Draft Etiquette: Surviving the Madness of March

Draft Etiquette: Surviving the Madness of March
Mar 16, 2006, 04:12 am
For anyone reading these words right now, this is most likely your favorite time of year. The college game enthusiast has the NCAA tournament to look forward to, the gambler has their standard office pool, and the NBA fanatic is eagerly tracking every big game from the designated prospects they dream about watching on their favorite team.

March represents more than just the culmination of a hard-fought college basketball season. It also represents the beginning of the final quarter of the NBA schedule. This means that while NBA hopefuls from across the nation are gearing up to make a name for themselves with big-time tournament performances, NBA league executives are fine-tuning their list of needs as well.

Of course, in between these two parties fall the fans. For those of us who love the game and feverishly follow both amateur and professional teams, March is both exciting and incomprehensibly exhausting to the heart and head. Unless you are one of the lucky few who swear allegiance to San Antonio, Dallas, Detroit, or Miami, there is more than just a cursory interest in the upcoming pandemonium that marks the end of the college season.

While it is easy to get caught up in the fever of big game players making big-time shots, the true basketball connoisseur must try with all due diligence to separate themselves from the hype of it all and use their analytical mind to separate out who truly constitute the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It is easy to fall in love with the Cinderella story, too easy to be duped by a short run of tremendous fortune by a player your common sense and logic told you was just “so-so” only weeks before. Do not feel as if you are alone however. Every season many otherwise rational and responsible people fall for the same trap-and professional scouts are not immune to this by any means.

During these next few months we at DraftExpress will try and dedicate a small portion of our minds, time, and talent to give you the “Draft Survival” guide as we see it. While there is no foolproof defense against the love affairs that are sure to take us all in these coming days and weeks, we will do our best to give some sober account of things.

The guide is as follows and will be broken into two parts for both college and the pros:

Surviving the 64

1. Know your favorite players: You are about to be bombarded by wall to wall basketball. Everyone has seen the brackets by now, but look at the television schedule and plan a strategy that maximizes your exposure to the guys you had on your radar beforehand. This will help you to accurately chronicle who’s doing what. A little advance prep goes a long way

2. Record if at all possible: In the heat of sudden death elimination the senses DO betray you. What you thought was magnificence is often pure luck, or the other way around. Once the moment has passed it is tremendously helpful to review a big performance and really study the “how” behind the “how’d he do that?”

3. Watch the games with friends who don’t share your opinion: We’ve all sermonized to each other about the greatness of team or player X. Try having a spirited argument with someone with an opposing viewpoint; you just may learn a thing or two. Getting tested is often the greatest way to bring out your best.

4. Review the body of work: After the fit and fever of the tournament is over let it all sink in, take a deep breath, and step away from it all (after reading all of DraftExpress’ excellent coverage of course!) Remember that a players growth over the course of his time in college is often more valuable a tool for study than the hot-hand he rode through the last few weeks of his collegiate career. While there is much to be taken from a big-time performance no player is without his flaws and weaknesses. To make it on the next level virtually every prospect must improve something. Go back and find out where the holes remain and you will learn a great deal about what a player is ready to do on the next level.

These basic tactics should help make your own personal scouting experience that much easier, however, that is only one half of this equation. Scouting the college talent in a vacuum is good if you simply want to identify the top players coming into the NBA, but it is not enough to let you know whether or not that particular player is a good fit for your club.

For example, J.J. Redick is a fantastic college player and has an A+ NBA jump shot that should help him make an impact on the next level. Redick has limitations though as his size, athleticism and ball handling are no greater than average for the pro level. Because of these reasons NBA scouts may have trouble gauging exactly what he will be capable of doing on the next level.

So far there is no real measurement for a players ability to improve his game, nor do we understand the internal factors that lead a player with limitations to realize great success. So although players with similar limitations do have the capability to make a dramatic impact on the pro level, we must go off of what we already know about that player and see where his skill set best fits in.

Let’s say that both the Magic and the Supersonics are looking at what JJ can bring to their teams. When they review his game and visualize their own team needs they will compile a list of factors that will either make Redick an attractive draft candidate or a player who ranks below some others on their list.

NBA Ping-Pong Possibilities

1. Identifying team needs: Every competent NBA franchise will think in terms of both short-term and long-term needs. A team like Seattle is rebuilding and may want to consider the possibility of finding a replacement for Ray Allen. Conversely, the team may feel that Allen has a number of productive seasons left in him and will look for complimentary players that will be able to support him.

2. Conceptualizing team philosophy: Every team has a collective identity. Beyond just the personalities that make up a roster there is a particular system which a coaching staff will run-both offensively and defensively-that calls for certain talents. While a team can alter it’s identity to fit the skill sets of its new players, it is often more conducive to team chemistry to try and find players that compliment what is currently being built. Stability and cohesion are what builds champions, a commitment must be made to some philosophy at some point in time.

3. Gauging current roster interest/agitation: This may be one of the most important aspects of team building. In a salary cap era where savvy draft selection is often a struggling teams best way to acquire talent, knowing the disposition of your teams CURRENT star players is a must.

For instance, the Boston Celtics must know the mind of Paul Pierce before they can formulate any effective team building strategy. Pierce has one year left on his deal before he can choose to become a FA. If the Celtics look to draft players to build around Pierce and Pierce elects to leave then there will be a need for serious roster moves that will set back team cohesiveness and retard the chemistry building process so vital to success.

4. Understanding the salary cap: Probably the most boring aspect of the game to any diehard fan, yet the most crucial element to understand. Even at the highest executive levels of the NBA there are GM’s and Presidents of Basketball Operations who have very little understanding of this concept.

In order to effectively build a long standing run of success a team must be able to project out it’s salary cap figures over a 5 year period or more. The team must utilize this information in conjunction with WHO the particular salary figures are for, what that players role on the team is, what it will be by that stage in their career, and do this for every spot on the roster.

There are many other team-specific factors that are part of the internal fabric or culture of the franchise, but these are some of the general concerns that one must be aware of to accurately gauge where an incoming rookie will fit in, what rookie is the best fit for the team, and how that team sees his future over the length of his 3 or 4 year initial contract.

In Redick’s case he is probably a better fit with the Magic than he is with the Sonics for a number of reasons. Orlando is a very young team that has some solid depth in the frontcourt with Dwight Howard becoming more and more of a focal point of the team and the recent emergence of Darko Milicic as well. The Magic’s swing position players form a solid rotation with Turkoglu and Stevenson filling the slasher role at both the small forward and shooting guard positions. Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo make for a solid point guard combination and both can play in the backcourt together on occasion.

The Magic have a roster that is built to play up-tempo, though coach Hill has been reluctant to utilize that athleticism to it’s utmost level. Their half court motion sets are pretty sound however and Milicic’s perimeter shooting ability helps create space for Howard to work inside.

However, the Magic do not have a pure perimeter shooter to compliment Howard’s inside game. Jameer Nelson and Pat Garrity are the two most reliable spot up 3 point shooters, but Garrity cannot be relied on to be a main rotation player and Nelson is the primary distributor, so unless the Magic go small with Arroyo taking the role of lead guard the team usually has too many players who’s primary strength is attacking the basket.

Redick would provide an excellent perimeter threat to go alongside either Nelson or Arroyo. His presence does congest the backcourt minutes to some degree as Keyon Dooling and Stevenson are also eating into the 96 combined minutes at the PG/SG positions. But, Arroyo, Dooling, and Stevenson all have 2 years or less on their current contracts and the Magic would be in control of Redick’s rights for up to 4 seasons, so there is no urgency in the situation. The Magic have the ability to evaluate all their backcourt players and determine who will fit in best with their system.

Where the Magic may be more inclined to draft a player to fit a specific role on their team(SF being another need) The Sonics are probably looking to draft the standard “Best Player Available” due to their current roster configuration.

While Redick could certainly fit into the Sonics system with his game being somewhat similar to that of Ray Allen, the Sonics are a team with two current max contract players with a group of youngsters surrounding them. Unlike Orlando’s young core however, the Sonics are not necessarily sure that any of their current youth are franchise cornerstones and face the real possibility that Allen may wish to go somewhere else before he is past his prime.

Although Redick could develop into a primary offensive option, there are obvious limitations to his game and he fits more in the mold of a need-specific pick than a player a team selects hoping for significant growth. Therefore, Redick’s value to the Sonics is lessened by their current roster configuration and team direction. Until the Sonics straighten out there long-term picture they will most likely be looking to draft a promising overall talent with a high-ceiling.

What this means for you

All of this information can be applied to any college player you so desire for any team that you swear your allegiance to. Every fan has his personal favorite prospects as well as an affinity to the team of their youth or home-town franchise. All of us want what’s best for both these groups, but the true basketball aficionado is the person who can separate their own personal biases from what must be done to be successful. Nobody wants to see their team trade away their draft pick and at the same time everyone hopes that their team drafts their favorite amateur player.

The bottom line in all this is winning. As you have heard innumerable times before “basketball is a business”, and that business is finding both short term and long term success for any given franchise. Utilize these tools and harness the best of your analytical mind and you will find greater insight into just what is to be made out of this March into Madness.

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