After an unprecedented season, NBA teams prepare for a unique NBA draft
After being pushed back several times, the NBA draft is scheduled on Nov. 18 at the ESPN Headquarters in Connecticut. Because the COVID-19 pandemic sent sports and the rest of the real world into a whirlwind, the main priority of the league was centered on making the Orlando bubble work. As they began to get settled in, they revealed their plans for this year’s selection event, and as we get closer to the date, the process of choosing players this year will be nothing like any of the teams have ever seen.
In a regular year, the NBA holds its combine in Chicago where collegiate athletes display their skills to NBA teams in a variety of drills, strength training and interviews. This gives prospects the opportunity to showcase their abilities and improve their stock. It is an event that previously involved a lot of interaction, with teams often identifying players they liked. This year, however, has been anything but regular.
After finally settling on the Nov. 18 date, the NBA announced their plan for the pre-draft process. Beginning on Sept. 28, players began a process that included interviews with the league and with teams over video conference calls. The only differences between these interviews and those held at the combine was that they would take place virtually, but the content would be the same. In place of the combine itself, players had to report to the closest NBA facility and undergo medical testing, measurements, strength and agility testing and shooting drills, among other things. Players created their own workout video of up to 45 minutes that was sent to all teams and served as their showcase of skills. These videos could be live or edited, giving the player the chance to improve their case even more.
Beginning on Oct. 16, the NBA allowed teams to workout players in-person up to two times per player. The maximum number of players a team could workout was 10, but they were not allowed to have more than one player in the building at a time. In a normal NBA Draft Combine, teams could have up to six players in the building at a time, often making them run 3-on-3 drills that gave them a chance to see how they matched up against their peers. But with this year blocking their ability to do that, NBA teams have had to get creative to figure out if that player was what they were looking for. The unique pre-draft process, coupled with the uncertainty of who’s available this year, will create an interesting NBA Draft.
As opposed to last year’s draft, there are no clear-cut players at the top. By draft time last year, the world knew that Zion Williamson would go number one overall and Ja Morant would follow. This year, the draft prospects are anything but sure.
The Minnesota Timberwolves hold this year’s first pick after winning the NBA draft Lottery back in August. Having added former all-star D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline in February to pair with their star Karl Anthony-Towns, the Wolves are looking to improve in the tough Western Conference. Having one playoff appearance in 16 years, the team is hoping another budding star can increase their chances of being a formidable opponent in the conference. The thing about this particular draft is that many players have high ceilings, but also have a good chance of not living up to expectations. This makes the decision at the first pick even harder, as the Timberwolves have to decide what route they want to take.
The player many believe has the highest potential is 6’8” point guard LaMelo Ball. Ball played last season overseas in Australia where he wowed with his ability to score in a variety of ways and with his passing ability. Coupled with his size and athleticism, Ball is the most intriguing prospect in this year’s draft. But maturity questions and defensive concerns have many teams contemplating whether he is worth a top three selection. At 19, there is still plenty of time for him to grow, but his struggles with pre-draft interviews have many teams preparing for the chance he falls in the draft.
Another option to become the first selection is the Georgia Bulldogs’ shooting guard, Anthony Edwards. His athleticism, strength and scoring ability have many believing he could become a star in the league. The areas of concern when it comes to Edwards are his shot-selection and struggles at both the free-throw and three-point line. No one can question his build, but whether or not he improves his decision making will be key for potential success in his professional career.
Before the season began, many believed that James Wiseman would be the consensus number one selection. But an NCAA suspension led to him finishing his college career with only three games played. At 7-1, his potential is through the roof and is exactly what the NBA is looking for: an athletic big man who can do more than just be a defensive presence. As much as an intriguing prospect he is, the lack of play has teams questioning whether or not to take him. He is known to be prone to mistakes, his motor has been questioned, and with such little tape of him being out there, it would not come as a surprise if he falls outside of the top five.
There are many more prospects in the top half of the draft that are interesting but have just as many questions. Deni Avdija, Onyeka Okongwu, Obi Toppin and Killian Hayes among many more are names that will likely be called in the top 10, but in contrast to other years, where they will go changes depending on who you ask. So, the Wolves’ choice will depend on what their front office prioritizes and, for the Golden State Warriors who hold the second pick, there’s a good chance their pick will depend on who Minnesota doesn’t take.
The Warriors had an off year after injuries to their stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Expected to be back and fully healthy, the Warriors have an opportunity to add fresh talent to a veteran team. They have been linked with several prospects, but no one has a clear indication on who they will go with. Along with the Wolves, the Warriors might be looking to trade the pick for pieces that can help them compete for a championship this season. The lack of “sure-things” in this draft, however, puts into question how much value these picks have compared to other years. With the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers rounding out the top five, it is not likely that anyone will make a major trade to get to the top of the draft unless there is a prospect a team is dying to get their hands on.
Blame it on the set up of this draft or because the prospects simply aren’t up to last years’ standards, but it will surely be an interesting draft to follow regardless. With little certainty about anything, it could turn out to be one of the more entertaining drafts in recent memory. But something to keep in mind is that the time surrounding any professional leagues’ draft is one where fans must travel with a bit of skepticism. There are almost certainly always false rumors and smokescreens that are meant to pressure other teams, so trying to keep up with the daily flip-flopping can be a confusing and sometimes useless task.
Whether your team is picking at the top of the order or down at the bottom, the lack of assurance in this draft will separate the NBA’s elite organizations from the rest.
Written by: Omar Navarro — firstname.lastname@example.org