Thoughts on the Freshmen Hype and How It’s Been Covered

Instead of having a breakdown on Twitter daily from reading some of what I see about the Draft, I have decided to just get it all out here. If you choose to read it, I thank you in advance because I can ramble for a bit. If you just want some notes about what is coming up next on the site, you can just jump down to the bottom.

This year’s freshman class has been the most heralded in years. Certainly it is the most hyped since the NBA stopped allowing high school players to skip college and jump to the League.  In turn, this has made the 2014 NBA Draft one of the most anticipated since at least 2003 and with the anticipation has come increased coverage from across the basketball world.

I love the NBA Draft. I have chosen to spend my work focusing on it because of that love.  In many circumstances, increased coverage of something I am passionate about would be a great thing.

I’ve learned that it isn’t the case here. The hype is slowly destroying the draft for me.

If this was basic hype and overselling of players, I could deal with that. If it was a few a people who went overboard, I could deal with that also. Instead, it’s wide spread and, in most cases, completely over-the-top.

We’re not dealing with basic stories about the players. As a group, it is a very interesting collection of players. What I am seeing here is the creation of stories just to tie them these players.

I think Jim Boeheim is a tremendous coach and people who know him seem to really like him. As it is, none of the freshmen who can enter the 2014 Draft play for him. Why would anyone ask him his thoughts on the players’ potential as NBA players?

As Coach Boeheim tends to do, he answered the question honestly. But again, what place is there for the Syracuse coach to be asked about the NBA potential of players who aren’t his, in December no less?

It’s creating a story when there wasn’t one there.

In the past day or two, I saw something roll by on Twitter about Tyshawn Taylor being asked about Andrew Wiggins and the #1 pick. Thomas is in the NBA now, and though he went to Kansas, never played with Wiggins. Does what Thomas thinks about the #1 pick matter?

Of course not. It’s the creation of a story just to try and tie it to this draft.

But again, at least we know who was making the comments in these two instances. Over the past two months, we have been inundated by quotes from the “NBA executive”, the “long-time scout”, and many other vague job holders, about their thoughts on the 2014 Draft and the freshman class.

I get that the use of sources is an integral part of basketball reporting. I also know that the NBA executives and scouts who make decisions during the draft process are not often fond of sharing what they really think, especially for public dissemination, anonymous or not.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate sources being used for some stories, but I think it is easy to figure out which writers have good contacts in the league and which don’t.

There’s nothing that is going to stop this practice from being the norm when it comes to draft reporting, so the best that can be done is to try and open up the draft process to the fan more and educate on how teams handle the process from year to year.

This part is important to me and I hope it resonates with those out there who enjoy the scouting process:

Definitive statements about players do not exist in December. Scouting a player is about amassing as much information about them over the course of the season, or in some cases, seasons. With freshmen, a big part of the process is seeing where they are at the beginning of the year and where they are in March. These are 18 or 19 year old kids. You should be able to see the development even over 4 or 5 months. If you can’t, then that isn’t a good thing.

So when you see a quote describing a player as “Russell Westbrook with a jumper”, supposedly said by an NBA scout, be very skeptical. More so when the player in question is an 18 year old who comes off the bench for UCLA and had played maybe 7 or 8 college games to that point.  Zach LaVine may turn out to be a good college player, but it’s silly to compare him to one of the best players in the NBA after a few games, almost all against lesser competition.

(Quick aside – As I was writing this, I came across an old West Wing episode where a White House reporter asks the Press Secretary CJ Cregg about a quote he had from an unnamed government source. Her response was basically if your source is unnamed, I am assuming you made the quote up and won’t answer the question. I feel that way about a lot of sources.)

Another headline from this past week – “Is Aaron Gordon ready for the NBA?”  Gordon has played in 11 college games. There is no way to even come close to making a determination now whether he is ready or not, and it is unfair to Gordon to even bring up the question right now.

The Mock Draft and Big Board mentality also falls into this in a way. The public has been led to believe that the process and how a player is viewed can actually change from week to week. Two bad weeks can have someone’s “stock” falling.

Nonsense.

Gather as much information as possible. See how players fare against different types of opponents and in different roles on offense and defense. If there are visible issues with a player’s game, what is causing them?

I know that’s a very broad question, but there is a point to always taking the examination of a player one step further. I’ve discussed Marcus Smart’s shooting before. Everyone is raving about how much of a better shooter Smart is this year, and it’s true, he is hitting more shots. But, the problem last year wasn’t any kind of flaw in Smart’s shot, it was the shots Smart was choosing to take which was probably the major cause of low shooting percentages from the perimeter.

It may not seem like much of a difference. He’s hitting more shots and that’s good. From a scouting perspective though, it could be a significant difference to a team. If you are considering drafting Smart, do we just need him to take better shots or do we need to fix the mechanics of his shot? One of those is a lot easier to do than the other.

The same goes with a player’s “numbers.” Running down a list of stats as a case of whether a player is good or not has very little meaning from a draft perspective. What’s more important is seeing why the numbers are the way they are. Many of the answers can be found outside of the player’s control – his role in the offense, the kind of offense the team runs, an inexperienced point guard who can’t get the player the ball in quality spots, etc.    

I understand that this sounds a lot like complaining, and in a way it is.  The essence of what is important about scouting players is being overshadowed by narratives designed to get page views. Again, I can’t blame it solely on the people writing it; many of them are being instructed to do this.

It is time to wean the fans away from taking these stories as actual “draft” coverage. It is time to help the fans recognize that stories are solely being manufactured for page views. It doesn't mean they have to read what I have to say about the players. There is some very good real draft coverage out there.

This is a fight I know I will never win. I know there are people who do agree with me, but it isn’t enough to overcome the volume of the stories being pumped out about these kids.

If you took the time to read all this, I hope it at least made a little sense to you, and if I get you to be skeptical about the next “draft” article you read, then we may start heading in the right direction.

 

Notes

-          Now is a good time to go back and look at the preseason Draft Watch list and see which players have been showing what I hoped they would during this season.

-          I will start up with full scouting reports next week. As usual, seniors will be the focus until early February. For those wanting scouting reports on the freshmen, I like to give them a full season before I make a determination of where they really are in terms of their development.  The tough part for the freshmen is coming up. Teams will have them scouted much better and it will be up to them to show that they can now adjust their game to match what defenders are trying to do to stop them.

-          Make sure if you have any comments, follow me on Twitter – @NBADraftBlog or email me at ed@nbadraftblog.com

 

Thank you all for taking the time to come to site and reading what I have to say. I really do appreciate it. I hope everyone enjoys a wonderful holiday season.