ESPN Insider and NBA Draft Expert Chad Ford answered media questions during today’s ESPN 2016 NBA Draft media call. ESPN will exclusively televise the 2016 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 23, at 7 p.m. ET. This marks the 14th 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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More details on ESPN’s 2016 NBA Draft coverage will be available on ESPNmediazone.com.
Q. Can you give me your thoughts on the Sixers? They have the No. 1 pick overall and what they may do, and then the two remaining picks that they have in the first round?
CHAD FORD: I think with the No. 1 pick, they’re going to select Ben Simmons. I think that he has been the frontrunner from day one. I think there was a lot of debate in the Sixers’ front office about Brandon Ingram and even a little bit with Kris Dunn. I think in both cases because they were better fits as far as need goes. I think at the end of the day, they feel like Simmons has the highest upside. He’s the best talent in this draft, and that they’re going to figure out how to make it work. Obviously the Sixers need backcourt help and they need shooting and they’re going to have to address that other ways, be it the draft or free agency or what have you, but when you get the chance to draft a 6’10”, 240-pound point guard with elite court vision and who’s an elite athlete, you don’t pass that up, and you’re watching what LeBron is doing right now in the Playoffs, and there’s just no answer for players that have those elite physical skills that then have guard basketball skills, and I think that’s what makes Simmons so attractive. I think the Sixers will figure out how to play him at point guard, how to put the ball in his hands, because that’s what he is and how he’s comfortable, and who knows, he may end up solving this point guard dilemma for the Sixers just by having Simmons play that.
As far as 24 and 26 go, it’s really hard to know because this draft is so fluid. We’re still trying to figure out the order of the top ten picks and to figure out what’s happening at 24 and 26, but I think there’s a couple things you can look at. One is obviously the Sixers need shooting and there’s going to be a couple players in that range, whether it’s a Malik Beasley out of Florida State or Malachi Richardson out of Syracuse, perhaps even an international player like a Furkan Korkmaz, so that might be a little low for him. Juan Hernangomez, guys that can really shoot the basketball are going to come at a priority. And then I think also maybe a combo guard, someone that can be both a ball handler and play the 1 and the 2, if Dejounte Murray was there out of Washington, I think there’s a lot of interest there, Tyler Ulis out of Kentucky. I think there’s a number of options for them as they get down that far in the draft.
But you’re basically at 24 and 26 looking at players that are rotation players at best. These are not necessarily guys that you would ever think of starting. So I think free agency and trades are going to have to be the way the Sixers go to address those other needs.
Q. We’re going to hear about all the elite players in the country for the next hour or so. Where does Georges Niang fit into this draft if in fact he does?
FORD: I think he’s a possible second-round pick and he’s a possible second-round pick because of his versatility and just an incredibly high basketball IQ. He’s the sort of player that when you look at him athletically and size wise, there just isn’t a lot there to get excited about, and that’s why I think he’s a second-round pick. But because of his ability to see the floor, because of his versatility, because he can shoot it, and just has that great, great feel for the game, there’s an attraction there.
A few years ago, Draymond Green slipped into the second round for many of the same reasons that Niang will. Teams question he’s not an elite athlete, what position does he play? Who is he going to defend in the NBA? He landed on the right team, a coach who really understood how to utilize him, and now Draymond Green is maybe one of the top-10 players in the NBA. I’m not saying Niang will be that way, but I think a lot more teams are becoming open to the idea that guys that don’t check the boxes with size and athleticism can play a role in the NBA if the coach utilizes them the right way, and I think Niang brings that to the table. I can’t tell you exactly where he goes. I do not think he’ll be a first-round pick, but I think it’s very likely that he could be drafted in the second round.
Q. I was curious what NBA teams [might be looking at] Caris LeVert right now. It seems like there’s not a lot of talk with him. I was curious what their perception is.
FORD: I think that LeVert would have been a mid-to-late first-round pick had he stayed healthy all year at Michigan. He brings a lot to the table. He’s a young senior. He’s very versatile. He shoots the ball. He passes the ball. He’s got a wingspan that allows him to defend multiple positions. There’s a lot of attractiveness there, and the concern, and it’s a big concern, is obviously the medical side. He’s not able to work out. There’s concern in the medicals that were taken in Chicago about sort of the process of him getting back, and teams just get gun shy when you’re talking about giving guaranteed deals to guys that might not be healthy in a critical sort of first year, and LeVert missed a huge chunk of his senior year and a big part of his junior year, as well.
So I think those are the concerns that probably mean that he slides into the second round, goes somewhere in the 30s or early 40s, and teams can be a lot more flexible with him, putting him in the D-League, allowing him to get back to full strength and health, but I actually think LeVert has a great chance as a player if he can get healthy of being a valuable contributor. He fits the trend that NBA teams are really looking for in a guy that can handle the ball, can pass the ball, can shoot the ball, can play multiple positions. You watch what the Warriors are doing, and every team in the league wants to replicate that to a certain extent. They want to put four or five players on the floor that can handle, shoot, pass, do all of the things that typically you’d ask like a point guard to do, and I think LeVert has a shot to do that.
Q. I wanted to talk about a couple of the big guys at the top of the draft, Bender and Chriss. How much do you think Bender’s stock is being helped by what Porzingis did last year, and to what do you attribute Chriss’ kind of huge rise in people’s eyes?
FORD: Well, I think or the first question of Bender, yes, Porzingis has helped him. I think Porzingis has opened the door again to the fact that international players can be dominant. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two other than to say that they’re both tall, they’re both skinny, and they both have some versatility. I think Porzingis is a much better athlete and had more experience playing in the ACB, which I think is the best league outside of Europe. It was easy to watch Porzingis in Spain last year, and see him playing against elite competition in Europe and say, this kid is going to be special.
Bender played for an elite team, as well, Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he didn’t get a lot of minutes. His role was much more limited on Maccabi. He had some injuries and things like that, so it was a lot harder to see his full array of skills. So I think the first thing I’d say is that Bender doesn’t have the same experience that Porzingis had coming in the league. The second thing I’d say is he doesn’t have the same athleticism. While he moves pretty well laterally he’s not as explosive as Porzingis, and he doesn’t really utilize his athleticism the same way that Porzingis does, and I think that’s a knock against Bender. On the upside I think he’s a better shooter right now than Porzingis is. He shot more than 40 percent from three this year, and he’s gotten very good at spotting up in the corners, which is what a lot of NBA teams what their stretch 4s to do.
He’s also a really good rim protector and a good rebounder. He has a great motor. He really hustles out there. I think he’s a perfect fit as a modern NBA power forward at what he does. I’m not sure that he has the same star potential that Porzingis does, but I think in this draft, for a team like the Timberwolves or a team like the Phoenix Suns, he’s a really good fit into what they need and what they’re looking for, and then Chriss, I’m one that questions a little bit how much he’s really risen. Like he’s been in our top 10 for a while, and I think it’s just as far as tiers go, it’s the teams finally — the draft order finally laid out and you started looking at the tops at the top, what does Phoenix need, what did Minnesota need, what did Boston need, Chriss fits that mold a little bit, and when you’re talking about upside, which is big at the top of the draft, how high are the ceilings of these players, you look at a 6’10” player who’s one of the best athletes that I’ve encountered in doing the draft in the last 15 years at that size, both vertically and laterally how explosive he is, he’s 18 years old, he shoots the three, he can handle the ball a little bit, that’s really intriguing. But I also say he has one of the lowest floors of the top picks in the draft. He doesn’t rebound. That’s a huge concern. There’s immaturity there, both in his feel for the game. He was constantly getting into foul trouble, had some trouble sometimes containing his emotions on the court, and just an overall maturity. He’s much more of an 18 year old than some of the other prospects in this draft. He doesn’t quite have that maturity yet. Now, he can get it and if he gets it and hits his ceiling, he should have went No. 3 or No. 4 in this draft. If he doesn’t, he’s going to make a team look bad like Tyrus Thomas made the Bulls look bad several years ago and that’s what teams are trying to weigh right now. How confident are we in his personality that he’s going to be able to become the star that he could be?
Q. The Heat obviously don’t have a pick this year. They’re known as a franchise that doesn’t put a lot of value on the draft. What’s your philosophy on building through the draft versus building through free agency and trades?
FORD: Well, I think there’s — I think teams have different approaches depending on what their needs are and where they’re located. The Heat have a couple things going for them. One, they have an owner that’s willing to spend. They’re in a big market. They have a very desirable location. NBA free agents like to play in Miami. There’s a draw there that allows them to draw elite free agents, and so some of that eschews away from using the draft as a building tool because they know that they can lure players there that are going to be elite players. If you’re the Utah Jazz, there aren’t a lot of free agents lining up to go play in Salt Lake City, so you have to find other ways of acquiring players that keep them in Salt Lake City, and so the draft becomes more important.
But with that said, I think you’ve seen teams like San Antonio, who have been an elite team, still use the draft as a way of making sure that they don’t bottom out. They value those draft picks. They’ve been very smart about making them, whether it was Kawhi Leonard that they got out of the lottery or Tiago Splitter or Tony Parker that they got at the end of the first round or Danny Green. There’s a lot of players that the Spurs have figured out how to bring in and help keep the thing churning, and the great thing about draft picks is that they are an absolute bargain because of the rookie salary scale, most draft picks are underpaid compared to the performance that they have, and that’s very valuable for teams managing cap. I think it’s going to become very interesting going forward because as the cap rose dramatically, and it’s going to mean huge, huge amounts of money for free agents, maybe if they’re 40 percent raises across the board, then rookie salary scale did not jump up, so rookies become an even bigger bargain than they’ve ever been, and I think that’s one thing just to keep in mind.
As far as the Heat goes, you’re right, they haven’t valued it, but then they got Justise Winslow last year in the draft, and I think he’s been a very critical piece in thinking about projecting forward how the Heat go forward as some of their other stars become older and you have to start to wonder about how much longer they’re going to be playing at a high level.
Q. You mentioned Justise Winslow. Looking back at last year’s draft the Heat had a good one. How much value did they get with Justise going at 10 and then Josh Richardson in the second round who was a pretty key contributor down the stretch?
FORD: I think they did a good job. I think they got a little lucky with Winslow in that a couple of teams ahead of them made some mistakes, and this was still debatable. We’re one year into this and we’ll see how things pan out, but I thought Winslow was a better prospect than Stanley Johnson, for example, out of Detroit, and I think that analytically that turned out to be the case, if you look at the analytics and what Winslow contributed to the Heat versus Stanley Johnson, I’d say that Winslow won that battle, and so they got a little bit lucky in a guy that I had rated as, I think, the fifth- or sixth-best player in the draft slid to them down a little bit further in the draft.
So some of it’s luck, and then something like Josh Richardson in the second round, that was amazing scouting. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine and when 60 basically players invited there, that usually is a consensus of what NBA teams are thinking are the best players available, so obviously the Heat saw something that other teams didn’t see, got him in the second round, and he turned out to be the steal, and I actually think interestingly, even though, the Heat don’t value the draft as much as some other teams do, they have a really incredible scouting staff.
Q. Can you run me through the latest on the four Kentucky guys, Murray, Labissiere, Ulis and Poythress and especially any health concerns with Ulis that may have popped up late?
FORD: Yeah, Murray will go 3 to 7. He’s got a pretty narrow range right now. He’s in the mix literally with every single one of those teams with maybe the exception of the Suns. The Celtics are looking at him at three, Wolves are looking at him at 5, Pelicans like him at 6, and Denver even likes him at 7 as a nice backcourt made to Emmanuel Mudiay, and it’s a little bit fluid there because he’s battling guys that are in the same tier. All of them are very different at what they do, and I think it’s going to come down more to team need than it is on necessarily ranking talent. I think as far as talent goes, Murray has the ability to be the best perimeter scorer in this draft. I think he’s going to be a 20-point-per-game scorer in the NBA and one of the best shooters in this draft. Defensively I think the concerns are there.
Labissiere is a little bit harder. I put his range right now at about 7 to 13, so Denver at 7 being the high point, Phoenix at 13 being the low point. I think many of us have projected, and I think it’s very accurate, that the Orlando Magic at 11 look like the most likely spot for him to land. His ability to shoot the ball, to stretch the floor, to protect the rim are elite. The question is does he know how to play basketball? Does he have a feel for the game? Does he have the toughness to play in the NBA? Those are all huge questions that when you get to that portion of the draft, I think because there aren’t a lot of players left that are sure things, that most of those players are just rotation players now, you start to look at Skal and say, look, if Skal hits, he could be Channing Frye, he might even be better than Channing Frye, and if that’s the case, he’s worth gambling, even if it ends up being that he can’t play and I think that’s why I think you’ll see Milwaukee at 10, Orlando at 11, Utah at 12 and Phoenix who now have a second first-round pick in the lottery, just go ahead and roll the dice and gamble. I think he’s got a really safe range there. How he pans out as a player, man, that — I really think anybody that says they know is guessing. I think so much of it is going to have to be about his maturity and his mental development and whether that can click because the skills are there.
As far as Ulis goes, teams are all over the board on him just because of his size. At 5’10”, 150 pounds, there’s not a lot of precedent for guys that size excelling in the NBA. And people point to Isiah Thomas, but Isiah Thomas is a good 30 pounds heavier than Ulis is, and he’s more of a scoring, super athletic stocky guard and there is some precedent for guys like him, Nate Robinson, in that role succeeding in the NBA. Ulis is going to be — he’s going to be a bit of a trend setter there. But he has elite court version. He is probably the best passing point guard in this draft, and I think that intrigues some people.
As far as the hip goes, I’m still trying to collect information on how big of an issue this is.
When you hear those medical reports, it’s difficult to ascertain how serious these sorts of things are down the road because they go through these prospects with such a thorough look that any little thing that has happened in your entire life would show up. If you broke your arm in second grade, it would be there on the report, and there might be a certain level of concern about it, how it healed. If it’s something small like his hips are tight, the muscles are tight, I’d say that’s 80 percent of the NBA, these players struggle with hip tightness, calcification of the hip, things like that.
It could also go the other way. Kevon Looney last year slipped all the way down to 30 last year because there was a concern he would have to have hip surgery, which obviously turned out to be true and he’s had it this off-season, and that’s obviously a more serious concern.
The feedback I’ve gotten from teams is they’re aware that there’s an issue, and there’s varying degrees, depending on doctors, conservative nature of things, on how concerned teams are, so it’s really hard to pick where Ulis goes. But I think he either goes somewhere in the 20s or he ends up going somewhere in the 30s. But I think he’s going to get drafted, and I don’t think it’s going to torpedo his draft stock.
Poythress, I think he’s a possible second-round pick because he’s an elite athlete and I think he can defend multiple positions and I actually hear he shot it pretty well in workouts, and that’s what he projects as a guy coming off the bench, playing great defense and hitting some spot-up threes. If he can just do that I think he has a long career in the NBA. It’s the question about will he be a great three-point shooter that teams are concerned about. He shot it really well his freshman year, kind of went down from there, but I see — I watched him work out several times in LA. I think I see the potential there for him to become that, and you can’t teach his athleticism.
Q. It’s been up and down and all over the board about what the Celtics will do at 3, and then also at 16. Also, the European kind of craze that happened 10, 12 years ago and how that’s cooled off, how do you gauge the European market now in terms of NBA teams? Why did that change so dramatically, and is it improved over the past couple years or is it still kind of down?
FORD: Look, the Celtics control the draft right now. I think we know that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are going 1 and 2. If they don’t go 1 and 2, it’ll be because Ingram went 1 and Simmons went 2. So the Celtics, we’ve got this really interesting challenging scenario for them. They would prefer to trade this pick. They would prefer to take it, package it with some of the assets they have and bring in a young veteran who is an All-Star caliber player to really build this team around. That’s been the plan all along. I think the Celtics have been fairly open about it.
The problem is in this draft, I’m not sure that the No. 3 pick, along with the assets that the Celtics have, are going to be enough to get that sort of player, and that’s frustrating for Celtics fans but it is what it is because you’re talking at the Jamal Murray level or the Kris Dunn level or the Marquese Chriss level, as a guy that doesn’t project as a sure-fire All-Star superstar down the road. They don’t project that way. And so teams being willing to give up a superstar for that become a lot harder, and the Celtics have a lot of nice pieces, a lot of interesting pieces, but again, none of them are necessarily guys that other teams really covet.
In fact, I actually think that the thing that the Celtics have, their No. 1 asset, is actually the Brooklyn Nets pick next year in 2017. They have the right to swap that pick. It almost looks like there’s no scenario in which the Nets are going to be good next year, and the 2017 draft looks absolutely loaded with talent, and that might be their best chip.
If they stay at 3, I think it’s safe to say — this is frustrating, but I think it’s safe to say that they’ve narrowed it down to four guys: Jamal Murray, Kris Dunn, Jaylen Brown out of Cal, and Marquese Chriss out of Washington. I think if they go upside, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go Jaylen Brown. He fits a need. He’s a wing who’s very athletic. He did not shoot the ball well at Cal this year, but he shot the ball very well in workouts including the workout that he did with the Celtics, and if you’re saying at No. 3, look, let’s just swing for the guy who could be a superstar down the road and we’ll take a risk, then Brown seems like a pretty good calculated risk. If they want an immediate impact player, then I think that’s Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray. Dunn doesn’t necessarily fit a need. The Celtics have been drafting point guards for a while, but I will say that Dunn is a better point guard prospect than anybody that currently sits on the Celtics’ roster right now, which is appealing, and there’s a defensive ability, especially that’s very, very attractive.
Murray brings shooting, which is something the Celtics could use a lot more of and they need, as well. His defensive abilities, though, are very questionable, and I think that’s the concern there.
So I think what the Celtics decide to do, I don’t think they’ve even decided yet, and I think part of it is trying to figure out trades, figuring out what other deals they might be able to do, what’s going to happen at 16 and 23, and all of that may affect who they end up taking at 3 because the difference between a Kris Dunn, a Jamal Murray, a Marquese Chriss, a Jaylen Brown, it’s so negligible. I think they’re all similar types of prospects. It’s not you take the best player available. They’re in a tier of the best players available, and then you take the guy you think is going to fit the best need, and the Celtics may not know that until draft night, depending on the other sorts of deals that they do.
Q. So you’re saying they’re kind of down on Bender, and what’s been your gauge on the European market and how it’s changed? Obviously it was flourishing in the early 2000s and kind of died down with a lot of draft busts. But how would you gauge the European market now and why did it die and why is it resuscitated?
FORD: I don’t think they’re down on Bender. In fact, Bender will be in Boston on Tuesday for a workout, and the Celtics went to Tel Aviv and saw him there.
I just think that they see him a bit as more of an unknown, and I think that they look at their current roster and who they have, with Kelly Olynyk, for example, and wonder whether that’s the best use of this pick.
I think that if they were drafting today, Bender probably wasn’t in that conversation. I think he’s right on the fringes, on the outside of it. But he is going to come in and have a workout that they’re running and that they can do whatever they want with him, and there’s a possibility, given that they have more limited information on Bender than the other guys that he really comes in and wows them and becomes the No. 3 pick.
I don’t think it’s out of the question.
As far as international players being down, I think what happened was when Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki and several other elite international players, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, all started coming into the league, there was a rush to Europe to just grab those guys with the sort of thinking that they’re more skilled, that the fact that from a very young age they’re allowed to just focus on basketball, that the training and coaching over there encourages positional versatility, big men learn how to play point guard, point guards learn how to play in the post, all those things were leading to these guys being more prepared to play in the league and what have you, but then the NBA made some mistakes which they always did, that they were drafting guys before they’d actually proven that they know how to play. They were drafting guys without experience, guys that were not getting major minutes on their teams, they were drafting players that often had to make huge jumps culturally from one sort of system to the next but then struggled when they got here whether it was just the language or adjusting to the culture or being homesick or whatever. And then you had a string of busts, starting with Darko Milicic that I think really for a while scared teams off, and I really think what they did is they strip mined Europe of all of its young players before they had a chance to really develop and really be able to come over and contribute to the NBA.
I think you’re starting to see that trend reverse now. I think you’re starting to see that teams are being more patient with the international prospects now. I think they’ve understood the mistakes that they’ve made in the past. I think that they’re looking for players like a Porzingis, for example, who is playing at a very high level in Spain. He wasn’t just playing in some international tournament and they took him based off of that, right; there was a lot of great video evidence and scouting evidence that this kid was going to be a good player.
If you can compete in the ACB, you can compete in the NBA, and I think that’s what they saw.
So I think you’re seeing that trend shift, and I think you’re also seeing one other trend which a lot of people don’t think about, which is four of the top five or six international prospects in this draft are represented by the same agent, and that agent actually owns two teams in Europe or is part of an ownership group of those teams in Europe, and they’re actually collecting those players on teams and giving them significant minutes, almost like D-League developmental teams in Europe, and that’s really helpful to the scouts to be able to see them play, to see them play significant minutes, to see them play against other competition. That stuff wasn’t necessarily happening in the past because it was a lot harder for young international players to be able to get minutes.
And now that that trend is starting to develop in Europe, as well, I think it is opening up the door for us to be able to see younger players earlier in Europe and be able to make smarter decisions about who’s ready and who isn’t for the NBA.
Q. I just wanted to get your opinion on the upperclassmen of this draft and where you think they’ll end up.
FORD:Well, I think you start with Buddy Hield. I think he’s going to be the first senior off the board. Probably his ceiling starts at Minnesota at 5 though I think it’s more likely we’ll see him either go to New Orleans at 6, Denver at 7, and I don’t think he gets past the Sacramento Kings at 8. They really like him. He’s a good fit with what looking for and if I were to peg him today, I’d say he goes 8 to the Sacramento Kings.
And then after that, I would say Denzel Valentine was the guy that was most likely the other upper classman that was really going to be — that was a senior that was likely to be drafted in the lottery, but I think there’s been some concerns with Valentine, some of the teams have been concerned about some of the knee problems that he had as a senior at Michigan, some of the diving deep into the medicals and especially when you get a 22-year-old player and there’s some concerns about that sort of stuff, you can start to shy away for prospects that might be a little more safer, have a little more upside. I think it’s more likely now that we’re going to see Denzel Valentine going somewhere in the 20s. Brice Johnson out of North Carolina is another guy that can go somewhere in the late teens or early 20s off a great senior season. Malcolm Brogdon out of Virginia, another senior that I think could end up cracking the first round. Jarrod Uthoff out of Iowa, another senior that I think could end up cracking the first round.
But as far as guys that are going to be huge impact players in the league, I think that most of those eggs are in Buddy Hield’s basket right now.
Q. And do you see Kris Dunn, obviously he’s a junior, but do you see him going up, too?
FORD: Yeah, Kris Dunn, sorry, Kris Dunn is a junior, and he absolutely is going to go in the 3-to-6 range, I think. He’s either going to Boston or he’s going to Minnesota or he’s going to New Orleans. I think he’s got a very narrow window there. A lot of people think he may be the most NBA ready of the prospects of this draft because of his elite size for his position, his elite length and the fact that he’s such a terrific defender right now. I think one of the reasons rookies have a hard time getting on the floor in the NBA is because they can’t play NBA-caliber defense. They just get abused. Regardless of how good they are offensively they just get abused and it takes time. I think a lot of teams feel Dunn can step in tomorrow in the NBA and be an elite defender, and I think that gives him a heads-up as far as being able to come in and get minutes and play right away in the league.
Q. The Warriors have had some luck there at the end of the first round into the second round with Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green. I was wondering who you think might be available there at 30 this year that would fit their system?
FORD: Well, the Warriors are. They’ve had a terrific scouting over the years. And look, if Kevon Looney ends being able to solve his hip issues, that was an incredible pick where they got him in the draft last year, and if he can get healthy, he’s another versatile player. We all know what the Warriors like. The Warriors like guys that can play multiple positions, that can pass the ball, that can ideally shoot the ball, that are going to be unselfish in the way that they play, and when you get to 30, it becomes harder to find elite guys like that.
I think a couple things stand out to me later in the draft. One is that because of free agency, center becomes an issue and bigs become an issue for them, and they’re going to need them, and after what Oklahoma City did to them in the Playoffs, I think they’re sort of aware that this is an Achilles heel that they have and they need to be able to address it with teams like Oklahoma City. So you’ve got guys like Damian Jones out of Vanderbilt, you have Onuaku out of Louisville. You have a number of international prospects, whether it’s Ante Zizic or Ivica Zubac out of Bosnia.
You have a number of guys sort of in that range that I think have those sorts of skills. There’s versatility. They can pass. They can do certain things. And they can fit into the Warriors’ system. So I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them make a play actually for a big. It won’t be the starter next year for sure. They’re going to have to address those needs in free agency. But just to have, again, some guys that you can bring off the bench and some guys that can add some toughness to the team, there’s actually some unique prospects down there.
From all that I can gather from the Warriors, they’re focused right now on those types of players.
Q. And you mentioned Looney there. We haven’t heard much during the Playoffs since his second surgery. Are you hearing anything on the recovery since his second hip surgery?
FORD: I haven’t yet. I know that hip surgery is a tough surgery and that obviously required a second surgery, so obviously there’s long-term issues there. The only thing that I’ve heard out of Golden State is that the surgery was successful and they’re confident that eventually he’s going to come back to full strength. But details, I don’t have any more.
Q. Regarding the Pacers, obviously their biggest need is point guard, but I would presume there’s nobody at 20, maybe Baldwin, that wouldn’t be a reach. If there’s not a point guard there, which way would you suspect they go, and would there be anybody at point guard worth risking in the second round?
FORD: Yeah, this isn’t a strong point guard draft, and I think your read is probably good, and I don’t even think that necessarily the Pacers are in love with Wade Baldwin, actually, either. He’s a very polarizing prospect. Some teams really do like him. Some teams struggle with him.
Look, if Dejounte Murray is there out of Washington — I don’t think the Pacers think he’ll be there, I don’t think he’ll be there at 20, but if he is there, because there is a lot of fluidity in the draft, I think that will be an obvious choice for them, a guy with a lot of upside, great size and length for his position, can play multiple positions, and just has a feel and swagger for the game that is impressive.
We saw a lot of that out of Paul George when he came out of Fresno State even though there was a lot of question marks around him and his performance those couple of years, but just on sheer talent and what he can bring to the table if he hit it, Larry Bird is the type of general manager that has a good feel for that and can ignore some of the weaknesses that players have in college. He did it with Myles Turner last year, as well, and takes swings, and it seems like Larry Bird is a lot better when he’s swinging for the fences than he is when he’s trying to play it safe. He seems to be much better at actually drafting when he swings, so if Dejounte Murray is there, I think that’ll be their guy. I think a couple of other 2 guards are also on the table there, Malachi Richardson out of Syracuse, there’s a lot of interest there, Furkan Korkmaz, if he’s there out of Turkey, another guy who can shoot the ball and pass the ball, I think are really attractive.
I do think that the most likely scenario is that they look to the backcourt. Timothe Luwawu out of France is another wing I think that can have some appeal, but they’ll look to the backcourt, and if they can’t get a point guard, then they go ahead and look for a 2 guard.
I’d say one of the guys that they really like, which is Domantas Sabonis, Sabonis could go as high as 8 or 9, but he could also be there at 20, as well, and I think that they feel that Sabonis is the type of guy who can come in right away and play a role very much like what a David West did or a Luis Scola did and pair up nicely with Myles Turner.
You mentioned two guards, Valentine is a guy obviously everybody is worried about his knee. Is his knee so bad, is this Granger like because the Pacers were the team that rolled the dice on Granger and ended up striking gold with him a few years back?
FORD: Everybody team has a different take on Valentine’s knee to we’re not drafting him on one extreme, right, and that there’s major concerns to, you know with the right care, or whatever, this — I think this is really manageable. Obviously he is a major, major prospect for the Pacers at 20 if he slides there. I think two months ago before the combine they would say there was no way Valentine was even getting to him, and one of the appeals obviously is Valentine plays right now. He comes in and he is an immediate contributor to the Pacers. I think they’ll seriously consider him at 20, but they along with all those other teams do know about his medical issues, and if he slides, he slides completely because of that, not because they don’t think the talent is there.
I’m sure you’re aware of John Calipari recommended, if that’s the right word, that Jamal Murray be the first overall pick. How do you think that recommendation went over? How much influence do college coaches have in these kind of decisions?
FORD: None. And he’s not going to be the No. 1 pick, and I don’t think it carried that much weight. What John Calipari does is have huge influence all season because of the way that he plays his players, the system he runs them in, the access that he gives the NBA teams. He does help players get drafted. There’s no question if my kid was an elite prospect, I would send him to Kentucky because I think he’s got the best — that would give him the best shot to go high in the draft.
You look at the terrible season that Skal had and the fact that he’s going to be a lottery pick is amazing, and that has a lot to do with John Calipari. But going to a team and saying, you know what, you ought to take him over Ben Simmons, I don’t think that that’s going to carry a lot of sway.
As far as Jamal goes, I don’t think anybody is actually going to debate John, that if you’re talking offensively, this kid is special. He can shoot it. He can score off the bounce. He has a scorer’s mentality and instinct, and he’s not afraid to do his job, and that’s a huge plus.
But defensively there are going to be issues in the NBA. There were issues in college, and I think those issues will be compounded in the NBA, and I think that may hurt him via a Kris Dunn, for example, if you’re trying to compare those two guys together or Marquese Chriss or Jaylen Brown, all those guys, very elite athletes, and just that questioning, does Jamal Murray have the lateral quickness? I think he’s okay vertically and explosively, but does he have the lateral quickness to defend his position in the NBA? And I know that’s what every general manager from 3 to 8 is trying to figure out right now, how good is his offense versus his defense?
And you mentioned Skal and questions might be, does he know how to play basketball? Does he have the toughness? How are those kind of questions answered prior to getting him out on the floor in the NBA environment?
FORD: Well, they’re not figuring them out in workouts because Skal is doing one-on-none workouts at all of the teams, so they’re not able to put him on the floor with other players and see how he responds to physicality or toughness or whatever. So they really have two options. One is that a lot of teams design these one-on-none workouts to extremely fatigue and stress players. They’re constantly throwing things at them and trying to confuse them, trying to wear them down, trying to get them tired, and then they want to see what is their resiliency, right, how do they respond to getting thrown a bunch of things at them that maybe they’re not expecting and being asked sometimes to do hard things that they’re going to fail at and then being asked to do it again and again, and some players respond to that and really take up the challenge, and other players, believe it or not, quit. You’d be shocked. Players quit, stop workouts. That’s not a good sign. You know, they’re really bad signs.
I’m not saying Skal has quit anything. I don’t have any evidence that he has. I’m just saying that’s one way to test it. Most teams are using forms of psychological evaluation now. They have team sports psychologists, as well, as tests that they give players to try to ascertain the makeup, the mental makeup of players. It’s become a much, much bigger part of the draft process. They now have a database that goes back seven, eight years, so they’re able to start to compare players with similar emotional, psychological profiles to see how they ended up handling adversity in the NBA, and as more and more data begins to come in, I think it’s going to become a more and more important tool. So that’s the other thing they’re scouring over is what do their sports psychologists say in their one-on-one interviews with him, how did he do on the test and trying to figure out — after maybe health. I think health is probably the most important thing when we’re talking about Valentine, like you have to be healthy to be a star in the NBA. You just have to be. I think mentality might be the next thing. You know, one of the things that we know now is that Draymond Green like tested off the charts on all of those mental and psychological profiles, and should have been a signal to NBA teams that this guy was going to figure it out, so he was so competitive, that he was so intelligent, all these things, he was going to figure it out.
I do think this is becoming a bigger and bigger deal because you can have all the physical tools in the world, but if you don’t have a feel for the game and you’re not going to be a hard worker and if you’re not competitive, it’s not going to translate onto the court.
Q. This new rule with NCAA eligibility being pushed back, it’s obviously been pretty good for the players, but has it made this process any more difficult for the teams to kind of evaluate guys, whether or not they know they’re going to be in the draft or not?
FORD: I think it’s mildly annoying to some teams because of the sheer number of underclassmen that declared for the draft, but I think a lot of other — that I say more enlightened teams took it as an opportunity. I know several teams worked out roughly 100 players before the draft, and when they work them out, what they’re doing is they’re getting medicals, they’re getting psychological profiles, they’re getting a chance to talk with players, which they cannot do until they declare for the draft, and so they go to these games and they scout these players, but they literally can’t sit down and have a face-to-face discussion with these players because of NCAA prohibitions.
So it’s data for them. They’re collecting all this data. Some teams have just taken advantage of that. Like we think this kid is going to pull out. We don’t think he’s ready at all, but we still want to bring him in, we still want to collect that data because that helps us even scout him better next season, and I think that part of the process teams would say — in a certain way they wish every kid would declare for the draft, everybody would be eligible so that they can go and collect the data on the players that they want and get the information that they want. It’s much harder given the NCAA restrictions.
So I think from an NBA standpoint, the more enlightened teams see this as an opportunity to get info, and I think players it’s the same way. Instead of before having to rely on what an agent is telling you or even frankly having to rely on my big board or what have you, they really get the chance to go and get individualized feedback from NBA teams, and before there was a committee of general managers that they could submit their name to and they would come back with sort of a draft range actually I think it’s good information and it was helpful information, but some players would say, yeah, but if they saw me work out and they saw me out of the system and my coach doesn’t let me do this or that, I’ll be great, and then they jump into the draft anyway and then find out, no, that evaluation was right, this gives them the chance to try to prove themselves to teams and get that feedback.
So for me, I think it’s good for everybody other than maybe college coaches that are still trying to recruit and don’t know what spots they’ll have open and what they don’t have open. But I even look at the players this year, high school players that waited to kind of see how this all played out, and it worked out fine for everybody.
I think that overall this is a dramatic improvement over what we’ve seen in the past.
Q. You called Wade Baldwin a very polarizing prospect. What is it about him that makes so many teams like him and other teams afraid to pull the trigger?
FORD: Well, the pros are NBA body, NBA athlete, good size for position, and actually even though his shot isn’t the most beautiful shot in the world, he shot the ball really well both years at Vanderbilt, which is a big plus on a big point guard. There’s a lot of Deron Williams in him I think as a player.
On the downside, I think there’s real questions about his feel as a point guard, getting other players involved, making players better. I think there’s a huge question there. I think there’s a lot of questions about what went down at Vanderbilt this year, a team that many people projected as a Final Four team that just struggled and struggled after getting off to a hot start, and most of that had to do with chemistry, and after the season was over, the coaching staff at Vanderbilt and teams during their info, weren’t as complimentary to Baldwin as they could have been about what they thought about coaching him and his leadership on the court, and I think that’s given some teams pause. Some teams look at that and say, look, he’s just a super competitive guy, and he was frustrated that they were losing, and he’s a 20 year old and that’s not a big deal. We want him to be competitive. We want him to call out players and things like that. Other teams, depending on how they sort of value culture and sort of what things they’re looking for look at that and they get a little squeamish about that.
If Baldwin went 12 to the Jazz, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. If he went in the 20s, that wouldn’t surprise me, either.
Q. Can you name four or five guys who could potentially be the next Draymond Green, not necessarily in terms of turning into an All-Star or even playing style, but maybe second rounders who have a chance to stick or start in the league, just basically based on the skill set or what they bring to the table?
FORD: Okay, so you’re not asking me to compare them as far as similar sill sets. You’re just asking sleepers that could stick in the draft?
Yeah, because there’s probably not a Draymond Green. He’s a tough guy to duplicate. I think one of the strengths of this draft is when you get into the 20s and you get into the 30s there’s a lot of players that I think are going to stick in the league. There’s a depth to this draft. The star level and the starter level drops off really early which is why a lot of scouts are frustrated with this draft, a lot of teams are, but then getting into the 20s and 30s, man, there’s a lot of guys that I think could really have long careers. Jarrod Uthoff is a guy out of Iowa who’s both athletic, can shoot the ball and can protect the rim, and those sorts of combinations tend to find to find a spot in the NBA. Onuaku out of Louisville, this guy has an NBA body, is a rebounding fiend. He is the type of tough, aggressive player, that if you watched what Steven Adams was able to do and how he was able to disrupt players, even though he’s not a great offensive players, just in sheer toughness and motor and physicality, Onuaku brings a lot of that to the table. He’s 19 years old, and I think there’s some interest there.
Taurean Prince out of Baylor is a 6’8″, 220-pound guy who can be a DeMarre Carroll-type in the NBA. He’s going to be a 3-and-D guy who hits threes, who can guard multiple positions. Carroll was another guy who slipped into the second round, and I think obviously that ended up being a huge mistake. He’s a really talented player. Isaiah Cousins out of Oklahoma, the Buddy Hield show all year at Oklahoma, but here’s a 6’4″ combo guard who’s an elite athlete, who can really shoot the ball, who’s a good defender, and I think some teams really believe that he’s got some real point guard skills to his game.
Again, he didn’t average huge numbers at Oklahoma, in part because Buddy was taking all of those shots, but he’s come in and worked out extremely well, and teams are like, man, this guy checks off a lot of boxes. Athlete, yes. Shoots the ball, yes, good handle, sees the game, defends multiple positions. That’s a recipe — typically for a guy who is going to stick in the league a long time, and you may say why isn’t that guy a first rounder? And all that I can say is it’s harder for seniors. It’s harder for them to feel sexy or to feel like they have any upside. Teams want to look at seniors and say they are what they are, and most of the time, by the way, they’re right. Most seniors do not do well in the NBA. There’s an analytical bias towards them because they typically have capped out. But occasionally, and Draymond is the great proof of this, occasionally they were just mis-scouted or underestimated in a certain way in their growth and their ability, and you put them in the right situation in the NBA and they actually blossom.
So those are just a few guys that I would spout off as being guys that I think are probably a little underrated that we might be looking at, guys going in the 30s and saying, hey, these guys ended up being really good prospects.
Q. What direction do you think the Pelicans are going to go? I think you wrote something earlier this week on a proposed trade, and I guess the second part of that, is there much separation between Hield, Dunn and Murray? Do you think there’s separation or are you pretty much getting the same caliber of player with any of those three?
FORD: I would rank Dunn and Murray just a little bit higher than Buddy. I think they’re very different players, and so if the Pelicans need a point guard, if they’re really looking at Jrue Holiday and given the fact that he’s in the last year of his deal and the stress fracture, the health problems that he’s had, that they really feel like they need to start developing a young point guard to work with Anthony Davis, I think Kris Dunn is a great fit. His ability to defend multiple positions, his athleticism, his ability to penetrate. I actually think Dunn might be a better prospect down the road than Jrue Holiday is. I think his ceiling is higher than Jrue’s was. So that’s a really intriguing thing for them, though you can argue they still have Jrue next year and maybe they don’t need to go that route, though I think that Jrue can play off the ball. Obviously with Gordon being a free agent, you look and say, OK, having a 2 guard that can really shoot the basketball is another major need. For the Pelicans, and both Murray and Hield fit that role, I like Murray a little bit better for a couple of reasons. One, he’s 19, and if you look at what Buddy Hield did at Oklahoma at 19 where he averaged seven points a game and you look at Jamal Murray what he did at 19 at Kentucky, averaging 20 points a game, that’s a pretty huge disparity, and statistically if you look at it analytically, what players do at 19 is actually a very strong indicator of what they’re going to do at the NBA. Guys that don’t figure it out until they’re 20, 21, 22, can struggle more in the NBA, despite where they end up topping out in college basketball.
And I think the other thing about Murray is the ability to play multiple positions on the floor. He was a point guard in high school. He did not play that at Kentucky because Tyler Ulis was there. But he’s got that feel for the game that I think allows the Pelicans to use him in different sorts of lineups, which I think is really attractive to a team like the Pelicans.
Buddy is more just a pure shooter and scorer at the 2. He’s not a great ball handler. He’s not a great defender. Neither is Murray. If both of those guys are on the board, I can’t tell you which way they’ll go. I think they both have interest in a lot of them, and it really might be more how are they assessing the free agent market, how are they assessing trades, and do they think they have a chance to bring in a point guard that way or do they think they have a chance to bring in a 2 guard that way, and then the draft the other way. Don’t count out Dragan Bender and Jaylen Brown in New Orleans, either. Bender — the Pelicans have scouted him extensively. They’re losing Ryan Anderson or believe he’s a free agent. They may not lose him. They may re-sign him but they might lose him and I think Dragan Bender brings a lot of things to the table that Ryan Anderson does, and Jaylen Brown had an incredible workout for them and is a guy that I think there’s a lot of interest in on just sheer upside of adding an elite talent next to Anthony Davis.
And if he shoots the ball as well as he’s done in workouts and the whole shooting debacle at Cal was really an outlier, because he was actually a pretty good shooter in high school, then he’s worthy of that pick for sure.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, you touched on him a little bit, about Chinanu Onuaku and maybe the impact of the procedure he had right after the combine, on his stock, and I also wanted to get your thoughts on Damion Lee while I have you.
FORD: I think it’s a concern whenever you talk about a heart condition, and you see Sean Rooks just pass away from that, and a history of that with NBA players, it’s always a concern. I do think that teams are pretty confident that in some ways it was really great that Onuaku had declared for the draft, got to the combine, had that issue identified and was able to go through a surgical procedure that should help him in the future, and so I think that the read that I’m getting from most teams is that they’re comfortable that the procedure that he had should make him fine and be able to play basketball for a long time.
But there’s always, with those risks, right, whenever you introduce risk into the picture, it destabilizes your draft stock a little bit. And when players don’t have any of those risks, I think the way he played at the combine, he would be a first-round pick for sure. I think he’s a bubble first-rounder now. I do think that you’ll see teams like the Spurs and the Warriors, for example, and Toronto at 27, that will give him a real look because of his age and just what he’s able to do physically, and if he doesn’t go there, he’s going to get gobbled up in the first five or six picks in the second round, because then the risk is so much more minimized, and I think you’re just going to see an appeal there that I think will help him.
As far as Damion Lee goes, I think it’s unlikely that he gets drafted, and I think that the most likely scenario is that he gets an invite to a Summer League team, tries to make the team there, and if he can’t do that, then he goes either to the D-League or he goes over to Europe. I think he can have a long career in Europe. I think that’s probably the best way for him to go.
Q. You mentioned Jarrod Uthoff a little earlier as a possible late first rounder. How likely is that and what are some of the better fits for him and his skill set?
FORD: Uthoff? He’s a unique player because you don’t find a lot of guys at 6’9″ who shoot the ball like he shoots it, but also has this ability to be a shot blocker, and one thing I think is appealing for him is that his ability to guard other perimeter-oriented 4s in the league because of his ability to move laterally and to get out on the floor.
Where he’s going to get — where he’s going to have problems is with physicality. He obviously needs to add a lot of strength, and if you’re thinking about trying to play him on the block. He’s going to have a real problem in the NBA. I think the other thing about him is that, you know, at Iowa, he didn’t just dominate games every game. He would be dominant in stretches, and I mean dominant in stretches, and then other times he would just completely disappear. We actually saw that in the draft combine, too. There was like spurts where Uthoff looked great, and then you wouldn’t even know he was on the court again for five, six, seven-minute stretches at a time.
So all of those things I think hurt his long-term draft stock as far as getting drafted really high, but I actually think he starts in the 20s. I think there’s teams like the Pacers, for example, that really liked him for a long time and see him as a good fit for what they do. I don’t think it’s likely he gets drafted there, but if he went that high, that wouldn’t shock me. And then he’s got several more spots in the 20s, and again, he’s a guy who I think once he gets to the 30s, he doesn’t get out of the 30s.
Q. Wondering about Brandon Ingram from Duke. How big of a concern is his upper body strength or his bulk, or is that not really a concern after what Kevin Durant has done?
FORD: It’s a concern, because even Kevin Durant, as skinny as he was coming out of Texas, was considerably heavier than Brandon Ingram. Brandon Ingram is 195 pounds at 6’10”. That is epically thin. He was walking around ESPN the other day in a promotion with Speed Stick, and I’m like, that’s almost like a great nickname for him in the NBA, Brandon Ingram, the Speed Stick.
So how does that affect him? There’s just the physicality of the league, and I will say that he’s a tough kid. At Duke he really — even though he was thin, he was not afraid to mix it up. He did not shy away from contact, that he was tough, that when guys got physical with him, he bounced back. But he’s going to get a little overwhelmed at first in the league, and I think two things are going to determine his future. One is if he continues to develop that jump shot, and I saw him shoot the lights out in a workout that I went to in New York from the NBA three-point line, if he’s going to do that in the league, then he is going to have a long, long career because nobody is going to be able to block that shot, and you’ve seen guys like Reggie Miller, for example, that have a very thin body do just fine in the NBA because they had a skill that allowed him to thrive anyway, and he’s going to be able to defend multiple positions on the perimeter, which I think is really appealing.
I think if guys are going to post him up, he’s going to have some issues, and that’s going to be the one of the biggest concerns that I think you’re going to see from teams on that end.
That’s the real only concern with Ingram. If Ingram was at 220 right now, he probably would pass Ben Simmons as the No. 1 pick in the draft, but at 195, that’s very, very challenging.
Q. Just kind of interesting to know how you see this playing out for A.J. Hammons [from Purdue] and what the laundry list of pros and cons are surrounding him.
FORD: Yeah. As far as talent goes, he is extremely talented. He is a gifted big man, and if you’re talking just on talent, he would have been drafted in the lottery. As far as a big man that maybe he has some like DeMarcus Cousins in him and how he plays and how he sees the game.
The question for him is many of the same things that have plagued DeMarcus Cousins over the years like commitment, conditioning, playing hard all the time, being a good teammate. He didn’t produce like DeMarcus Cousins produced at Kentucky, too. A lot of it was a little bit more theoretical. DeMarcus Cousins was a big-time scorer and producer as a freshman at Kentucky, and A.J. really didn’t start to produce at a high level until his senior year this year at Purdue.
And I think that’s extended even to the workouts. I think he’s come in and he’s in better shape, but he’s not in elite shape, and I think when you go into a job interview for the NBA Draft, these teams look at you and say, how can you not, for millions of dollars, like be in the best possible shape that you could be for us, right? Like what’s going on? And most prospects are. Most prospects are spending months just changing everything about what they do so that they can come in and show like I’m dedicated, I’m a pro. And so there’s the conundrum with A.J. The fact that he’s 23 years old, and there’s still questions about his maturity and still questions about his commitment, but that you see the skill set that is so enticing and so attractive that teams want to take him. I’ve talked to a number of teams about him, and I think he’s one of the most difficult prospects to pick. If I told you every team in the league liked him, that wouldn’t be an exaggeration. They love the skill set and if I also told you that every team in the league is afraid to take him, that also wouldn’t be an exaggeration. So where does that end up? I think it ends up probably in the second round where the risk is less and the guaranteed money is less and teams can use that lack of guaranteed money as a way to try to motivate a player by basically saying, look, every year you have to produce or your contract ends, right, as opposed to a guaranteed deal that you get in the first round that can protect you a minimum of two years and most of the time three or four.
I think most teams will see that as a motivational tool for A.J.
Q. With the way the NBA has gone from a style of play perspective, getting a little bit smaller, getting a little bit more skilled, is this a good time to be that true seven-foot center or have those days kind of passed a little bit?
FORD: It’s probably not a good time in that if you’re going to play below the rim, if you can’t defend anybody, it’s hard to make a living. The Sixers are figuring that out right now with Jahlil Okafor, who they would like to trade and get another pick in the draft, that they are having a hard time trading him, and it’s not because Jahlil Okafor is not a good player, because he is. He’s a really good player and he actually had a really good rookie season. It’s because teams aren’t trying to play that style anymore, and they want to play fast and they want versatility and they want guys that can face the basket and pass and do all those things, and so it is a harder miss for them. I will say A.J. in some ways has more of those skills than Okafor does, which to me is just a pure, back to the basket, brilliant in the post sort of player. I think A.J. actually brings a little bit more basketball skill, maybe not production but skill to the game.
But you’re right, the center has become the equivalent of the NFL running back now. As offenses have shifted, that position has become less and less important, and more and more teams want to play the way the Warriors are, play the way that frankly like the Cavs have been playing lately or Tristan Thompson is now a center or Draymond Green is now a center and really try if you can to put skilled, quicker players on the floor.
Q. Is there any question that you haven’t been asked about the draft that you’d like to talk about?
FORD: Oh, that’s nice. I think that — I would say a couple things, and maybe they’re ones that nobody really wants to write about. But one I do think that this is a strong international draft and that analytically our guy Kevin Pelton and our ESPN analytics team have said that maybe that’s the value of the draft right now. So whether it’s Dragan Bender or Furkan Korkmaz or Ante Zizic or Ivica Zubac or TimothÃ Luwawu or Juan Hernangomez, Guerschon Yabusele — we’re talking about a group that might include seven or eight international players drafted in the first round. Zhou Qi out of China is another one, and that’s — it’s been a long time since we’ve seen that in the draft, and this isn’t necessarily teams overreaching. I actually think we have a really solid group of international prospects that frankly might be better than some of the American prospects that are going ahead of them because of the familiarity that’s there. So I think that’s one note to really take.
I think the other note is just to watch the trends in the NBA. Guys that can play multiple positions, guys that can shoot the basketball, guys that can pass the basketball, including bigs, and guys that can defend, that is what teams are really looking for now. Low post scoring doesn’t seem to be that big of an attractive feature anymore. Guys that are just able to create their own shot off the dribble but can’t shoot, those guys are also not particularly doing well in these workout processes. Every year it’s trendy, and right now everybody is looking at the Warriors, and they’re saying we want players like the players that the Warriors have, whether it’s Draymond Green or Steph Curry or Klay Thompson or Andre Iguodala. That is what we want, and so you’re going to see draft decisions that are going to reflect that, I think, throughout the draft, and guys that might have had a really good college career sliding because they lack some of those key components, and guys that maybe have not had as great a college career, like someone like Patrick McCaw at UNLV or DeAndreâ€™ Bembry out of St. Joseph’s rising in the draft because they have some of those coveted skills.
Q. Do you think the Timberwolves may package that top pick? That’s going to be the rumor around here locally.
FORD: I think they’re looking for sure at it. Obviously Thibodeau looks at his roster and says that he has his two young building blocks in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, so how do I use some of these other assets to start putting veterans around them, not old veterans, but young veterans who can teach us how to win. Because the next level of growth for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins is to make it into a playoff series and see how that changes the game, and so many young players say that one of their key points in development was when they made it to the Playoffs and they saw that next level of intensity and how teams are sort of playing there, and I think Thibodeau wants that. I think he sees that. So getting younger doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense for the Timberwolves.
I do think that they’ll be happy with a fifth pick if there’s guys they like there. But if they can package that fifth pick and maybe some of the other assets that are not Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns to bring in a Jimmy Butler type, someone like that, there’s going to be a lot of appeal there for them to do that, and I actually think it’s the right move for them. As long as Wiggins and Towns are untouchable, I definitely think tinkering with this roster now will help the development of those players, and that’s got to be the primary focus of the Wolves, and I think Thibodeau knows that, and I think he knows what sorts of players would fit around them in ways to help them get better.
Q. I did have one questions about some teams that aren’t in the mix of things as far as the two teams up in New York with the Knicks and the Nets. Are you hearing anything as far as them trying to get into the late first round, and if so, do you have any idea of any players they’re possibly targeting with those potential late first-round, early second-round picks that they might be able to acquire?
FORD: Well, they’ve got to get the picks first, and I think they’re having a hard time. And the reason they’re having a hard time is they just don’t have a lot of assets that teams really covet, and because of the cap opening up and the cap number going up 40 percent, so dramatically, teams don’t need just cash for their picks, which in years past you would see teams like the Knicks buy a pick for $3 million. They don’t need that cash anymore, and they don’t need to clear cap holds off their roster space so that they can pursue an elite free agent like Dallas is notorious in the past of moving their picks because those picks hold a cap hold that shrink their pool of money that they have to spend on free agents. So many teams are flush with cash right now that neither of those considerations are going in.
So that teams that the only way the Knicks or the Nets get a pick is by giving an asset back that the team values more. The Nets have nothing. I mean, they don’t control their draft pick for another couple of years, so they can’t offer a future draft pick to try to get in the draft now, and the one player that they have that’s a younger player that I think does truly excite teams, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Basketball Player, they don’t want to give him up because he’s the one young guy that they’ve got that I think they are excited about and think that he could be a talent down the road. So it’s tough for them to get in.
And then on the Knicks’ side, I think they have a few more assets, but again, not necessarily ones that are really attractive. They don’t want to give up their young assets. They’re not going to trade Kristaps Porzingis. They’re not going to trade Jerian Grant. I think they recognize that they need some of these young guys to build around. So the assets that they do have that they could trade are just not particularly appealing. I’m not saying that they won’t get in the draft, but I think that while there’s been strong attempts to get in for both teams, everything that I’ve heard from other teams is that those are two teams that they don’t really want to deal with because they just don’t feel like the assets are there to do it.
Now, the Knicks’ first-round pick next year, that is a great asset, but the Knicks would be super foolish to trade that because the draft is so much stronger next year. I think the only way the Knicks get into this mix is if they’d make Carmelo available, and at that point, then yeah, they’ll be able to pick up those assets. But so far, that has not happened.
Q. If you could, top three guys for next year? Does Harry Giles lead the way or are there other guys you’re looking at?
FORD: Well, Harry Giles, if he had not partially torn his ACL his senior year, probably would have been hands down the guy that we’d be talking about. He’s going to Duke, reminds a lot of scouts of a young Chris Webber, and just his incredible skill set and versatility at 6’11”, athletic, power forward, and there’s just a lot of appeal there.
But because we’re just not sure, this is his second knee injury in about two years, you know, those are the sorts of things that scare teams a bit away from taking a guy at No. 1 when we have that history of injuries, and he’ll be watched closely at Duke this year to see how he bounces back from that.
I think Josh Jackson who’s going to Kansas is probably going to be the presumptive No. 1. I don’t think there’s going to be a clear-cut one like was there was with Simmons this year, but a guy that is a two-way player, is an elite athlete, elite motor, great basketball skills all the way around, just an exciting player to watch, not a great jump shooter, streaky jump shooter, but just one of these players that just has such a great feel and nose for the ball and game and has such an elite competitive spirit that teams are going to love him.
I sort of think he’s like a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a much better offensive repertoire than Gilchrist has and then Markelle Fultz out of Washington is the other guy I’d say to keep an eye on. He’s a big combo guard who has virtually no flaws in his game. I mean, he’s been so good this summer and spring in the way that he’s played, and he’s got athleticism and he’s got court vision and he can shoot the basketball and he can score off the bounce and he’s unselfish, and there’s just so many things to like about Fultz’s game. I think those are going to be the three guys that you’re going to hear spoken about a lot as the No. 1 pick, and I don’t think like this year, there’s a presumptive favorite going into it.
And then as you get a little further down in the draft, I would say the one thing that’s going to be really intriguing about the 2017 draft, is that we’re going to have five point guards in our top 10, and there’s been a drought of elite point guards coming into the draft the last few years, and I think that five of these guys that are coming out of high school into the draft could be NBA All-Stars some day, and that gets teams excited. That’s such an important position in the NBA. That’s part of the reason there’s a lot of excitement about the 2017 draft.
Q. I know you talked about New Orleans and some of the players in play there. Anthony Davis is their only player who they either drafted or got through a draft rights trade. They haven’t used the draft at all. I wondered if you think this is a draft for a team that kind of tries to build around young veterans, is there a young guy who stands out maybe in that sense, or might they be a team looking to make a move, as well?
FORD: You know, I don’t think this is the type of draft to try to move into or to try to build your team around. I’m not trying to downgrade the picks that people have in this draft. There will be rotation players there. I just don’t see teams expending a lot of energy and capital in this draft of trying to move up or trying to get extra picks or a lot of stuff that we see normally. I just don’t think that the players that are in this draft are so talented that it inspires that sort of level of confidence.
And then in free agency, the challenge of free agency this year is that there’s so much money, and basically every team in the league has money and the ability to spend it, and there’s more money than there are good free agents this summer, and it means that some teams I think are going to have to wait and be patient, and where I think the value is going to be for the teams that don’t land the elite free agents, and there will only be a handful of teams that do, is then in the trade market. Those teams land those guys, they’re going to have to move other guys and things like that, and I think it’s going to behoove teams to be patient, wait for the trade market to open up in late July, early August, and then wait for the 2017 draft if that’s the sort of way that you’re going, expending a lot of assets or energy in this draft or frankly even in this free agency if you’re not one of the elite teams that’s going to draw an elite talent I think is going to be a bad long-term move.
Q. Is there anybody in that group if you’re New Orleans and you’ve built around young veterans, does that make you more likely to look at Dunn or Hield do you think?
FORD: I think so. I mean, I think Dunn’s appeal, and really Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield, all three of those guys can play right now. They can all play in the league. Now point guard, as a rookie, I don’t care if you’re 19 or 22, there’s a learning curve. There’s so many good point guards in the league right now, and anybody is going to struggle, and if you watched Emmanuel Mudiay play for Denver last year and you see what it looks like for a rookie point guard to get thrown into the mix. The first two months of the season, it was an absolute train wreck, and now Mudiay didn’t have maybe the experience that Dunn does, but it’s tough. So that’s always tough, regardless of the talent level that you’re bringing in.
I think Murray, because he can shoot the ball or Buddy Hield because he can shoot the ball, that’s something that doesn’t make as big of an adjustment and that you can do right away. So if they want instant impact without sort of the downside of the learning curve, then maybe Murray and Hield are the way to go because shooting the basketball, that translates really quickly. Running a team and being a point guard, just given the speed and the complexity of the NBA, that’s a much steeper learning curve for everybody and it means that whoever you bring in, if you bring in a rookie, is going to struggle.
Media contact: Gianina Thompson at 860-766-7022 or [email protected] (@Gianina_ESPN).