That’s a lot of the league’s best players who have fallen down the draft board out of the top 10, and occasionally into the second round. There have always been draft busts (Michael Olowokandi, Darko Milicic, it’s a long list) and guys who slipped deep into the draft that shouldn’t have (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, etc.), but are there more of them now?
Rockets GM Daryl Morey said at the Sloan Conference a week ago that “as a league, we are getting worse at drafting.” Former Cavaliers GM David Griffin agrees. And he thinks he knows the reason — the provision in the one-and-done rule that David Stern wanted, keeping NBA scouts from going to high school gyms. Griffin explained his this on Mark Deeks’ “Give Me Sport” NBA podcast (as transcribed at The Athletic).
“(Fifteen years ago) you weren’t seeing a preponderance of guys going later than, say, nine or 10 that were moving the needle. And now you’ve got Donovan Mitchell [drafted 13th] going later in the draft. And you’ve had Giannis [drafted 15th] go later in the draft, and Rudy Gobert [drafted 27th]…
“What’s happened is because of the proliferation of the one-and-done, teams are making more mistakes in drafting than we really ever have because we know less about the kids than we ever have. Back when you could come directly out of high school, because everyone was going to be in a situation where they could declare out of high school, we were allowed in high school gyms. And what that meant was we saw far more of the kids during that year leading up to the draft than we do now.”
It’s easy to make the call on an Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns, taking them No. 1 is fairly obvious. The guys at the very top have separated themselves. The challenges come farther down the draft board when the teams need more information.
Analytics have a role in drafting, but more than anything scouts and GMs still need to watch a kid play. A lot. The more time watching him — in person — the better. In practice, in games, everywhere they can. While Stern didn’t like the optics of NBA scouts flooding high schools to watch guys, in solving that problem he created another one.
The NBA seems to be coming around on the idea of letting youth go directly from high schools to the NBA again — teams are far better equipped to develop players than they were 15-20 years ago, including using the G-League — but there are a lot of details to work out. It’s not clear exactly how it will go down. But one of the benefits will be to give teams more information, more eyeballs in person on games, than they had before.