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NBA AM: Do Mock Drafts Matter?

It’s been suggested that mock drafts hold no value to the process and are meaningless to NBA teams, but that’s simply not true.

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If someone walks into a crowded room and yells, “Hey stupid!” it’s really on you if you turn around and get offended.

This week Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore ran a piece on the merits and value of mock drafts, a staple of traffic and interest in the NBA media world.

Moore’s piece was more of a response from Kansas head coach Bill Self, who got on the soap box after a question about freshman Kelly Oubre that was tied to his rankings as a top draft prospect in the 2015 NBA Draft class and his lack of playing time.

To paraphrase the piece: mock drafts are bad, kids change because of them, they don’t matter at all and they are disruptive to the process.

While nothing about this piece was pointed at me, or our team, it was in some ways made to feel like a shot at some really respected people in this business, specifically Jonathan Givony and his excellent team at DraftExpress.

By way of full disclosure, Basketball Insiders has had a business relationship with Givony and DraftExpress for more than a decade and we view DraftExpress as the leader in the draft information space. DraftExpress powers our Top 100 Prospect rankings and we spend a lot of time with them in the field, especially around the draft. We see first-hand how hard they work at their craft and how good they are at evaluating and scouting talent. Their tools are the best in the space and NBA teams value the information they provide.

So while none of the Bleacher Report article was directed at us specifically, I am going to respond to the idea.

In our world, we travel in the same circle with coaches, executives and the people that power NBA basketball, so I reached out to a couple of them to get their thoughts on the value and use of mock drafts inside the NBA.

These two executives are going to remain anonymous because I don’t want the story to be about them or their teams, as much as what they have to say. Some may have a problem with that, but if I say it is general manager X, then it becomes about him and not what he had to say.

But to state the credentials of the sources, both currently work in the Western Conference and have been involved in senior leadership roles for more than two decades. They both have been involved in drafting players, including several top-five players and are actively involved in scouting and drafting players in the upcoming draft class in a senior level capacity.

These two sources are not fringe scouts that watch a few basketball games and file a report; these are the guys who steer the process for two highly successful and respected NBA teams and have done so at every level of NBA basketball.

I spent the time stating this because I wanted the seriousness of their perspective to be clear.

Before we get too far into this, NBA teams do not use mock drafts to base their own draft decisions. They do that all by themselves, hundreds of times during the season leading up the draft.

I have sat with NBA executives and played the mock draft game with them – ‘You take this guy, then that means this guy goes next, then that guy next.’ It’s a common thing done hundreds of times throughout the year; a lot more frequently than any publication would update.

NBA teams don’t need our mock draft, mainly because they are building their own versions dozens of times a week leading up to the draft, with their specific needs and preferences in mind.

One executive, who is now a general manager of a Western Conference team, used to carry a wire bound notebook where he wrote out his mock draft in pencil each week. You could flip through the book and see how the draft evolved, in his view, from the start to finish. It was the least impressive or scientific process you could imagine.

So while NBA teams don’t use media-driven mock drafts as a guide for themselves, they do hold a lot of value to teams in ways you wouldn’t think.

“I use mock drafts only for the names,” one NBA executive said. “I believe there is a lot of people out there, unnamed people we’ll say for example, that don’t go and see games. That they use contacts they have in the league or contacts wherever they can find them to try and come to a consensus of where they’re going to draft people.

“I think a lot guys do a consensus. That being said, I use it just for the names and ranges. I don’t take anything like number one [in a mock] is number one. We do this for a living; I better have my own thought process of who I like 1-60.

“It’s always good to have names because in this industry a lot of information gets passed amongst people, especially at the higher levels. They’ll call a friend and say, ‘Hey my guys are saying that Joe Smith is really good.’ and then they’ll call all the scouts and say, ‘Hey have we seen Joe Smith? Well I hear he is really rising.’ You know that’s based on two or three mock drafts where names appear and he’s not on anyone’s radar. “

That concept was mirrored by the other executive.

“What they are is they’re a good source on getting a feel of what another guy that has experience feels,” another NBA executive said. “I will look at their lists just to see. Say they got a guy 15 and I got him 30 or reverse it, it sparks your attention a wee bit but it’s nothing to interfere my thoughts.

“We do monthly, actually every three weeks; I have my guys put in their top 40. So we’re on top of it and we meet all the time. I think it’s a good information place to go to. It’s interesting to evaluate because every team has a different feel. Some guy they like at number eight might be the same guy another team likes at 20. It’s the same guy. I think it’s the same process; every organization has a different way of doing the draft. Is it a good source to have? Yes.”

The issue most people have with the popularity and implied authority of many of the mock draft publications is that players and their families are making decisions based on where a kid is projected.

Some kids leave college early because ESPN has them ranked here or DraftExpress has them ranked there and they find out the hard way that NBA teams apply their own value structure to players. That’s not something that mock drafts can accurately predict.

“We were just talking about it the other day that whenever a big game is played, like they had North Carolina and Kentucky play, after that game two guys went into the top five based on the one game,” one NBA executive said. “I think it’s more of an indication that the draft is not really as strong as people think and that guys can go from 20 or 30 to two or four or five. Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s what have you done for me lately? The guy plays against a decent team and he does pretty well so he has got to be pretty good now?”

“It’s like an NBA season, its 82 games, a college season is 40 games,” the other NBA executive said. “I mean a guy can get hot for a week, a guy can do pretty well for a while, but can he sustain that effort and that energy and his skill level for the entire season?”

Both executives acknowledged that mock drafts affect how the kids on the list see the world.

“It does affect kids as to where they think they are,” he said. “It affects the parents. It affects the agents that are trying to get involved with them. What happens is an agent will say, ‘You’re 35 and I can help you get up to 15.’ There is some influence in all that.”

The NBA and the Players’ Association have an annual Draft Advisory Committee that disseminates information to would-be draftees and their college coaches. This committee is comprised of highly respected and accomplished executives that break the draft into tiers and offer expert level insight on where certain underclassman may get drafted. It’s usually a range with one kid being ranked a “Top Five” guy, while another might be a “Top 20” guy, with others being dubbed “Second Rounder to Undrafted.” The committee’s track record is pretty good and tends to be a lot more conservative, especially on fringe talents.

College coaches are provided this information so they can share it with the kid and his family.

That doesn’t mean every kid will like what they see or understand the value of that information, because the allure of the NBA is real – especially if your name is out there on a daily and weekly basis.

So this begs the question, are we any good at it? Are the guys powering these mock drafts that have so much implied authority really any good at evaluating who is and who is not an NBA talent?

“I value [some of them] because you see players,” one NBA executive said. “What’s more important than anything is your (the media’s) angle. It’s the players and the knowledge of them [off the court] and the background and the information, that’s invaluable to me.

“[A] team is going to pay a scout to know whether he can go right or left, if he can shoot a jump-hook or defend his position, that’s what they’re paying us to do.”

The idea of the media as background providers resonated with both executives simply because of the investigative side to reporting.

“What [most] media provides, at least for me, is all they’re doing is they’re just regurgitating things they’ve talked to other people that they’re close to,” the same NBA executive said. “They say, ‘I’m going to take your ideas and I’m going to make them mine.’ Those guys I have no time for.”

“The ones who go out, that will sit in the stands and be there, then you know what, there is some validity to, ‘Hey I think this guy is a draftable player.’ I’m going to check his list and make sure I have at least the 60 guys on his list because he’s probably talked to some NBA [people] and he’s probably got close to some names.”

The idea of name gathering and making sure the whole field is covered resonated with both, especially on the international side.

“The thing with [DraftExpress] is just the foreign component,” one NBA executive said. “I think for 90 percent of all NBA teams, they talk about going to Europe and, ‘Oh Europe this and that’, but there are really only four or five teams, and you can track them statistically, that even venture into the foreign market that actually take them. They may see them, but actually draft them?”

There is no doubt that way too much credit is given to mock drafts, especially among fans and the media. However, to say or imply they mean nothing to the process really is not true, especially when you’re talking about industry leaders like DraftExpress.

“The mock drafts are really good. They’re good for people to look at,” the other NBA executive said. “They’re great for the fans. They’re great for interest. They’re great stories. It’s all part of promoting the game and kids like looking at it.”

The irony of Bill Self’s anti-rant about mock drafts is that every college coach uses the same external media to power their own recruiting, whether that’s Rivals, ESPN’s Top 100 or another high school outlet to celebrate their recruiting successes in fundraising and to persuade future kids to attend their program. How many times have you seen a statement about how many four-star or five-star recruits a program has, or where a program’s incoming class was ranked?

It’s a little disingenuous to take shots at the media and then turn around and use that same process for your own means.

There is no doubting that college coaches have to battle massive external influences over their young players, some of which are media driven for sure. But some of that is also self-created during the recruiting process and some of that is just the slimy business of pro sports.

But let’s not blame mock drafts and mock drafters – or worse yet imply that they have no value. Clearly they do, and not just for the fans that power the industry.

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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