Monday, June 24, 2013

NBA Draft: Don’t Believe the Non-Hype

By Corrie Trouw

Sometime shortly after 8 o'clock Thursday evening, the Cleveland Cavaliers (or a trade partner) will have their pick of this year's NBA draft class. Of all the players in the world eligible to join the league this summer, the Cavs can add to their roster any one of their choosing.

And yet by most reports, neither Cleveland nor the rest of the league want any of them.

The 2013 NBA draft fraternity is being portrayed as Old School's Lambda Epsilon Omega, a crew of sorry losers banded together by their inferiority. Nerlens Noel is a raw, injured big man with no offensive skills. Alex Len is a raw, injured big man who rarely impressed in college. Ben McLemore is a mildly skilled shooter who was afraid of stepping up in big games and deferred to his older teammates. And Otto Porter, Jr. is an average swingman already bumping his head against the ceiling of his talent.

Of course, the same reports (and reporters) praised the dawn of the Darko Milicic, Adam Morrison, and Michael Beasley eras. Credibility is a rare trade these days.

In truth, the backlash against this draft class as a whole is wildly exaggerated. Yes, the 2013 draft is short on visions of low risk, high immediate prospects dancing through GMs' sleepy heads. But the popular suggestion that this group is devoid of All-Stars is intellectually lazy and statistically insane.

For example, consider the 2001 draft. Similar to this year's draft, Washington won the lottery and faced a very unimpressive and unproven group (remember that this was the peak of high school lottery picks). The Wizards opted for the raw upside of Kwame Brown, whose term in the nation's capital lasted just four years. This is the inevitable curse of a weak draft featuring unproven players, right?

Wrong. The next three picks after Washington whiffed on Brown were also non-NCAA players, but few would consider Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, and Pau Gasol busted lottery picks.

But really, the best comparison for this year's draft is 2006. The 2006 draft was a perfect "down year" storm, as it was the first year high school grads were banned from draft eligibility. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant would have been in the 2006 pool under the previous rules, but instead the CBA change forcing players to wait a year before entering the NBA left a talent hole for one offseason. On top of that, the top 2005 high school graduates (namely, Andrew Bynum) who would have been in the 2006 draft after a year in college declared straight after high school under the old CBA, so the 2006 pool was artificially weak.

And while Toronto's selection of Andrea Bargnani has been mostly lukewarm, Portland immediately followed by choosing LaMarcus Aldridge. Rudy Gay went eighth to Memphis (through Houston). Rajon Rondo slid to Boston at 21.

Admittedly, cherry picking the players from these supposedly weak drafts is a little unfair. There have been recent NBA drafts that delivered handfuls of future stars. But the knock on 2013 is not that it won't replenish the league with a slew of cornerstones; there are some seriously claiming they don't see a single all-star in the lot.

So why would such a clearly pessimistic narrative persist? Because GMs love low expectations.

As much as sportswriters enjoy playing personnel evaluators for fun, they earn their bread buttering up GMs for information about players leading up to the draft. But these GMs do not just dole out free evaluations to make writers happy; they create low expectations to cushion busted picks.

With no consensus, sure-fire star in this draft, the GMs at the top of the lottery face significant pressure to avoid a disastrous pick. And while they cannot really improve their ability to scout at this point, they can disparage the overall talent of the class so hindsight is kinder to their mistake.

Thursday's draft may not have the star power or franchise-saving hope we have seen in other years, but there is quality in this class somewhere. Finding that talent is the challenge for the brightest evaluators in the game.

You know, the kind of task a GM is being paid to do.

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