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NBA AM: The NBA Draft Is Complicated

With the 2017 NBA Draft Combine getting underway, consider these things when you think about the draft process.

Steve Kyler

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The Draft Is Complicated

With the 2017 NBA Draft Combine getting underway in Chicago today, NBA teams will get their first real chance to get to know the field of players likely to get drafted.

How important is the Combine you ask? In 2016, 70 players participated in the Combine; 42 of them were drafted. Six pulled out of the draft entirely. When you consider that the top overall prospects typically skip the process, the Combine usually sets the realistic field on draft day, especially the field for the second round.

With the Draft moving to center stage for many teams, here are some things to know about the process:

Talent Wins Out

As much as people tend to fixate on what’s already on a team’s roster, especially when it comes to draft picks, the truth of the matter is almost no player drafted is ready to truly compete as a rookie. If you look at the 2016 NBA draft top level picks like Laker forward Brandon Ingram or Wolves guard Kris Dunn, neither initially started; each were brought along slowly.

It’s fairly rare that a rookie is ready to play full-time minutes at the NBA level, meaning teams tend to focus on the best long-term talent more so than an immediate roster need. The ideal pick is a player that solves a roster need, with the best upside talent.

However, if it comes down to it, most teams are going to select talent first and sort out the roster later, especially after they get a sense of what the new player really is in their system.

The lone exception to this concept is when a team has a proven All-Star on the roster. Take Cleveland for example. Spending a high-level draft picks on a Small Forward would be foolish because that player would never play.

Teams do consider their roster when making a pick, but it’s always far easier to trade away talent down the road, especially when you consider anyone drafted is going to need time to develop.

The Eye Test Lies To You

It’s fairly common to fixate on what can be seen. That game film and how a player has played should trump everything, but it rarely does. That’s not to say that teams don’t value a fully fleshed out body of work, especially a lot of game film, but there is more to it than that.

Teams tend to over evaluate that draft and that’s led to some historically bad draft decisions, but the reason teams dig into everything they can know is because being a successful professional isn’t just about ability on the court.

For the most part, drafted players are not going to be the focal point of their team. Equally many are going to lose more games in their first professional year than they have lost in their entire life. How will a player handle that? Is a player wired to handle disappointment? How will that player handle pro-level coaching?

There is pressure in the NBA. Does the player have the mental make up to persevere? Or will that player get lost in the distractions that come with life as a pro athlete?

What you see on the court or in game film is only part of the equation.

Teams have to evaluate the whole picture, and while some pictures are easier to see than others, look back at any draft in the last 10 years. The process is littered with hyped players coming into the draft that simply never became what they looked to be on game film.

Equally, there have been dozens lesser thought of players that went on to become All-Stars or franchise cornerstones. That’s where the work in all of this comes into play.

Draft Picks Are Investments

As much as fans like to talk about who a team should draft, keep in mind a draft pick is an investment and as any broker will tell you, betting on a known stock does not often return the same a betting on a high upside, higher risk stock.

Teams in the lottery tend to look for highest possible upside. This makes the draft risky, but the idea is to bet on the future, not the present. When you consider that 14 teams passed on Giannis Antetokounmpo, it was a risky pick at the time—more risk than many teams were willing to make. The Bucks took the chance and got maybe the gem of that draft class.

Like venture capitalists, teams in the lottery are often looking for the “dare to be great pick,” not the safe pick.

Equally, teams that are further along and maybe already have their core players are looking at the draft differently, usually looking for the safe bet, rather than risk they do not need.

In all situations, keep in mind, teams look at draft picks not in what they are today, rather what they’ll be when it’s time to pay out real money in four years.

The Draft Is Brutally Inaccurate

While situation matters most to a player’s overall development, the draft process itself has proven to be brutally inaccurate.

Again, look at the last decade of draft picks and the history of the draft is littered with players like Jimmy Butler (30th pick), Draymond Green (35th pick), Malcolm Brogdon (36th pick) and of course Isaiah Thomas (60th pick) – all picked later in the draft, all turned out to be stars or future stars in the NBA.

Compare that with the number of busts in the top three selections and it becomes clear the draft is a crap shoot at best.

In the same vein, NBA pundits that cover the draft have been as wrong as the team themselves in predicting NBA success. Some of that has to do with players landing in tough situations like Darko Milicic in 2003.

Darko was raved about by pundits only to flame out, mainly because of the situation in which he landed—in Detroit, with a veteran championship team that never had a role for him, and a coach that wouldn’t play him. Ultimately, Darko quit caring about basketball and fell into a downward spiral, becoming the joke of a elite Hall-of-Fame draft class.

By every measure, Darko was a world class draft prospect. He simply never became the player many thought he’d be.

Missing On The Draft Can Cripple A Franchise

Missing on the draft can destroy a franchise, especially franchises drafting in the lottery. The Sacramento Kings have become the poster child for botched draft picks and their inability to get back into the playoffs is a result of years of missing on picks, especially picks the franchise often traded up to obtain.

Orlando is another example of a team that was supposed to rebuild through the draft but was never able to land the difference maker a team needs to jump start a rebuild, and it ultimately cost Rob Hennigan his job.

Equally, teams that continually trade away picks lose out on low cost players, often finding themselves with limited depth or trade assets.

Sometimes, teams need the player a draft pick can produce, not just for the talent, but for a potential future trade asset. So, when you wonder why a veteran team doesn’t trade away their pick, it’s often about preserving a future asset.

No Team Hits On Everything

As much as some executives in the NBA are lauded for their draft acumen, no franchise has hit on every pick, mainly because the circumstances for success vary so wildly. If you look at the history of each franchisefor every hit, there is an equal and embarrassing miss. That’s the nature of the process and one of the reasons teams spend so much time evaluating options—the margins between prospects is usually very small.

While it’s easy to say a player is a can’t miss prospect, the history of the draft has proven that to not only be untrue, but usually way off, especially as the draft gets into the teens and twenties.

While some teams tend to miss on the draft a bit more frequently than others, the hit/miss ration is better equal, especially over the longer term.

The NBA Draft Combine medical testing and personal interviews gets underway tonight, while the actual court work begins tomorrow. Underclassmen that have declared for the draft early have until May 24 to pull out and return to college without penalty . That is not an NBA rule, it’s a NCAA rule. The NBA’s deadline to withdraw is June 12.

There are some players in the 2017 NBA Draft class that are not likely to return to school, but may pull out of the draft, opting to use the Combine and workout to get themselves on some team’s radars for next year and explore playing professionally in either the Gatorade Development League or internationally.

Basketball Insiders will be on the ground in Chicago and pushing out video interviews with all of the notable players, so stay tuned throughout the week.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible@TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton@jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA AM: Was Watson Setup To Fail or Just Ill Equipped?

Was Phoenix’s Earl Watson setup to fail or did he just not have the tools and experience to overcome the tenuous job of a rebuild?

Steve Kyler

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Set Up To Fail? Maybe

The Phoenix Suns have parted ways with head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season. Associate head coach Jay Triano is expected to be his replacement as interim head coach.

Some have suggested that Watson was set up to fail, but let’s be honest for a minute. Was Watson really the best option the Suns had after parting ways with Jeff Hornacek during the 2015-16 season? Watson was well liked and that an easy and intoxicating concept, but even as an interim coach Watson won just nine games in 33 tries.

It’s not as if Watson took the team in a totally new direction; the Suns were a bad team when they took the gamble on Watson. Moving the needle wasn’t exactly likely when the massive inexperienced Watson took over the team. Is anyone really surprised he couldn’t make it work?

Sure, the roster and the priorities of the franchise were an uphill climb, but let’s be real for a minute: The Suns couldn’t have expected Watson to have the tools to bring it all together. Rebuilding is hard all by itself, and doing so with a head coach that has never coached isn’t exactly smart. In fact, it rarely works out.

It’s easy to say Watson was set up to fail, but equally easy to say he never had the experience to believe he’d be successful. It was a gamble on the Suns’ part, a gamble that ran its course.

So What Next?

The Suns are not very good, as three straight blow out losses have proven. It’s possible that Triano can make enough changes to at least get the Suns to compete, but the word in NBA circles was the Suns locker room had basically quit after three games, so Triano’s task may be tough for even a coach that been around the block a few times.

Like Watson, Triano is incredibly likable and approachable, but unlike Watson, Triano has experience. Triano has experience not only as a head coach, having coached the Toronto Raptors for three years, but he is the head coach of the Canadian National Team and has been on the Team USA and Portland Trail Blazers staff as an assistant. While Triano’s stint in Toronto looked a lot like Watson’s stint in Phoenix, the big difference is Triano has been around a lot more situations and may be better equipped to put a system and structure in place that could yield improvement, or at least that’s the newest bet the Suns are making.

With Triano at the helm, it’s also likely that the front office will have a better relationship than what’s emerged in Watson’s time in Phoenix. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Watson haven’t exactly been on the same page, and Watson had grown emboldened enough to make it clear in the media somethings were not in his control, often taken subtle shots at decisions made by the front office.

It is rare for inexperience and dysfunction to yield success. The hope is Triano will smooth some of that over.

“I Dont wanna be here.”

As news of Watson’s firing began to leak Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who had a very good relationship with Watson, took to Twitter to announce “I Dont wanna be here.”

Bledsoe has been a constant name in NBA trade circles for the last few years, and with Watson out of the picture, Bledsoe seems to be looking for the door too.

The 27-year-old Bledsoe has two more seasons remaining on his deal, $14.5 million this season and $15 million owed for next season. The Suns have listened to offers on Bledsoe off and on for some time, with many in NBA circles believing this would be the season the Suns would finally trade him.

With Watson, a long-time champion of Bledsoe, out of the picture, there is a belief that Bledsoe’s role is going to decrease, which is likely why Bledsoe took to Twitter.

Pulling off a trade three games into the season seems highly unlikely, especially given that Bledsoe has likely killed his own trade value. There have been several teams over the last two seasons with interest in Bledsoe; the question is, will the Suns close this chapter or try and see if Bledsoe can help them right the ship under Triano and rebuild some trade value when the trade market opens up in December?

$41.11 Million

Of the Phoenix Suns’ $85.448 million in guaranteed contracts, $41.11 million belongs to Bledsoe, injured guard Brandon Knight and center Tyson Chandler. You can toss $10 million more for injured forward Jared Dudley. While Bledsoe and Chandler have played in all three regular-season games, both are not part of the long-term future of the team.

The question becomes, what role will they play under Triano?

The Suns are truly a tale of two teams. There is the old veteran squad that is clogging up the top of the Suns salary cap chart, and there are rookie scale players that are the future, and not coincidentally the players performing at their worst so far this season.

Will the Suns just let the $41.11 million owed at the top just sit, or will the Suns try and fire-sale some of those veterans? The belief is they would like to do the latter.

As much as people may want to say Watson was set up to fail, the evidence in the situation is he was never proven enough to succeed.

The Suns are in a dreadful no-man’s land of bad contracts and underperforming players. Maybe a more proven established coach could have set this situation in a better direction, but the reality is Watson was never experienced enough to handle a rebuild like this because getting the most out of players while losing is a very tough job even for the most experienced of coaches.

Watson, like many before him, will find another job in the NBA. Maybe like Triano who is replacing him, he can take the lessons learned in Phoenix and become a better coach somewhere down the road and get a shot with a team that wouldn’t require as much as the Suns desperately need.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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