he is. Even Oubre has fed into the conversation, saying he’s going to be one of the greatest to ever play the game, and comparing himself to James Harden.
If Oubre gets drafted higher than he should, blame Paul George. Every time the tide starts to turn on production over potential, someone like George — a relative unknown from Fresno State — comes along and blows the draft process all up again. NBA decision makers think that someone with Oubre’s talents are rare, but there are typically a handful of Oubre’s every draft, it’s just that we forget about them because they rarely turn into something.
Sam Dekker – Dekker is a different animal than Oubre. Dekker has played well for a top program and played his best basketball when Wisconsin needed it most.
Dekker is on this list because the way he’s talked about, you would think he is a top 5 pick. Here is the ESPN Draft profile positives on Dekker (Insider):
• Athletic small forward
• Explosive athlete
• Solid ball handler
• Excellent toughness
• Effective creating off the bounce
According to that profile, Dekker is closer to a Paul George clone than Oubre is. If you analyze Dekker’s attributes through a simple yes-or-no list, he grades out extremely well. Can he shoot? Check. Is he athletic and versatile, able to guard multiple positions? Check. Plays hard and willing to rebound? Check. But in reality, his on-the-court production in college was fairly average, and there’s no reason to believe he will ascend to a new level when he enters the NBA.
Dekker isn’t necessarily a problem. You would want him on your team. There is nothing wrong with what he is. It’s just going to be frustrating following a player like Dekker, because the idea of him is better than what he actually is. He brings plenty to the table, but it’s all side items, no main course.
The All-Body Team
Definition – Prospects that stand out due to a unique physical feature. (Measurements courtesy of DraftExpress.com’s database.)
Montrezl Harrell: Wingspan — Harrell is 6’7.5” tall, but his pterodactyl-like wingspan comes in at 7’ 4.25”. That’s just 1.25 inches shorter than this year’s top wingspanner Robert Upshaw, and Harrell is 4.5 inches shorter.
Harrell moved into the starting lineup of the All-Body team after the big Brazilian point guard George de Paula AKA George Lucas AKA the Brazilian Skywalker dropped out of the draft. Lucas is a shade under 6’6”, but with a wingspan of seven feet. Harrell’s long arms will help him as an NBA power forward, solidifying his first-round status.
T.J. McConnell: Small Hands — It’s cruel that we can easily get this information. The former Wildcat is tied for the shortest hand length (7.5”) and by far has the smallest hand width (7”). When he is drinking water, does he have to use both hands to grip the cup? Does it take him longer to shower because his hands cover less ground, meaning it takes longer for him to apply soap to his body? Is finding a pair of gloves that fit his fingers a difficult and stressful task?
Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook: High Heels — The height of prospects are measured in two different ways at the NBA draft combine, with shoes and without shoes. For smaller guards looking to prove they are big enough to play in the NBA, an inch or two in either direction can be the difference between getting into the lottery or lasting until the end of the first, getting drafted or becoming an undrafted free agent.
It looks like the two diminutive former Duke guards tried to game the system. Both checked in at 6’ 0.25” without shoes, and somehow added 1.75 inches when they were measured in sneakers. The ‘with shoes’ height is typically 1-1.25 inches greater than the ‘without shoes’ height. Should the league look into this flagrant artificial heightening? Is this the start of #InflateGate for the NBA? I DEMAND AN INVESTIGATION!
Kristaps Porzingis: Lack of Muscle — Which way is the gym?
WEAKNESSES: Is not strong Needs to be stronger Underwhelming strength Muscles, bro? pic.twitter.com/vWL7oh3eQA
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) November 18, 2014