This year, it’s possible that the Phoenix Suns could be a playoff team. Apart from the Markieff Morris situation that must be dealt with, there is optimism in Phoenix.
In the brutally tough Western Conference, there may be at least one spot up for grabs if the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks drop out of the playoff picture (and the Oklahoma City Thunder climb in, as expected).
The only teams that could conceivably rise to be the eighth-best team in the conference would be the Suns, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings. The Kings might have the talent, but there are a whole lot of new pieces and drama surround the team. The Jazz will be without sophomore guard Dante Exum for the season, but even so they are the Suns’ top competition for the final playoff spot in the West. Can Phoenix take the next step and crack the top eight?
Basketball Insiders previews the Phoenix Suns’ 2015-16 season.
The Suns nearly won the offseason by signing LaMarcus Aldridge. At the end of the day, Aldridge’s decision came down to Phoenix and the San Antonio Spurs, with the free agent power forward admitting that it was a very tough call. He obviously went to the Spurs, but the Suns still did add some veteran reinforcements over the offseason such as Tyson Chandler, Mirza Teletovic and Sonny Weems (in addition to drafting rookie Devin Booker). I’m excited to see how Brandon Knight does alongside Eric Bledsoe, since Knight was sidelined and limited for much of his time with the Suns last season after joining Phoenix via trade. I’m also curious to see how the addition of Chandler impacts this team. I believe the Suns will compete for the eighth seed in the Western Conference this season, but as of the right now, I have the Utah Jazz sneaking in instead of them. With that said, it’ll be a tough battle for that final seed and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Suns get in if they play to their full potential.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Alex Kennedy
On the one hand, getting Tyson Chandler to bolt Dallas was a coup. That was one of the better pickups of the offseason, mostly because this talented Suns roster needed some hard-nosed veteran leadership to help them take things to the next level. Of course, that was when it looked like they were still seriously in the hunt for LaMarcus Aldridge, and that obviously didn’t happen. Now, even Markieff Morris is unhappy with his brother having been shipped off to Detroit, and the Brandon Knight/Eric Bledsoe backcourt combination isn’t one guaranteed to dominate. There are plenty of kids on this roster to like, but it feels like an odd mix. The Pacific is a rough division this year with the Lakers and Kings improving this offseason, so Phoenix could slip a little. If they didn’t make the playoffs the last two years, they certainly aren’t going to do it this season.
5th Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
Phoenix hovered around .500 last season, but in a stacked Western Conference those type of results won’t raise many eyebrows, if any at all. The team unexpectedly changed pace at the trade deadline shipping guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas out of town. The team netted guard Brandon Knight, who was recently locked into a long-term deal with the franchise. On the interior, the Suns signed aging center Tyson Chandler, who will provide a defensive presence. Although there has been plenty of changes in Phoenix, don’t expect too much fluctuation in one direction. Stagnant would be a word that comes to mind when evaluating the 2015-16 Phoenix Suns.
4th Place – Pacific Division
– Lang Greene
If you thought there was drama with the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns are right there with them. Markieff Morris has made his displeasure with the organization abundantly clear following the trade of his twin, Marcus, to the Detroit Pistons. The outlook of the Suns’ season depends on how this situation plays out. A disgruntled top player doesn’t lead to wins, it leads to turmoil in the locker room and on the court. A trade could garner new talent, though Morris’ public display of unhappiness doesn’t give them much leverage. Where the Suns do have dependability is in the backcourt with guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. They also added Devin Booker in the draft. If Morris cannot contribute as he has in the past, the offseason signing of Tyson Chandler gives the Suns a veteran big man presence regardless. Just as the Kings have gone through ups and downs with DeMarcus Cousins, the Suns could find themselves in a similar situation if this continues this season, which could hinder their improvement.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
Anyone who has spent time around Jeff Hornacek would attest to his spirit and presence. There’s something about him that simultaneously puts his players at ease, but still garners their respect. Entering this season, the two questions I have for them revolve around Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler. First, Bledsoe quietly put together what could be regarded as the best season of his career last year. He played 81 games after missing 39 games of the 2013-14 season. Without Goran Dragic, Bledsoe will have to carry more weight for the Suns, as Brandon Knight will clearly be regarded as his secondary. Tyson Chandler’s spirit and work ethic will have a positive effect on the youngsters he will be surrounded by, and in the end, I’d expect the Suns to continue to overachieve behind Hornacek and have a shot at a playoff berth. Along with the Mavericks, Jazz and maybe the Kings, the Suns will probably hang around the eighth seed until the final week of the season, though they are still a notch below the powers in the Pacific. I’ll pencil the Kings in above them, but I do so reluctantly.
4th Place — Pacific Division
Top of the List
Best Offensive Player: Eric Bledsoe
This is Eric Bledsoe’s team. While Brandon Knight is his running mate in the dual point guard attack, everything stems from Bledsoe’s driving penetration, blazing speed and Hulk-like strength and toughness finishing in the lane. It’s his time to be the Suns’ alpha dog. Seemingly, Bledsoe is taking a larger leadership role going into the season and becoming more vocal. It may his time to take the league by storm, and it seems he is primed for a big season. The Suns will only go as far as Bledsoe takes them.
Best Defensive Player: P.J. Tucker
Tyson Chandler could’ve gotten the nod here, but we’ll focus on him more later and decided to go with Tucker instead since he is the heart and soul of this Suns team. Tucker is the king of fourth-quarter clutch rebounds, and he is a great defender. He is also versatile, guarding multiple positions. Additionally, he has what every coach looks for in a player: an intense work ethic and team-first attitude. Every year, Tucker adds something to his game, typically on the offensive side of the ball. We’ll see what new wrinkles to his game he comes to camp with this year, but expect him to continue being a lockdown defender.
Top Playmaker: Brandon Knight
It’ll be nice to see Knight actually flourish in a Suns uniform this year after being limited by injuries toward the end of last season. Last year was a disaster for Phoenix in many ways. They were beaten on a ridiculous amount of improbable buzzer beaters, were kind of forced to trade away a third of their roster at the trade deadline and dealt with some nagging injuries. This year (especially once the Markieff Morris fiasco gets sorted out), everything is looking up for the Suns in general and for Brandon Knight. Healthy and comfortable in the system, Knight may be able to produce at the level he did in the first half of last year with Milwaukee.
Best Clutch Player: Markieff Morris
Morris was far and away the most consistently clutch player for Phoenix last year and near the top of the league as well. The chance that he’ll be on the Suns by the beginning of the season is quite low, and it’s even less likely he’s on the team following the February trade deadline. But he remains with the team right now, so he’s eligible for this distinction. If he does stay in Phoenix and everything gets resolved, he’s the go-to option down the stretch in a close game.
Best New Addition: Tyson Chandler
This is such a great (and underrated) pickup for the Suns. While he is past his prime, Chandler brings exactly what the Suns need. He brings stability to the center position (the budding Alex Len tends to get banged up with small “inconsequential” injuries). He brings spectacular interior defense as well as communication, leadership and accountability on that end, which the Suns have basically never had in the history of their franchise. He also sets great picks, which Phoenix has been recently pretty poor at and will benefit Bledsoe and Knight greatly.
Who We Like
Alex Len: Len is a cornerstone piece for the Suns. He is a legit center with a smooth touch on his shot. He has length, explosiveness and athleticism. While still learning the game, for a 22-year-old he shows flashes of greatness. He is a bit injury-prone, but not in a major way. He’s had a broken nose here, bruised something there, but nothing major since his early ankle/foot issues. He gets to be mentored by Tyson Chandler and gets to play against backup centers (even though he started last year and is starting-caliber). He’s going to feast on backup centers all year. He has the whole package. It’s coming along slowly, but the improvement is there. Look for a big season from him this year or next.
Archie Goodwin: Goodwin is just fun to watch. He seemingly has boundless energy and a knack for disrupting the opposition. He’s a spark. His season will be very intriguing to track. He isn’t a “gimmick” player (i.e. dunk contest winner Jeremy Evens, who hasn’t done much else), but he also hasn’t proven that he can have consistent production across a season. His shot was unreliable to say the least, but as is evident from summer league, he seems to have reworked it and his release is quicker and cleaner, and his shot looks smoother. He will be competing with sharpshooter rookie Devin Booker for backup shooting guard duties and probably has the upper hand right now due to experience, but if he can’t have a consistent jumper in his back pocket, he could end up buried on the depth chart.
T.J. Warren: Toward the end of last season and even during this year’s summer league (where Warren took home first-team honors), he looked like a breakout candidate for his sophomore season. He has a beautiful arsenal of floaters and unconventional shots around the basket that he can pull out at any time. His floater even extends further, rivalling the rest of the NBA. His off-ball cutting is superb as well. His jumper is just okay, but not great, and he hasn’t quite extended it to three-point range yet. That, as well as upping his defense from barely below average to average defender, will take him to the next level. But he really has an amazing knack for scoring. He just gets the ball in the hoop.
Devin Booker: Booker is a flat out pure shooter. Just being drafted, he instantly became the best three-point shooter on the Suns. He’s a rookie and depending on how the competition between he and Goodwin goes, he could spend some time over in Bakersfield playing for the Suns’ D-League affiliate. His shot release is quick and so, so, smooth. It’ll be nice for Phoenix to have a knockdown shooter from deep again. He will help space the defense for the likes of Bledsoe and Knight to drive into the lane.
Mirza Teletovic: It never hurts to have a guy on your team who cares so much that he says he’d die for basketball, right? That really is the embodiment of the phrase “ball is life.” Teletovic is a stretch-four, who missed a bunch of last season when he played for the Brooklyn Nets and developed a blood clot in his lung. Depending on how the Markieff Morris situation plays out, Teletovic could have a bigger role on the Suns than initially expected when he was first acquired.
Sonny Weems: A relative unknown to casual NBA fans, he started his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors but has been playing overseas in Lithuania and Russia in recent years. Now, Weems will be a veteran presence on the young squad. The 29-year old will be a spark off the bench. He shouldn’t be relied on to initiate the offense, but he can get out in transition, he works well off the ball and he can shoot pretty well (including from three, especially after expanding his shot while overseas). He has a long wingspan, great athleticism and plays good defense. We’ll see how he fares against NBA competition once again, seeing as he hasn’t faced opponents of that caliber in a while. He has a high IQ and a high motor and could thrive in a bench role for Phoenix this year.
One strength for Phoenix is their depth. They have one of the better benches in the league, especially with the addition of Chandler moving Len back to the bench, Warren’s emergence and the drafting of Booker. This Suns team has always loved getting out in transition and that shouldn’t change this year. They prefer that style and are very good at running that up-tempo system. Their bigs like to run, along with their point guards. They also have a solid mix of youth and experience, which is what teams want.
In contrast to their depth, probably the biggest problem Phoenix has had (since Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire left) is the lack of a superstar. They have a lot of good players, but no great ones (yet).
Phoenix also has a problem winning close games. They won a few last year, but lost even more, including some brutal buzzer-beaters. They had issues getting technical fouls at all the wrong times, which may be helped by moving Marcus Morris and the seemingly imminent departure of Markieff Morris, but Bledsoe and Tucker were also part of this problem. Tyson Chandler will help in this aspect for sure.
Booker (and to a lesser extent Weems) will help with Phoenix’s three-point shooting woes, but it will probably still not be a strength for them. The same goes for Chandler and Phoenix’s rebounding.
The Burning Question
What will happen with Markieff Morris?
This is obviously the big question with the Suns. By making it clear that he wants to leave, this hurt the leverage the Suns have in trade talks, which may actually decrease the chance of Morris getting dealt.
However, Morris insists that he doesn’t have a future with the Suns, so it’s very possible he’ll be moved anyway despite Phoenix’s lack of leverage. Markieff is an above-average player, but is by no means a star who can try to demand anything from his team. He also can’t threaten to leave since he has several years left on his contract. Morris hasn’t handled things very professionally, publicly demanding a trade (which resulted in a fine) and overreacting to the trade of his brother. He also had an offseason assault charge that really hurt his trade value.
Morris is probably gone by opening night, unless they can’t get his trade value up, in which case he’s almost certainly gone by the February trade deadline. He’s not a bad player and will probably still improve, but he isn’t a player worth this recent trouble.
Will The Pacers’ Change In Style Pay Off?
With deals and changes abound, the Indiana Pacers’ wild rebuild marks them as a franchise on the rise.
After coming off four consecutive first-round exits under head coach Nate McMillan, the Indiana Pacers decided it was time to make a change. Instead of dismantling or retooling a core that had been acquired mostly by opportunistic deals, general manager Kevin Pritchard went in a different direction and, early into the season, it seems like it has paid off.
Under Nate Bjorkgren, the Indiana Pacers have dramatically transformed their style of play. Many of the mid-range jumpers they took last season have turned into shots at the rim or three-pointers instead. There are a lot more dribble hand-offs, staggered screens and an overall sense of purpose in every action on offense. The offense has operated like a well-oiled machine, largely with Domantas Sabonis acting as the main engine.
This has led to Sabonis’ play and potential being unlocked. Ultimately, Sabonis is well on his way to another All-Star appearance, averaging career highs in points (21.7 PPG), rebounds (12.8 RPG) and assists (5.8 APG). While his usage is similar to last season’s, the way he’s being utilized is very different. With McMillan, Sabonis was mostly used as a post-up big who also scored a lot as a roll-man. Bjorkgren is giving him those same touches but he has also a lot more free reign to operate and make decisions.
Sabonis is now attacking teams in semi-transition after defensive rebounds. Basically, all the offensive actions are run through him, which have accentuated his passing ability. His range has also improved, and he’s turned his 20-foot jumpers into three-point attempts. Moreover, it’s a huge part of the reason why the Pacers rank 11th in offensive rating (111.3). Sabonis is a walking mismatch who can play almost any role in an offense and Bjorkgren has let him roam free.
Better, Malcolm Brogdon is also playing at an All-Star level. He’s averaging 22.2 points per game along with 7.5 assists per game, both career highs. Brogdon’s shooting 43.3 percent from three and is another player who’s benefitted from Bjorkgren’s offense. Brogdon’s ability to shoot threes while dribbling off screens and the ability to attack out of dribble hand-offs has allowed for the Pacers’ offense to be far less predictable than in the past.
Myles Turner is probably in the lead for Defensive Player of the Year so far. He’s averaging an insane 4.2 blocks per game, practically shutting down the paint for opposing offenses. Turner has been relegated to a mostly spot-up role in the offense, but those mid-range jumpers from last season have become three-pointers to this point. While he has struggled to hit three’s so far, his shot quality is considerably better. However, his value comes on the defensive end, where he is anchoring the 9th best team in defensive rating at 107.8. Opponents are shooting just 54.4 percent in the restricted area when Turner is in. Although his recent hand fracture will surely complicate proceedings there and the Pacers will miss him sorely.
The Indiana bench has also provided some good minutes. Doug McDermott is effective not only with his jumper but with his underrated cutting ability. Justin Holiday has been solid and is shooting 43.1 percent from three. His brother, Aaron Holiday, has had his ups and downs but built himself into a solid rotation player. Naturally, TJ McConnell has been his usual pesky-self.
There’s still plenty of room for upside as the Pacers have dealt with injuries to some key guys. TJ Warren, last season’s bubble breakout star, is out indefinitely after having foot surgery. Jeremy Lamb tore his ACL last season, is close to returning but hasn’t played a single minute this season. The Pacers’ newest addition, Caris LeVert, will be out indefinitely after a small mass was found on his kidney. All three are proven guys who can really help Indiana take the next step.
Sadly, it gets more difficult with Turner’s injury too.
Interestingly enough, many of the players have seemingly gone out of their way to not only express their appreciation for Bjorkgren’s coaching – while also knowing the difference compared to years past. Brogdon, Sabonis and McDermott have all seemingly made it clear that this style of play is preferable to last year under McMillan.
“In seasons past, the offense didn’t call for me to do those certain things,” Turner said “But coach has a lot of confidence in me… I’ve just had the chance to show it this season.”
Questions about the Turner-Sabonis pairing now seem to have gone away. It’s no secret that Turner oft mentioned in trade rumors the entire offseason in large part due to his perceived fit with Sabonis. Bjorkgren has found a way to maximize both player’s skillsets while also keeping them happy with their roles. Bigger, Pacers’ lineups with Sabonis and Turner have a 2.5 net rating.
The improved play of the Indiana stars is something that can be attributed to Bjorkgren’s shift in their style of play. It’s what Pritchard was hoping for when he made the coaching change. The Pacers made a calculated gamble when they fired a proven coach with this roster in Nate McMillan and now the Pacers are 8-5 with room to grow. If Sabonis and Brogdon can continue this level of play as guys come back healthy, the Pacers will be a team no one wants to face come playoff time.
Myles Turner Making A Difference With Defense
The Indiana Pacers have always been a good defensive team, but Myles Turner is on a mission this season to take them to an elite level. Chad Smith takes a closer look at the impact Turner has had as the anchor of Indiana’s defense.
This week has been a roller coaster ride for the Indiana Pacers, who are returning home after splitting a four-game West Coast trip. It was supposed to be five games but their matchup with the Phoenix Suns was postponed due to contract tracing within the Suns organization. On their day off between games, Indiana traded away All-Star guard Victor Oladipo as part of a four-team blockbuster that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.
What they got in return seemed too good to be true, until it was. Acquiring a young and talented player like Caris LeVert, whom they originally drafted and subsequently traded to Brooklyn, took many people by surprise. With Oladipo not planning to return next season, it was a brilliant move by Indiana, especially when you consider LeVert’s upside and his team-friendly contract. On top of that, the Pacers also received a 2024 second-round pick (via Cleveland), a 2023 second-round pick (via Houston) and $2.6 million from the Nets.
Unfortunately, the Pacers’ medical staff discovered what the team described as “a small mass” on LeVert’s left kidney while undergoing a routine physical. The good news for LeVert is that this was found and he can begin whatever treatment is necessary for him to return to playing basketball at some point. For now, though, the Pacers will employ the “next man up” philosophy. The team has already lost TJ Warren indefinitely and have been without Jeremy Lamb all season. Now Myles Turner may soon join them on the sidelines.
Myles missed his first game of the season on Sunday due to an injury on his right hand. He met with team doctors on Monday and early reports are that he has a slight fracture in his right hand and will be re-evaluated in the coming days.
In that game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the absence of Turner was glaring. Even without Serge Ibaka and Lou Williams, the Clippers shot 55 percent from the floor and 49 percent from behind the arc. Nearly half of their 129 points came in the paint as they destroyed the Pacers by 33 points, in a game that wasn’t even that close. Indiana had just two blocks in the game and even those came in garbage time.
When Nate Bjorkgren was named the Pacers’ new head coach back in October, many around the league wondered what that meant for Turner. Would the experiment next to Domantas Sabonis come to an end? Were his days as a Pacer now numbered? A rumored sign-and-trade deal with the Boston Celtics for Gordon Hayward never came to fruition, but that ended up working out well for both Myles and the Pacers organization.
When the Pacers selected Turner with the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the opinions on him were split. While many saw the raw, unlocked potential that he possessed, others were skeptical of his lack of lateral movement and, of all things, the way that he ran up and down the court.
Draft evaluators were concerned that his awkward running style would lead to long-term effects on his knees. In a breakdown by Draft Express, they noted that “His awkward running style might not change anytime soon. He noticeably lumbers getting up and down the floor, and only made five field goals all season in transition situations.” That was in reference to his Freshman season at Texas, where Turner averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game while shooting 46 percent from the field.
Fast forward to 2021, where Turner is having arguably the best season of his career. While he is scoring at the same level, he has improved several other facets of his game. He is shooting the ball with more confidence, attacking the basket more off the dribble and even hitting the offensive glass. While his three-point shooting is down largely due to more attempts, his work in the paint has him shooting a career-high 63 percent from inside the arc.
Obviously, the blocks are what really pops out, as he leads the league at 4.2 per game. That is staggering when you consider the next best is Rudy Gobert at 2.7 per game, while Chris Boucher is the only other player averaging at least two per game. By comparison, when Turner led the league in blocks during the 2018-19 season his average was 2.7 per game. Entering Sunday’s slate of games, Turner was actually averaging more blocks per game than six teams.
Myles Turner: Swat team captain 🚫 pic.twitter.com/As9SFTUP3g
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 17, 2021
Following a game earlier this season, Turner elaborated on his goals for the year: “It’s definitely been a goal for myself to start the season off strong on the defensive end. I’ve gotten the respect as a shot-blocker in this league. I know it’s something that I do. But I’m trying to take that to the next step.”
“I’ve already proven that you can lead the league in blocks and not make an All-Defensive team or not be Defensive Player of the Year. So it’s time to do more and assert myself more on that end.”
Turner has had four games this season with at least five blocks, including two games where he stuffed the opponent eight times. His defensive prowess is much more than just blocking shots though; he’s averaging a career-high 1.5 steals per game so far and has had seven games in which he recorded at least two steals.
Indiana’s offense will continue to run through Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, who are both playing at an All-Star level this season. But, as much attention as those two have gotten, it’s the defense that has really shaped this Pacers team.
The loss of assistant coach and defensive guru Dan Burke was a concern before the season began. The truth is the Pacers are much more aggressive on defense now, playing further up on the perimeter. This is the same scheme that Bjorkgren and Nick Nurse incorporated with the Toronto Raptors. Ibaka played that role last year and this season it’s been Boucher, who currently ranks third in the league in blocks behind Turner and Gobert.
With Sabonis often guarding the opponent’s biggest/strongest player, Turner is left to defend more on the perimeter. This is a real challenge given his disadvantage against smaller, quicker wing players. To his credit though, Turner has stayed in front of them. And that is what makes his shot-blocking even more impressive; every game and on multiple possessions, Turner is essentially guarding two players by himself for seconds at a time.
Since Turner’s rookie season, only three players have blocked more shots than he has. He ranks 15th in the league in deflections and is top-five in terms of defensive field goal percentage at the rim. Indiana’s defensive rating is a 107.7 when he is on the court and a 111.3 when he is on the bench. These are the signs of a truly elite defensive player.
And, with Turner as their defensive anchor, the Pacers have a scary three-headed monster that could ultimately be a nightmare for the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
2021 NBA Draft Evaluation: What Are We Missing?
With limited in-person opportunities to NBA franchises, will the 2021 draft be the toughest to scout?
There were loads of talks last offseason about how the 2020 NBA draft would be the hardest to scout in recent memory. The draft started in 1947 and – without knowing what it was like to try and scout a country full of potential players sans a large scouting department, over 100 games a week on national television, and even more via other streaming sites – it’s hard to believe that statement holds much water.
But it did have its challenges though. With the season ending as conference tournaments were getting underway, NBA teams lost out on several crucial scouting opportunities both in and out of season. Despite having college basketball back, the scouting landscape is still not the same. It has not been determined if NBA personnel will be allowed to attend the NCAA Tournament or what postseason events will look like. In this piece, we go through some of the challenges organizations are facing while preparing for the 2021 NBA Draft.
THE CANCELLATION OF THE NIKE HOOP SUMMIT AND MCDONALDS ALL-AMERICAN GAME
The kickoff to scouting a new crop of freshman players actually happens before they ever step on campus. The Nike Hoop Summit and McDonald’s All-American game are the first two events in which NBA scouts can watch the next incoming freshman class in person. While they may have seen some of the players at Youth FIBA events, they can get early evaluations of players that will most likely make up a majority of the lottery in the next draft class.
Getting an early evaluation of these players allows you to track progress. They’ve all been dominant at the high school level playing against their peers. But watching them allows you to evaluate where they are at, and gives you a baseline for what they can bring to the table. When you see them several months later playing at the college level, you are able to have an idea of what skills translate, which do not, and how a player has improved both physically and with their skills since leaving high school. Getting the early evaluation on a player allows you to track whether a player progresses in college or whether they are the same player they were in high school.
The games themselves are not unimportant, but they do not have as much of an impact as a lot of people think, at least for the American prospects. The practices are what the organizations are really interested in seeing. This gives scouts the opportunity to see how these young athletes compete, handle coaching from someone they are not used to coaching them and conduct themselves on the court when there are no TV cameras or spotlight. The Nike Hoop Summit, which pits 12 American prospects against a team of 12 international prospects, has proven to be a launching pad for international players looking to get drafted. Dennis Schroder and Bismack Biyombo are two examples of international players who turned a good performance at the Hoop Summit into an early-round draft selection.
Not being able to watch these players in person before entering their freshman season has put organizations behind in terms of getting a full, proper evaluation of them. While players like Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State don’t need events like this to boost their stock, other stand-out freshmen could have elevated their early projection.
THE ABILITY TO ATTEND COLLEGE GAMES AND PRACTICES IN PERSON
College basketball games have never been more accessible than they are now. Not only are there 100 games on TV every week, but for the games that are not, colleges upload them to Synergy Sports Tech, a film sharing website that every team uses and that NBA teams can access. Within one hour of the end of every game, teams will have the ability to download and watch full games.
The issue is not that teams cannot watch prospects, but seeing the game is only part of what scouts do when seeing players on college campuses. Scouts often get to the games 2-3 hours ahead of time to watch warmups. They want to see how players approach the game. Does he warm up hard? What is his intensity like as the game approaches? While you can get an idea for someone’s height, length, strength and wingspan over film it is much easier to get a gauge on it when seeing someone in person. Warm-ups are also a chance to watch a player take over 100 jump shots and assess his form. During the game, they will pay attention to how he interacts on the court with his teammates, coaches and refs. When things go wrong during the game, they will want to see how he responds.
Practice is similar. Scouts want to see how early they get in the gym, do they stay after to get up shots and how do they respond during practice when the coach pushes them. While some states are allowing fans to attend games, scouts are not on the road like they normally would be at this time. Not only are most schools not allowing them to attend practices and games, but a lot of organizations are not sending their scouts out on the road for fear of them contracting COVID-19 and the quarantine restrictions they’d eventually face.
POSTSEASON SCOUTING EVENTS
It is still too early to see what post season scouting events will look like. Last season, the Portsmouth Invitational, NBA Combine and individual team workouts at NBA facilities were canceled – and these events are important for multiple reasons. First, it gives teams the chance to watch athletes in a different setting outside of their schools. While the top prospects won’t play at the combine, many athletes will and there is always someone who plays well and elevates their stock. Seeing players outside of the constraints of their college system helps teams get a better picture of how they could translate to the NBA.
Another benefit of having these postseason events is getting proper medical information. During Portsmouth and the Combine, you’re able to get proper measurables on the players and at your team facility, your medical staff can evaluate the players more thoroughly for physical injuries and potential lingering problems.
There is still a lot of time to determine what the scouting landscape will look like before the 2021 NBA draft. Given how things are going though, and depending on how things go moving forward, this could very well be one of the harder drafts to scout due to the limited in-person opportunities available to NBA teams. Not only will there be a smaller sample size of the incoming freshman class, but a year-and-a-half of in-person scouting information on the players who returned to college will be missing too.
Again, while this won’t make a huge difference for the class’ biggest prospects, it will simply change proceedings in every other aspect – but the NBA always finds a way.