OK, let's take a second and re-calibrate on the eve of the NBA Draft. It's an exciting time for franchises, for prospects, for fans. The promise of a career yet to be played leaves open the possibility of greatness or at least very goodness. And yet, this draft brings with it a nearly-unparalleled level of uncertainty, like that roller coaster ride that seems fun before you get on it and then you realize whoever designed it might have had a mescaline issue and a sadistic tendency.
It's easy to read criticism of this draft and assume the overwhelming perception is there are no quality players, that everyone is going to be terrible, waste-of-roster-space Joe Alexanders. That's not really the case. I've been a big advocate of the "This Draft Sucks" philosophy, but it's not based on the idea that every player is limited and will never amount to anything in the NBA. That's too far the other way. But it's also not a good idea to reject that notion so hard that you start talking yourself into this being an impact draft. It's not. So let's find where we need to set our expectations as we head into decision day for the teams that have selections Thursday night.
1.) This draft will have some star talent; you just shouldn't expect any one player to have it.
I've long said that the draft is a crapshoot. Yes, certainly, some teams show a genuine brilliance in their ability to isolate, identify and acquire star talent in the draft, sometimes all the way to the second round. But, in general, players whom most analysts spend a ton of time trying to determine their value can work out or blossom without much of any indication.
So there will be a star in this draft. There will likely be multiple stars in this draft. There might be a superstar in this draft. But the reason why this draft is considered so weak is talent is nearly impossible to identify. And even when it is recognizable, it's limited by obvious weaknesses that could derail that player.
Take Trey Burke, for example, the explosive guard from Michigan. If everything works out, Burke is going to tear up the NBA by getting to the rim, taking over in big moments, hitting clutch shots, and being like Damian Lillard with maybe a higher level of athleticism. He's also Smurf-sized, measuring 6-1 in shoes, 5-11 3/4 without. He could be Kemba Walker. He could be a more-scoring-tinged Chris Paul.
You see the issue. There are no locks. There are no sure things. Nerlens Noel could certainly end up being the next Tyson Chandler. (Never mind that Tyson Chandler took seven seasons to become Tyson Chandler.) Alex Len could certainly wind up being ... whatever people think Alex Len would emulate if he worked out. But there's also a long and established history of super-raw bigs with injury issues who never worked out.
So don't lose hope that your guy could wind up being the dominant player of his class.
I just wouldn't bank on it, either.
2.) If a team targets them, role players are in abundance.
There might not be the superstar talent that you dream of in this class, but, man alive, is there a lot of guys who can fill needs.
You want the new-model "3's and D" guy? How about Victor Oladipo, who showed he can shoot given the right development and situation and has a dogged defensive approach? You want the basic reserve big to block shots and provide rim protection? Cody Zeller has the body and will get it done.
There are role players galore in this draft, especially when you get into the 15-ish range. If you just remove the enforced expectations of the top picks, everyone might be happy with what they get. Usually a draft works like this:
1-5: Superstar talent
6-10: Possible star, definite third option
11-15: Quality starter, possible surprise
15-25: Quality rotation player, long-term prospect
26-40: Hopeful rotation player.
This draft should look more like this:
1-15: Quality starter, strong possible rotation player
15-40: Quality rotation player, possible surprise.
That's it. You're going to have big hits and misses, but that's the general layout. The shooting guard crop at the end of the first round is pretty phenomenal with players like Allen Crabbe, Tim Hardaway Jr. and more available. You can get quality guys; you just can't find transcendent talents.
3.) Be afraid of potential; reach for what you know
I usually advocate the other way. Take a gamble, go big or go home, reach for the stars, dream like a champion and other things that go on motivational posters. But there's a sneaky little wrinkle that has snuck into his draft. The high-potential, high-upside guys are being touted as such because of the low ceiling for so many players. Often, these guys are players you would avoid like the plague in a normal draft.
Would Alex Len have gone top 15 last season? Top 20? Now he's a possible No. 1 pick because his potential is so much higher than most players. Trey Burke's ceiling is "incredible scorer on a playoff team." Len's ceiling is "dominant center who can change the makeup of our team at both ends." But Burke's floor is Kemba Walker, or maybe even lower, Will Bynum. Len's floor is Darko Milicic.
Think about that.
So, in this draft and only in this draft, you go safe. Go with the role player who showed he could produce in college, a factor that I tend to put lower than measurables and skill set. Go with a guy with leadership and a strong mental approach, not the guy who can jump out of the gym. Recognize that the ideal for these players is still lower than the normal ideal for high-potential guys, and resolve to improve your team in smart ways. If you're a playoff team, get a guy who can come up big for you if give the right winning opportunity.
And if you're a lottery team?
Get ready for 2014 and the biggest draft since 2003.
This draft isn't as terrible as it has made out to be ... but it's still pretty bad. Adjusting our expectations will help us to determine how to get the most value from the available assets. The draft normally is a time to dare to dream. The 2013 draft is much more "Stay calm, and draft a role player."
Just be reasonable, and we should all get through this draft together.
Oh, but C.J. McCollum, though ...