Open Mic: Which Sport's Draft Is Most Compelling?
In theory a sports draft is supposed to be one of the most boring events you can think of. Think about it. A commissioner continuously walks to a podium over and over again, announcing chosen names.
And diehard sports fans can't get enough of it.
The NBA draft is less than 24 hours away. In the meantime, ESPN will have Chad Ford, Andy Katz, Fran Fraschilla, and a host of others tell you about which players will go when. Just in the last three days, I've heard 20 different opinions by four different writers, about what Sacramento or Miami or Minnesota is doing in the draft.
For players, it's even more interesting. Russell Westbrook has moved from a mid-first round pick to perhaps the third most coveted guard in the draft. Danilo Gallinari's stock has apparently gone up and down about 15 times in the last few days, depending on who you read.
That is what is so compelling about the NBA Draft. Rumors fly around, and you never know if an NBA all-star is going to be traded. Some rumors will come true, others won't, and still others never had a grain of truth in them.
The craziest thing in the NBA draft is the trust factor and the "promises" made to certain players. Teams promise players they will pick them in order to get them to not work out for other teams or to stay in the draft entirely. The difference between a first round pick and a second round pick is guaranteed money, as careers of most second round picks never have a chance to even get off the ground.
As rumor-filled as the NBA Draft is, the NFL Draft is almost as bad. There's usually a clearer meaning of what's going to happen, but sometimes crazy things happen.
The difference in coverage between the two sports is that the NBA Draft is only two rounds, and most second round picks never amount to much, so analysts focus on the top picks. The NFL Draft is seven rounds long, and teams can find contributors throughout.
In those seven rounds, there are certainly some tedious moments. In the later rounds, if my favorite team is not picking soon, sometimes it's very hard to watch people repeat the same opinions.
But if you do "go deep" into the draft as ESPN advertises, you can stay enthralled all the way through by seeing all the players from round one on. You have almost four months to study up on the players if your favorite team misses the playoffs. And if you watch college football, you can do your own scouting during the year.
You can do that with the NBA, too, but there are only a few prospects who really matter. Top five picks in the draft have over an 80% chance of becoming starters. That drops to 57% over the next eight picks, and it continues to drop quickly through the first round.
Looking at more numbers gives a clearer picture. In a study of the 1983-2004 drafts, 23 superstars were drafted. 16 were taken in the first five picks of the draft, showing that there are very few difference makers in the draft, and usually they are easy to find.
Other sports drafts are not nearly as interesting to the mainstream because the college games receive much less exposure, so the general public is not very familiar with the players being drafted. Nevertheless, both sports offer something different.
The MLB draft has 52 rounds, making it by far the longest draft. It's pretty impossible to follow all the colleges and high schools, and knowing which players are signable and which ones aren't. After all, some players would rather go to college while others demand exorbitant amounts of money.
The signability aspect cheapens the draft a little because it makes it unfair to smaller market teams. However, for those interested in the business aspects of the game, it can be fun to follow. Some fans follow the draft deeply, knowing which minor league teams need help where.
Another aspect of the baseball draft, which is involved in every sport but is more pronounced in baseball, is the timetables you place on players. Some teams can afford to take high-ceiling high school players who may take a long time to develop. Other teams may draft players that can help them as quickly as the same year.
If that overwhelms you, that's okay. The NHL draft is seven rounds, but an interesting aspect about it is that the teams send representatives to say what players they choose. It is also fun for diehard hockey fans who can see who their teams draft and then follow them playing in college or even Europe.
The NHL draft usually has high ceiling players go early while role players go later. That obviously is not always the case, but many of the young stars in the game now including Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby were top five picks. There is talent to be found throughout, as the NHL has a minor league system like the MLB, and it branches out into Europe like the NBA.
Pound for pound, however, nothing beats the NFL draft. A weekend of non-stop coverage is heaven for diehard football fans, and there's always the combine and non-stop rumors. The weeks preceding the NBA Draft are fun-filled and interesting to follow, and draft night can lead to all sorts of surprises, but the combination of depth and immediate impact make the NFL number one yet again.
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