The first two picks of the 2016 NBA Draft went as expected, with LSU’s Ben Simmons going to the Philadelphia 76ers and Duke’s Brandon Ingram being snatched up by the Los Angeles Lakers.
After that, everything flew off the rails as far as predictability is concerned. Many draft analysts had Providence point guard Kris Dunn going to the Boston Celtics with the 3rd overall pick, but that is exactly where things went awry. When the Celtics decided to pick University of California freshman small forward Jaylen Brown, a domino effect started slapping everyone’s educated guesses around like an evil stepmother.
18-year-old Croatian power forward Dragan Bender, who averaged 4.4 points per game for highly-regarded Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague and Israeli Premier League, was pegged by some to go as late as 10th overall. But he went 4th to the Phoenix Suns while Kris Dunn would fall to fifth in Minnesota.
Buddy Hield, the guy who was exhaustively compared to Stephen Curry because of his range and ability to shoot off the dribble, was selected by the New Orleans Pelicans with the 6th overall pick after being projected as high as 3rd.
Like Plastic Man trying to guess the meaning of life, there was a lot of reaching going on.
Once some of those first few predictions were a resounding whiff, it was anybody’s guess where the cards would fall. I was ill at ease watching uncertainty on the faces of these young draft prospects as they watched millions of potential dollars dwindle away with each player that was selected before them.
There were several highly-touted individuals from American collegiate basketball powerhouses who were projected to go in the lottery, but saw their names plummet down the draft board as the night progressed.
Among them were Florida State shooting guard Malik Beasley, who fell to 19 to the Denver Nuggets. Kentucky center Skal Labissiere was project to be a mid-first rounder, but ended up being the 28th pick by the Phoenix Suns before being shipped to Sacramento.
But at least he managed to go in the first round.
Michigan State freshman center Deyonta Davis was pegged by several draft experts to go right after the lottery, but dropped out of the first round completely.
Many analysts underestimated how dedicated many NBA General Managers are to increasing the flow of international players, European players in particular, to the NBA – talent and upside be damned.
Combo guard Dejounte Murray from the University of Washington was supposed to be drafted as high as 15 by some estimates, but he landed with San Antonio Spurs, who picked 29th.
Sure, you had phenoms such as shooting guard Timothe Luwawu from France, whose physical gifts were immediately apparent when watching tape, but why would the Boston Celtics draft Guerschon Yabusele, a stubby 6′ 8″, 270 pound power forward from France with the 16th pick overall, when many mock drafts had him as low as 32nd?
He’s decent, but his lack of speed and explosiveness is glaring when watching film. He’s basically former New York Knicks forward Mike Sweetney with a jump shot. Plus, the Celtics already have a bigger, taller, better version of him in Jared Sullinger.
Nobody has a crystal ball going into these things and predicting an NBA draft with 50 percent accuracy would be a major victory for some. However, one can’t help but notice that many of the players from overseas appear to be either undersized for their projected NBA position, or are being referred to as draft and stash players.
Sure, Kristaps Porzingis is a baller, but for every KP3 selected in the first round there are dozens of Mario Hezonja- type players drafted. Remember Hezonja, the Croatian drafted by the Orlando Magic with the fifth overall pick in the 2015. While it’s far too early to call him a bust, averaging 6.1 points per game, there were at least a dozen players who were drafted after him that were better.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay, Myles Turner, Devin Booker and Justise Winslow were all drafted after Mario.
Some blame the selection of foreign talent over American born players on maturity, but that’s hogwash when you see players like Virginia SG Malcolm Brogdon, a senior and model citizen who averaged 18 points per game, and Iowa State senior SF Georges Niang, who averaged 23 points per game, almost go undrafted.
Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis, who averaged 17 points per game his senior year, didn’t even get drafted.
Others say the level of competition in pro leagues overseas makes them more physically ready for the NBA grind.
Whatever the truth is, it appears to have very little to do with talent or upside, seeing as though the only foriegn born players to ever make an All-Star team were Yao Ming, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not saying there’s an active attempt by the NBA to “Europeanize” the league, but I see feathers and I hear quacking.
Indeed, it may be a goose or even a swan, but from here it looks an awful lot like a duck.