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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 5 Picks

David Yapkowitz checks out a decade’s worth of No. 5 overall picks in the NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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We’re in the middle of May, which is when the NBA playoffs are usually in full swing. That isn’t the case this year due to current events and it’s still unclear if and when the 2019-20 NBA season will resume.

With this break in play, Basketball Insiders has been exploring a wide range of topics. This week, we’ve begun a new series where we’ve gone back about ten years or so and taken a look at the draft, pick by pick. Going as far back as about 2009, we’ve thus far analyzed picks one through four and which players have or have not lived up to expectations. Moving right along, here’s a breakdown of the players picked at No. 5 over the last decade.

The Hits

DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings – 2010

Although he was drafted in the top five, there’s an argument to be made that if the draft was re-done, Cousins should be the No. 1 pick. Yes, in recent years he’s had his unfortunate struggle with injuries. But during his years in Sacramento and his initial time in New Orleans, Cousins was a bonafide superstar and franchise-type player. When he was at his best, no big man in the league had Cousins’ combination of offensive skill. He was a monster post-up threat. He could run the floor like a wing in spurts. He could handle the ball and take defenders off the dribble. He could shoot from the three-point line. He could see the floor and pass like a guard. He was the victim of inept management in Sacramento and before he got hurt in New Orleans, he looked like he was finally going to be a driving force on a playoff team.

De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings – 2017

For all the problems they’ve had in the front office, the Kings have actually managed to have some good drafts, among some bad ones as well. Fox is another player who, although he was selected in the top five, would certainly be drafted higher if his draft was done over. Fox was arguably playing at an All-Star level this season. There are plenty of good point guards in the Western Conference, but it’s tough to envision Fox not making an All-Star appearance or two in the near future. He’s the quarterback of his team and a prime reason why the Kings were in playoff contention. His floor game is much improved and he’s learning how to read defenses and react. His outside shooting will come with time. The Kings have found their franchise point guard.

Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks – 2018

I’ll say it, Young is arguably the best player of his draft class thus far. The Hawks were crucified on draft night for selecting Luka Doncic and immediately trading him in a larger transaction to the Dallas Mavericks for Young. Doncic is a budding superstar in his own right, but so is Young. He started his rookie season a little slowly, but he picked it up as the year went on. This season, he picked up right where he left off in route to an All-Star selection in only his second year in the league. He’s one of the best pick and roll guards in the NBA. He has unlimited shooting range. His court vision/IQ and playmaking game is elite. He will be a perennial All-Star. Atlanta has found its franchise player.

The Misses

Thomas Robinson – Sacramento Kings – 2012

I mentioned that the Kings actually had some good drafts over the years and that they’ve had some duds too. Well, this was one of those duds. Robinson was drafted in the hopes that he could be paired alongside Cousins and the Kings would have their frontcourt of the future. Things didn’t quite work out that way.

Thomas only lasted half a season with the Kings before they gave up on him and traded him to the Houston Rockets. He only lasted five years in the NBA and played for six different teams during that time frame. With the shift in the game with less emphasis on traditional positions, Robinson just never was able to find a role. He was a tweener who couldn’t shoot. It could be argued the Kings gave up on him way too early, but in his other NBA stops he didn’t too much to dispel that notion. He did have a knack for rebounding though but he’s currently out the league.

Dante Exum – Utah Jazz – 2014

Exum had plenty of hype coming into the 2014 draft. He was in the mold of a big point guard and the Jazz had hopes that he would be their franchise lead guard. He suffered through a series of injuries and never was able to show much on the court before the Jazz traded him earlier this season to the Cleveland Cavaliers. His time in Cleveland has been short so far, but he did show some encouraging signs. The Jazz are a team in playoff contention and being on a rebuilding team like Cleveland might be better for him for the time being with no major expectations. It’s still too early to determine whether or not he’s on the verge of turning the corner so, for now, he remains on the “misses” list.

Mario Hezonja – Orlando Magic – 2015

Hezonja was also a player who had high expectations when he came to the NBA. He was also supposed to be a versatile, big wing-player with playmaking abilities. After three lackluster years with the Magic, Orlando allowed him to become a free agent. He spent one year with the New York Knicks before opting for a near-minimum deal with the Portland Trail-Blazers last summer.
He’s shown some flashes at each of his stops in the NBA. At times he has displayed solid court vision and an ability to find open teammates for easy buckets. He can be solid in transition. He’s decent defensively. Hezonja just hasn’t been able to put it all together for a consistent, sustained period of time. If he could do that, he’d be a decent role player in the league. But he’s running out of chances to prove himself.

The Middle of the Road

Ricky Rubio – Phoenix Suns – 2009

Rubio had a lot of hype when he came over to the NBA and he didn’t quite live up to all of it. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t an important player. Rubio will probably never make an All-Star game appearance, but he’s a legit starting NBA point guard. This season, he proved his worth in being one of the most important players for the Suns. He’s a true floor general and has great court vision and awareness. His presence has taken a lot of the ball-handling and creating pressure off of Devin Booker. His 8.9 assists this season are a career-high. The Suns were in contention for a playoff spot at one point and Rubio was a major reason why.

Jonas Valanciunas – Toronto Raptors – 2011

Valanciunas is another player who will likely never make an All-Star lineup, but he’s a very good starting center in the NBA nonetheless. His early years in Toronto were mired with inconsistency, but he slowly started to put it all together as his career went on. This season, Valanciunas is the elder statesman on a very young Memphis Grizzlies team. He’s an integral part of a team that had a firm grip on the eighth playoff spot out West. In a league where big men are becoming more of a three-point threat, Valanciunas remains one of the NBA’s last throwback centers. He is a good low post scorer and one of the league’s best rebounders.

The Role Players

Alex Len – Phoenix Suns – 2013

Len is never going to be confused with a franchise-caliber center, nor will he ever be a regular starter in the league. He started slowly in his early years in the Valley of the Sun, but he’s since been able to carve out a solid niche for himself in the NBA. He signed with the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018 offseason and ended up having a solid outing in Atlanta. He’s become a tough, interior presence, and a good rebounder. Len can block shots and anchor the paint, and he’s an overall physical player. He can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting or he can score in the paint. He’s a good option for a team in need of a solid backup center.

Kris Dunn – Minnesota Timberwolves – 2016

Dunn is also likely never going to be a starting-caliber player worthy of being the No. 5 overall pick, but he too has managed to find a nice role in the NBA. He only lasted one season in Minnesota before the Timberwolves dealt him to the Chicago Bulls. It’s been there that he’s found NBA success.

In Chicago, he’s been a part-time starter and part-time bench player, but he seems best suited to be a backup point guard and running the second unit. He’s displayed a solid floor game and ability to run the offense and create for his teammates. He’s also one of the better defensive point guards in the league. His offense is likely what’s hindering him from being a consistent starter, but if he can play with other scoring options off the bench, he’d be great for a team in need of a backup floor leader.

Going back the past ten drafts, it’s been kind of a mixed bag of results with the fifth overall pick. You’ve got some stars, you’ve got a couple of decent starters, you’ve got a few role players, and you have the busts. It’s interesting to note that all of these players are still in the NBA with the exception of Thomas Robinson. With a top-five pick, you’re hoping for an All-Star caliber player, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For the most part though, it’s best to probably compare players’ success relative to the talent level of their particular draft. Some drafts are more talented than others. One player might be a top-five pick one year, but if he was in another year, he wouldn’t be. In any case, it’s fun to go back and see the progression, or lack thereof, of various players in terms of what spot they were picked.

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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.

Ariel Pacheco

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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.

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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.

Chad Smith

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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.

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.

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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?

Jonathon Gryniewicz

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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.

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