Just some thoughts and observations as the NBA offseason switches from draft craziness to free-agency craziness.
Frank the Versatile All-Terrain Vehicle
I’m annoyed by the response to Charlotte’s selection of Frank Kaminsky with the ninth overall pick. Draft Express had Kaminsky ninth in their final mock draft, and ranked ninth on their list of the top 100 prospects. Chad Ford had him 15th in his final Big Board, and had him as high as 13th in earlier versions. Since these are the two most prominent mock drafts/rankings, they serve as handy reminders that, yes, Frank Kaminsky was considered one of the dozen or so best players in the NBA draft.
OK, so, it’s been fun to crack jokes about the guy, especially at the possibility that a dumb team like the Knicks might have fallen in love with his possible fit (a concept that is, itself, ludicrous when considering what exactly the Knicks think they have to fit into) and taken him as high as fourth in the draft, at which point they would have very clearly been passing on potentially transformative prospects for a guy who seems less likely to develop into a superstar.
I care less, though, about the general mocking of Kaminsky’s goofy earthbound whiteness than I do about criticisms of his potential fit in Charlotte. The Hornets engaged in a series of trades that netted them, in the end, Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Spencer Hawes, and at least some people have raised an eyebrow at what they see as a potential overlap between Kaminsky and Hawes. This is insane!
Here’s why: Hawes is a terrible basketball player! To the extent that he’s a “stretch big,” it’s by virtue of the fact that he is evidently unable to locomote his sorry ass any nearer the basket than the three-point line. He’s not an especially good or dangerous perimeter player, he’s not useful much of anywhere else, and he’s a crummy defender. He was essentially unplayable in Los Angeles, where, as part of an interior grouping that included Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, literally 100% of what he was asked to do was be available to make some shots and keep the defense afloat for, what, 12 minutes a game? And he was a disaster. DO YOU THINK IT’S A COINCIDENCE THEY DUMPED HIM IN A TRADE FOR LANCE STEPHENSON.
So, by the thinking of some morons, the Hornets should not have drafted one of the 12-15 best prospects available because he might take minutes away from...Spencer Hawes? What the fuck does Spencer Hawes have to do with Frank Kaminsky? If the Hornets were actually planning on using Spencer Hawes for anything other than very minor spot duty, then they had given up on being a competitive team and were planning on bottoming out. That’s it. You do not hold off on drafting a good player because you already have Spencer Hawes. The very idea of that is completely preposterous.
So, like, shut the hell up about the Hawes/Kaminsky overlap. Kaminsky was listed among the top 15 players in the draft expressly because he’s expected to be a better, more versatile player than a fucking stiff like Hawes, and making the comparison makes you look like a fucking idiot.
What’s Love Got To Do With It
There seems to be a fair amount of hand-wringing going on about the possibility that Kevin Love will leave the Cavs. The thinking goes that Love leaving would make the trade that brought him to Cleveland very painful—the Cavs shipped off Andrew Wiggins in the deal, after all.
I guess I understand this, but here’s the thing: the Cavs came within a couple of adjustments and one or two healthy bodies of winning a title against the best NBA team in at least a decade, and they did it entirely without Kevin Love. Here’s a way to think about this: surely Lebron’s return to Cleveland was contingent upon a commitment from David Griffin to hit the market and bring home the kinds of players who could work with LeBron to give the Cavs the best shot at a sustained run of excellence. Even in LeBron’s statement in Sports Illustrated, when he announced his intention to return to Cleveland, he hinted—via omission—at roster changes that would jettison the youngest Cavs, presumably in exchange for another veteran star. LeBron said to Griffin “I will come back if you can commit to giving me a championship caliber team” and Griffin said back “I will move heaven and earth to give you a championship caliber team.” The acquisition of Love—no doubt put into motion before LeBron’s announcement—was the price of bringing back LeBron. Now that they have LeBron and manifestly do not need Kevin Love, the stupidest reason to bring him back would be to salvage the perception of the Wiggins trade. That’s water under the bridge.
So, instead of thinking of the Wiggins trade as returning Kevin Love, think of the Wiggins trade as returning LeBron James, and the year-one result ending within an arm’s length of a championship. The acquisition of Kevin Love may not have worked out, but that’s OK—it’s not like the Cavs can win a SUPERCHAMPIONSHIP. Each season they will have a chance at a title if a healthy LeBron is paired with a healthy Kyrie Irving and they’re able to keep the two of them surrounded with players who contribute what they got from guys like Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. That team doesn’t need Kevin Love. Love’s presence would certainly help, but if they’re smart around the margins and have better lineup options than James Jones, Mike Miller, and Matthew Delavedova, they will absolutely win a championship. And that was the goal. It wasn’t the absence of Love that cost them a title, it was the absence of lineup flexibility combined with zero depth, and they can address those two issues without breaking the bank for Love.
You Are Not A Fortune-Teller
One of the most annoying things about the draft (other than “insiders” “scooping” draft picks literally seconds before they’re announced on live television—they should stop calling these scoops and start calling them what they are: spoilers) is, of course, all the fake expertise, the vast majority of which is uncredited recycled scouting from one of two or three main operations. But, even at the source, the whole “NBA-ready” thing is stupid and annoying.
The dumbest, most obnoxious instance of this during this year’s draft was the case of Kristaps Porzingis. The scouting of this guy says he’s a couple of years away from being ready to contribute, which OK, sure, so long as the caveat is offered that literally no one knows what the hell they’re talking about because literally no one knows anything at all.
Draft analysis is entirely about predicting the future. The essential futility of this should be apparent to anyone with half a brain, but never do we get more carried away with this than in the absurd fortune-telling of assessing a player’s NBA-readiness. Such-and-such guy can run and leap like a gazelle, shoot well from multiple spots on the floor, and happens to be taller than a house, but he’ll need a couple of years to figure out how to help out on an NBA basketball court.
This line of thinking—that we can assess a player’s readiness apart from his talent, an idea that’s dumb enough that I actually feel stupid typing it—was fun to track in the case of the 2013 NBA draft. Fans were told Otto Porter, the third overall pick, was the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft, a vague trait that seemed to bridge the gap between his rail-thin frame and modest athleticism and his soaring draft stock. At the other end of this was Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose absurd, breathtaking combination of height, length, and athleticism would require patience and time in order to bear fruit.
Of course, because no one knows anything, Antetokounmpo was a revelation almost from the moment he first took the floor as an NBA player, whereas it was the final 15 games of his second NBA season before Porter even scratched out some regular playing time. Antetokounmpo was second-team All-Rookie in 2013. Porter hasn’t made the All-Star weekend’s Rookie/Sophomore game in either of his two NBA seasons. DURR THIS IS A PLUG AND PLAY GUY DURR DURR.
This happens every goddamn year. Shabazz Napier is ready to play, is terrible; Jordan Clarkson will require patience and development, is excellent. Thomas Robinson can step right in as a physical interior player, is useless; Andre Drummond is all upside, is terrific. This is the stupidest goddamn thing. The only things we know at the draft are whether the player has the skills and body-type to play in the NBA, because no one has any goddamn clue about anything else. If these sorts of evaluations had any sort of track record of success, it’d be a different story, but they don’t. They’re useless.
Which brings us back around to Porzingis and the Knicks. Porzingis is an athletic 7-footer with multiple NBA-ready skills: he can run, he can jump, and he can shoot from anywhere. If the Knicks don’t have a day-one use for a 7-footer who can do those three things, the franchise should be contracted. If he needs some time to fill out his frame, learn NBA defense, work on his ball-handling or post game, whatever: he’s tall as hell, long as hell, he runs fast, he jumps high, and he can rain hellfire from deep. He’s already in the 97th percentile of the NBA in terms of versatility without ever having worn an NBA uniform. He was a good pick, and they should play him right away.