The NBA Draft Narrative
Every year, there is a perception of how the NBA Draft should play out. Some of that his driven by the media, especially with the prevalence of Mock Drafts and pseudo-experts weighing in on the topic. We at Basketball Insiders love Mock Drafts as much as the next guy. Heck, we do two per week most weeks and will be rolling out a few more as we get closer to the actual draft on June 22.
The problem with the Mock Draft narrative is the artificial storylines we create every year, mainly as a result of us thinking we know what’s going on (myself included) and which players teams really like. History shows that while we all pretty good at getting the field of first-round players right, none of us are very good at nailing exactly who will fall where.
So, who are the guys that really know? As some of you may know, I have been in this space for what will be 20 seasons next year. On average, I get eight to 10 correct picks per season, but more importantly, get 26 to 27 of the players drafted in the first round every year. I tend to fall in love with an underdog every year and rank him too high, but I am fine with my track record of seeing the Jimmy Butlers, the Kyle O’Quinns and Terry Roziers of the process.
Jonathan Givony of Draft Express is pretty close to me, he usually get a few more correct picks each year, but falls into the same issue all of us face. If one or two players goes out of sequence, the exact order changes and will cause a ripple effect in from what was predicted. Still, Givony is equally good at nailing the first-round talent, which is why we have partnered with him and his amazing team for so many years.
Aran Smith at NBADraft.net is also really good. He’ll come in right around the same eight to 10 correct picks. He tends to be the one that nails the three or four first rounders that others may miss, but in the end, he typically clocks in around the same 26 to 27 correct first round talents.
ESPN’s Chad Ford usually leads the way on most exact first round picks, his average is typically eight to 10 correct selections, but he is not immune to the whims of a player going early and throwing the whole thing off. Chad does about the same as the pool in terms of nailing the first-round talent pool.
Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com is also very good at nailing picks, he’ll come in around the seven to eight mark and his first round talent selections are on par with the group.
While there are lots of people that create Mock Drafts, historically that’s the group that crafts the narrative because of how good they are at what they do, but even the best in the business from the outside get it wrong on the exact order more frequently than not, even in drafts where it seems like the “perceived” order is so locked in.
In 2014, the Mock Draft world was in love with Noah Vonleh. Many had him ranked in the top four or five, he ended up going nine to the Charlotte Hornets. Julius Randle was also a Mock Draft darling that year and ended up going seven to the LA Lakers.
In 2016, the Mock Draft world was equally high on Jahlil Oakfor as the second overall guy to the Lakers, they opted instead for D’Angelo Russell. Justise Winslow was also deemed a top five draft lock by the Mock world but ended up going 10th to the Miami HEAT.
Last year, the Mock world was down on Jaylen Brown (3rd to the Celtics) and high on Skal Labissière (28th to the Kings).
Why is all of this important?
In every case where the Mock world deemed a player higher and that player went lower, it was deemed that player “fell” – did he fall or did the Mock world have it wrong?
When Terry Rozier went 16th to the Boston Celtics in 2015, it was deemed the Celtics “reached.” Was the perception based on how Rozier has played? Or did the Mock/ranking world have it wrong? Thon Maker at 10th last year was considered a “gamble,” but was he? Based on how he’s played for the Bucks this year, maybe not.
This year there is a love affair with UCLA’s Lonzo Ball as the second-best talent in a loaded draft pool. While he may very well be the second pick in the draft, are the outside evaluators giving too much credit to Ball and not enough credit to Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox or Kansas’ Josh Jackson?
While the narrative that gets crafted in the Mock Draft world is fun and it fills the vacuum between the last game of the season and the actual draft, the truth of all of it is even though many of us that create Mock Drafts talk to the people that make the picks (frequently) none of us are making the picks. None of us are on the proverbial clock in the war room when it’s time to live with the decision.
All of us are historically very good at nailing the first-round talents, and in many cases like Draft Express, nailing the bulk of the second-round talent. The truth is while we all take the job of predicting the draft very serious, history has shown we’re not going to get it right because the way we see the draft from the outside very rarely lines up with how the talent evaluators of the teams themselves see the draft, and more importantly, are willing to tie their futures to.
In no way is this meant to disparage the credibility of the best in the business. This is more about explaining the reality that the draft is very fluid process. We’re typically very good at this, but because we believe a player is the second-best talent and should be selected second, does not mean that’s where the team is going to go. At the end of the day, the team is the one that sets the talent order, not the experts.
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