As the 2020 NBA Draft approaches, it’s hard to believe how inexact the science of selecting players is. Has there been anything to improve less in the world than sports drafts?
I mean seriously, go compare the early NBA Drafts in the 60s to today and the hit rate on picks. Sure it’s improved a bit, but not really all that much when everything is considered.
Millions are invested into inevitable failure right now but, why is that?
Why can’t we select the best player first and the second best second and so on and so forth. The truth is, there’s a series of factors that act as distractors to the real cause.
The first is the measurables. You know, height, weight, wingspan, all the stuff that you can see before a player even does anything at all. Second is the athletic traits. Speed, explosiveness, strength, the stuff that jumps off your screen when you watch. Finally, the actual skills on the court. Shooting, passing, dribbling, all the essentials of playing the sport.
Breaking it down like this allows us to understand why there are so many mistakes.
When you’re deficient in one category, you generally need to be elite in others for it to balance out. Take Stephen Curry who is slightly undersized and an okay athlete. The reason he’s a star though is his uber elite skill when the basketball is in his hands.
So take the super skilled guy first?
Here’s where you’ll see the problems start to rise. Remember Andrea Bargnani and Jimmer Freddette? Two super-skilled high draft picks who flamed out of the league. Those guys had all the skill in the world but couldn’t make it work. I’m not saying they’re Curry skilled but, they should’ve at least had enough skill to stay in the league.
Bargnani and Freddette failed in the category non-basketball fans can see just as well as scouts: athleticism. If a dude can jump out of the gym, it doesn’t take a thirty year veteran of the trade to see that was impressive. Unfortunately for the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s of the world, this is a sport based on skill as much as anything and though athleticism is integral, it isn’t everything.
Even size is a general guideline thanks to the Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas and Isaiah Thomas’ of the world. The reality is, it’s an inexact science because every player is a person and every person is different.
Mearsuables, athleticism and skill are great and obviously extremely important but the draft’s randomness is based on the unquantifiable reality of sports.
Sam Hinkie may not want to admit it, but sports is a people business, not a numbers only one.
One of the great examples is Giannis Antetokounmpo. His film at the draft was lower quality than my junior high mixtape and his game was anything but refined. Yet, he’s far and away the best player from that draft because he had a mentality and work ethic that took his obvious measurables and athleticism to new heights.
The unquantifiable in sports, is the person. Though we often look at these players as robots designed to do one thing, life isn’t like that. If a player outworks his competition, that’s something you can’t measure in a pre-draft workout.
These kids these teams invest in, their success often comes down to themselves and the situation they’re in. The reality is, every NBA draft pick has a certain level of size, athleticism and skill to make them eligible to even be selected. That’s not really the hard part.
What is, is trying to determine if the kid who needs to add strength will, or if the kid who can’t shoot will find a way to learn. Sometimes the failure is organizational, you have a bad shooting coach and a kid who can’t shoot, the result probably won’t be good.
For the most part though, the failure is in trying to guess which kids will be able to handle the pressure and which ones won’t.
The draft in essence isn’t the stock market like many people claim. Yeah you select players through research and work like investors select stock but that implies a level of control and understanding that frankly doesn’t workout when you look at teams success rates over the years.
In-fact the draft is a gambling conglomerate the likes of wish Vegas only can dream of repeating.
Every single pick, that team is betting on the person as much, if not more than the player. The draft will never be an exact science because it’s impossible to know how a 19-year-old will handle being the face of the franchise until they are the face of the franchise.
They can be as athletic as you want, or as skilled as you want or whatever, but if they can’t handle the limelight then none of it will matter.
Every June, 30 teams sit around a black jack table and put their money where their mouth is. Some will get 21 out of sheer luck, others will earn it playing the strategy they believe in the heart of hearts works.
Others will bust, running the same or similar strategies as those whose works. It’s not (always) because they have no idea what they’re doing (though some organizations seem like they’re driven to prove me wrong here), it’s a million dollar wager on a human being often not old enough to drink in most of the cities they’ll play in.
As much as we want to tell ourselves differently, it really comes down to the luck of the draw more than anything else. We may believe we know what card is next and how to handle it when we’re at the table but if the dealer gets a 21, there’s nothing you can do about it.