Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Chad Ford

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Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Chad Ford

Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Chad Ford

Our ESPN Insider and NBA Draft Expert Chad Ford answered media questions during today’s ESPN 2015 NBA Draft media call. ESPN will exclusively televise the 2015 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 25, at 7 p.m. ET. This marks the 13th consecutive year that ESPN has been the home of the event, which will emanate from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Q.  I wanted to ask about D’Angelo Russell. It was interesting to see some of the analytics that you guys put out and have him as the highest potential superstar rating and the highest potential bust rating. I’m curious how you view a player who’s kind of on both ends of that spectrum and what you’re hearing from people in the league about a guy on both ends of that spectrum?

CHAD FORD:  Yeah, well, look, I think you see the superstar potential in a guy who has incredible basketball IQ, is incredibly skilled.  If you’re talking about the best basketball player, just pure basketball player in the draft, I think you can make a strong argument for D’Angelo Russell, and he’s a spectacular passer.  He can shoot the ball, and when you see the success of guys like Steph Curry and James Harden in the league, you understand the appeal and why even the Minnesota Timberwolves were looking at him as a potential No. 1.

I think the analytics have liked him.  I think where they’re pointing out potential bust is that the analytics models, at least this is the way ‑‑ look, I’m not the expert in this.  That’s Ben Alamar and all the guys who put it together.  But I think the thing it points out on the bust end, and this is something that’s confirmed by scouting, is that D’Angelo Russell is not an elite athlete, and that poses some problems when you start to project out in the draft.  We can talk about Steph Curry and we can about James Harden, but they’re exceptions to the rule. They’re not the rule.

Typically guards that don’t have elite athletic ability struggle to be stars in the NBA, and what the analytics are doing is they`re looking at athletic markers like steals, blocked shots, things like that, that typically translate to NBA athleticism and NBA success at the next level, and that’s where D’Angelo Russell struggles.  And so that analytics are raising red flags about the fact that as great as he is offensively, here are some concerns about him defensively and especially defensive concerns that point to athleticism.  And that’s why you’re seeing that disparity between could be the best player in the draft, the one guy that could be the superstar, could be the biggest bust in the draft, and I do think that is the concern with Russell.

I don’t think he’s a bad athlete, but you look at so many great guards in this league and so many of these guards and what terrific athletes they are, and Russell, that’s going to be a big adjustment for him.

Q.  Do you think it’s at all possible that D’Angelo Russell slips out of the top 5 or past 4 at New York?

FORD:  I do not.  I think the Knicks will be thrilled if he’s there.  I know he didn’t have a great workout in New York, and I know there’s maybe a little bit of anxiety, but I think he goes 3 to Philly or 4 to New York.  I would be stunned if he fell beyond that, and Orlando, by the way, has a smart enough GM that sometimes you just draft the best player available and forget about the rest if he’s still there at 5.

 Q.  What are your thoughts on the type of players that could be available for the Spurs to select at 26?

FORD:  Yeah, look, you’re right.  I’m not going to pretend, either, and I know the Spurs well, that they’re not going to tell me who they’re going to draft.  I don’t think they tell anybody.  I think people disappear off the planet if they leak that sort of information out of San Antonio.

Every year we’re scratching around a little bit.  Sometimes when we get involved with international guys, there’s guys with big mouths on the international side, but it sounds to me like ‑‑ look, where they’re at, at 26, it’s not a great spot in this draft.  The draft starts to fall off pretty badly in the 20s.  It’s a strong draft, but it begins to fall down.  So you’re looking at a guy you hope could be a rotation player, so look, if a Justin Anderson out of San Antonio is there, I think that’s a potential fit for San Antonio.  If a Montrezl Harrell out of Louisville is there, just an energy guy, great rebounder, but may slide a little bit because he’s undersized, it’s a good fit for them.  And then there’s several international players.  The Spurs are going to be about preserving cap space, and they’re going to be about trying to maximize the amount of money that they go into free agency with, and Guillermo Hernan Gomez out of Spain is a guy that gets a legitimate look in the late first round as a draft as a prospect.  Reminds me a little bit of a Zaza Pachulia.  And Nikola Malutinov is seven‑foot center who`s actually very skilled, moves really well, just not particularly athletic and not particularly strong, but a skilled kind of face‑the‑basket big man that could be worthy of a pick at let’s say the 26th pick.

And then Cedi Osman out of Turkey is the strangest player in this draft, but San Antonio seems to do well with strange at times, and he plays with this incredible motor.  He sees the floor very well.  He was a point guard until he had a huge growth spurt, now plays kind of small forward at Turkey.  He’s like a little sort of Boris Diaw, sort of really great feel for the game, can pass, things like that, not necessarily a great athlete, not a great shooter, but they drafted Kyle Anderson to do some of those similar things last year, so I’m not sure they would necessarily go that route.

Q.  Can you give me some of your assessments of the one‑and‑dones after Okafor and Towns and Russell, some of the guys who are kind of taking a chance on entering the draft and might have been better suited going back to school? Do you think some of these guys, the Oubres, the Alexanders, some of these guys made good decisions, or how would you assess the one‑and‑dones past the top 10? 

FORD:  I hear what you’re saying, and you know, it’s hard to assess for one reason.  I mean, I can tell you right now, several of those guys, Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Rashad Vaughn, Kevon Looney, are four guys that just come off the top of any head, Tyus Jones maybe a fifth, that are going to go lower than they thought when they left college.  So they came in thinking probably all of them lottery, potential lottery to mid‑first round, and all of them are struggling right now to gain traction, and they’re struggling to gain traction because teams look at them in many cases and say they’re not ready.  In Cliff Alexander’s case, in Kelly Oubre’s, in Kevon Looney`s case, or in Tyus Jones’ case, he just doesn’t stack up athletically with several of the other prospects that he’s competing against in the draft.

The only reason that I hesitate to criticize those young people is that there’s all sorts of factors that go into them declaring for the draft that aren’t just I think I’m one of the greatest players in the draft, I’m going to be a top 10 pick.  Cliff Alexander is a great example, right.  His mother is under NCAA investigation for taking impermissible benefits from an agent.  There are questions about when or if he’ll be eligible for the NCAA, and so instead of waiting in that limbo, and you know the NCAA can take forever, he leaves.  And you have several other people that are looking at hardship sorts of situations, like there’s a lot of criticism that Emmanuel Mudiay decided to play at SMU last year.  But when you look at his family situation, you look at the fact that his mother was a refugee from Congo, that his father had died, that she’d been working two jobs, that there were some health issues coming up for her, that you can’t take any money when you’re a college player to help support your family or whatever, and he’s being offered millions of dollars to go play in China and under contract.  There’s other factors besides basketball that factor into some of these kids’ decisions, and then there’s some guys further down that might not even be drafted, and they know that they can play overseas.  And while the NBA is a dream and they’ll hope that they land with a team, they know they can start their professional careers overseas and, instead of playing for free in college, they can go do that and that’s what they want to do.

So I tend to not be critical of the decision except in cases where the players are delusional.  In other words, they believe something that just isn’t true about their draft stock and the only two guys that I think really might fit into that category right now is Kevon Looney and Kelly Oubre.  And in Looney`s case, a hip injury that was discovered at the combine, more than anything else, is hurting his draft stock right now.  Teams are looking at him and thinking he may have to have surgery, that he may be out a year, and that’s scaring them off more than anything else.

Q.  I was wondering your thoughts on the two Syracuse guys—Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough— where you think they might go, and specifically with Chris McCullough coming out early, what you think about that, especially with the injury and how Christmas’s pre‑draft process especially with the combine went?

FORD:  Yeah, on McCullough, it’ll be interesting, he took a gamble but one that he knew, that he was a bubble first rounder when he declared for the draft, that he wasn’t going to be able to work out because of the ACL injury.  But again, for circumstances that I think have less to do with basketball and more to do with life, he felt that he needed to turn pro and that that was sort of the best decision for him in his life.  Will he go in the first round?  I mean, the good news for him is that you’ve got several teams that have multiple picks in the first round like the Lakers and Celtics, and you have a team, the Nets, that seem to be a bit enamored with him.  If he went 27, 28, 29 and a team just basically said, look, I think, had he gone back to Syracuse, he would have been a lottery pick next year, so we’re getting a player like that at 29, and we get to oversee the rehab and we get to make sure that everything is great, I think he’s a good pick there, and if he doesn’t go there, he’ll go in the first 5, 10 picks in the 30s.

Christmas, you know, the skepticism about Christmas is his age.  He’s 23 years old, and when you look at players that age, you expect them to be better than players that are in the 18, 19, 20‑year old range, right, and you look at Rakeem Christmas and you see a guy who took really three years to really develop and he developed into a great player, and he came into the draft combine, and I think he was the best player at the draft combine.

But there’s still this grain of salt.  He is doing this with two, three years’ more experience than a lot of the guys that he’s playing against.  And so while teams will absolutely acknowledge he’s more physically mature than a lot of players in the draft, that he’s been better coached and has more experience than those other guys, they’re trying to ask what was he like at 18 and 19 compared to some of the other prospects therein and what would these prospects have been like had they played four years at Syracuse and how would they project.  That’s the challenge of the NBA Draft.

While I think Christmas could slide into the late first, I think he’s still more likely to be one of those guys that go in the 30 to 45 range.

Q.  Justin Anderson with UVA made a big jump in his shooting this season before the injury. Do NBA teams believe that he’s a capable outside shooter or do they view it as kind of a fluke because of the small sample size? 

FORD:  Yeah, I would say that for most of the season they felt he was the answer, and it didn’t help that once he injured himself and he came back, he struggled to shoot.

But I will say that my feedback that I’ve gotten from NBA teams in his workouts that he’s done individually with teams, is that he’s actually shot the ball really well, and I think that that’s helped him regain some draft status to the point that probably his upper range is something like 17 to Milwaukee, and he’s getting serious looks at 20 to the Raptors, at 21 to the Dallas Mavericks, at 22 to the Chicago Bulls, 23 to the Blazers.  He’s in that mid first round tier right now, and that’s based off the fact that he’s come into these workouts and continued to show that he can shoot the basketball, and he’s a really good prospect if he is, especially the way he shot it at Virginia as a junior.  If that’s how he’s going to shoot it in the NBA, he’s a really good prospect.

Q.  Do people view Justin Anderson defensively as being ready to contribute?

FORD:  Well, physically, yes.  He’s physically NBA ready.  I don’t think he’s necessarily an elite athlete but he’s a good athlete, and I think they think the answer to that is yes, and so there’s this coinage of a word 3‑and‑D in the NBA, and that’s what he projects as is a 3‑and‑D type player.

Q.  If it comes down to Dion Wright or Terry Rozier at No. 24 for the Cavs, what’s the pros and cons of both players?

FORD:  It’s interesting.  I think both of those players are heavily in the mix at 24 for Cleveland.

I sense in talking around that Rozier is in the lead.  They’re at 24, and I think Rozier is a better athlete.  He’s tougher.  He’s a little bit more versatile as both a scorer and as a play maker.  I think Dion Wright is a better natural play maker than Terry Rozier is.  I think he has more experience, probably a little bit more NBA ready, but doesn’t quite have the athleticism/toughness that Rozier brings to the table.

But I get the sense that Rozier is a very attractive prospect to them.  He may not be there at 24, and Dion Wright could be an option as well as Tyus Jones.  I think there are scenarios where Tyus Jones is there at 24.  Don’t also count out the fact that the Cavs are trying to maximize their cap space going into free agency.  That’s where they’re really going to add to their team, and getting that pick off the books is an attractive option for them.  And I could absolutely see the Cavs taking one of the players that I mentioned previously, including a guy named Luka Mitrovic as a draft and stash type prospect at 24, and they can continue to let them develop overseas in Europe.  They’re off the cap for the year, and it just gives them a little extra money to go pursue free agents.

Q.  What do you think the Wizards are doing or could do with the 19th? They have a lot of needs.  What do you see them doing there? 

FORD:  Well, they’re at the end of what I call a draft tier, and so that draft tier in this draft stretches from about 9 to 19, and then there’s sort of a drop‑off and there’s other players.  They may just be sitting back a bit on this and saying ‑‑ I mean, I’ve heard so many teams ‑‑ there’s like 10 guys that they sort of like in this range, and when you’re the Wizards, you kind of take the guy that’s left over because of where they sort of sit in the draft process.

I do think, from what I understand, finding a power forward, with Nene in the last year of his deal, would be ideal.  I think there’s several that they like.  They like Bobby Portis out of Arkansas.  Not sure Bobby Portis will be there, but he’s an all‑around player that does just about everything well, maybe nothing great.  They like Montrezl Harrell out of Louisville, a guy who`s very physical and attacking, like Jarrell Martin out of LSU, a guy who’s very athletic but perhaps a bit of a tweener, between the 3 and the 4.

And then there’s Kevon Looney, who probably is the best prospect of the four, but because of the potential hip injury issue, might choose to go ahead and pass on that there because they actually like a player that they can start to develop this year as opposed to a player that they’d have to wait a full year on.

Q.  What did Josh Richardson to make kind of a late surge here as the draft approaches?

FORD:  I think he’s been helped by the analytics revolution.  With several analytics models, though not certainly all, I think the surprise to some is that even the numbers, the unbiased numbers ‑‑ we don’t always agree on these things, it just depends on the formula and how you tweak it ‑‑ have identified him as a sleeper, identified him as someone that may have been overlooked by scouting and caused people to go back, once he ranked so high on some of these analytics boards, to go back and re‑watch tape and pay closer attention to him.  That’s just part of the process.

There’s a lot of guys to keep track of, and the bigger names and the guys that were ranked highly out of high school or guys that had early success are going to get the bulk of the focus, and with some of these other players like a Josh Richardson, it requires something like, okay, our analytics team comes in and all of a sudden this name pops up, and maybe they’ve scouted him a little bit, but now they’ve got to take it seriously.  They’re going to go back, they’ve got to watch tape and look at him again, and that’s the process that’s going on in late April and May and in June, and I think if the pre‑draft camp, the combine, was held today, and the invites went out, he would have been invited.

I just think that process hadn’t fully happened yet, and I think it’s worked out well.  I think the final thing is he’s gone into these workouts and passed the eye test there.  I do think he’ll be drafted and I think he can go anywhere between 40 and 60.

Q.  Regarding Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas, what position do you think most NBA guys are looking at him to play? And on Chris McCullough, what have teams been looking at? Do they look at those 16 games he played in before the injury?  Do they have to go back to high school?  Are they looking at the measurables like the height and wingspan? 

FORD:  On McCullough it’s all of the above.  You’re absolutely right, they’re looking at what he did in high school, what he did at Syracuse, and as you know better than anybody, he started red hot and then he dropped off a cliff as far as his production goes.  And factoring that in, was that competition, was that Boeheim wanting to hide him after NBA scouts started to salivate over him?  What was going on there?  Was there something going on in the kid’s life?  What’s happening there?  And then absolutely with a kid like that, you don’t have a lot of data to go on, so you’re looking at, okay, what are his physical abilities, what are his measurements, what could he be at the next level?

This is the hardest thing about scouting, is it’s easy to watch a player and be able to say, well, this is what he does well and this is what he doesn’t do well.  You don’t have to be a professional scout; you just have to know some basketball.  And I’m sure every writer on this call who’s been covering basketball could sit there and watch and say, okay, this is what he does well, this is what he doesn’t do well.

The challenge is what will he be like in two to three years, and what sorts of things does he do well that will translate to the NBA, or what sorts of things do we think he could do well in the future, and that’s a much more ‑‑ that’s a process.  It’s not a scientifically process, it’s an art, but the best scouts are good at trying figure out what you could become, and obviously that’s also why there’s misses in the draft.  We talk about upside a lot.  Well, sometimes players don’t reach their upside and sometimes it’s because the player doesn’t work hard or sometimes it’s because the player hit the wrong situation or sometimes it’s just misjudged abilities, but with McCullough it’s all about projecting out.  What could he be in a couple of years, and with his length and with his wing span and with some of the raw abilities we saw to protect the rim, and to go and face the basket, that’s a modern big.  That’s how NBA teams want big guys to play.  He is miles away from being able to do that well at the NBA level, but teams are willing to be patient with the new D‑League, and teams are putting more and more effort into developing young players.  And teams are getting more bullish about taking players like that and not fearing leaving them over in the D‑League for the next couple of years, especially when they have their coaches on the staff and when they have their system of getting them ready.

As for Christmas, he’s just on the opposite end of the spectrum.  It’s funny that Syracuse has these two players because Christmas, had he declared as a freshman we’d be worried about all those same things.  We’d be saying he was a top 10 high school guy, but he didn’t really do much at Syracuse his first year and can he really play?  Now four years later we’re all convinced that Rakeem Christmas is awesome and that he should play.  But NBA teams look at that and say, yeah, and he played four years at Syracuse and he’s older than everybody else and of course he’s going to start to dominate, he’s a good player.  But how much does he have left, like how much better can he be from what he already is.

And then as far as position goes, I will say that one of the reasons Christmas has moved up on my board since the combine is that his measurements, particularly one key measurement, which is the standing reach, which is the key measurement for a big man, that turned out to be on par with an average center in the NBA.  And so even though he stands at 6’9″ because of his long arms, he’s taller, all right, because it’s all about if you raise your arms in the air, how close does it get to the basket, because big men play with their arms up and guards play with their arms out to the side to control the passing lanes and to control the dribble drives.

That’s what’s helping Christmas right now.  Look, if Christmas had the season he had at Syracuse and he was 19 years old, he’d be a top 10 pick in this draft, and it would be easy, but because he was 23 years old when he did it, that’s what they’re trying to figure out.

Look, analytics give us some insight into all of this, and analytics typically say that players that are in their 22, 23 years old that have a big season their senior or junior season of college, tend to be outliers and tend to be busts in the NBA.

Q.  What are your thoughts on Mario Hezonja, and what risks would a team face taking him so early?

FORD:  Well, he’s got a potent combination of things that NBA teams like.  He has size for position.  He’s 6’8″, can play the 2 or the 3.  He’s got elite athletic ability.  He’s bouncy.  He jumps out of the gym.  He’s quick and explosive, and three, he’s got a lethal three‑point shot with deep, deep range.

You’re always looking at ‑‑ those are the three bigs, right?  You have size for your position, check; do you have elite athletic ability for your position, check; do you have one skill that at least typically translates that you can hang your hat on in the NBA, check.  You go through this draft and there are not that many players that you can check all three of those boxes off on one.  Usually we’re checking one, maybe two of those boxes.  You check all three for Hezonja.

What’s the risk?  I don’t think it has anything to do with him being a European.  He’s playing on the second best league in the world right now on ACB.  It’s better than the NCAA.  He’s playing on a team that`s made it to the ACB Finals, FC Barcelona.  He’s played with pros and that`s ‑‑ his entire career and he’s got minutes there.  The thing about Hezonja is that he has this unusual confidence.  There’s players that are confident and then there’s players that are borderline crazy confident, and Hezonja is right there.  And my comp for him is J.R. Smith because I think he has ‑‑ J.R. Smith checked off size for position, he checked off elite athleticism for position, and he checked off in high school an elite skill, that he can really shoot the basketball.  All that was true in the NBA, it’s just that his decision making, his shot selection and his decision making off the court about what he was going to focus on and whether he was really going to put all this into basketball, that was all the shaky part for J.R. Smith.  I don’t think I have any of the off‑the‑court issues with Hezonja, but I do have some concern about his shot selection, his confidence, and does he think he’s better than he is.  If he’s comparing himself to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, that’s delusional, and you can get into problems when you get into the NBA if you don’t know what lane you’re in.

If he understands he’s in a J.R. Smith lane, and if J.R. Smith had dedicated his life to basketball and stayed out of trouble, we’d be talking about J.R. Smith as an All‑Star, then he’s great.  If he thinks he’s Kobe or Michael Jordan, it’s going to be a rude awakening for him when he gets to the NBA.

Q.  And if a team is looking at Devin Booker and Sam Dekker, what would push a team towards one or the other?

FORD:  I think Booker is so easy because he’s one of the two or three best shooters in this draft, and you know he’s going to hit open shots.  You have a league that is now emphasizing three‑point shooting, and you have several teams in the lottery that are desperately in need of shooters, and so it’s just easy.  Whether he does anything else or not is a bit irrelevant.  I’m not sure that Devin Booker won’t turn out to be a fairly one‑dimensional player like maybe a Kyle Korver, but if he does that one thing really, really well, he’s going to have a long career in the NBA, and I think teams don’t see a lot of risk involved with Devin Booker.

With Sam Dekker, there’s a lot more appealing things about Dekker.  He’s got great size for position, much better than Booker does.  He’s a great athlete, much better athlete than Booker is.  He has more experience, he’s stronger, he’s more versatile than Booker is.  And then the question is, do you believe he’s going to be able to knock down three‑point shots.  He was very streaky at Wisconsin.  Sometimes that shot looked like he was a shooter and other times it didn’t.

He’s had pretty strong workouts, and I think that’s really the interesting thing, and his narrative is ‑‑ with Bo Ryan as your coach, he was incredibly critical of Dekker, he often had a quick hook for Dekker, and that messes with a shooter’s confidence, so every time Dekker was shooting the ball, he was thinking too much about it.  In a more open system with a coach that gives him more leeway, he’ll be more confident and better.  That’s up to every team and coach to decide am I going to buy that, is that true, is this guy saying that I can’t be coached.  What do you do with that?

But if he went ‑‑ look, we’re projecting him to go 8th to the Pistons right now, which is considerably higher than he’s ranked on the big board, but if he went there, I think it’s a good fit for Detroit, and I think it’s a good fit for him.  If he went to Charlotte at 9 or Miami at 10, Dekker could be a really, really good NBA player, there’s just a little bit more of a risk factor with him than there is with Booker.

Q.  Where do you see Aaron White fitting in and does Gabe Olaseni have a chance to sneak in the back end of the draft or is he going to be more in the free agent category?

FORD:  Aaron White definitely has a chance to get drafted.  I’m not sure that he gets drafted.  I would put him as a bubble second rounder right now.  The things that he brings to the table obviously are hustle, athleticism, and the question is is there skill level enough there and is he good enough at those things to warrant a second‑round pick.  Here’s the other thing that people have to understand about the second round.  The Sixers own like five picks in the second round.  There are multiple pick situations.  These teams can’t possibly have all these players on their roster, so you start drafting international players that aren’t nearly as good as Aaron White, but you draft them because you don’t have a roster spot for these other players, and so the second round is often a head scratcher, I think, for a lot of people that follow college basketball, and I think it’s partly where international players get a bad name.  Think of all these busts that were drafted in the second round.  Yeah, teams are essentially flushing those picks down the toilet.  I mean, that’s essentially what they’re doing, like we can’t afford to have this guy on the roster, we need that roster spot for a veteran, we don’t want to pay the money, we don’t have space, so we’ll stash a guy over in Europe and maybe we’ll get lucky.  Maybe he’ll turn out to be Manu Ginobili in a year or what have you.

Gabe is going to be going to Europe.  Not only do I not think that he’s not drafted, I’m not sure he gets a Summer League invite, and if you don’t get the Summer League invite as teams are filling up their rosters there, that’s a pretty good sign to go to Europe.  But I do think that Europe is a very viable option, and there’s going to be some really good players that are going to have a long career in Europe.

 Q.  How many of say the top 10 picks are we going to be talking about for years to come, and is there one guy outside the top 10 that you think is going to be a guy that we’ll be talking about for years to come?

FORD:  I’d say there are seven guys in this top 10 that I’m really comfortable with.  Towns obviously, Okafor, Mudiay, Porzingis, Russell for sure, and then Justise Winslow and Hezonja.  I think all seven of those guys to me are sure things at some level in the NBA.  Whether they’re All‑Stars are not, I can’t necessarily say that, but sure things and that they’re going to be in the league a long time.  They’re at least going to be starters; they’re going to have a significant impact on the team.

And then after that things start to break down and get a little bit shaky because each of the prospects that are left has a significant weakness that if it doesn’t get fixed could derail their NBA career.

If there’s a guy that ‑‑ let’s just project out a little bit and say they’re not an obvious lottery pick.  There’s two players that maybe come to mind, actually three.  One is Rodney Hollis Jefferson out of Arizona.  He’s sliding because he can’t shoot, and that’s fair.  He’s not a good shooter.  He’s a bad shooter.  But he does everything else well.  He checks off every other box.  He checks off size for position; he checks off elite athleticism.  I think he’s the best perimeter defender in this draft and can defend multiple positions, and he’s creative and has the ability to get to the basket.  All that speaks to me that this guy is going to have a long NBA career.

And by the way, shooting can be taught.  I’m not saying that he will learn how to shoot, but if he ever does learn how to shoot, then you’re talking about the steal of the draft.

I think people are not sure what to do with RJ Hunter at Georgia State, are not sure what to do with a difficult junior year where he didn’t shoot the ball as well as he could have, but to me he’s your prototypical NBA 2 guard who is both a playmaker and has deep, deep range on his jump shot.  A lot of the criticisms that were leveled his way were leveled towards Klay Thompson, as well, and I think if he had played in the PAC‑12 or some other league where you’re more able to judge his talent and where he would have gotten maybe more open looks than he got at Georgia State, I think we’d be talking about him differently.

And then finally Kevon Looney out of UCLA, great talent, has a hip injury that teams are nervous about.  Not long‑term that’s going to derail his career, but short‑term that it might require surgery, that it might be that’s going to hold him out for a year, and that’s causing the stock to slide.  But this was a kid that at one point was ranked in the top five by teams and I think has immense talent.  It may take a couple of years, but he might be the guy in five years that you’re like, I can’t believe that kid went in the teens or 20s.

Q.  I was chatting with Kevin Pritchard who said they aren’t afraid to trade the 11th pick, that there’s been a lot of interest, and also indicated they’d prefer not to move back. So given those three things and reading between the lines, what kind of buzz would you suggest applies to moving that pick? 

FORD:  I heard the first two, that there’s a lot of interest in trading the pick, they’re not afraid to do it and they don’t want to trade back.  What was the third factor?

Q.  Those were all three, that he’s not afraid to trade it, he did say there’s a lot of interest, and what he said was trading down is tough.

FORD:  Yeah, because I don’t think they should, because I think there’s talent there at 11 that might not be there a little bit further down in the draft.  And trading up, I do believe is a possibility because I think you look everywhere from the Knicks at 4 to the Kings at 6 to the Nuggets at 7 to the Hornets at 9, all of those teams are open to moving this pick if they can get more asset in return.

So the question becomes for Indiana, is there a guy that we feel isn’t going to be there at 11 that we love and that’s worth moving up.  I’m not sure, again, what sort of asset it’s going to require, how far they can move up in the draft, because I do think at 11, given the way that the draft seems to be playing out 24 hours before the draft, things are unpredictable and things can change, I think there’s going to be several players that Indiana actually really likes sitting there for them at 11.  I think there’s a good chance Willie Cauley‑Stein is going to be there.  I think some concerns about his ankle have caused him to slip a little bit.  I think there’s a good chance that Cameron Payne, a point guard that they really like, is going to be there at 11, and I think Trey Lyles, another guy that they really like, I think there’s a good chance all three of those players are sitting there on the board when they draft at 11, unless they’re going to get in the top 7 and be able to change that out for a Justise Winslow or Mario Hezonja or an Emmanuel Mudiay or something like that, I’m not sure it’s really worth trading up.

Q.  What’s your feedback been on Treveon Graham of VCU, and do you have him as a second‑round guy or a free agent signing?

FORD:  I have him as a free agent right now.  He didn’t crack my top 60.  It doesn’t mean that he won’t be drafted.  A lot of my focus, just being honest, is trying to figure out what those teams are doing with the first‑round picks because it’s so rare that second‑round picks have major impact in the NBA.  I’m still trying to figure out what Philly is doing at 3.

So when you start getting into the second round, I usually punt that down the road a bit.  Occasionally I’ll hear things here or there.  If he ends up going 40s or 50s, that’s possible, but he’ll get ‑‑ he for sure will get Summer League invites, and he’ll make a team that way in the Summer League, and then he’s going to have a chance for a team to fall in love with him.  It’s a nice way to make the NBA, and one of the reasons I actually prefer it to the second round is that he gets to choose his team.  You’re drafted in the second round, you can be drafted by teams that immediately say, look, we don’t really have room for you and we want you to go play overseas and you need to go play in the D‑League for a couple years, and that may not be what the player wants to do.  If you do the free agent route, then you choose the team where you think, look, there’s a roster spot here for me.  If I perform well, if I wow these guys, they could sign me to a roster spot.

I always tell agents, like well, if my player was sliding ‑‑ if I was representing a player and he was sliding out of the early 30s where lottery teams are drafting in the second round so there’s typically opportunities there for players in the 30s to play, I would try to hide him from everybody.  I would try to hope he wasn’t drafted and then try to land him in the perfect spot.  So I think that’s where Treveon Graham, that’s going to be the strategy, and I still think he’s got talent enough to make the NBA on the right team.

 Q.  Do you see him ‑‑ how do you see him fitting as a guard as opposed to what he played in college, which was kind of small forward, a big guard?

FORD:  Yeah, I mean, the NBA is getting more and more position-less that way.  It’s all about who he can guard.  And I think he can guard threes in the NBA.  I think he’s going to be physical enough to be able to do that.  There’s a lot of 2 guards in the league I think that will be a little bit tougher.

But you know, when I think about position in the NBA, the one question you ask is can he guard a position at the NBA; is there a group of players that he can guard.  And for some of these guys the answer is, man, I have a hard time figuring out who he’d guard.  I think with Treveon Graham I think he could guard small forwards in the NBA, so I think he’s got a position.

 Q.  I’m wondering if you could identify some dark horse candidates among the international crop available.

FORD:  So there’s obviously two guys at the top that we all know, Hezonja and Porzingis, and they’re going to go in the top six or seven.  It’s a weak international crop after that.  There isn’t a lot of guys that scream first‑round talent or even draft‑and‑stash talent.  Let me give you a few names of players that I think could end up being in the late first round as a draft‑and‑stash or in the second round.  Guillermo Hernan Gomez, a center out of Spain, actually teammate was the Kristaps Porzingis, got a lot of scouting attention because guys were traveling over to Sevilla to watch him play.  In the mode of a Zaza Pachulia, a below‑the‑rim but very skilled low post player, traditional center, and if you’ve seen Zaza play for the Bucks or for the Hawks, that’s the sort of experience that you’re getting, not only starter but a guy that could be a solid backup and have a meaningful NBA career.

Nikola Milutinov is a Serbian big man who is actually very skilled, face the basket, high basketball IQ, can do a lot of things, runs pretty well, is a pretty mobile big man, not bouncy athletic, not elite rim protector, but somebody with a lot of talent that I think could end up scoring ‑‑ becoming a scorer in the NBA.

Cedi Osman out of Turkey is the most unique, maybe the most unique prospect in the draft.  I don’t even know who he reminds me of.  He was a point guard for years when he shot up in size and plays small forward for Turkey right now, and he sees the floor well.  He’s probably the single greatest motor of any player in this draft, and this kid doesn’t take a second off.  He’s scrappy, he does everything, but he’s not particularly skilled beyond the passing.  He’s just a so‑so shooter, if even that, and just very unorthodox in the way that he plays, but he’s young, he’s contributing to a Euroleague team.  He’s had success in Europe, and I think teams are intrigued.

And then Luka Mitrovic out of Serbia is another guy who’s a 6’8″ power forward that’s going to be a bit of a stretch for ‑‑ maybe will straddle the line between a 3 and a 4.  Not an elite athlete but a guy, again, that’s having some success in Europe overseas.  He’s a 22 year old.

Those four guys are the guys that I think are most likely to hear their name called in the first round or early second round.

Q.  What are your thoughts on a couple Michigan State guys— Branden Dawson and Travis Trice?

FORD:  Branden Dawson has got a chance to be drafted in the second round.  I’ve actually heard really great things about him in workouts, and it won’t surprise you if you’ve covered Michigan State that what he’s been great at is being athletic and being a knockdown, lockdown defender, and I think what he’s impressed teams with is they’ve brought him into workouts against much higher ranked prospects and asked him to go and harass this guy and shut him down, and he’s been able to do that consistently in workout after workout.  That’s one way to get yourself drafted.  We know Dawson is not a great shooter, that offensively he can be challenged, but when he’s motor is running heavy, he’s an elite athlete.  He has an NBA body and he can defend.

The frustrating thing for him at Michigan State was that he never did that consistently over the years, and so now it’s about figuring out can he do that at the NBA.  So I can definitely see him drafted.

And for the other ‑‑ for Travis Trice, I think it’s much more likely that he’s a Summer League guy or probably even more likely that he goes to Europe.

Q.  How much did you see Michael Frazier help himself during the Combine and the workout? How much do you think teams are going to balance that versus his overall college career?

FORD:  Well, he’s going to get drafted for one reason, and that’s because he can shoot the basketball, and he shot it well at Florida.  He’s a specialist in the NBA.  The trouble that teams have with him are much more about lack of size for position.  I think there was some initial enthusiasm over Frazier.  I know some of the analytics models like him, and I think coming into the combine there was a feeling that this is a guy that maybe could sneak into the late first round just because he shoots the basketball so well.  I think a lot of that has died out.  I think as he’s got into workouts and teams have seen him, I think they’re struggling with his lack of size for position and who he’ll guard at the next level.  I think he’ll be drafted, but I think he was one of the underclassmen that had some hopes if he caught fire he might be able to slip into the 20s in this draft, and instead I think he’s probably more in the 35 to 50 range.

Q.  Any chance for Chris Walker at all? Do you see him more as an NBA free agent?

FORD:  It’s so crazy.  I mean, look, when you talk about checking some boxes, I mean, Chris Walker has elite size for his position, and he’s an elite, elite athlete for his position.  He just doesn’t know how to play basketball.  You probably saw that at Florida, and teams want to love him because you want guys with his size and his athletic ability.  They want to be on board with guys like Chris Walker, but his workouts, they haven’t been great, and I think that the most likely scenario for him is that he goes undrafted, will get invites to Summer Leagues, will get invites to training camps, teams will still watch him, but I think the best thing for him is either to get to the D‑League or get overseas and just start getting minutes, start getting regular minutes somewhere and learn the game because the physical tools will always be there, now it’s catching up on the skill side.

Q.  What is one thing that Oubre should work on this summer to take his game to the next level?

FORD:  Well, Kelly Oubre is one of the most fascinating prospects of this draft, because again, he checks boxes.  He checks boxes for size for position, and he has a 7’2″ wingspan and he can be a 2 guard.  That’s freaky.  He checks size for a few skills.  I don’t think he’s an elite athlete but I call him a smooth athlete, and he can shoot the basketball.  He’s not an elite shooter, but it’s clearly one of his skill set, and he has the ability to defend.  He has all the physical tools to do that.

One general manager referred to him as basketball illiterate, and I think that’s the issue with Kelly Oubre right now.  The physical tools are there, and even some instincts of the game are there, but his understanding of the game, his understanding about anticipating what’s happening, especially on the defensive end, and you saw this at Kansas, that one of the reasons Bill Self really struggled to play him at first because he just didn’t have a feel for what was happening on the court, and it’s very difficult to play anything other than on‑the‑ball defense when a player doesn’t really understand what’s happening with the offense.

I just think that Kelly has been able to survive like so many kids are able to in the AAU culture by being a good athlete and being talented physically, and he got to Kansas and all of a sudden he had to understand the game of basketball, and I just don’t think he’d been really coached.

And unfortunately in the college game, there’s just not a lot of time for that.  I think Bill Self did a good job.  I think he forced Kelly to learn how to play defense, but there is so much more that Kelly needs to work.  He’s been working out with Drew Hanlen pre‑draft, and Drew Hanlen has worked out Bradley Beal, he worked out Andrew Wiggins last year, and one of the things I love about Drew is Drew takes tape of players that you’re similar to and he starts to show you the tape so you can start to learn what these players are doing and you can start to learn the game.  And then he takes what you saw on the tape and takes you back out on the court and trains you how to do that.

Drew just released a mix tape of Kelly Oubre.  You can look at it on YouTube or on Twitter, and you can see Oubre is getting better.  He’s starting to figure things out.  The training is there.

So if he keeps working hard and he keeps learning and he keeps hungry, he could be one of the 10 best players of this draft hands down.  But that’s what he’s got to do.  He’s got to continue to be hungry, continue to learn, and continue to grow that basketball IQ because it’s just low right now.

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Media contact: Gianina Thompson at [email protected] (@Gianina_ESPN)

Gianina Thompson

“Never wish for it more than you work for it.” My dad has told me this ever since we watched the New York Yankees win the World Series in 1996. Living by those words has brought me to ESPN as their Senior Publicist for NBA, MLB, FIBA, and Little League. Working for the World Wide Leader in Sports, it comes naturally that I have a competitive nature. Competing on a Division 1 college rowing team and receiving both my master’s and bachelor’s degrees before turning 22 years old, further illustrates that. Sports are more than entertainment; it’s hopes for something bigger than yesterday.
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