"Situational Analysis" is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem. This week, it’s a little different…
The 2017 NBA Draft is a 70-year-old event that simultaneously welcomes new talent into the league, while also serving as a snapshot for what NBA front offices value in terms of roster construction. Examining draft histories can provide a window into basketball’s evolution. This year’s draft is no exception.
Of the 14 projected lottery picks on the NBADraft.net mock draft (updated daily!), half of them are what I’d classify as "lead guards" — either traditional pass-first point guards or score-first playmaking combo guards.
The most important player a team can have is a do-everything, two-way wing that can control the game in all facets. Three of these players exist — LeBron, Durant, Kawhi. Beyond that, the most important, influential commodity in today’s game is a lead ball handler who can get to the rim, score, set up his teammates, and take advantage of a switch on a high screen.
This is the logical result of a rule change put in place before the 2004-05 season that eliminated hand-checking, giving lead guards much more room to create and far less resistance between himself and the hoop. Along with minor, yet impactful, tweaks to the zone defense rules and the gradual elimination of isolation post-ups through the rise of analytics, today’s NBA is a guard’s game.
Perhaps 10 years ago, a player such as De’Aaron Fox isn’t given lottery consideration ("too skinny," "can’t shoot," "always draft big over small"), but the game has evolved in his direction. Now, Fox is a potential franchise cornerstone, thanks to his tenacity, athleticism, ball-handling ability, and speed.
The lead guard spot is deeper in today’s NBA than it’s ever been. Mike Conley is one of the best players in the league, and he has never made an All-Star team. Think of how loaded a position must be if there isn’t room for Conley in the All-Star Game.
With another seven lottery-level talents entering the league, it becomes more important than ever to secure a talented lead guard. Durant has Curry. LeBron has Kyrie. Kawhi has Chris Paul (maybe???). This is the way the league is going. Every mock draft on the internet is simply a reflection of it.
On a scale from 1-10, the guards in this year’s draft class rate at a 9 — an embarrassment of riches.
With all this talk about what a guard-heavy draft it is, the talk surrounding the prospects 6-9 or taller tends to focus on their limitations as opposed to their strengths.
Can Jonathan Isaac bulk up and improve his overall basketball IQ? Can Lauri Markkanen play passable defense? Can Zach Collins hold his own against NBA strength and athleticism? Can Justin Patton stay on the floor when an opponent goes small? Can Bam Adebayo be trusted to make the right reads? Can Harry Giles stay healthy?
Most of these players would have been selected much higher had they been born 10 years earlier. With so many teams opting to play smaller for longer stretches, roster spots for traditional big men are drying up. The Detroit Pistons are reportedly looking to gauge the market for Andre Drummond, and I would wager that their front office is not fielding a lot of worthy offers.
A big man in today’s NBA either has to be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan) or a devastating offensive mismatch (Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins) to be worthy of lottery consideration.
Collins is a fascinating test case. He is in a rare category when it comes to his combination of size and skill. But could Collins have played serious minutes in either conference finals? Or would a team run him off the floor by playing small and forcing him to defend to the 3-point line?
This year’s draft has nearly 20 players who fit the classic definition of "power forward" or "center" — back when those positional designations mattered — that could be considered with a first-round pick. Most of them will look to become role players with one elite skill, but most will likely come equipped with two or three serious flaws that make them difficult to put on the floor in a playoff series — when flaws get put under a microscope.
On a scale from 1-10, the boom-or-bust potential with this draft’s taller players rates at an 8.
There are these pockets in NBA Draft history when teams lose their collective minds after one or two transformational talents come from a previously-unconsidered place.
Once Kevin Garnett opened the door for the modern preps-to-pros era in 1995, teams took all sorts of wild gambles on high school talent. Some of those gambles paid off, others didn’t — we all know the names and we’ve read the profiles.
The same thing happened after Dirk Nowitzki opened the international pipeline in 1998. Teams went wild searching for the next Nowitzki — Darko, Skita, Yi and the chair.
Thankfully, NBA front-offices, scouts, and fans have gotten so much smarter in the last handful of years. Talent evaluation has become so much more nuanced. It’s less about a prospect vaguely reminding a GM of another star player and more about how the individual talent projects at the next level.
Age and situation are always going to act as major variables. There will never be any such thing as an "exact science" when the job is attempting to predict the future of anyone under the age of 21, which is what makes any draft so fascinating.
Nobody is ever going to solve the draft, but we’re having smarter conversations about it than we used to. That’s serious progress, if you ask me.
On a scale from 1-10, pre-draft conversations rate at a 10. Why else are you on this site reading this article?
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
If all 60 players in this draft could somehow end up on the San Antonio Spurs, I bet 45 of them could have productive 10-year careers.
The eternal chicken-egg debate in NBA Draft circles is about whether individual talent matters more than a franchise’s culture, when the answer is that both are equally important. Generational talents such as LeBron James can succeed anywhere, but the odds of your team landing one of those is next to zero.
Is Kawhi Leonard an MVP candidate had the Spurs never traded George Hill for that Indiana pick? Is Draymond Green a devastating two-way linchpin if, say, the Phoenix Suns draft him? We’ll never know.
Most teams are getting smarter about recognizing the types of players/personalities that fit into their culture. Thankfully, we still have the Sacramento Kings and the New York Knicks in the lottery to keep things, um, interesting.
On a scale from 1-10, my excitement for June 22 is at a 10. See y’all on draft night!
Situational Analysis: Markelle Fultz
Situational Analysis: Lonzo Ball
Situational Analysis: Josh Jackson
Situational Analysis: De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk
Situational Analysis: Jayson Tatum
Situational Analysis: Jonathan Isaac
Situational Analysis: Lauri Markkanen
Situational Analysis: Jawun Evans
Situational Analysis: Sindarius Thornwell