Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Fran Fraschilla and Tom Penn

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Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Fran Fraschilla and Tom Penn

Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Fran Fraschilla and Tom Penn

This afternoon, we had ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla and ESPN NBA analyst Tom Penn on a media call to discuss the 2015 NBA Draft, which will be exclusively televised on ESPN for the 13th consecutive year on Thursday, June 25 at 7 p.m. ET. During the Draft, Fraschilla will deliver analysis on international players and Penn will provide NBA Draft front office perspective on site at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Q.  What are your thoughts on Dakari Johnson?

FRAN FRASCHILLA:  Well, Dakari is, first of all, given Kentucky’s platoon system this year and the fact that this was Dakari’s second year at Kentucky, obviously he probably didn’t get the reps, the touches in the low post, the exposure that he would have gotten had Kentucky not had such a tremendous team.

Basically the way NBA teams look at Dakari right now, he is a young sophomore, young for his age.  He has the size to be an NBA center, obviously.  He’s done a terrific job in the last 12 months of refining his body, losing weight, adding muscle, and my evaluation of him is that he’s a very safe late‑first‑round to mid‑second‑round pick, in part because this league is ‑‑ although the league has gone to a small‑ball type of game, it’s still about positional size, size at every position.

If you can get a guy like Dakari, late first, early second round, which is where I peg him, you’re hoping to get a young big man that you can cultivate.  He is a project in that he’s probably not going to help an NBA team immediately, but you’d like to have a young big kid like this on your roster and hope to develop him.

Q.  What do you make of the Harrison twins—Andrew and Aaron— and where their stock is at this stage?

FRASCHILLA:  It’s all over the board in the second round.  I think there’s more of a buzz about Andrew, I think because of the fact that teams think he can be a big point guard in the league.  The concern that teams have had about Aaron is his outside shooting.

They both have good size.  I’d be surprised if either player goes in the first round.  They’re both going to get an opportunity to make rosters next year, but things really haven’t changed much since the end of the season.

I do hear more buzz about Andrew’s draft prospects than I do Aaron’s at this point.

Q.  As you know, Kentucky has had a number of first‑round picks over the last few years, and I’m wondering how much of that you think is a developmental thing in particular with Kentucky. How much of it is a tribute to excellent recruiting— bringing in players who would be the type of draft pick wherever they went?

FRASCHILLA:  Well, I think John Calipari would tell you that it’s first and foremost about the recruiting, because he’s been able to do an incredible job since he arrived at recruiting the best players in the country.  That’s a given.  That’s a fact.  There’s no argument there.  But anybody who thinks that he hasn’t developed a lot of these guys then doesn’t realize how good a coach John is.

Each Kentucky team has seemed to have its own challenges in terms of John getting his individual players ready for the NBA.  This team was all about the platoon system, how he was going to keep everybody happy.  As it turns out, I think you’re going to see guys that were under the radar a little bit during their college careers as freshmen, particularly Lyles and Booker, end up being very good NBA players, in part because they were well thought of coming into college, highly ranked, and also because they spent a year practicing against some of the best players in the country and adhering to John’s coaching.

It’s definitely a little bit of both.

Q.  What can you tell us about Porzingis, and if he were to go to the Knicks at 4 how do you see him as a fit there?

FRASCHILLA:  Well, as a native New Yorker, you and I ‑‑ I know the fans will not be happy to see him walk across the stage, because there will be somebody that the Knicks haven’t drafted who’s played college basketball this year or the fans have at least heard about.  But if you’re picking 4, you’re essentially needing to roll the dice a little bit and gambling, and I don’t know how you could come up with a better gamble than a guy that’s 7’1″, on his way to 7’2″, who’s athletic, graceful, shoots the ball from three, blocks shots and is 19 years old.

So I would just say, I get the idea of the bust factor, but after Okafor, Towns and Russell are gone, you might as well gamble and draft a kid who potentially could be along the lines of a Dirk Nowitzki or a combination of Nowitzki, Gasol,or  Kirilenko.

He’s a graceful player, his English is great, he’s a basketball junkie.  There are some things about him that I think are going to translate well to the NBA.  The one thing he is not is a center.  He is not a center.  He is a power forward right now.

Q.  A New Yorker might jump back and say, ‘Oh, my God, is he Bargnani?’ What would you say to that?   

FRASCHILLA:  Well, Bargnani was a No. 1 pick in a, let’s face it, bad draft.  And Tommy will remember this, but those of us who studied Bargnani that year, there wasn’t really ‑‑ now, in retrospect there are probably guys that everybody missed on, but there was no clear No. 1 when Bargnani came out.  And you know, from a guy like me who studies the international players, I did not think Bargnani had any wow factor at all.  He just was going to be a good player, and he’s averaged 15 points a game in his career, by the way, but he’s not ‑‑ he certainly was not a guy that screamed automatic NBA star.

This kid is more athletic.  He can affect the game in different ways, unlike Bargnani, and there’s some bust factor there, there’s no question, because he’s going to have to get stronger.  But it’s hard to find these kind of tools in this kind of size.

Picking at 4, I actually think it’s a safe place for him, I really do.

[Penn joins the call]

TOM PENN:  I was in Memphis when we took Pau Gasol at 3, and this guy presents himself similarly.  I mean, Pau was string bean skinny with the same concerns.  Pau had a different skill set, but I watched the tape on Porzingis and the way he runs and finishes, he’s very similar, and he’s got a great work ethic the way Pau did.

FRASCHILLA:  Yeah, and I might add, if anybody is listening, with regard to Porzingis, the thing about Porzingis that Tom mentions, incredible work ethic, also well coached.  He left Latvia at 15.  He’s been well coached.  In fact, the guy who had the most influence on his playing career, a very famous Spanish coach by the name of A‑i‑t‑o.  When you have one name, you know you’re really good at something.  He’s the same guy who coached Pau at an early age, Navarro, Rubio.  He’s a magician with young players in the Spanish league, and this kid has been well coached.

Q.  Payne from Murray State, what are your thoughts about him?

FRASCHILLA:  I really like him.  Really like him.  I think D’Angelo Russell is the best point guard in the draft, but this kid, if you look at the history of the last 10 years or so in the NBA, high draft picks at that position, go down the list with going back to Chris Paul even and Kyrie Irving and Damian Lilliard and guys, Russell Westbrook, they tend to have an instant impact.

The other thing I like about this kid, and I’ll get into a little more detail, you know, small school point guard, kind of like Lilliard, kind of like George Hill.  He reminds me of a left‑handed George Hill in that he can really shoot the ball— terrific NBA system at Murray State.  They ran a lot of pick‑and‑roll for him.  He’s got really good court vision.  He’s only a sophomore, which tells me that there’s still more room for improvement.

Usually a kid from Murray State is a three‑ or four‑year guy, but this kid has had such a quick improvement in two years in college that he’s made a name for himself.  So I really like him.  He’s a great kid.  He’s got speed.  He can shoot it, really gets into the lane, can make plays for himself and others.  Really, I think, a good pick in that probably 9‑to‑14 range.  I’d be shocked if he slides past 14.  I think he’s in the Thunder’s wheelhouse right now.

Q.  I realize Nebraska Terran Petteway is not on most draft boards, but what have you heard about his workouts and what would it take for him to sneak in as possibly a late second rounder?

FRASCHILLA:  Well, I think the big thing with his workouts is that he shows people he can make shots because he was a volume shooter at Nebraska, almost by necessity, because he was the only guy that I can recall on Tim Miles’s team.  He wasn’t necessarily their best player every night, but he was the only guy that could get his own shot when he had to, which is a valuable skill, especially in college when plays break down all the time.

He can get his own shot, and then he’s got good size at that 2‑guard spot.  But inconsistent shooting, probably needs to be a better ball handler, as well, but I can’t tell you how the individual workouts have gone, but I would tell you that if he proves that he can make NBA threes particularly, then there is a possibility that he’s going to go in the mid‑to‑late second round because he’s a good athlete, he’s got good positional size.  But the inconsistency in his shooting over the course of his career is a concern to teams.

Q.  Fran, you started to mention this earlier, how the league is kind of leaning toward the small‑ball, position-less basketball. How much do you see that affecting how the Draft goes and how premiums are put on certain players? 

FRASCHILLA:  So the evolution of small ball, I think in part, because by necessity, because, you know, it’s funny, as a former college coach we always tried to put our best players on the floor regardless of position because oftentimes you have no choice.  And it seems to me the way the league has gone, and Tom will certainly have a valuable opinion here, but it seems to me that with the dearth of low‑post scoring in the league in years, you can count them on one hand or the most two, maybe seven or eight guys that can really score inside, the game has evolved to a faster, more wide‑open, spread game, because of the talent level, because of the influence of Mike D’Antoni to the league and bringing the European style here.  And also I think to get your best players on the floor, as was evidenced this year with I think the Warriors because they played small, but it was in order to play, I felt, their best players.  Tom, how do you feel about that?

PENN:  Well, it’s the spread it out, just whole notion of things.  Small is one way to do it, but the growth of the stretch 4 position, the power forward who can step away and shoot jump shots and pull the big man away from the basket the way Amar’e Stoudemire did with Phoenix.  That’s frankly the way the Miami Heat ended up playing with Chris Bosh pulling the bigs away from the basket.  It opens up driving lanes for the wings, and this was perfect for Golden State.  That was their style of play most of the year.

Bogut was critically important as a big man to get them through the bigs in the West, but the truth is had they bumped up against the Clippers or San Antonio, we might have had a different result on small ball because the Spurs could play smart power ball.

But you need a bad man in the backcourt or two.  I mean, you have to have star guards if you’re going to win in the NBA.  That’s why D’Angelo Russell is such an appealing prospect as high as 2.  He’s got superstar potential, and you need that.  It used to be unthinkable that you’d think of a combo guard ahead of a big man of the quality of Okafor or Towns, but in today’s NBA, you just need an unstoppable wing with the way that coaches are spreading the floor and opening up driving lanes.

Q.  I just want to know about the one‑and‑dones. Obviously with Towns, Okafor and Russell, they made the right call to enter the Draft, and Winslow, but what about some of the other guys?  How do you perceive their decisions to come out, especially a lot of the Kentucky guys?  And what are your thoughts on the one‑and‑done thing?  Has it been good for the NBA?  Has it been bad for college basketball?  How do you assess the rule so far in the last decade, I guess? 

FRASCHILLA:  Well, the way I look at this Draft, I think at least 15 of the 30 picks are going to end up being teenagers, and what that tells you, and we’ve seen it, is that not only is the league younger, but there’s more projection than ever before in the league.  You’re taking guys based on not where they are right now but where you hope they are in two or three years.

Now, it’s a little different at the top of the Draft, but I ask all my friends to think about ‑‑ I say this:  Name a rookie that played in the Playoffs in a meaningful role, and you can’t find them.  My point is that even though teams want to grab a hold of the talent as young as possible, in many cases because they see more upside, it’s going to be more projection, which means more mistakes, and also more guys that come into the league that are not ready to help a good team.

And so I think from that standpoint, it’s a baseball draft.  It’s taking guys that you know when you draft them are probably not going to be ready to help your team for a couple years, a guy that the Celtics took last year was a perfect example in James Young.  I think Kelly Oubre is a guy that has a chance to be very good in two or three years, and the team that drafts him in the teens is going to draft him expecting him not to help them for that length of time.

So I think ‑‑ I don’t know if it’s good for the league, it’s just a reality of where the league is right now that you want to grab talent, whether it’s ready or not.

PENN:  One‑and‑done is better than none‑and‑done for the NBA.  Two‑and‑done would be better.  The more time that NBA teams allow these guys to reveal themselves as to who they are both in their game and their character, the better.  So if you could get these guys at 20, it would be better for the NBA game.

As to the college game, I’m not sure what effect it has had.  I think whether it’s none‑and‑done or one‑and‑done, you’ve still got this idea of the best players not going to college or not being there very long.

The NBA doesn’t care that way, or the teams don’t.  The teams would just like to see a scenario where players have the opportunity to come in when they’re most ready to come in and can help, and it certainly does help if they develop their game and their brand in the college system and then come in as well‑known commodities, the way these guys do.

Q.  I wanted to ask about D’Angelo Russell. I think the term “potential superstar” has been thrown around a lot.  I’m curious as to your evaluation.  What’s the step he needs to take to reach that potential, and if there’s a knock on his game right now, what would that be?

FRASCHILLA:  I would think it would be physical maturity at this point.  He came to Ohio State not expecting to be a one‑and‑done guy.  He wasn’t highly thought of.  He was a top‑25 recruit, but I don’t think anybody really expected the kind of freshman year he had.  I think just the physical aspect of the game night in, night out as an NBA rookie, 82 games, one night guarding Russell Westbrook, the next night guarding Kyrie Irving, the next night guarding Chris Paul and on and on and on, so I think there’s going to be a mental adjustment for him.

Certainly the way point guards have adjusted, the talented point guards, have adjusted to the league, as I mentioned earlier, fairly quickly, I expect him to be a very good ‑‑ or have an impact as a rookie, but I also think there will be a learning curve for him.

I would just simply say he’s the best passer.  You know, maybe Ricky Rubio coming from Spain would be in the same category, but this kid is the best passer I’ve seen in a decade.

He throws passes to teammates who don’t even know they’re open, and that’s hard to do.

PENN:  And he can shoot the ball.  It’s a nice combination in today’s NBA.  He’s just a kid.  He’s just got to ripen up and mature, but he’s got major boom potential, superstar potential.  Here at ESPN we’ve got a very sophisticated advanced analytics group, and they put together a model on the best boom versus bust, best high‑risk, high‑reward type of player, which is really what the top of the Draft is about, high risk, high reward, and he’s got the highest ceiling, according to them.  He’s got the 15 percent chance to be an NBA superstar, which is that elite, rarest of talent.

He’s also got among the top 20 players in the Draft the highest bust potential because of concerns that his numbers are inflated based on the competition that he faced with the team that he was on.

I typically trust these analytics folks, and this is sometimes how advanced metrics come in.  If you’ve got the belief that some of these numbers make sense, you know, when you’re ranking highest risk, highest reward, he’s right there.

You’ve got to swing for the fences a little bit here because if you hit it, it’s a game changer, it’s a franchise changer, and he has tremendous potential to have that happen.

Q.  How do you rank the top perimeter shooters in this Draft? Who are your top three?

FRASCHILLA:  Yeah, you know, I try to talk to my NBA friends all the time about this, because I see way more college games than I get a chance to see NBA games live and in person, and I kind of realize how big the gap is between an ACC game and a Western Conference game.

I would say I’m bullish on Hezonja for sure, his effective field goal percentage on spot‑up jump shots this year was 65 percent, which is outrageous, and he’s got deep range, and he’s got a quick release.  He was 8‑for‑8 from an ACB game this year, so I would say he jumps out at me right away.

Certainly Devin Booker has been talked about as a young guard at that spot with potential to be a good shooter.  He struggled late in the year, but he’s the youngest guy in the draft and he’s got that positional size.

Kaminsky, we’ll see if that deep shooting translates to the NBA because he was such a good shooter at Wisconsin.

You’d have to throw Porzingis in there based on what we’ve seen here recently.  So those guys come to mind right away, and not having a list in front of me, Cameron Payne is an awful good shooter for a point guard.  Another guy that I think about, you know, that’s going to be in the top half of the Draft.  If there’s anybody that you have on your mind you want to ask me about, it might jog my memory.

PENN:  Well, he gave the great list.  The truth is the further you go in the Draft, the more you get into playoff teams that need specialists, and shooting is the number one specialty that everybody needs.  So those guys can play their way into a rotation because they can toe the line and knock down shots and space the floor, especially on the heels of the success of Golden State.  If you can get a shooter at any time, you go get him.  It’ll be interesting to see who surfaces.

[Penn leaves call for a moment, SportsCenter segment]

FRASCHILLA:  That’s why you heard so much about Pat Connaughton.  I think when we did our Combine board back in May I had him 32nd, and that’s a kid with positional size who can also shoot it.

He appears to be as athletic as the Combine results showed.  You know, I would think of Connaughton as one of those specialists that a team is going to grab probably in the second round.

Q.  How much of a dilemma do you think the Lakers are facing if they’re really looking at Okafor veruss Russell with all the things you guys have pointed out about Russell? And what’s your opinion of the two UCLA kids, Powell and Looney, and what kind of impact do you think they can have? 

FRASCHILLA:  Well, let’s go to UCLA kids first.  Kevon Looney is a project.  There’s a number of guys in this draft like him, a young big man, in this case a power forward who is not going to play ‑‑ in my opinion, not going to play major minutes for a team early in his career, and that’s okay because the further he slides in the first round, the more likely he’s going to end up on a team that’s already pretty good, a playoff team that can nurture him.

I think what I like about him, rebounding instincts for sure.  There is some possibility of him being able to be a pick‑and‑pop guy down the road.  I was a little surprised he came out early, but he did, and so we’re talking about potential, strictly potential, and a big kid you want to have on your roster.  But he’s going to be a work in progress.

Norman Powell, terrific athlete, could be a defensive stopper, second‑round pick.  Had his best year of his career this year when it mattered most, an NBA athlete, can guard the 1 and the 2.  Outside shooting will be a question mark, but he’s going to try to fight for a role on a team as a defensive stopper at first.

You know, the dilemma at No. 2 is interesting because as Tommy said, although the league has gone smaller, you want to swing for the fences, and I think it’s going to be awfully hard to pass up on Jahlil Okafor.  Given that Towns came sort of out of nowhere this year and is likely to end up being the No. 1 pick, in Okafor you’re talking about a guy that shot 66 percent from the field, had one of the best freshman years in recent years.  When he’s not double‑teamed in the NBA every single night, I think he’s going to be a terrific low‑post scorer.

The Lakers do have a dilemma, but it’s a good dilemma as opposed to not being happy with whoever is there.  They have their choice of two or three guys that could turn out to be grand slams.  It’s a good problem to have if you’re them.

Q.  I know this is probably a difficult question considering the Pelicans don’t pick until No. 56, but they talked about drafting a foreign player, and I was wondering if there were any guys that you think are really good that may slide that far down in the draft.

FRASCHILLA:  You came to the right place.  There definitely will be.  It is not a great foreign draft, quite frankly, outside of the top three that are going to go in the top eight.  It’s not a great year for international players, but there’s definitely going to be some guys ‑‑ and I hesitate to say who they would be.  They would just be names on a dartboard, but the idea with the 56th pick is taking a guy ‑‑ unless you fall in love with a college guy, and that’s doubtful that far down the Draft, but with the 56th pick you’re looking to take a guy, a young international guy, that you don’t have to bring him over right away.  You can leave him in Europe to percolate a little bit, and oftentimes it’s a big guy.

But I can throw names at you from now until the cows come home, but there will be guys.  There will be a couple guys there in the late 50s that the Pelicans will look at and say, here’s a foreign kid we can draft and keep an eye on for the next two or three years.

Q.  LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, has two clients in the draft, Lyles from Kentucky and Harrell from Louisville. I’m just curious on your thoughts for both players, what do you see for them Thursday and then as pros. 

FRASCHILLA:  Well, I think I love Trey Lyles.  I think the fact that you’re not hearing much buzz about him, you’re not hearing anybody say, “sources are saying about Trey Lyles,” means that there are some teams that really like him, and I think his range right now is 9 through 14.  And I do know for a fact that there are teams that like him because when you look at him coming out of high school, he was considered one of the best power forwards in the class of whatever it is, ’14, I guess, but he played out of position this year at small forward, which is what he is not and likely never will be.  But at 6’10” with good size, he’s young, he’s sturdy, he’s got an NBA body, he’s got some ability to make shots from the perimeter, although the field‑goal percentage was not good, I think that he’s a guy that ‑‑ not necessarily slipping through anybody’s cracks but is going to end up being a good NBA player, and probably suffered a little bit being lost in the shuffle.

And then with Montrezl Harrell, you’re looking at the classic undersized, high‑energy, low‑skill inside player that is probably going to go in the late first round and be an energy guy, and he can make his mark in the league because he’s a terrific rebounder and he plays hard.

He would want to fashion his game after Kenneth Faried, which is what the comparison has been since he arrived at Kentucky.

Both of those guys I think are in the first round, and the future bodes well for both of them.

Q.  Fran, where do you think Branden Dawson and Travis Trice will end up in the Draft, and how do you view them as players?

FRASCHILLA:  Well, it wouldn’t shock me if they both go undrafted honestly, but it only takes one team to really like either guy in the second round.  Travis ‑‑ both of those guys finished their careers strongly, needless to say.  Branden unfortunately is in that tweener mode as a player, and he always has been at Michigan State.  He’s played like a 4 man but he’s built like a 3, and you can’t really compare him to Draymond because I’m not sure if Branden made a three in his career at Michigan State.

He’s going to just have to fight for his life figuratively, because he is athletic, and he’s going to have to find a niche, maybe as a defensive stopper.

Travis is interesting because while he’ll either be a mid‑to‑late second‑round pick or undrafted, he’s going to have a realistic chance of actually making a team because he’s going to be on a Summer League roster, and it’s really important to have a good, solid point guard on your Summer League roster with which to run the coach’s offense and get the No. 1 pick shots, if you know what I mean.  He’s going to get looked at closely, and given that every team carries three point guards, that’s 45 point guards in the NBA.

There’s a realistic chance that he’ll definitely be on a Summer League team and then he’s got to kind of fight from there.  But it wouldn’t shock me because I thought he played really well when he was healthy the second half of his senior year.

Q.  I was hoping to get your thoughts on Josh Richardson. Chad Ford referenced the significant buzz about him.  He was a guy who wasn’t invited to the Combine and now you’ll find him around the 45‑ish range on some of the mock drafts.  What went into this buzz and how is he helping himself and what are your thoughts on his chances as an NBA player?  

FRASCHILLA:  Well, the first thing that jumps out at you when you talk about Josh is gradual improvement every single year at Tennessee, and then his senior year, he has to, through no fault of his own, become the Vols’ point guard, which I thought he handled the situation very well, and he’s going to end up being more of a 2 than a 1.  He improved his outside shooting, but because of his size and the fact that he has always hung his hat on being a very good defensive player in the backcourt, that’s where you’re going to see Josh.  That’s going to be his best opportunity to make a team is going to be as a wing defender who can play some point and has the potential to become a good NBA three‑point shooter.

It’s not there yet, but when you look at this Draft and you’re looking at a guy like him who’s been productive over his career, he’s a safe, mid‑second‑round pick because he’s got the things you’re looking for:  Size, athleticism, and one discernible NBA skill, which I think will come on the defensive end.

Q.  Do you get a feel for what Josh Richardson done in his workouts or what he’s done to kind of increase his draft stock, or is it just more people actually getting the chance to see him in person that has helped him out?

FRASCHILLA:  One of the things that helps a guy like Josh is when he goes in and works out against players who are perceived to be picked higher in the Draft, so for example, if he’s gone into a workout and worked out against a guy that a team is thinking about taking in the lottery, it’s a perfect opportunity for him to make his mark, especially defensively.  And having a junkyard dog mentality, which he did have at Tennessee throughout his career.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s had good workouts and impressed teams on the defensive end because of that size and athleticism.

Q.  Fran, two years ago you and I both saw a guy at Oklahoma who had a pretty decent offensive game in Romero Osby and I think Orlando took a flier on him in the middle‑late stages of Round 2. I’m wondering if you think TaShawn Thomas could sneak into that same position, another OU guy, on Thursday night? 

FRASCHILLA:  It’s possible.  I watched TaShawn work out in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago, and it’s interesting, he’s very similar to the kind of players that Lon Kruger has had at Oklahoma at the power forward spot since he got there, Amath M’Baye, who will be back with the Clippers this summer, Ro Osby, who will be on somebody’s Summer League team.  I think TaShawn is definitely going to be on somebody’s Summer League roster, and he’s versatile enough maybe to impress somebody.  I don’t think it’s a given that he’s going to be drafted in the second round, but he’s definitely going to get a chance to prove himself, and he’s had overall a very good college career.  Teams have seen him a lot, both at Houston and Oklahoma.

His best bet is if he’s drafted, it’ll be terrific.  If he’s not drafted, he’s going to be fighting and scratching in Las Vegas or in Orlando or Utah at the various summer leagues.

But high character, productive career, somewhat of a tweener for the size that he needs to be to be either a 3 or a 4 in the league, and that’s where he is right now.

Q.  I have a question about Mouhammadou Jaiteh, the French player, power forward. You saw him at the NBA Combine.  What can he bring to an NBA team and can he fit the NBA style? 

FRASCHILLA:  I’ve watched “Mom” now for three years, and what I like about “Mom” is how much improvement he has made.  When he came to the Nike Hoops Summit in 2013, he was not particularly impressive, although he was 18 years old.  He was not in great shape.  So there was no real draft buzz about him back then.

He has significantly improved.  He has changed his body.  He is still a 20‑year old 6’11” youngster that has had a good, productive season obviously in French Pro A.  He’s moving better.  He’s running better.  He’s developing some semblance of a low‑post game.  I understand that he would like to come over immediately.

The reality is that he’ll likely be taken ‑‑ he’s probably going to go in the early second round, unless a team at the end of the first round is in a salary‑cap bind and decides they’re going to take a chance on him late in the first round and leave him in France.

But for a 20‑year‑old with the improvement he’s made, if I were a team, from 25 to 40, I would want to have “Mom” Jaiteh’s rights because there is a chance in a couple of years he could be an effective, at least backup center in the NBA.

[Penn returns to the call]

Q.  Tom, can you speak to the draft‑and‑stash issue?

PENN:  Yeah, there’s a smart strategy with NBA teams to draft talent like we’re describing in the second round and then allow that player to continue to develop overseas.  And you retain the rights to the foreign player because he’s under contract and willing to continue to earn a living and develop, really on someone else’s dime.

And so when that player is then ready to come over, he’s immediate help as opposed to being a young development project.

So with the trajectory that Fran just described and with this improvement, 6’11” frame and everything that goes with it, you can clearly see him as a great draft‑and‑develop‑overseas kind of candidate.

Q.  When you watch a player like Mario Hezonja, does he have stardom written all over him?

FRASCHILLA:  I see stardom with, what we say in America, with an asterisk.  If his maturity level increases, and he is a very volatile, mercurial player because he is so intense and he has so much pride, if he comes over to the NBA, allows himself to be coached, I think he has, at the very worst, NBA starter talent, and then stardom will go from there.  But initially right now there’s no question the talent is NBA starter talent.

I expect him to be ‑‑ if it’s a good fit in this draft, I expect him to be a very good NBA shooting guard.  He’s the only player in the draft that could win both the Dunk Contest and the Three‑Point Contest, realistically.

Q.  There’s a lot of talk, of course, about analytics and workouts for teams, and I’m wondering how that impacts teams’ decisions on players, as opposed to actual game performances on the college level.

FRASCHILLA:  Very much depends on which organization you talk to.  Now virtually every single organization involves analytics in the decision‑making process.  It’s some sort of factor for everyone.  On the low end you have some teams that do it just as window dressing to show their owner that they do it, and then on the other end you’ve got some that really rely on numbers.

In my opinion the appropriate place is the numbers are able to validate and verify what you see and hear, so your eyes ‑‑ the player has to pass the eye test first based on his performance and what you see and how you evaluate him from a basketball perspective.  What the numbers will do is either validate what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard about him or cause you to question what you thought you saw.  So it’s not unusual to have the analytics say he’s not nearly as good as you think, and here’s why, that causes you to go back and say, whoa, I think I was wrong.

And by the same token, you might write a guy off, and your analytics guy will come to you and say, I think you’re wrong, take another look at this guy because, and he gives you the data, and you go, huh, you know what, I was wrong.

[Fraschilla leaves call]

Q.  Tom, does anybody come to mind in either one of those categories as somebody that wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect but their numbers convinced a team otherwise and he turned out to be really good or vice versa.

PENN:  Brandon Roy analytically started out spectacularly that we ended up valuing.  So that was one that caused you to take a closer look at the exceptional ceiling he had, and he was one of these four‑year guys from Washington, right, where everybody was ‑‑ in this day and age you can’t have a four‑year player who could be a star, so that comes to mind.

You know, I’m thinking back to some mistakes made in the early part of my career that I was associated with, and I think if we had a more sophisticated analytics department we might have looked at some of these high picks differently.

But that’s ever‑evolving.  The data avalanche is on, and the real key now is just figuring out what to do with all this data.  We now have cameras tracking every single move of every player and the ball at all times and exactly where they are, and the real key is what you do with that.

It’s a fun part of the job, but it can be ‑‑ nothing trumps what you see with your eyes.

Q.  Tom, I was wondering, should the Pistons consider moving up in the draft for a better player, and which player should that be for if they were to move up?

PENN:  Yeah, well, everybody today wants to move up.  Nobody wants to move back, everybody wants to move up, so yes, they should consider moving up.  They need a star player.  It was a big blow last year when they lost that draft pick via the bounce of the lottery balls, and they need more youth, more talent.  I’d love to see them get a wing player.  If they could go up and get a star like D’Angelo Russell, a potential star, somebody like that, or an outstanding backcourt player, it would be great.

That’s easier said than done.  They’ve got the big man in the middle to build around.  They have to decide what to do with Monroe, whether to retain him or not, and they need talent at all levels.

They should draft where they are and/or bump up if they can.

Q.  Tom, I wanted to ask about the New Orleans Pelicans; they have the No. 56 pick and obviously you might not get a whole lot at No. 56, but what do you think they should do? Should they just draft a foreign player and try to keep him over there? 

PENN:  The 56th pick, oh, my goodness.  We drafted Patty Mills at 55 one year, and he ends up being a key role player on the Spurs’ championship team, so you can find talent back in the late 50s.  You’re going to see the opportunity to take a player and stash him overseas.  That happens a lot.  Then you’re just playing the futures game.  That’s when it gets really coach‑specific, right?  That’s when you say, Coach, what do you want.  We’re going to have a minimum salary guy.  Let’s give you whoever you want for whoever reason and we’ll take a swing on it.

So that’s one where if they’re smart, they’re going to say, Alvin Gentry, what do you want, let’s deliver it for you.  That’s a good way to build trust with your coach right away.

Q.  How did you get lucky with Patty Mills? Was it just luck?

PENN:  Well, that particular year, he had come off a big World Championships or Olympics with Australia, so that’s what appealed to us.  Then he broke his foot after we drafted him.  He actually fractured his foot and missed most of his rookie year.  It took a couple years, but the Spurs were smart.  They got him at the right time and made the most of it.  That’s what they do.


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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