I am embedded here at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden, N.J. – though not in the (shudder) war room – for what is arguably the best non-event on the sports calendar: the NBA Draft.
It is the best because it is shorter than the NFL selection process, while taking itself almost as seriously. There are mock drafts for weeks on end. There is analysis and overthinking and one smokescreen after another. (My favorite was when someone floated the idea that Corey Maggette, an OK-but-not-great player at Duke, was going to be the first overall selection in 1999. Not quite — he went 13th, and had an OK-but-not-great NBA career.)
Then the draft begins, and bizarre things happen. Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan. Shawn Bradley ahead of Penny Hardaway and Jamal Mashburn. Darko Milicic ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
The NBA Draft – Where Weird Happens.
The problem is, nobody really knows anything, despite the fact that scouting has become more sophisticated and the vetting process more thorough. That’s because a) some teams are, ya know, incompetent; and b) the draftees are so young, and it’s extremely difficult to extrapolate – to figure out who they will be in five years, much less 10.
While Markelle Fultz, the guy the Sixers are expected to take first overall tonight, appears to be a terrific pick, he is just 19. Who among us has anything figured out at 19? The indications are that he has the ability and temperament to adapt to the pro game, but that’s only part of it. How will he cope with suddenly having millions of dollars, and more free time than he can possibly imagine?
The crapshoot has been underscored dozens of times, but check out the top 10 from last year’s draft, in order: Ben Simmons (Sixers), Brandon Ingram (Lakers), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Dragan Bender (Suns), Kris Dunn (Timberwolves), Buddy Hield (Pelicans), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Marquese Chriss (Suns), Jakob Poltl (Raptors) and Thon Maker (Bucks).
Simmons didn’t play, and Ingram, Brown, Dunn, Hield, Murray, Chriss and Maker showed some potential. But none has marked himself as the Rookie of the Year, much less a potential All-Star. The top rookie is either going to be Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon, who went 36th, or one of two Sixers drafted in prior years – Joel Embiid or Dario Saric. (Side note: Embiid is the best of the three, but he only played 31 games last season. Side note No. 2: Will the two Sixers split the Philly vote, thus gifting the award to Brogdon?)
More draft weirdness led to the construction of the Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry was the seventh pick in 2009, immediately after Jonny Flynn went to Minnesota (and five picks after Memphis grabbed Hasheem Thabeet). Klay Thompson was the 11th pick in 2011, immediately after Sacramento selected Jimmer Fredette (and also after such luminaries as Derrick Williams, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo).
Draymond Green? He was the 35th pick in 2012. A second-rounder, for goodness sake. Here are some of that year’s first-rounders: Thomas Robinson (fifth, to Sacramento), Austin Rivers (10th, to Detroit), Meyers Leonard (11th, to Portland), Royce White (16th, to Houston), Andrew Nicholson (19th, to Orlando), Fab Melo (22nd, to Boston) …
And so on.
In fact, it could be argued that that year’s second round, which also included Jae Crowder, Khris Middleton and Will Barton, was as good as the first.
But that’s what makes this event so fascinating: You just never know.
Nobody truly knows about tonight, either. So let the weirdness begin. I’m fascinated by it.