We're at the point in the NBA draft process where all that's left is to tinker. We're more than a week removed from the combine, and the Cleveland Cavaliers' latest lottery caper should have little bearing on the way prospects are assessed.
The Cavaliers need a wing and a rim-protecting center. For a lottery result that sent everyone to their underground bunkers for the impending apocalypse, it comes with a banal result. Cleveland could take Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid and most of the viewing public would nod along with a silly grin and go "good pick."
Every workout takes on an infinitely higher significance. Every interview is combed through once and then again, like a balding man trying to hide his receding hairline. Every smokescreen becomes a pillowy dust cloud that sends NBA writers into wheezing fits.
It's all silly and great and why we love the draft process. Players who are "rising" up draft boards are not so much "rising" as moving slightly up within their tier. The opposite is true for players who are "falling."
Every team has more than enough film work done to have almost the entire draft scoped out at this point. And every man, woman or child who spends their Saturday nights deep-diving into Synergy tape of Jusuf Nurkic (guilty) does the same. The rest of this process is about overreacting to league executives attempting to dupe people, hoping a superstar gets traded to shake up the process and finalizing those aforementioned tiers.
With that in mind, let's take a deep dive into the latest big board while partaking in some of that sweet, sweet wild overreaction.
|8||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||Sophomore||PG|
|10||Gary Harris||Michigan State||Sophomore||SG|
|13||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||Senior||PF|
|22||P.J. Hairston||North Carolina||Junior||SG|
|24||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||Sophomore||SF|
|25||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||Senior||SF|
|26||Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||Sophomore||SF|
|34||Jahii Carson||Arizona State||Sophomore||PG|
|52||Roy Devyn Marble||Iowa||Senior||SF|
|54||DeAndre Kane||Iowa State||Senior||PG|
|55||Alec Brown||Wisconsin-Green Bay||Senior||C|
|56||Walter Tavares||Cape Verde||N/A||C|
|57||James Michael McAdoo||North Carolina||Junior||PF|
|58||LaQuinton Ross||Ohio State||Junior||SF|
Buying: The Joel Embiid Top Prospect Buzz
The back has always been issue 1A, 1B and 1C with Embiid. He ascended to No. 1 on most evaluators' boards midseason as it became clear he was far more advanced than we ever thought, only to fall back below Wiggins (and to some Parker) after news of his back injury.
That was not an overreaction. Back and knee injuries are notoriously tricky to heal and diagnose, especially for 7-footers. The human body was not designed to be that big. Any talk of knees or the back should be considered when assessing a big, and in a draft where alternatives like Parker and Wiggins are in the mix, it's fair to favor the safe pick.
Then the Cavaliers won the lottery, Embiid's back injury suddenly evaporated and he was wowing everyone at a workout Friday in Los Angeles.
Reports weren't just positive; they were beaming. Based on every interpretation, Embiid looked fully healthy, flashing the same elite first-step quickness, athleticism and length that got him into the No. 1 overall pick discussion to begin with. The former Kansas standout even broke out his ever-improving jumper, a wrinkle that could make him a unique two-way presence if he can knock it down consistently.
“He looks great,” an NBA scout told Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv. “Running, jumping, dunking, bent up like a pretzel in warmups and stretching exercises. Had two ex-NBA bigs [Brian Scalabrine and Will Perdue] banging on him underneath. He passed the eyeball test big time. Move him up."
Embiid quickly re-asserting claim to # 1 pick here. Added muscle, still has quick feet & a beautiful jumper. No evidence of back issues— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 23, 2014
The concerns about Embiid's back are still legitimate.
His on-court symptoms were minimal prior to going out initially. He put up double-doubles in each of his last two games at Kansas. Playing mostly against air in a couple of workouts for league executives is not the same as a clean MRI or X-ray. Embiid's decision to skip out on the draft combine ensures we'll probably never get an honest look at his back, but it's still a valid consideration.
That said, given the positivity from his camp and the raves he's received in workouts, Embiid returns to the No. 1 spot on the big board. His potential as a two-way force is unlimited. Even though he's only played basketball for four years, Embiid looks like someone born to dominate the sport. The fluidity with everything he does is astounding.
Basketball IQ is an issue, but it is for all top prospects. When you have a 7-footer who runs and jumps like a 6'6" guy, can knock down a 15-footer and only projects to get better as his understanding of the game increases, you have to take him. The NBA might be moving away from the staid post-ups of your father's NBA, but Embiid could embody what's to come.
Selling: The Increasing Belief Andrew Wiggins Is Broken Offensively
Wiggins came to college with ridiculous, unattainable expectations. He was easily the most hyped high schooler since LeBron James, a kid who was supposed to come in and redefine college basketball in Lawrence. Even if you cognitively understood that was impossible, the hype was hard to not buy.
Sadly, Wiggins' inability to live up to that hype has clouded every evaluation of his progress. Nothing can be written or said about him without mentioning the "unfulfilled" promise, and he's thus graded on an equally unfair curve.
Take what an NBA talent evaluator told ESPN/Grantland's Ryen Russillo:
He’s an erratic shooter and has no plan when attacking the rim. He will be easy to coach against with his limited game right now. Needs to find out what playing hard is. He tries hard, but I don’t see that second gear. He would scare me as your franchise’s no. 1 pick, with all the stuff that will go along with being no. 1 in this class. Is he really a face of the franchise?
There are some fair criticisms there, and the point of talking to scouts anonymously is to get the most candid possible assessments. But to have something that damning in the ether—two of the three scouts Russillo talked to were especially harsh with Wiggins—speaks to how this process has played out.
The fairest criticism of Wiggins right now is his lack of ball-handling skill. He cannot go left. It's just something that he hasn't picked up yet—to the point he barely even attempts to do it. Wiggins took 10 shots his entire freshman season driving left, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). He made just one. His film shows such a predominant preference for going right that even less sophisticated college defenses made adjustments.
NBA teams are going to snuff that out instantly and make it really difficult for Wiggins to get easy looks off the dribble.
But this notion that Wiggins needs a total offensive retooling is overblown. He's almost totally unstoppable in transition, handled the ball more than you think at Kansas and isn't nearly as poor of a shooter as he's made out to be.
To wit: Parker, largely viewed as the most NBA-ready prospect in this class (and I agree), knocked down 34.7 percent of his jump shots at Duke. His adjusted field-goal percentage on those shots was 45.9 percent.
Wiggins hit 34.2 percent of his jumpers with a 44.5 adjusted field-goal percentage. These aren't perfect direct parallels given the difference in responsibilities, but instructive of the difference in narrative. There are few people calling Parker a "streaky" jump-shooter; it's the first or second topic of discussion with Wiggins.
Players don't score 17 points per game in the Big 12 without some offensive skill set. Wiggins needs work to realize the top of his potential, but, like, isn't that kind of the job of coaches and franchises to make sure that happens?
Wiggins isn't LeBron. Totally get that.
But is it so bad if he's Paul George?
Buying/Selling Lightning Round
Buying: Zach LaVine as a Late-Lottery Pick: Zach LaVine was born to dominate the NBA predraft process. It was like this kid was birthed for this specific purpose and that's it. Though LaVine slogged through a mostly miserable freshman season at UCLA where his minutes dropped as the season went along, he's back in the good graces of scouts for being what he's always been: a freak athlete with a pretty jumper. He left scouts slack-jawed with a 10.42-second lane agility time, three-tenths better than any other participant. Throw in a maximum vertical leap of 41.5 inches, a 14-of-25 shooting performance from the NBA three and the moldable clay dream of every NBA executive, and LaVine seems a borderline late-lottery lock. Here's to hoping he's closer to Gerald Green age 28 than Gerald Green age 18.
Selling: Elfrid Payton's Decision to Not Shoot at Combine: Payton let a golden opportunity slip him by in Chicago. He's the best small-school prospect in this class who hasn't won a National Player of the Year award and seemed on his way to a Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum-type rise up draft boards. Lillard and McCollum are wildly different players than Payton, but the general storyline was superficially similar. Right until Payton decided to pull out of the shooting portion of drills. The biggest knock on the Louisiana-Lafayette product, a 6'4" point guard with elite first-step quickness, was that he can't shoot. Going to Chicago and then not shooting when most players in his tier participated will only serve to further that perception. Any chance he had of going in the lottery is probably gone.
Buying: Second-Round Shooters: The NBA is a league in a never-ending search for the perfect spacing. Analytically inclined teams are pushing the barriers of efficiency, particularly by emphasizing three-pointers and shots close to the basket. That's a very rudimentary and basic boiling down of the "analytics" movement, obviously, but the fact remains reliable three-point shooters are more valuable than ever. So it's mildly amusing to see so many evaluators giving short shrift to guys like C.J. Wilcox, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Lamar Patterson and Jabari Brown. These players can shoot their faces off and should be available in Round 2. None of them have remote chances to be stars, but as the draft reaches the late 20s, 30s and 40s, teams are essentially just looking for dudes who might contribute. Don't be surprised when one of those guys winds up a solid bench option.
Selling: Wasting Late Picks on International Players Who May Never Come Over: Draft picks are valuable. Even lowly second-round picks, viewed by some as borderline meaningless, can be used to unearth diamonds in the rough. Isaiah Thomas, Chandler Parsons, Draymond Green and Jae Crowder were all plucked from near-obscurity in recent drafts. These guys are tied to almost nonexistent contracts and open the books for things like the Rockets' Dwight Howard signing. So to see teams still throwing their picks away on international prospects with a 25 percent chance of ever coming over is frustrating. NBA teams: Do not punt your draft picks. Unless you have a virtual guarantee from a player or have championship-level depth already, the risk is rarely worth the reward.
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