Uncertainty ahead of pandemic-affected NBA Draft
The 2020 NBA Draft takes place on Wednesday with questions swirling around the likely identity of the No.1 pick as teams attempt to gauge talent after a college season decimated by COVID-19.
Barely four weeks after LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the NBA Finals after a marathon, virus-truncated season, Wednesday’s virtual draft is being held just five weeks before the 2020-2021 campaign tips off.
The Minnesota Timberwolves will have the coveted first pick, ahead of the second-placed Golden State Warriors and the Charlotte Hornets.
The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers take the fourth and fifth slots.
Yet unlike 2019, when the New Orleans Pelicans snapped up the generational talent of Zion Williamson with the top pick, there is deep uncertainty over which player is likely to be chosen first.
The leading contenders appear to be Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, who averaged 19 points per game as a freshman, the 7ft 1in (2.16m) Memphis center James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball, the youngest of three basketball-playing brothers who already have their own reality TV show.
Ball’s oldest brother Lonzo, the No.2 pick in the 2017 draft, already plays in the NBA with New Orleans while middle brother LiAngelo is in the NBA’s G-League.
LaMelo has been tipped as a possible No.1 pick but erratic shooting ability may weigh against the 6ft 7in, 19-year-old from California.
‘A lot of unknowns’
That may mean that Edwards ends up being chosen first by Minnesota, who is seen as a more logical fit to complement the Timberwolves’ point guard D’Angelo Russell and center Karl-Anthony Towns.
What is not in doubt however is the fact that Covid-19 has made the painstaking task of identifying draft talent even more demanding than usual.
The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament’s “March Madness” earlier this year means that teams have limited game tape to work from while the NBA’s Draft Combine was held virtually.
Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers admitted the disruption to the basketball calendar this year had left teams facing something of a leap into the unknown.
“It’s different from anything we’ve ever experienced,” Myers said. “I’ve never seen the NCAA Tournament or conference tournaments shut down midway through or just before they began, so nobody has seen that.
“We’ve all had to do our best, whether that’s agents, players, colleges, pros, so we’re thrust into that, too, and it makes for a lot of unknowns. It makes for a lot of variables that we’re not accustomed to dealing with.”
Covid-19 restrictions have also limited teams’ ability to subject prospects to exhaustive workouts and medical testing. Teams have been allowed just 10 visits with college players, Myers said.
“Usually we’d bring in players to our facility,” Myers said. “We’d put them through our workout, put them through our medical issues and what we’d like to see of them, our own performance testing.
“We take them to dinner, we do all kinds of stuff. When you’re committing whatever, $20, $30, $40 million to a player, you want to get it right.
“We’ll see. I don’t know in five years if they redraft if we all screwed it up or would have done better had it been normal. We’ll never know the answers to those questions.”
Myers’ comments were echoed by Gersson Rosas, the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations.
Rosas admitted however that while the lack of gametape had made it harder to gauge prospects, history showed that talent was often lurking throughout the draft.
Rosas cited the example of the 2013 draft, where top pick Anthony Bennett turned out to be a bust, while the 15th pick — Giannis Antetokounmpo — went on to become the league’s MVP in 2019 and 2020.
“The reality is we won’t know what this draft brings until three or four years down the road, people don’t know. There haven’t been enough games,” Rosas said.
“There is a very similar draft some years ago, when people said the same thing. ‘There’s no clear number one, it’s a weak draft.’ And our current MVP was part of that draft. So there’s talent in every draft, it’s our job and our responsibility to do the work that we need to do to find that talent.
“We feel good about the talent in this draft, not only at the top, but throughout it. I think this is a deep draft.”
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