The Top Interview Question to Ask Every Projected NBA Lottery Pick
Even after watching prospects perform for years from baseline to baseline, NBA teams still have myriad questions for players in the predraft process, mostly related to personality and work ethic.
For teams, interviews are more important than the workouts in May and June. Front offices want to learn about the person, since they are already caught up on their basketball abilities.
We took each lottery prospect (based on our most recent mock draft) and came up with the one burning question executives will most want them to answer, based on the area of uncertainty surrounding their outlook.
Deandre Ayton (Arizona, C, Freshman)
Question for Deandre Ayton: Where are you weakest?
Asking a player where he's the weakest is a self-awareness question. The answer to scouts is already agreed upon—Ayton lacks instincts in terms of making reads defensively.
But it's important that he recognizes that and, as an NBA anchor, he understands how his value could be made or broken based on his defense.
Ayton comes off as confident in his ability. "I promise you...they'e never seen anything like me," is just one his recent tweets that highlights this. In an interview with CBS Sports Radio, per The Bright Side, he talked about how a potential pairing with Devin Booker in Phoenix could look like "Shaq and Kobe 2.0."
There isn't anything wrong with confidence, and given his strength, length, skill and production, talent isn't an issue. But if you're looking at Ayton with the No. 1 pick, you want to be sure he knows he hasn't made it to NBA stardom yet.
Ayton and his weak defensive instincts were ultimately embarrassed by Buffalo in the NCAA tournament. Asking what went wrong there would be a solid start to the interview. But, in general, it wouldn't be a great sign if he didn't acknowledge that he needs to make serious defensive improvements.
Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)
Question to Marvin Bagley III: With your size, speed and athleticism, explain how you blocked only 29 shots in 33 games and why we shouldn't be concerned about your defense?
Asking Bagley about his defense is a tactical question to make him aware about the red-flag-low numbers while emphasizing the importance of his improving.
Duke eventually switched to zone later in the season, presumably to help mask Bagley's struggles making reads. He was often a step low to react, both off the ball and on it.
Bagley did play a lot of power forward, but so did Deandre Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. Ayton's 6.1 block percentage wasn't great, but it was still double Bagley's (2.6 percent). Jackson had one of the most impressive rates (14.3 percent) of any recent first-round prospect, even though he didn't play center.
History isn't kind to bigs with block rates as low as Bagley's, so it's worth hearing what he'd have to say.
Ideally, he wouldn't make excuses and would talk about studying film and making defense his No. 1 priority.
Mohamed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)
Question for Mohamed Bamba: How do we know we'd be drafting a difference-maker and not just a wingspan?
A team that wants Bamba will have to draft him early. There is too much potential tied to his unprecedented 7'10" wingspan, particularly on defense.
But Texas finished with an uninspiring 19-15 record and lost its first game of the NCAA tournament.
Scouts have questioned Bamba's toughness and motor before, and at 226 pounds, he'd need to add roughly 20 more to match Rudy Gobert's strength.
Teams will want to know that the length and measurements aren't gimmicky and that he can put them to use to change a game. Because at this stage, regardless of the exciting flashes, his skills can't be relied on in the half court. He finished in the 34th percentile on post-ups and shot 30.0 percent on jumpers.
We've seen bigs before who may have been overvalued due to their measurements. Bamba should want to prove he's the real deal.
Luka Doncic (Slovenia, PG/SG, 1999)
Question to Luka Doncic: Teams drafting in the top five or 10 are hoping for stars. Historically, international players coming from overseas who've gone that high have not met star expectations. Without listing your resume, why are you someone whose game is guaranteed to translate to NBA stardom?
Almost every year, an international prospect is taken early in the lottery. And except for Kristaps Porzingis, none have recently emerged as franchise-changing stars.
Since the flop of No. 1 pick Andre Bargnani, there have been busts like Jan Vesely and Yi Jianlian, and we've seen solid role players like Ricky Rubio, Danilo Gallinari and Jonas Valanciunas. Mario Hezonja and Dragan Bender have gotten off to slow starts. And though we're still waiting on Frank Ntilikina and Dante Exum, neither screams NBA All-Star.
A team would have to have lots of confidence in Doncic's star potential if it were to draft him over NCAA prospects like Ayton, Bagley, Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young and Michael Porter Jr.
And if there is one question about Doncic, who just won EuroLeague MVP at 19 years old, it's concerns about his upside, stemming from average quickness and explosiveness, which could make it tougher for him to blow by or separate against longer, more athletic NBA defenders.
In an interview, teams should want to hear Doncic talk about his upcoming transition from Europe to the NBA and why he's better suited than previous internationals who've made the jump—not just to succeed, but to succeed at the highest level. Because just developing into a high-end role player like Rubio, Gallinari or Valanciunas won't be enough, assuming he's taken in the same range that they were drafted.
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State, PF/C, Freshman)
Question to Jaren Jackson Jr.: What's the most important thing you've learned from Jaren Jackson Sr.?
Taking Jackson early in the draft means betting on significant skill improvement. Because at 18 years old, he is still mostly raw.
However, Jackson has a rare resource and advantage that most don't: a father who played 431 career NBA games and won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs.
As a front office, you'd want to know what Jackson Jr. has learned from his dad's experience. Does he value the knowledge Sr. can share? It would be important for a team to get the feeling that Jackson Jr. didn't think he already had all the answers being a top-10 talent, while his dad was just an undrafted guard turned role player who never averaged more than 8.8 points in a season.
Trae Young (Oklahoma, PG, Freshman)
Question to Trae Young: You weren't as effective during the second half of conference play once scouting reports on you improved. How do we know you'll adjust once NBA defenses do what Big 12 defenses did, and are you prepared to take accountability being our lead playmaker?
After shooting 7-of-21 in a loss to Texas, the fifth straight game Oklahoma dropped, Young reacted with comments that could have been taken as excuses or a deflection of blame.
"I'm getting guarded like nobody else in the country is being guarded, scouted on like no one else in the country is," Young said, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter, in February. "It's a mystery coming out each and every game to try and figure out how a team is going to guard me and how I'm going to dictate how my team wins.
"It's a lot tougher for me to score now than it was in the beginning of the season. It's a process. Right now, it's tough."
Young was game-planned around unlike any player in the country. But the defensive talent and scouting in the pros only gets tougher.
Coaches and teammates will also demand accountability from their floor general.
Front offices will want to know Young can adjust and that he'll be prepared to take on the leadership responsibilities, particularly given his style of play as a ball-dominant guard.
Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke, C, Freshman)
Question for Wendell Carter Jr.: Why should we draft you in the top 10 when your style of play doesn't match up with a modern-day big's?
Today's NBA is moving away from back-to-the-basket, low-post big men. So why draft Carter in the top 10?
The majority of his offense came from the post (32.0 percent), where he only generated .753 points per possession, ranking in the 38th percentile.
Teams should want to hear Carter acknowledge the NBA's evolution and how spread offenses and bigs who can stretch the floor are now valued more than ever.
There is no doubt that Carter was held back by Bagley's and Marques Bolden's presence up front. And with Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval also taking up offensive possessions, his scoring chances were limited compared to those of other top prospects.
It's still worth finding out who Carter sees himself mirroring in the pros and how he believes he can adopt to an NBA game that's getting smaller and quicker.
Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri, SF/PF, Freshman)
Question for Michael Porter Jr.: We haven't seen you at full strength since you were in high school. Why should we take a chance after you had back surgery and played only two full games as a freshman, both of which were losses?
Teams will need to know what Porter has been doing to stay in shape and return to full strength. It's important to find out how seriously he takes his body and recovery. There is nothing subtle about back surgery, and upon his return in March, Porter was clearly lacking explosion.
He then sat out athletic testing at the NBA combine.
Porter is in the conversation for the biggest high-risk, high-reward prospect, having been a top recruit out of high school and then suffering an unsettling injury that cost him nearly his entire freshman season.
With power forward size and wing-like shot-making ability, Porter can be an offensive mismatch. But he'll need all of his scoring firepower intact, considering he doesn't stand out as an impact playmaker or defender.
Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SF, Junior)
Question to Mikal Bridges: What separates you from the disappointing upperclassmen who went in the lottery after blooming late in college?
Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Denzel Valentine, Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Kaminsky and Elfrid Payton are some examples of recent breakout juniors or seniors who have underperformed relative to their draft spot in the lottery.
Some will say that their breakouts in college should be tied to them being older and more experienced, and that entering the NBA at 21 or 22 years old suggests there is a shorter window to improve.
Bridges will be 22 by the start of next season. It would be interesting to hear why he believes he's different from Dunn or Hield, and more similar to Victor Oladipo, whose skills continue to evolve late into his 20s.
At this stage, Bridges is still limited as a shot-creator, so for a team to draft him high, it should want to feel confident in his potential to continue sharpening and adding to his repertoire.
Lonnie Walker IV (Miami, SG, Freshman)
Question for Lonnie Walker IV: Why will you be a better pro than college player?
Drafting Walker in the lottery would mean gambling on his potential and overlooking his percentages: 41.5 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from three, 25.7 percent on his jumper off the dribble and 50.7 percent at the rim. He also averaged just 1.9 assists per game as a guard.
He wouldn't be the first player who's better suited for the pros than the college game, but it would be fascinating to hear why Walker believes he's in that conversation.
Talent-wise, Walker pops physically and athletically the way Jaylen Brown did at California. Brown still went No. 3 overall despite lacking polish and sharp skill (43.1 percent FG, 29.4 percent 3PT, 2.0 assists). The Boston Celtics looked past his unrefined game and toward the future.
Why should a general manager do the same this year with Walker?
Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, Sophomore)
Question for Miles Bridges: Positionless basketball helps you, but not if you're still missing the necessary skills. We didn't see significant improvement from your freshman to sophomore year. Why is that, and where do you feel you've improved?
Five years ago, we might have called Bridges a tweener. In today's positionless basketball, he gets a pass. He's now viewed as versatile. But is it that simple?
Bridges didn't dominate as a sophomore the way scouts may have hoped. His two-point and three-point field-goal percentages dipped. Per 40 minutes, he raised his scoring average to 21.8 points from 21.1 points.
He played mostly small forward, which doesn't appear to be the position he's best suited for. He also measured under 6'7" at the NBA combine with a 6'9 ½" wingspan. Does Bridges have the body and game to create problems for NBA power forwards?
Last season playing around the perimeter, he ranked in the 58th percentile out of spot-ups (29.2 percent offense), and he scored fewer points (47) out of isolation than he did the year before (51).
He's still not sharp as an off-the-dribble shot-creator or scorer, having shot just 33.7 percent on pull-ups.
What's his go-to? Bridges will have questions to answer about his fit and skill set.
Collin Sexton (Alabama, PG, Freshman)
Question for Collin Sexton: We know you can score, but how do we know you're built to run an NBA offense after averaging 3.6 assists to 2.8 turnovers per game?
Athletic and aggressive, Sexton is capable of scoring in bunches and taking over stretches of a game. But he'd have the lowest assist-to-turnover ratio of any first-round point guard since Tony Wroten.
Is he the player a front office wants running its offense and making the decisions?
Sexton was leaned on to get his own baskets at Alabama. He still didn't stand out as a complete point guard, the position he'll need to play to maximize his value and potential. At 6'1½", he's unlikely to dominate against NBA shooting guards.
It would be valuable to hear how Sexton responds to being asked about his style and the responsibilities that come with being a lead NBA guard.
Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Sophomore)
Question for Robert Williams: How do you explain averaging fewer points as a sophomore than you did as a freshman?
Williams was a first-round lock in 2017, but he chose to come back to improve his game and draft stock.
However, after averaging 11.9 points as a freshman, Williams averaged 10.4 points this past season, as we saw the same offensive limitations and occasional disappearing acts.
There was some hope that Williams would sharpen his skill level as a sophomore and become more threatening offensively, particularly with his jumper. He wound up missing 29-of-37 jump shots and all 12 of his three-point attempts while shooting 47.1 percent from the free-throw line.
It's worth noting Williams was forced to play out of position next to Tyler Davis, Texas A&M's veteran post scorer who worked in the paint. But front offices should be curious as to what Williams thought about his second year, which was supposed to result in bigger numbers and louder buzz.
Without any skill or signs of improvement, his margin for error shrinks. Based on 2017-18, Williams will have to replicate DeAndre Jordan's and Clint Capela's success as lob catchers and defenders to justify going in the lottery.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
Question for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: You chose not to participate in athletic testing at the combine. It's no secret you lack speed and explosiveness. Why should we believe you will defy the laws of upside and thrive without the burst and quickness shared by so many star point guards?
As Kentucky's most reliable player, Gilgeous-Alexander was a constant, but he never popped under the NBA scouting lens until later in the season.
He's tall and long with a tight handle, but he'll have to find ways to compensate for limited athletic ability, and he didn't sell scouts with his jumper. He only made 0.7 three-pointers per 40 minutes. And usually, below-the-rim point guards need outside shots.
If a team isn't convinced Gilgeous-Alexander can be a quality starting point guard, is he worth taking in the lottery?