Lessons Learned from Draft Night

Lessons Learned from Draft Night
Jul 04, 2006, 02:16 am
Wednesday night’s draft taught us some valuable lessons for next year and beyond about the way the NBA conducts their business this time of the year. Let’s look back at a few of them to see what we can learn.

1. Making the NCAA Tournament is paramount for a draft prospect to be taken high

As pointed out to us by our friend Coach David Thorpe, 21 of the top 23 NCAA players drafted in the first round made the NCAA tournament in their last year in college. The only exceptions were Quincy Douby (drafted 19th), who led the Big East in scoring, and Renaldo Balkman, an incredible reach with the 20th pick who still won the MVP award in the NIT right in front of Isiah Thomas’ eyes at Madison Square Garden. In addition, every American player drafted in the lottery except for Ronnie Brewer (taken 14th) at least made the Sweet 16. So for college kids reading this site wondering what they need to do in order to put themselves in the best situation possible to be drafted in the first round next year and beyond, the answer to that should be quite clear.

2. NBA teams wont reach for a position (point guard) in a draft of question marks

This was actually a position of some quality this year, with Marcus Williams, Rajon Rondo, Jordan Farmar, and Sergio Rodriguez all capable of developing into quality floor generals in the future. But, in a draft with the talent so evenly dispersed, teams just weren’t willing to reach for one of these players despite the impact a point guard can have on a team.

Marcus Williams was of course the prime example of this year’s draft trend. Fortunately, Williams slid to a perfect situation as he will now be the understudy to Jason Kidd and will have the best opportunity to fulfill his vast promise because of it. However, Williams was not without his question marks, as were many prospects this year, and because of it teams simply went in another direction, drafting the best player available or another position of need even when they could have use another point guard on their depth chart.

3. The luxury tax is king

Despite the availability of some quality young talent at 21 and 27, Phoenix decided that their current financial situation superceded the need to add cheap talent to an already loaded roster. From the Suns perspective this move makes sense in the short-term, as they have most every piece they need to challenge for the title next season. But, with extensions for Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa coming up and the recent loss of Tim Thomas and possibly Eddie House, Phoenix could have used some of the talent available.

While the Suns made a shrewd move by exchanging their pick at 21 for a first rounder next season, there were some prospects available that could have offset the impending roster casualties they are facing. Grabbing a point guard such as Sergio Rodriguez would have been a great move for the future as Steve Nash could use a backup with the aptitude to learn all that he has to teach. At some point this will need to be addressed. With no immediate contributors on the board and the prospect of saving 9 million dollars in salary and luxury tax savings, the Suns decided to pass.

4. Some clueless teams will always be clueless

Everyone’s heard the saying “the rich get richer”, but the reverse is also true. The poorly managed teams continue to make listless decisions and are usually the victims of their own instability. The importance of cohesion from ownership down through the coaching staff and team roster cannot be understated.

Atlanta is embroiled in a power struggle for ownership, and in the interim GM Billy Knight continues to baffle with his lack of savvy and confusing roster formulation. Sheldon Williams is a quality player and one that fills Atlanta’s needs for interior defense. However, in a draft as volatile as this one, the 5th pick could have been easily parlayed into added value without the risk of losing their targeted player. There was absolutely no need to handcuff themselves weeks in advance to ensure he was still available at a spot he’ll always be.

New York obviously provided the comic relief for the evening last Wednesday, but looking deeper into the situation it is clear that owner James Dolan’s lack of participation or direct interest in team matters has allowed Isiah Thomas to operate independent of influence or council. Rumor has it that Lebron James’ agent Leon Rose indicated to Isiah Thomas that drafting his clients Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins will help them down the road in the Lebron James sweepstakes in 2008. Both New York and Atlanta franchises are suffering from the lack of comprehensive team management and their moves on draft night only served to further underscore this important point.

5. Agents have no idea where their guy is getting drafted and promises aren’t worth squat (see: Daniel Gibson, Alexander Johnson)

Now, draft history tells us that this isn’t always the norm. But this year provided so many contingency options for teams and the talent was so evenly dispersed that teams truly had no notion of what they were going to do until their number was up. Because of this uncertainty the communication waves were filled with the static of half-truths and empty promises. Agents who felt that they had a good gauge on were their players would end up found out quickly how tenuous this information was. It worked the other way too, as green room bound agents who indicated to us that they thought their player might fall out of the lottery (and in one case possibly into the twenties) barely ended up having to wait in the green room at all. At the end of the day, no one knows where they are going to get drafted for sure until they actually hear their name called.

No example of this was more evident than with Alexander Johnson, who thought he had a deal in place with Memphis only to be spurned when their pick came up at 24. To make the situation even more interesting, Johnson was subsequently traded to Memphis later that evening. Now Johnson will go into camp knowing that whatever relationship he thought he had with the organization is more of a one-way street than an agreement between men and his value to the organization is as an asset, one easily replaced on a whim.

6. Internationals are back on the rise…Being an international in the late 1st/2nd round helps because teams don’t have to bring you over

Teams are starting to warm up the idea of taking foreign players because of their professional experience and the luxury of being able to store them overseas for a year or two while retaining their rights.

3 international players were drafted in the lottery, 4 in the top 18, 6 overall in the first round, and 13 total or just under 22%. After initially being underrated for far too long the Nowitzkis and Stojakovics of the world pumped the draft stock of internationals into the stratosphere before seeing it plummet over the past two years when so many of them ended up not living up to the hype. But with the amount of success that international players (Nowitzki, Parker, Radmanovic, Ginobili, Diaw, Nocioni, Krstic, Varejao, Barbosa, etc) saw in this year’s playoffs, it was inevitable that their stock would once again rise once teams saw how valuable their contribution can be.

The Treviso camp has now become an excellent staging ground for aspiring NBAers to prove themselves worthy of selection. With so many inequities still existing in the foreign scouting system, international players are taking full advantage of the opportunity to shine in front of executives in Italy. The RBK Eurocamp camp in Treviso did nothing but help some of these lesser known prospects. Joel Freeland got himself some guaranteed money with a first round selection, which is a far cry from bagging groceries and god knows what else.

7. Being a Combo guard isn't such a bad thing anymore

After years of the word “tweener” being the kiss of death for an aspiring NBA athlete, combo guards are now quite the hot commodity. The success of players such as Dwayne Wade, Jason Terry, and Leandro Barbosa has begun to redefine General Manager’s ideas of what’s possible out of a player who doesn’t have a defined position. Randy Foye was this years draft darling, despite his size. Quincy Douby, Shannon Brown and Mardy Collins didn’t let the tweener label stop them from being first round picks, and Daniel Gibson, Guillermo Diaz, Yotam Halperin, Dee Brown and Danilo Pinnock will all have a chance to stick in the league if teams think they can utilize their versatile offensive skill-set to create mismatches off the bench.

As more players begin to show multi-dimensional skill sets the lines between positions will further blur. Combo forwards should be on the rise in the coming years as teams realize that players like Charlie Villenueva, David Lee, and Ryan Gomes are becoming more and more prevalent. How long will it be before positions will be listed simply as: Center, Forward, Guard.

8. Being freakishly athletic always helps (see: Saer Sene, Renaldo Balkman, Ryan Hollins, Guillermo Diaz, David Noel, Hassan Adams, James White)

The more things change the more they stay the same. Despite some of the new patterns of player selection and the burgeoning changes in position definition, the athlete will always be selected with the hope that he can become a player. Despite less than standout careers at their respective schools, there were quite a few selections throughout the draft that were made solely on the promise that pure physical talent brings.

The prevailing wisdom in the NBA is that you can’t teach speed and explosive lift. While that may be true, no one seems to question the idea that you may not be able to teach all the mental elements that go into being a successful player. PJ Tucker may not have the jaw dropping athleticism or ideal size for the NBA, but it’s not hard to see him being substantially more successful than Josh Boone or Shawne Williams, two players taken far ahead of Tucker on draft night.

9. Last minute workouts leave great lasting impressions (Paul Davis, Rajon Rondo, Josh Boone, Patrick O’Bryant, Jordan Farmar)

There may be nothing like a first impression, but leaving a lasting final impression obviously doesn’t hurt either. The final workouts on the days leading up to the draft played a substantial role in where certain players ended up. Team General Managers and other scouts insist that a player’s regular season performance is what counts the most, but despite this assertion many of these same decision makers will fall in love with a player based off of these last minute workouts.

10. Teams draft based on need in the 1st round

Another myth that truly was busted this year was the notion that teams will always take the best player available regardless of position. This draft was exceptional in terms of the equality of talent in the lottery, however each team selection could easily be attributed to positional need, with the exception of Seattle, who took their 3rd center project in a row.

Despite the common belief that this was a “weak draft” there appears to be a dearth of quality players who could very well plug into key roles for their teams over the next couple of seasons. A significant advantage of players being drafted for need is that these players will actually get the opportunity to contribute something to their pro clubs and that cannot be overlooked. So much of finding success in the NBA has to do with opportunity.

There have been many players who have had the skill to be contributors but have gotten lost in the shuffle of a team’s rotation during the quest to succeed in the now. But, by having the opportunity to fill a role immediately, these rookies have a chance to at least keep their team’s attention for a while longer, which can mean all the difference between success and failure.

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