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NBA PM: Executives’ Biggest Draft Mistakes

NBA GMs and team presidents do make mistakes at the draft, and these have become the most common…

Joel Brigham



Every GM and team president doing research right now on which players to select in the draft later this month will eventually make selections that they believe, with all their hearts, are the right ones.

Of course, history has shown us that the overwhelming majority of those selections will be bad and that there’s no tried and true formula that determines which guys will be superstars and which will be huge duds. If there were, the best players would always go first, and there would be little need for a second half of the first round, let alone any sort of second round.

Some strategies, however, have often proved less successful than others, so today we look at some of the biggest mistakes that executives make at the draft:

#5 – Drafting Players with Questionable Character

Why They Do It: Because Dennis Rodman and Allen Iverson existed. Of course, dealing with Iverson’s occasionally bad attitude or Rodman’s off-the-court circus was manageable when their teams were making the NBA Finals in large part because of them, but sometimes elite talents can play well enough for a team to depend on them, then blow up at the worst possible time (see Artest, Ron). Even Artest’s early-career headaches were preferable to some players who couldn’t even behave themselves long enough to make an impact on the league. Using a first-round pick on a troubled player is a tremendous risk, but GMs often do it anyway because lottery-quality talents tumble on draft day for these personal reasons, and at some point a team can’t help but think, “Well, they’ve slipped this far…”

Unless they slip to the second round, however, there are often safer players worthy of those guaranteed first-round contracts. Either the talent is so transcendent that they’re a lottery pick no matter what, or they can wait until later in round 2.

Case In Point: Terrence Williams (New Jersey, 11th pick, 2009), Sean Williams (New Jersey, 17th pick, 2007), Sebastian Telfair (Portland, 13th pick, 2004), Keon Clark (Orlando Magic, 13th pick, 1998).

This Draft’s Potential Culprit: The Texas Legends’ P.J. Hairston was booted out of the University of North Carolina before his junior season got underway because of some questionable activities and questionable associations discovered by the university. The legal case against him was eventually dropped and he seems to have moved on, but he is the most noteworthy first-round candidate with any sort of serious legal issues in recent years.

#4 – Drafting Players with Injury Histories

Why They Do It: Because injuries heal, but talent lasts forever. At least, that’s what teams tell themselves when they go ahead and commit to someone that has a history of injuries. Every year, someone drops further and further down the board because of some mystery ailment that caused a red flag during the workout process, and every year there’s a team that uses a first-round pick on that guy anyway. Sometimes, things pan out okay, like with Jared Sullinger in Boston and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, but drafting an injured player, or a player who has only recently recovered from a serious injury, can be incredibly risky.

Case In Point: Anthony Bennett (Cleveland, 1st pick, 2013), Greg Oden (Portland, 1st Pick, 2007), Brandon Roy (Minnesota, 6th pick, 2006).

This Draft’s Potential Culprit: Joel Embiid is a potentially franchise-altering center with plenty of room to grow and game-changing skills on both sides of the floor. Unfortunately, he’s coming off a back injury that kept him from finishing out the full season at Kansas, and asking his body to take on the wear and tear of an 82-game NBA season (plus the playoffs, potentially) could be too much. He’s the best center prospect in years, but is he worth the top overall pick if there are equally talented players available without all the wear and tear at age 19?

#3 – Drafting for Potential

Why They Do It: Because open air is much more beautiful than a closed ceiling. How many times have tried and tested college players been passed over for younger guys that have barely even seen the floor for their college teams? The problem with four-year college seniors, though, is that by age 22 teams have a really good sense of who those players are going to be, while others, at age 19, have so much more ahead of them to look forward to. Athleticism seems to be the motivating force here in most instances, plus relative youth could mean more years of NBA service.

Think of it this way: if you were guaranteed $10 right now or a scratch-off lottery ticket that would leave you with either $50 or nothing, which way would you go? The potential reward is so high for some of these kids that executives can’t help but look right past the more established players with the better resumes.

Case In Point: Brandon Knight (Detroit, 8th pick, 2011) over Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson; Marvin Williams (Atlanta, 2nd pick, 2005) over Chris Paul and Deron Williams; Shaun Livingston (4th pick, L.A. Clipperes, 2004) over Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala; Kwame Brown (Washington, 1st pick, 2001) and Eddy Curry (Chicago, 4th pick, 2001) over Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson and Richard Jefferson; Jonathan Bender (Toronto, 5th Pick, 1999) over Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry.

This Draft’s Potential Culprit: Zach LaVine is an athletic freak who was nowhere near the best player on his UCLA team this past season, but his stock continues to improve throughout the workout process because, essentially, he can jump really high. There is more to his game than that, but the reason teams are drooling over him more than UCLA teammates Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, both of whom were more important to the team last year, is because of LaVine’s measurements and physical attributes.

#2 – Drafting International Players

Why They Do It: Because dominant players do exist overseas; you just have to find them. Drafting international talent is only recently recovering from a pretty poor stretch in which very few new international stars were mined from the draft’s first round. There have been plenty of huge international success stories, though, with Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and others having made All-Star and All-NBA teams, but there have been a lot of international disasters in the first round, as well. It’s perfectly appropriate to try and find international gold in the lottery, but more often the league’s most successful overseas players are either late first-rounders, second-rounders or flat-out free agency signings. To find one in the lottery is rare, which is why GMs may be smarter to take their risks on players overseas with later selections.

Case In Point: Rucky Rubio (Minnesota, 5th pick, 2009), Yi Jianlinan (Milwaukee, 6th pick, 2007), Fran Vasquez (Orlando, 11th pick, 2005), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick, 2003), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Denver, 5th pick, 2002), Frederick Weis (New York, 15th pick, 1999).

This Draft’s Potential Culprit: Dante Exum is a 6’6”, supremely-gifted point guard with a great attitude and a pristine track record as a coachable kid, but there’s very little benchmark for how he’ll handle NBA talent. An even bigger question mark, though, might be Jusuf Nurkic, a 6’11” Bosnian center that has international scouts fawning, despite the fact that he never topped 17 minutes a game in either Adriatic League or Eurocup action last season, most often due to foul trouble. He’s a big boy with a great offensive skill set, but he’s also a huge gamble, especially considering he’s slotted to go somewhere toward the back of the lottery.

#1 – Drafting Size

Why They Do It: Because you can’t teach height. The best seven-footers to have graced NBA courts have been unstoppable, so when somebody comes around with size it’s hard to ignore the fact that they may end up being equally unstoppable. The truth, though, is that unless you’re finding someone in the top few picks, these seven-footers more often serve as six fouls to give rather than a real, contributing member of an NBA team. Even then, drafting seven-footers is no sure thing. Most are stiffs, plain and simple, and it’s very hard to find a behemoth outside of the lottery who actually formulates himself into a perennial All-Star player. It just isn’t very common.

Case In Point: Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis, 2nd pick, 2009), Patrick O’Bryant (Golden State, 9th pick, 2006), Mouhammed Saer Sene (Seattle, 10th pick, 2006), Pavel Podkolzin (Utah, 21st pick, 2004), Sagana Diop (Cleveland, 8th pick, 2001), Michael Olowokandi (LA Clippers, 1st pick, 1998), Shawn Bradley (Philadelphia, 2nd pick, 1993).

This Draft’s Potential Culprit: Most of this year’s tallest potential first-rounders are all international prospects, which sort of makes them a double whammy for GMs looking to draft them. Nurkic (6’11”) is one, obviously, but Kristaps Porzingis (7’0”) of Latvia and Clint Capela (6’11”) of Switzerland are worth mentioning, too, even though aren’t the typical seven-foot stiffs. Both come in at around 220 lbs, making it hard to believe they’d last long at center in the NBA without putting on some weight or playing more of an inside-out game. Walter Tavares (7’3”) is a likely second-round pick with huge size, but again, that late in the draft it’s hard to believe he’d be much of a difference-maker, at least not at an All-Star level.

Honorable Mention:

Drafting Undersized Players

Why They Do It: Because these guys can score! When it comes to drafting 5’11” point guards, 6’2” shooting guards or 6’7” power forwards, there’s no doubt that some risk is involved, but the accomplishments of Isaiah Thomas in Sacramento has shown recently that, sometimes, small guys really can succeed in the NBA. Allen Iverson, Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues did it before him, and at the power forward position, Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman and even Carlos Boozer have seen their fair share of NBA dominance despite being undersized. There are guys who make it in this league despite their height, but it’s much more common that they can’t cut it at their more natural position because they’re too small.

Case In Point: Johny Flynn (5’11, 6th pick, 2009), Ike Diogu (6’8”, 9th pick, 2005), Sean May (6’8”, 13th pick, 2005), Mike Sweetney (6’8”, 9th pick, 2003), Speedy Claxton (5’11”, 20th pick, 200 draft).

This Draft’s Potential Culprit: Shabazz Napier (6’1”) was the NCAA tournament’s big star last year, but the reality is that he’s a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. He may be a late first-round pick, but it’s not going to be easy for him to continue his scoring success without the handle and court vision of a more traditional point guard. Louisville’s Russ Smith (6’1”) may have similar problems, but he’s appropriately slated to be drafted somewhere in the mid-second round, where a pick like that carries significantly less risk.

Drafting for Need over Best Player Available

Why They Do It: Because we already have Tayshaun Prince at small forward, thank you very much, but really need a power forward. Hence, Darko Milicic must be the right pick for us, not the clearly more gifted player in Carmelo Anthony.

It still is hard to believe that actually happened, but this sort of thing happens all the time. Teams really need a point guard, but all the good point guards have already been snatched up, leaving a pool of third rate point guards and some top-shelf players at other positions for which the team currently has no apparent need. Strong assets, regardless of position, are what are important for building a successful roster in this league, and teams like Detroit can figure out how to trade Anthony or Prince a heck of a lot easier than cans swallow the bitter failure of someone like Milicic.

Case In Point: Sam Bowie (Portland, 2nd pick, 1984) over Michael Jordan, Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick, 2004) over Carmelo Anthony.

This Draft’s Potential Culprit: It’s hard to say which teams will employ this method, but Utah, at pick #5, is in an interesting position to do something crazy. The best player available for them there is likely to be either Marcus Smart, Julius Randle or Noah Vonleh, none of whom they really need, but their desire to shore up the center position may have them draft Nurkic sooner than expected.

It’s easy to pick apart all these selections in retrospect, but anyone who has followed the draft long enough knows that these things have all happened enough to be considered troublesome trends.

So if an executive can’t do any of this stuff, what can they do? The best way to look at it is to weigh the risk vs. the reward, or the player against the rest of the remaining field. It’s a delicate art, but if there are equally talented (or nearly equally talented) players available at the same draft position as someone who exhibits one of these risks, why make the gamble? If that player is far and away the best player left and there’s no way he should have ever slipped that far, then maybe grabbing him with a late first-round pick is worth the guaranteed money. More often than not, though, there are better options out there.

Good GMs have to take risks sometimes, and the draft is one place where those risks are riskiest, but to gamble just for the thrill of it is silly. Sometimes, high-character, experienced kids with just enough talent, just enough drive and just enough leadership really are enough.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.


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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future

Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.

James Blancarte



On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.

Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.

Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.

Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.

“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”

Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.

“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”

Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.

“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.

While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.

“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.

Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.

There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.

“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”

Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.

“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”

Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.

“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.

Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.

“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.

When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.

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Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers

Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.

Spencer Davies



The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.

The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.

With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.

Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.

“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.

Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.

Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.

Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.

LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.

“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”

The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.

The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.

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NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start

Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.

Joel Brigham



There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.

“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”

Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.

“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”

That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.

“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”

As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.

“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”

Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.

“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”

He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.

“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”

The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.

“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”

That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.

“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”

Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.

“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”

He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.

Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.

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