Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Jay Bilas

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Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Jay Bilas

Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Draft Media Call with Jay Bilas

This afternoon, we had ESPN college basketball analyst and NBA Draft expert Jay Bilas on a media call to discuss the 2015 NBA Draft, which will be exclusively televised on ESPN for the 13th consecutive year. During the telecast, Bilas will be on site at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. alongside host Rece Davis, college basketball analyst Jay Williams and NBA analyst Jalen Rose.

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Q.  Would you take a chance on Chris Walker (University of Florida) in the second round?

JAY BILAS:  I think it could happen because of his size, athleticism and strength, but the one caveat to that, is after he came out of high school and played in Florida, it’s pretty clear that he’s got a long way to go in knowing how to play.  He is behind.  So I would be very surprised if he were drafted.  He fits the suit athletically and body‑style‑wise, but he’s not demonstrated that he knows how to play and has the skill level necessary to make the jump.

He’s still a project, and I think he’s somebody that you could see bringing in as a free agent, but I would be surprised if he were drafted.

Q.  What do you think of Frank Kaminsky (University of Wisconsin)?

BILAS:  Well, I think Frank is going to improve.  The issue is when you compare him to players who are freshmen and they have a longer way to go in improvement, and that’s where I sometimes struggle, and I think other people do too.  Just the idea, if you look at where Frank was as a freshman, and where Kelly Oubre is as a freshman or Trey Lyles, you would say, well, heck those two were better as freshmen than Frank was, well, so what, Frank is a late bloomer, he’s bloomed.  Years ago when a 22‑year‑old came into the league, nobody said, ‘Well, that’s it.  That is the ceiling, he can’t get any better.’

Of course Frank can get better and I think he will get better.  He’ll get stronger.  He’ll find his game even more than it is now.  But what Frank Kaminsky is right now is more than good enough.  And that’s sort of the issue is with anybody you’re betting on their potential, there is a chance they’re not going to reach it.  Frank has reached a very good level of potential, and I still think he’s going to get better.  But he’s a top 10 pick because of who he is, not who he’s going to be.  Others are top 10 picks because of who they’re going to be.  I hope that makes sense, and I explained it right.

Q.  What do you think the hesitation on Myles Turner (University of Texas) is?

BILAS:  My only hesitation with Myles Turner, I’m a fan of his ability level.  He’s a great kid, and that’s one of the things just to go off topic a little bit about this draft that I find most compelling is this is an unbelievably high‑character draft, I mean, we’re talking about nothing but really good guys.  Stars in the NBA right now for the most part are really good guys.  The NBA is a great place with that.  But this draft has good guy after good guy after good guy.  You find yourself saying what a great kid over and over again.  And I think that is going to extend a lot of their careers beyond their ability would put them.

I’m a big fan of his skill level and his length.  I think he’s a good athlete.  There are questions about how he changes ends and moves laterally and runs, and I’ve got those concerns.  One of the concerns I have with Turner is his best performances were against the worst teams that Texas played, and I’ve done all the numbers on it.  His numbers drop precipitously when you put him against teams that were over .500 in BCS conferences and in non‑BCS conference teams.

I mean, his numbers are great against non‑BCS conference teams.  They drop against BCS conference teams, and they drop even further against BCS conference teams that are over .500.

Q.  What top‑notch college shooters might be around at the end of the first round?

BILAS:  Geez, I’d have to go into, like I actually put this stuff down by specialty and category, and I don’t have it in front of me right now.  I didn’t anticipate that kind of question.  But, like I think Devin Booker and Frank Kaminsky, actually, are the two best shooters in the draft.  But there are a number of other guys that can make shots.  I don’t think this is a draft, honestly, that is full of great shooters.  There are several guys that are good shooters, but it’s not a long list of guys that I would say are knockdown great shooters.  But there is shooting available, if that’s what you’re interested in.

But as you get down toward the end of the first round, I’m not sure I’d say anybody sticks out just because of his shooting.

Let me think about that one a little bit more.  There is nobody that comes to mind.  I have Booker as the top shooter in the draft, and Frank Kaminsky as the top‑shooting big guy, right along with Kristaps Porzingis.  He can really shoot it, but he’s not going to be around.  None of those guys are going to be around past the lottery.

Q.  What are your thoughts on Michael Frazier (University of Florida) as a draft prospect? How much did he help himself in the Combine? How do you think teams will weigh that versus the college career that he has? 

BILAS:  Michael Frazier as a shooter, he’s one of the better shooters in the draft.  But I see him as a second‑round pick.  And I think I’ve got him slotted right around 40 on my best available list.  So I would put him there.

Michael’s got size, and he’s got a high release on his shot, and he’s a very good shooter.  I’m not sure I wrote classify him as a great shooter, but he’s a very good shooter, and he does a good job running off screens.  He sets his feet really well, and his size sets him apart and makes him a more attractive prospect.

I think as a second rounder, to have a guy, I think at least I’d wind up moving guys up, and Michael is one of those that’s higher.  There are other guys that are probably better overall players, but the fact that he’s got this specialist type skill in shooting puts him higher as a result of it.  And I would do the same thing with a guy who is a lockdown defender or maybe like Alan Williams from UC Santa Barbara who is a great rebounder.  He’s maybe not as good of an overall player, somebody else all‑around, but that one special skill puts him above some other guys.

Q.  What are your thoughts on Emmanuel Mudiay? What do you think of his decision not to play college ball in the States and how that may or may not affect his draft stock?

BILAS:  Yeah, I don’t think his decision to play in China will hurt him at all.  In fact, I think it overall will help him a little bit.  He didn’t have a choice.  He couldn’t play college basketball last year, so he had to do something else.

So I think he’s an outstanding prospect, top five good.  We may look back on this draft as we have with others and say, hey, he was better than some of the big guys.  He was better than this, better than that.  But he’s a top five talent.  With his size, his explosiveness, his ability to get into the lane and finish plays.  He’s a good distributor, and he has the potential to be an excellent defender.  He’s a very good defender that can be excellent in the NBA.

He spent the year playing with a 24‑second clock, working out all day every day overseas.

And when he got into the playoffs, he performed, after being injured, he performed at a very high level during his time ‑‑ his team’s time in the playoffs.  So I don’t have one bit of hesitation with mood yea as a prospect.

It’s just a question of do you think D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State may be a little better, or as I do, do you have Karl‑Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor over him?  I actually have Mudiay, Winslow and Russell ahead of Porzingis, which not a lot of people have which puts me on an island.  I’m not sure if I’m right or wrong, but that’s sort of my judgment.

Q.  What are your thoughts on guys like Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse University) and Chris McCullough (Syracuse University)?

BILAS:  Well, Rakeem Christmas, I think is a potential late first round pick.  He could be one of the first few picks of the first round.  I anticipate him going in the second round, high in the second round.  You know what you’re getting.  He’s mature, and he’s ready to step in and play right away.  I think he’s going to be able to perform man‑to‑man defense.  He played zone his whole college career, which is always a question with Syracuse guys.

It’s just the way it is.  They play zone in games and they play man a lot in practice.  But Christmas had a great year.  He improved his post moves.  He’s a rim protector, a good rebounder, he’s long.  He’s not the tallest guy as a five.  But he runs the floor, and I think he performed at a really high level in the Combine and opened a lot of eyes even further that had been opened during the season.  So I like him a lot.  I think he’s a valuable pick in the early second round.

McCullough is an interesting question.  He started off the season very well against some lesser teams that Syracuse played and then got hurt.  I think he played 16 games, if I remember right.  But the early games against lesser teams are what propped him up generally.

He’s got ability.  I tend to think that coming out is kind of a mixed bag, and they’re going to rightly feel like we don’t know.  And you have others that say, no, what we saw, if his knee is round, he’s got some potential and some area to improve.  A late first round pick or an early second‑round pick, let him mature; stick him in the D‑League for a while, all that kind of thing could be really beneficial down the road.

But you’re betting on his future.  But in today’s game it’s really difficult for prospects to ascertain the exact right thing to do in a given situation.  Some guys come back and they don’t get any better, and they feel like their draft stock drops as a result of it.

I happen to believe that you should come out early, in McCullough’s situation, if you are ready to be a pro.  If you’ve had enough and you’re ready to move on, that’s fine.  There is nothing wrong with that, or if you’re ready to be an immediate impact player.

But the third one is if you think you may be a fraud and your value is going to go down, and you want to realize high value before you get found out ‑‑ and I don’t mean that in McCullough’s case, but that’s a good reason for somebody to go too ‑‑ there is nothing wrong with that.  But absent that, I think you should only go when you’re ready.

Q.  How do you weigh actual performance in college games analyzing a player versus analytics, workouts, drills and other ways that people look at players?

BILAS:  Well, they’re all related.  I think it’s all part of one big picture that you get of a player.  So you don’t want to ‑‑ I think you have to have a balance on all of it.  I’m not as big a believer in workouts because I’ve watched people workout before and was blown away by them, and they didn’t turn out to be as good as I thought they would be.  Maybe I put too much into a workout and was wowed by it.  Then there are other times when I saw somebody workout and I didn’t think they were as good in a workout or as skilled.  Then you put them in a five‑on‑five game and their athleticism trumped their lack of skill which was a detriment to how they looked in a workout.

So I think it cuts both ways.  I just think you have to be really careful with it.  Look, everybody who has, and it doesn’t mean draft, and the quote/unquote draft analysts or other media member writer, radio guy or front office person or a fan, if you’ve put your opinion out on a player, on a bunch of players overtime, you’re going to be wrong on some.  I think you have to accept that consequence and hopefully learn from it and learn how your valuation judgment works and try to file those things away and make sure that you get the most information so that you can make the best possible decision.  But you better come to grips with you could be wrong, because you’re going to be wrong once in a while.  You just try to limit it.

Just on the workout thing, I’ve made the analogy and others have too ‑‑ heck, I’ve done this a lot just in my enjoyment of golf.  You look at somebody on the range, and you may think they’re one thing.  You get them out on the course, and they’re totally different.  And that cuts both ways too.  That’s kind of the way I factor in workouts.  It’s not as meaningful as you think.

Q.  What do you think of the impact that one‑and‑dones have had on the NBA and on college basketball since the rule was passed?

BILAS:  Well, I mean, look, if the NBA having a player in school longer is better for the NBA, because they’ve got a more mature player that is coming in that is more likely to give immediate help, because that is what the draft used to be about is getting immediate help.

It’s not about that anymore.  Now it’s about assets that could be future help and sort of putting assets together that may help now, may help later.  It’s more about assessing potential in compiling assets.  That’s a change.

College basketball, the longer any player stays, the better it is for college basketball.  There is no question about that.  The problem that I see is sort of this mentality that you’ve got to keep them out altogether.  And I don’t find that ‑‑ I find it in one part kind of elitist and in another you find it it’s a standard that’s not applied to any other person in college.

There is nobody else that you say, hey, you know, the student is told when you come here, if you’re only going to come here for a short period of time we don’t want you at all, let’s keep them out.  I think we should, as a ‑‑ I shouldn’t speak for college ‑‑ but if you believe in education like I do, I think we should encourage all people to go to college and for as long as they can.  I think one year of college is better than none, and two is better than one, and so forth.

So I’m not going to look at this one‑and‑done label as a negative.  And I don’t look at somebody going to college for a year as being a bad thing.

People like to say they’re making a mockery of education.  Well, no.  If a school doesn’t educate a person for whatever time that they’re in school, then the school’s the one that’s making a mockery of things.  If they don’t have standards to meet, then it’s the school that’s making a mockery of it.  Nobody can make a mockery of any school unless the school allows it.  So I don’t buy any of that.

Q.  Some of the one‑and‑dones, besides the top six seven picks, are they taking too big of a risk? Should most of these guys have gone back to school?

BILAS:  It differs with each prospect.  I think you mentioned Oubre and Turner, but you could go with Trey Lyles and some others.  There are a whole bunch of players that could have come back.  I do think it cuts both ways.

It depends on what the goal is.  If the goal is to be drafted high, then it’s one set of variables for the decision.  If the goal is what is best for a long and productive career, then there may be other variables that come into play.  What I think needs to be addressed or factors in by people is there is sort of an old‑school mentality.  Players used to stay for four years, everybody did.

But now there have been a lot of players that have decided to stay over the last several years whose stock has gone down, and they blame the fact that they came back.  So it cuts both ways on that stuff.  I think I mentioned before, as long as the player is making an informed decision about what he’s getting into and the reasons and he’s comfortable with the reasons he’s doing it, I’m okay with it.  I’m fine with it.

The problem I have is that too many times there are uninformed decisions being made, and I see mistakes being made there or what I would consider a mistake.  Some people at the time you say, hey, this guy’s making a mistake, and it works out great.  Other people leave early and say, no, that’s a good decision, and it doesn’t work out so great.

Let me give you an example of that.  Tyus Jones from Duke.  You will hear a lot of people say he’s got to go.  His stock is never going to be higher.  He’s got to go.  He doesn’t have a choice.  Well, yeah, he does have a choice.  Maybe he wants to come back to improve his game because he thinks it will be better for his long‑term career, or maybe his goal is, nope, I want to get as drafted as high as I can, and I’m never going to be drafted higher than now.

Those are all fair points and fair reasons upon which to base a decision.  It depends on what Tyus Jones wants.  If he’s comfortable with what he wants and he’s comfortable with the information that he’s received in making his decision an informed one, then I’m good with it.

Q.  I was wondering how deep this draft really is. The Cavaliers have the 24th pick in the first round.  Can they get a quality player there? 

BILAS:  Yeah, I think it’s a really deep draft.  It’s a really talented draft.  There are just so many close calls.  I don’t mind telling you that I’ve struggled with where to slot guys, and I have ‑‑ when you have discussions with players you make a judgment on a player.

I’ve spoken with my colleagues on it, and they have a different judgment.  I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to talk them out of it, because I do think there are a lot of really, really close calls in this draft.  There are a lot of calls I’m making that I’m second‑guessing as I’m even telling you about it.

So I think that’s the good thing, and it’s going to make this draft a heck of a lot of fun.  Like it may not be fun for somebody sitting there waiting to get drafted.  But for people who have watched these guys play and have an interest, there is an awful lot to discuss, digest, and differ on.

I would love to jump in a DeLorean and go to 2025 and be able to look back on what we’re saying right now and see who is right and who is wrong and the areas where I’m right and wrong because I think it’s going to be fascinating how this plays out not only on the draft, but after the draft.  This is one of the most fun drafts I can rib to talk about and to assess.  I’m as excited about this draft.

My first draft was the LeBron draft.  Man, was I excited about that one.  I’m excited about this one for different reasons.  But I’m equally excited about that, and that kind of makes me happy in doing my job.

Q.  Are there any names at 24 that you could throw out that are possibilities?

BILAS:  Yeah, I mean, around that range, the guy I happen to like the best is Justin Anderson of Virginia because I think he’s a top 20 talent.  But there are players like him that we could look back on later on and say why wasn’t he drafted higher?  Then you could also look back and say why was he taken this there?

But I happen to think we’re going to look back on Justin Anderson and ask why he wasn’t taken higher.

Q.  I was wondering if you could maybe compare the overall talent level in this class for maybe the last five or ten years? How good is this group?

BILAS:  That’s a good question.  I’m probably not very good at doing some of the comparison in a meaningful way.  I mean, it’s got the feel of being as talented as I can remember, overall.  It doesn’t have a LeBron‑type player so there is not a no‑brainer.  Even though some people saying Karl‑Anthony Towns at number one is a no‑brainer.  He may be.

You know, I happen to differ and think that there is a pretty good discussion to be had, not only with other big guys, but with guards too, as to who is going to be the best player out of this draft long‑term.  But it has the feel to me of being as deep and as good of a draft overall with the number of players, the style of players.

We’ve got a bunch of big guys.  We’ve got a bunch of wings.  We don’t have quite as many point guards in this one, but I’d put this draft up against any of the last five.

Q.  What are your thoughts on Branden Dawson (Michigan State)? Michigan State has produced a lot of guys that have gone to the second round lately, and that’s where I see him.  Where do you think he might end up on draft night? 

BILAS:  I think Branden’s a second‑round player.  He’s an extraordinary athlete and big‑time rebounder.  He’s undersized, and he doesn’t shoot the ball, and that’s a little bit of a concern.  But he can defend.

I believe he’s hard‑nosed.  He does have some issues and questions about how long he sustained high‑level effort, because when he puts high level effort out there, he’s a beast.  I happen to really like him.  I’ve got him in the 40s, late 40s, I think, if I remember right.  But he’s a middle second round player for me.

But I’m a big fan of his and always have been.  But skill level, his ability to put the ball on the floor and operate as a guard and to defend as a guard for long stretches, you know, those is reasonable questions.  But he can play in the NBA, and I think he will play in the NBA.

Q.  When it comes to the one‑and‑done kid versus the kid that stays in school for four years and develops, are there two guys at more opposite ends of the spectrum than Chris McCullough and Rakeem Christmas? Would you have even thought Christmas would be a potential first round pick at the end of his freshman year?

BILAS:  At the end of his freshman year, I would have. I would not have foreclosed that you may have said, hey, this guy isn’t going pro.  I mean, that won be a good decision.  But that’s why for him coming back and continuing to mature and play hard and get better has worked out extraordinarily well.  He’s put himself in a wonderful position to have a really good pro career.

McCullough is better earlier, but it’s kind of like what I was saying before about Frank Kaminsky.  You could argue based upon like sort of today’s game that Rakeem Christmas is a late bloomer.  But he’s bloomed.  Now Chris McCullough, you could say, well, he’s ahead of where Rakeem was as a freshman, but he hasn’t bloomed yet.

So we’re asking whether he’s going to bloom, and how brightly he’s going to bloom, and we don’t know the answer to that.

We have beliefs.  I think he’s got a chance.  But you really do know what you’re getting with Rakeem Christmas.  With Chris, you’re rolling the dice a little bit, and that’s why that decision, if you’re comparing the two or considering the two, that’s why that kind of decision is so difficult.

Q.  What is your analysis of Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Marcus Thornton (College of William & Mary) who obviously opened some eyes at the Combine?

BILAS:  I had a chance to work with Treveon at the Nike Skills Academy last summer, and I was really impressed with him.  He’s one great kid and plays his tail off.  He’s not a superior athlete, and he’s not the most talented.  But he works his tail off and he’s very productive in his minutes out there.  He can make perimeter shots.  He’s not a great shooter.  He’s not the most skilled guy, but his motor revs high.  I’ve got him as a late second round pick and I like him very much.

Marcus has got ability.  He’s got quickness, and he’s very good with the ball.  He’s not afraid of anybody.  He operates very well in the open court and he’ll defend.  I happen to have him a little further down, so I’ve got him just outside of the second round.  That doesn’t mean he’s not going to get drafted and that doesn’t mean he’s not going to play in the NBA.  I like him very much.  What a guy that when he plays he’s pure of heart, if that makes sense.

I really enjoyed watching him play.  After I watched him I was kind of kicking myself going why haven’t I been watching this guy more?  He’s a joy to watch.  I was heart sick for him when his team didn’t finish the job.  But, man, I like him a lot.

Q.  I’ve got a question about the Thunder and what you anticipate them doing on Draft night at 14, given the state of their roster and their team needs?

BILAS:  I don’t know what they’re going to do.  That’s one of the good parts about my job is the way I do the draft is I’m not worried about where a guy’s going to get taken.  I’m worried about where I sort of where I rank them and then discuss who he is and what he can bring and all that stuff.

The reason I try to do it that way is so I don’t get bogged down in team needs versus best available player, things like that.  I mean, I tend to think, first of all, Sam Presti is as smart as it gets.  And my feeling is he’s the best‑available‑player guy, and he’s going to take the best asset, whether it’s for the team now or something he can parlay and use to turn into another asset.

So I wish I ‑‑ I mean, I’ve kind of danced around it, and that’s a long winded way of saying I don’t know what they’re going to do.  But I trust the guy in charge.  And I trust Billy Donovan too.  That’s a heck of a get for them.

Q.  Could you speak a little bit to players projected in that 14 range and who might be there and what they could bring?

BILAS:  It could be kind of like Kelly Oubre there.  A guy like Stanley Johnson could still be around.  I don’t know that he will be.  So you’ve got so many different guys that have a chance to go there based upon what happens in front.  I tend to think there are going to be some surprises in this thing that you’re going to have somebody taken higher than expected and that’s going to put an onus on somebody else, and you could see somebody drop a little bit further.

Another guy that I think would be interesting is I don’t know if Willie Cauley‑Stein is going to be taken in the top 8.  So does he drop down there?  It’s possible.  Another guy I really like at that spot is Trey Lyles, and I actually think I have Trey Lyles slotted at number 14, I apologize.  I was on the road and I couldn’t bring all my stuff to the call.

But Trey Lyles of Kentucky is a guy that I think would be a great value pick in that neighborhood.

Q.  What are your thoughts on Justin Anderson (University of Virginia)? Is there a team that you feel like he could be a good fit for since you think he’ll probably be available at that 20th pick? Do you think Darion Atkins (University of Virginia) will sneak in late as a second round pick or forced into free agency?

BILAS:  Last part first on Darion Atkins.  I don’t have him rated in a spot where he would be drafted.  I think he would be a free agent pick up for somebody he was, I think, an extraordinarily good role player on an outstanding team.  He did a very good job defensively.  Good defensive rebounder, very good offensive rebounder.  Not much of an offensive player beyond that.

So I don’t project him, frankly, to be an NBA Draft pick, and I was not one that rated him as a Defensive Player of the Year in the league.  A very good defender, but I didn’t see him as being the best defender in the ACC.  But reasonable minds could differ on that.  I’m very respectful of his game and the worker that he is.

On Justin, I believe everything you said.  I think you should be sitting at the end of this desk and not me because he’s outstanding.  He’s such a big, strong athlete and has improved his shooting tremendously.  I don’t think he’s necessarily done improving it.  If he hadn’t hurt his hand and missed so many games and then was not the same when he came back, not only would he have been in the mix for First Team All-America, I mean, he was in the mix for National Player of the Year before he got hurt.  But I think you’d be looking at a guy that would be drafted on the fringe of the lottery and not being talked about in the 20s.

You could put him into an NBA game right now and he can compete athletically.  He doesn’t have to get any stronger.  He’s good in transition, good defensively, makes an open shot gets to the rim.  You can throw him a lob and he knows how to finish, and knows how to play in the sand box with others.  He checks every box.  He’s going to be a good NBA player, especially in the quote/unquote position list game or versatile game that the NBA bills itself as becoming.

Q.  How do you translate what they do system‑wise at the University of Virginia to how things would work for Justin Anderson defensively in the NBA?

BILAS:  I don’t think that that’s an issue at all, frankly, because it depends like they will pack line and play off of certain people when they don’t shoot it as well.  So they’ll give you some space if you can’t shoot it.  If you can shoot it, they’re out on you.  Justin is athletic, and he can guard people, so I don’t see that’s a big deal.  Same thing with Malcolm Brogdon.  He’s not in this draft, but Malcolm Brogdon, he’s not going to have any problems.  Doesn’t matter what system you put that guy in, he can play.  Same thing with Justin.  So I don’t see that as being a major problem for him.

Good players, and Justin Anderson is a really good player, can play in any system.  I don’t see system as being any sort of a barrier for success in the NBA.

Q.  You referenced the improved shooting. Do NBA scouts believe Justin Anderson is a proven shooter or just had a hot first half of the year? 

BILAS:  No, I think it was pretty clear.  His mechanics changed.  He did a much better job this year, and you don’t make that change without a significant amount of work and without it being legit.  He last year kind of floated all over the place on his jump shot.  This year when he went up, he landed in the same spot he went up from.

So his shooting mechanics, overall, his overall balance was so much better this year, and you saw that result in a much better percentage and much more consistency.  It wasn’t like he just had a hot stretch, because it’s clear that he was doing things much, much differently, and that’s not going to end because he hurt his hand.

Q.  Do you see Sam Dekker (University of Wisconsin) and Stanley Johnson (University of Arizona) evolving into pretty good offensive players?

BILAS:  Well, Sam is a good shooter.  He can make shots.  He’s a little bit streaky.  I think he’s very athletic.  He’s good in transition.  He’s long, he’s got size.  I like him a lot.  I think he is a lottery player at the end of the lottery.

I think Stanley Johnson is a lottery pick.  They’re very different.  Sam is a better shooter than Stanley.  Stanley is bigger and stronger, and he gets fouled more.  Gets to the free‑throw line more.  I think he is and can be a better defender than Sam, better rebounder.  It’s just a question of how high is his motor going to rev and how consistently because that’s been the issue with Stanley Johnson.  Is he going to defend at the highest level and sustain it for long stretches?

Offensively he improved his shooting.  He shot 37%, 38% as a three‑point shooter.  That doesn’t make him ‑‑ he’s not a good shooter.  He can make an open shot.  I think right now his offensive game, he’s easier to limit than Sam is.  But I think he’s going to continue to get better.  He’s got a lot of ability.  And I rate Stanley Johnson ahead of Sam as a prospect.  I think I’ve got Stanley around 10 or 11, and Sam Dekker around the 15, 16 range.

Q.  To piggyback on something you said earlier about Myles Turner—you said he had his best performances against the bad teams and his worst performances against the good teams. If that’s the case, why are people always comparing him to LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis—three guys that have combined to make 16 All‑Star teams? 

BILAS:  I don’t know.  Look, I think Myles Turner is a very good prospect and he has a chance.  All of those guys I put way ahead of him when they were coming out of college.  Way ahead.  I mean, Anthony Davis, like I said, was a Hall of Famer when he was coming out of college.  I didn’t have any question mark whatsoever about him.

Now I haven’t heard anybody compare Myles Turner to Anthony Davis, but that doesn’t mean I’ve had my ear to the ground on every comparison.  LaMarcus Aldridge may be fair.  Like that may be fair.  I don’t think he runs as well as LaMarcus Aldridge, but he can block shots.  He’s not as smooth of an offensive player, but Myles is skilled.  He’s got a chance to be good.

I’m not saying that he’s not going to perform at a really high level.  But I am saying this is not my opinion.  It’s a fact.  Like his best performances were against the worst teams that they played.  They were against non‑BCS teams and sub‑.500 teams.  When he played against the better teams his numbers were down and they were down significantly.

Now it may be that that’s meaningless.  It’s certainly not dispositive of the issue, and I’ve said that a million times.  That doesn’t mean he’s not going to be really good.  I have some questions.  But what I’ve said before on the call, and everybody might not have been on it the whole time, but it applies to Myles.

Like I’m not going to argue with you or anybody else that says, you know what, I think he’s Anthony Davis.  I’m not going to argue it.  I don’t see that.  But there are so many question marks in this draft and so many close calls, I would not argue with someone to try to talk you out of that opinion.  I’m just telling you that my opinion differs with that, and I have them ranked with 17 or 18 as a prospect in this draft.

Guys rank 17 or 18 on my list before have been terrific NBA players and played are if a long, long time.  So you’re a first round draft pick, he’s an NBA player.  We’re just talking about, hey, is somebody a little better or all that stuff.  Like I’m kicking all the tires and saying, hey, here’s the really good stuff, and he’s got a lot of really good stuff.  But he’s got a few things that I think are legitimate questions, and all I’m doing is raising those.

Q.  What’s your impression of Jerian Grant (Notre Dame) and Delon Wright (University of Utah)?

BILAS:  Jerian Grant is not ‑‑ I really like him.  He’s an older player.  He’s been around, he’s done it all, and he’s ready to step in and play.  I think he can initiate and play some point.  He’s not a great shooter, but he makes shots and he can create shots and make challenged shots, very good passer.  I think he has the length and athleticism to be a better defender.

I think he needs to work hard to be a better defender.  I like his prospects.  I’ve got him ranked about 19, I think, in that range.  He’s not the most efficient, but his team required him to do a lot of different things and to be really aggressive and hunting shots, and at times take some questionable ones.  He had to do that.  But he’s a really good prospect, and I think he’s a first round draft pick.  Then the second one you asked about was?

Delon Wright is excellent.  He’s got size.  He’s excellent out of pick‑and‑rolls.  Very good passer.  Very good feel for the game.  He’s not a great shooter, so that’s on the negative side.  He’s going to have to become a more competent shooter so you really have to come out and get him.  But good defender.  Like Grant, an older player.  So you’re getting a mature player who is going to come in and ready to perform.

But I’ve also got him in the 23 shot, 23 or 24, if I remember right.  But I see him as a first round draft pick, and I see him playing in the league a long time.

Q.  I was wondering what you were saying about Stanley Johnson before. It seemed like most of the year everyone was expecting Stanley to be a top five, top six, top seven pick, and I didn’t know if that was never accurate in the first place?

BILAS:  That’s a good question.  I don’t know.  I hear a lot of things now that are kind of backward looking on like Jahlil Okafor.  Like people saying, Karl‑Anthony Towns is the number one pick and the game has changed.  Well, the game changed early on in the year too when people were saying he was number one.

Now there are legit questions about Jahlil Okafor, I get that, and there are legit questions about Stanley Johnson too.  Like his positives are really good.  He’s got a couple things like I don’t know if he’s ever going to be ‑‑ I think he can be a competent shooter, but I don’t see him ‑‑ he’s not a natural shooter.  He’s not a natural scorer.  He’s a big, strong athlete that is competitive, and he’s always been a winner at the highest level.  You don’t win four State Championships in California with ‑‑ that wasn’t an accident, and he’s the only kid that’s ever done that.  And his USA Basketball teams have always won.  I just don’t think that’s an accident and he’s just been lucky.

A couple things he really needs to improve upon that I don’t know how high a ceiling.  I just don’t see him as being ‑‑ somehow he’s going to turn into a great shooter.  I just don’t believe that.  But he’s going to be a good NBA player because he can play in transition, he can put it on the deck and drive it, and he can get to the free‑throw line.  Analytics love him.  He’s a very, very efficient player, and I think he’s going to be a very, very good defender.

But, you know, like to me when there are questions about his motor, and there have been some, but that’s when I tend to go you know what?  He’s a young player, and he’s in with both feet now.  I think as he becomes a professional and getting paid, I think he’s always matched the environment he’s been in, and I think he’ll be a professional in the way he approaches it, and I think he’s going to do a really good job.

Q.  Do you think T.J. McConnell (University of Arizona) and Brandon Ashley (University of Arizona) have a chance to being picked?

BILAS:  I think Ashley does.  I doubt that T.J. will be, but it will be close.  I think he’ll go more the free agent route.  But I think Brandon Ashley will be drafted.

Q.  Just maybe stretch for potential there? What do you see with him?  Why would you take a flyer if you were maybe thinking about it? 

BILAS:  Yeah, I don’t think it’s necessarily a flyer.  I think he’s got the ability to play in the league.  He’s just not a great athlete.  And he’s a good shooter, not a great shooter.  Like he can make an open shot, but he’s got a lot of positives, but he’s not overwhelmingly good in any certain areas.  But his sort of lack of elite athleticism is why I have him rated where he’s rated in the second round.

Q.  I read a different interview you did where you said you were intrigued by this lottery because of the risk of reward with various players. I’m curious if Sam Dekker falls in that category for you?  Do you see a lot of risk and reward with him? 

BILAS:  I don’t.  I see Sam as being you know who he is.  That doesn’t mean he’s not going to get better.  Of course he’ll get better.  But when I said risk reward, what I was referring to and trying to convey, perhaps not very well, is that if you’re going to take Okafor first you’re getting the best low post player.  They don’t make him an offensive player in the low post very often.  He’s got question marks in other areas.  His ability to block shots and the like, versus Karl‑Anthony Towns who is more versatile but not as dominant in any one area.

Now he’s going to keep getting better, and I think he’s going to be an out ‑‑ both of them are going to be really good, the question is who is going to be better.  Then the intriguing thing to me is how do you process those two?  Like if we’re going to accept that the game has changed and the big guy, you don’t automatically go with the big guy, like people are saying you did, old school, a dozen years ago or so.  Then why aren’t we talking about D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow at the No. 1 spot, or Kristaps Porzingis who is a perimeter big guy who can really shoot it?  But I haven’t heard as much about his defensive deficiencies and the fact that he doesn’t rebound.

So where do we go on some of these things?  That is the risk‑reward stuff.  If we’re saying the game has changed, why aren’t these other guys the higher ups in the discussion for the number one pick?  If the game has changed, and that’s why we’re not going to take Jahlil Okafor No. 1, why aren’t we taking him in the top 5?  That’s that kind of thing I’m talking about.  That is kind of the risk‑reward thing that I was referring to.

Q.  You had a couple things that you said you liked about Dekker. What are some of the question marks with him?

BILAS:  Consistency.  I don’t think Sam is a great shooter.  I think he’s a guy that is streaky and he can make shots, but he’s not a consistently good shooter.  I think he needs to get stronger.  Stronger in his drive, stronger in his finishing capability.

But, heck, he was the best player last year at the LeBron James Skills Academy, and he stood out among a number of the guys that we’re talking about here.  I didn’t think it was our best year for talent last year, but he was the best player there.

Look, he’s an NBA player.  I think he’s going to do well in the NBA.  The question is do you take ‑‑ I think he’s ‑‑ if he’s around 15‑plus or minus, that’s where he should be.  That’s where I’d put him.

Q.  What do you think the Wolves should do with the No. 1 overall pick?

BILAS:  Yeah, I don’t know.  I don’t know that it’s necessarily need versus best available player.  I tend to think No. 1, unless you’re like the Detroit Lions and you’ve got a whole bunch of wide receivers and the wide receiver is the best pick, why you don’t go with the best overall player.

I’m actually kind of torn on the No. 1, sort of who the best player overall in this draft is.  I think Karl‑Anthony Towns is the most versatile player.  He’s good at everything.  There is nothing that we can tick off as far as attributes that he’s not good at.  Nothing.  Okafor has question marks on his defense, his ability to defend the pick‑and‑roll.  He’s not a big‑time shot blocker, rim protector, but he’s not a zero in that regard.

But Okafor, I tend to lean toward Okafor because he’s a dominant low‑post scorer.  Towns is not dominant in any one area.  Maybe he’ll become that.  But Okafor is the superior, low‑post scorer, and I lean toward that.  I think he was hurt during the year and it affected him.  I think he would have been much better had he not played against North Carolina, and having played the rest of the year without getting healthy.

But I would not argue with anyone, anyone that likes Towns better, not one person.  And I am sweating ‑‑ like, if it were my decision to make, I would have a really tough time with it.  And I would probably defer to all of our people to say where we are on this because I’m kind of torn.  I’m leaning one way, but I wouldn’t argue with anybody who has a differing view with me.

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

BILAS:  Well, I mean, Hezonja I’ve only seen him on tape.  And what I’ve seen I’m really impressed with.  Fran Fraschilla has seen he and Porzingis in person, and is the far better resource on those two guys than I am.  But I can tell you what I think.

I don’t think there is any downside with Hezonja.  There is nothing he’s not good at.  He is competitive.  He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic.  He can shoot it.  He’s a really good shooter.  He puts it on the deck.  He can defend.  There is nothing I don’t like about that guy, nothing.

I think it was Fran who said he’s the only guy in this draft that can compete legitimately in the three‑point contest and the Dunk Contest in the NBA.  From what I’ve seen on tape, I’d absolutely concur.  There is nothing not to like with this guy.

The caveat, I haven’t seen him in person, and I don’t know him.  Like a lot of these guys that have gone through high school here and in college, I’ve not only seen them but I’ve met them and been around them and you feel like you know them.  I do not know Mario Hezonja.  But, boy, from what I’ve seen, what’s not to like?  He looks really, really good.

Q.  Have you looked at Devin Booker (University of Kentucky), and do you think he could possibly slip into the top 10?

BILAS:  Yeah, I think he can.  I think he’s the best wing shooter in the draft.  He’s not just a catch‑and‑shoot guy.  He looked as if he was that in Kentucky because of the makeup of their team.  But I think he can put the ball on the deck.  I think he’s good in transition.  He’s got good athleticism, and he’s big and strong, handles the ball well.  He’s unselfish, willing to defend.

I think he could be a better rebounder, but he plays on a team with a lot of size.  It’s not like he had to stick his nose in there every play.  I really like him.  When I saw him play in the Bahamas in practice this last summer for eight days, I was very impressed with him in practice where he showed actually more game than he was able to show in some of the games.

I’m a believer.  I think he will be gone after the top 10.  I don’t see him lasting beyond the top 10, but you never know.  Who knows what will happen, but I’m a believer.



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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