The Art of the Draft
Many GM jobs have been lost as a consequence of the draft. Drafting players who get injured, passing up players who go on to be All Stars, and taking guys who just straight up suck, there seems to be a lot of misses that happen in the lottery. This is because evaluating prospects is not so much an exact science, but more an art form.
A few great young players have been drafted in the late lottery in the last five or so years. The Greek Freak, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, and that’s just to name a few. Why do these players fall, and do their GMs get credit for taking them? Does player personality play a part in it? Why do bad players go so high?
One reason that these great players fall, is because of the system they are a part of in college or overseas does not accentuate their strengths. An example of this would be Mitchell. While playing at Louisville, he did not have the ball in his hands enough to show his explosive scoring and playmaking abilities. Even players taken number one overall like Towns can be subject to this. Before Towns went through individual workouts with teams, front offices did not realize how skilled he was. He was projected as an athletic monster with defensive upside and post fundamentals, but the outside shooting was not shown at Kentucky. Kentucky’s coach John Calipari requires different things from his centers in his system. They need to go inside and dominate. Devin Booker who played at Kentucky as well fell to end of the lottery, but has turned out to be the best rookie from his class. His strengths in the pick and roll were overlooked during the draft process because he was used mostly as a spot up shooter during his time there. Once he got to the pros, he was able to show off more of his skills. Determining whether a player is excelling because of the system, his coach, and the talent around him or if its his own skill and talent can be one of the hardest things to figure out. However, systems like Kentucky can overplay how good a player actually is. Guards coming out of Kentucky have been highly touted, but within the last few years have failed to live up to the hype. Malik Monk may be the latest example of this.
The Greek Freak is a good example of how hard it is to judge prospects at a young age, especially when they play overseas. Every front office saw the same grainy tape from Greece that the Bucks did. A player that was about 6’9, a freak athlete that looked like he was playing against children. Why did the Bucks decide to take a chance on him in the middle of the draft where other GM’s skipped him? The answer is probably not as complicated as you think it is. It was luck. Gianis fell because that is where all teams had him. Nobody thought his chances of becoming a star were higher than any other the players taken before him. The Buck’s GM saw the same thing that other teams did, they were just lucky to have a positional need and the pick around where he was projected to go. This is true of players taken late in the second round. Players like Deandre Jordan and Isiah Thomas were not thought to be great by their GM’s. They had lucky guessed. A good second round pick before getting injured was Chandler parsons. The Houston Rockets passed him with another second round pick before drafting him. They did not know he was going to be diamond in the rough, they got lucky.
Draft busts can be things that kill franchises. Teams that get a top pick need these players to pan out and become at least capable starters, not end of the bench players. Teams like the Hornets, the Magic, and the Suns have mired in mediocrity to just straight terrible mainly because of their draft choices. A Lot of this is because of the problems of projecting players ten years into the future. Players can have everything going for them, the body, the skills, and the talent. But some do not just pan out. Andrew Wiggins is showing the same problems Jeff Green did years ago. Great body, and all the skills a player would need to be successful. They just cannot put it together to become all stars. This can be due to numerous factors, and some people speculate this could be a personality problem. Some players do not have the drive to become the best, some just cannot perform at the level they want to, and some just do not care to try to overcome trials. Anthony Bennett was the number one overall pick with all the offensive skills he would need. But when he faced more competition and adversity in the NBA, he just gave up. Part of the Art of Drafting is figuring out players who will give their all to the game. And sometimes, GM’s just get it wrong. Games do not always translate to the NBA from lower levels. Jahlil Okafor and Mario Hezonja are two examples. Okafor cannot deal with the pace and space of the NBA, and Hezonja’s athleticism does not translate for him to be able to attack off the dribble.
The Art of Drafting is a multifaceted process, and GM’s should not be given as much credit for finding diamonds in the rough as they do. And GM’s should not lose their jobs over draft busts. Maybe in the future teams can continue to refine their prospect scouting and figure out which players will truly be great. The next draft coming up is supposed to be great. Will it? What players will be able to overcome their weaknesses and shoot up the ladders to become great players? And what players will struggle, and not be able to translate their game? Only time will tell, and many times, not until after their front offices who drafted them are long gone.