The point of the draft is kind of simple: add championship-caliber pieces so you can build a championship-caliber team.
Most champions have a fairly clear hierarchy and construction template. A couple star scorers and MVP-caliber players atop the roster who anchor the attack. The other twelve or thirteen teammates need to properly fill in roles around them. You need shooting, defense, other creators and rebounders and guys who bring out the most in your stars.
But when it comes to draft night, different franchises find themselves in different positions. Some are filling in those roles and have a clear blueprint for the types of players or pieces who compliment their core. Other teams are hoping to construct the core.
Similarly, prospects can fall into either of the two categories. They may have the upside to be one of the foundational pieces of the core, so far-and-away dominant at one thing or possessing the scoring upside to be considered there. Others have to prove how they fit into different systems in the modern NBA and what role they best fit; they need a particular skill to hang their hat on (and yes, versatility is a skill).
Projectable alpha scorers are the cream of the crop, and the cream always rises to the top. Those guys, the Anthony Edwards and Killian Hayes of the draft, will be taken by teams who hope and see the path to turn them into those core pieces. Other names, like James Wiseman, are simply too freakish with the upside they possess to be a core piece that the reward is worth the risk.
But what about everybody else?
Be forewarned: lots of metaphors are on their way.
Each year, folks ask to see two different items from draft pundits: their mock draft and their "big board". By asking for a mock draft, they're asking to see how the pundit projects the draft will go, taking a stab at the order and using their combination of analysis and intel to anticipate what will happen. Mocks are not, in my estimation, about what the pundit would do if in charge, but about guessing what those who are in charge will decide.
By asking for a big board, folks want to see the pundit's opinions stated more clearly and numerically. But these get tricky: there's a difference between which player will have a better career and which should get drafted earlier.
This past week, rumors have been swirling about Michigan State big man Xavier Tillman spurning the NBA draft and returning for school. Tillman, a 21-year-old rising senior, was a fringe first-round candidate in the eyes of many and a sure-fire draft pick with his unique blend of frontcourt passing and intense defense.
The clear is and should be Tillman's alone based on what he values. Some players want the four-year degree and college experience. Others are hungry to leave their alma mater with a championship–in 2020, the abrupt cancelling of the season certainly is a difficult note to leave on. Each situation should be viewed through an individual lens for what is important to the prospect, their families and the likelihood of the draft situation involved.
This article will focus on prospects who are debating a return to college from a purely strategic point of view, and won't even try to address the myriad factors of emotional connection that pull people in different directions. There needs to be somewhat of a blueprint for why and how prospects make their decisions, so I'll take a gander at putting one together.
Knowing your biases helps you better navigate and contextualize player evaluation (whether your own or another's) as well as hold yourself accountable.
Any decision-maker on an organizational level has to do a deep dive to understand themselves if they are to do what's best for the organization as a whole. That process of self-reflection and objective study seeks not so much to remove biases, but to become better equipped to acknowledge them.
By doing so, biases move out of blind spots where we often don't feel their presence. Once in the light, they serve as important conversations to determine what truly is best for the whole.
In that light, I've tried to look at a few biases I certainly hold and examine not just why I hold them, but also whether they are based on any data or important context. Hopefully, this study does two-fold: Lend credence to why I harbor a lot of the draft opinions I hold, as well as opening a dialogue where those readers who disagree begin to examine their own biases.
This article is a facsimile of an earlier publication on The Basketball Writers (TBW), which recently closed its doors.
When I joined The Basketball Writers this Fall, I was excited about entering a space that was craving change to the current landscape of analysis. Most of the free and oversaturated content is structured the same way, designed for heavy clicksâcatchy but frequently unsubstantive content and cut from a cloth that the everyday consumer can understand.
Taking highly difficult topics and elegantly explaining them to the masses is an art form completely bulldozed by an instant gratification model that values a simplistic one-size-fits-all approach to analysis.
Perhaps no NBA niche online is more heavily affected by groupthink and over-simplicity than the NBA Draft.
Coverage leading up to the draft sees mock boards all heavily influenced by one or two experts who drive the conversation while offering brief one-or-two sentence bites as to a player's "strength", "weakness" or "upside". We still see antiquated terms such as "power forward" or "center" all over the place, and rarely attempt to color outside those lines. We view the draft as an opportunity to meet the next NBA stars without actually understanding their path, background or previous situation.
âThrough the next eight weeks, we are aiming to change that narrative at The Basketball Writers.
I am excited to help anchor our draft coverage, and in doing so, want to provide a few rules and guidelines that help understand some of the most important nuts and bolts of scouting in a modern and changing NBA. Combining a few front office insights I have gained with my own scouting tips learned on the collegiate recruiting trail, here are my so-called Ten Commandments of talent evaluation: