NBA Mock Drafters are brilliant. Not simply because they get pretty close each and every year, but because they are somehow able to untangle the unfathomable thoughts going through the brains of the 30
dumbest people in the world NBA General Managers and predict whom they’ll select. There is no rhyme or reason, and certainly no logic to explain the decisions these guys make.
It’s so typical for this type of discussion to turn to the follies of David Kahn, chieftain of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I can’t help it. In 2009, the Timberwolves drafted THREE point guards in the first round. Granted, PG was their biggest need at the time. But after blowing through three first round picks, Nos. 5, 6, and 18, they’ve only gotten worse at the position! (Luke Ridnour starting for an NBA franchise???) They forgot to check to see whether international phenom Ricky Rubio would play for them before they built their franchise around him (it looks less and less likely that he will). Once they realized they drafted three point guards, they decided to shop one of them, opting to keep Johnny Flynn and get rid of Ty Lawson. Two years later, Johnny Flynn sits on the bench and watches Ridnour, while Lawson produces for a playoff team. The Timberwolves did everything they possibly could to screw up their own future. And this was David Kahn’s first draft! He mortgaged the entire franchise in one night. How does he still have a job? Because Kevin Love almost single handedly makes up for three blown first rounders? Nice try, but that was Kevin McHale’s doing. He made one of the best moves in 2011 by acquiring former #2 pick Michael Beasley for only a 2nd round pick? Great move, yes, but he still presided over the worst team in the NBA (again), a team that continues to be plagued by absolutely zero production from the PG spot. I’m surprised the franchise even has the rights to a 2nd round pick after the 2009 debacle.
Side Note: I fully expect Michael Beasley to screw up his second chance. This was a good move, until that day comes.
But historical blunders aren’t what bother me most about the draft. Hindsight is 20-20, and all of us would make a few mistakes through the years if we had the job. What drives me crazy is the ubiquitous NBA fascination with “upside” and “potential”. How many times have we heard the following introduction to a draft prospect: “He hasn’t produced at the rate many thought he would, but he has tremendous upside, and that’s what we like about him”. I vomit just a little bit each time I hear it. If he didn’t produce at the rate we expected, why do we still like him as much or more than we did before???
I realize that both are returning to school next year, but can anybody provide a decent answer as to why most experts rated Baylor PF Perry Jones III a higher NBA prospect than Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, even after watching their respective freshman seasons? I use these two guys to illustrate my larger point: NBA GM’s want to hit the home run each and every time, but strike out more often than not. Why do they shy away from a guy like Sullinger and drool over Jones? If Jones had fulfilled his “potential” during his first year of college, maybe he would have been able to produce at Sullinger’s level – probably not. Unfortunately for Jared, he’s polished his skills too early. I know that Sullinger was projected to go in the upper half of the lottery, but in my opinion, only Derrick Williams and Kyrie Irving deserved to be considered at his level.
One out of every five Perry Jones-like prospects will get there eventually, and they’ll go on to star in the NBA. But when a guy comes out of Duncanville HS, struggles to crack double digits in points in multiple high school games, and doesn’t win a state championship, despite playing with fellow top 100 recruit Shawn Williams (Texas), why weren’t there any red flags? In fact, his team went 23-9, and his senior season was called “very disappointing” by Rivals.com. And yet, most experts had him in the top 3 NBA prospects. Jones then went on to Baylor, where he averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per contest as a freshman, and watched his team fall from #9 in the country to unranked non-tournament participants. There was not one time during Baylor’s 2010-11 campaign when Jones put the team on his back and decided to affect the outcome of a game. Instead, he was largely deferential and non-chalant. Again, he struggled to crack double digits in scoring in a number of games, and his 7 boards a game left a lot to be desired for a 6’11” prospect with elite jumping ability and long arms. Apparently, that combination was good enough to earn him #1 overall selection consideration.
On the flip side, Sullinger led his Northland HS team to a 21-0 record and #1 National Ranking during his senior year of high school. He then moved to Ohio State and led the Buckeyes to the #1 overall ranking and Big 10 title. He was in the hunt for the Naismith Award as college basketball’s MVP. And when they lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, nobody blamed Sullinger. He played his heart out, and came up big a number of times down the stretch.
My purpose in writing this isn’t to dump on Perry Jones. In fact, I give him the utmost credit for understanding he needed another year for development, rather than jumping at millions of dollars on the table. But in basketball, like in any other sport, there are winners and there are losers. There are those who work to polish their game and get every inch out of it, and there are those who leave a lot on the table. I wonder: why would you want to rebuild your franchise on a guy in the latter category? And why do we punish the guy who has already peaked, if his peak is just as high as anybody else in the draft class could hope to reach? The guys banking on their “upside”, as opposed to their track records, leave me with a lot of questions – too many questions to warrant selecting them high in the draft. GM’s shouldn’t search high and low for answers when there’s an obvious one staring them in the face.