Transcript: 2020 NBA Draft Preview with College Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas

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Transcript: 2020 NBA Draft Preview with College Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas

For the 18th year, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas will provide analysis and insight during ESPN’s telecast of the 2020 NBA Draft presented by State Farm on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Yesterday afternoon, Bilas discussed the upcoming NBA Draft with media members.

A transcript of the call is available below. Audio is available upon request.

Q: You’ve probably read, Mitch Kupchak has said that he isn’t worried about positions, he’s worried about the best talent he can get. If you had the first pick in the draft and you were in total control of the draft. Who in your mind is that guy?

JB: That’s a great question. I think Anthony Edwards is the most talented player, especially when you factor in his superior athleticism. But every player has a question mark. If that question. If this group were 5-10 years ago I would have said, James Wiseman and I wouldn’t have hesitated, because Wiseman is like a 7’1, Chris Bosh type-player. And I think he’s going to be able to stretch his range out to the NBA three point range and with his mobility and the way he can run and the kind of talent he is, his size would have made a huge difference. But the game’s changed as, you know, so I would, I would say Edwards, although he has some question marks. Edwards, he should be an outstanding defender and he has not been because he doesn’t do it all the time but talent wise I have him at the top, top of the heap.

Q: You touched on Anthony Edwards, a little bit. I covered in from Georgia. I think you had a couple of his games. Obviously the proverbial raw guy Coach Crean just said a little while ago. He said, if they end up passing them by, the leadership groups that do are going to end up regretting it in two years. Do you agree with that assessment is, you think it’s like a two year window you’re looking at for before he gets up to the level he’ll need to be at to be a real force in the NBA?

JB: I don’t know the time frame. I mean, I do agree with Tom that he is a unique talent. You just don’t find players that have that kind of frame, that kind of athleticism and that kind of skill – all combined. I think that the issue with Edwards is one of sort of understanding of the game and maturity in the game. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I just mean that you know he’s got so many options with his skill level, he tends to settle for the jump shot too often, in my view, that with his frame and his, he’s a freight train if he put the ball on the deck more often and attack the rim. They’d have to follow him, and he would have spent a lot more time at the free throw line. You know, he shot about 40% overall from the field, which is low for him… low for anybody. And he shot just under 30% from three, but he made a lot of his contested shots he actually shot a decent percentage of contested shots. But, you know, and the thing about the on the defensive end like He’s got the ability to be a game changing defender because of his length and athleticism. And when he sits down in a stance and he’s really engaged. He makes plays defensively. So Tom Crean has coach Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade, he’s had top talents and from what he’s told me, and what I’ve seen, he puts he puts Edwards right with those two guys and a little bit above them. Like he’s got a high work rate. He’s, he’s good with his teammates, he takes constructive criticism I really liked him but he still has some maturing to do, which we should expect out of a 19-year-old, but for some reason we seem collectively to have stopped. We’re expecting more finished products and he’s not near that. But his, he’s got every tool that you want in a player.

Q: Just want you to kind of give me your insights and what you think going to happen with Tyrese Maxey.

JB: I think Maxey is going to be taken in the top, he’ll be taken in the lottery. Could be as high as 10 or 11 could be more in the 14-15 range. But because of his quickness, his ability to attack and transition and he’s a good ball handler, and a good shooter. Like his mechanics need to change a little bit, but it’s not a big change, like he has good mechanics, but he shoots the ball a little flat. And I think it’s improved I saw him on TV the other day in that workout he had an LA, and he’s clearly worked on his mechanics, but he tends to shoot the ball more out than up, if that makes sense if he gets it more up than out I think he’ll become even more consistent as a shooter. And I think, frankly, he benefits from the fact that there have been several Kentucky guards over the past few years that have fared almost better as pros than they did his college players, and that weighs in his favor. It will certainly make people think, but I think he’s got a ton of ability and he competes defensively, too. So I like it very much, but there you know, I don’t see him going in the top 10 I think he’ll be just outside.

Q: We’re used to seeing the Duke guys you know top 10 or top five lately, didn’t seem to be the case. This year, who among that group do you see as a surefire first round guy that they can’t gather the first round, and do you ever just, just one

JB: Well, I don’t think there is a surefire first round pick among the Duke guys this year, that there’s a consensus no brainer first rounder. I happen to think, and I would be in the no-brain category, but I would happen, I believe, Tre Jones will be taken in the top 20 – top 25. I think he’s a really good player and he’ll be a really good NBA guard because he plays at both ends of the floor. He’s really smart, he’s a great on ball defender. Now he needed to improve his shot, he improved it a good deal from his freshman year to last year. And I think he’ll continue to improve it – long armed, tenacious defensively, and a low error point guard. So especially in today’s game, I think he’s going to do going to do well and I project him… I have him ranked 24th overall among this year’s prospects and then Vernon Carey, I have in the mid-30s, as a prospect and then Cassius Stanley, a little bit below that. Stanley’s athleticism sets his apart, but he’s not a big guard. And I think he can shoot it a little bit, but he’s not a great shooter. That’s not a he’s not a standout shooter, but his athleticism, is jaw dropping.

Q: With respect to the Celtics three first-round picks, what do you think, Danny Ainge will and won’t do with those picks? What teams and players should the media be looking out for the Celtics to select

JB: I you know I made a cop out on you, I don’t really know what Danny is going to do. I don’t know who does because he’s… Danny’s among the smartest in the in the NBA. And so you could package those things. Those pics, you could use them trade you trade them. There’s all kinds of things that you can do. But the Celtics have been very smart over the years, in the way they’ve used the draft and compiled assets, used those picks to compile assets and be active in the trade market. So I’m not exactly sure what he’s going to do, but there are a number of… one of the things I like best about this draft is there’s no certainty at the top, so you could make a great argument among three players as to who to draft first. And then after that, I think there are some really intriguing prospects that could wind up being outstanding all-star caliber NBA players like I think Tyrese Haliburton out of Iowa State has the chance to be an all-star and Devin Vassell from Florida State is a two way player that I think is very undervalued in this draft. I would not be surprised to see Isaac Okoro go forth in this draft out of Auburn because of his athleticism, his defensive ability, he rebounds his position and he’s an excellent passer very competitive, and I think he’s gonna improve as a shooter. That’s his one big question mark –  can you shoot the ball. Before the season started, Cole Anthony out of North Carolina was projected as a top five pick. He’s probably going to go outside the top 10, but he’s still got a ton of value. I think he’s going to be a really good player, he’s a really good player now but I mean really good NBA player. So there are a bunch of players that have great possibilities in this draft and I think somehow maybe the pandemic’s been part of it, but Somehow we’ve there’s been discussion that this isn’t the greatest of drafts and, look maybe it’s not, we’ll see. But I think there’s a lot more value here after the first few pics then then maybe we’ve advertised.

Q: Calipari’s new slogan this year in describing his players is that they are built different, implying that anybody who comes to play for the University of Kentucky is somehow set apart from all the others. How much truth is there to that in your mind, especially in regard to people like Maxey and Hagans and Quickley and Nick Richards and how much of that is just another clever marketing ploy from John?

JB: Well, I mean, when you recruit, you’re recruiting players that have become commodities already. We’ve had this discussion before it started in the Kentucky sphere, a lot of Kentucky fans, you know, got their noses out of joint when I said, Look, you don’t produce pros, you recruit them. That’s not a knock on anybody, that’s true of every, every program, you know, in six, eight months of being on a campus, whether it’s Kentucky’s or anybody else’s, there’s only so much that you can do. And I’ve always asked the question, well, does the high school coach get any credit for developing a pro or how much, how much credit do the pros get? This discussion came up a lot with Tyler Herro, that somehow, you know, Tyler Herro became a lottery pick and a pro prospect for one reason only, and that’s where he went to college. I just don’t believe that’s completely true. Of course coaching matters and coaches help players get better. But Tyler Herro has been a pro a lot longer than he was ever college player. How much credit to the Miami Heat get their coaching staff and their developmental group? But what winds up happening is, is college coaches have to recruit and so a lot, some of their recruiting has to do with sales. And that is selling their development abilities and that’s great. I’m not, I’m not arguing anything. I’m just, I just, you know, I word things differently. I don’t think programs produce pros. I think they recruit pros. It doesn’t mean they don’t make players better of course programs do that and coaches do that. But it’s sort of, I do think you know people… everybody does this: you wind up comparing players to their predecessors. So you wind up comparing a Kentucky guard now to Kentucky guards in the past several years. As for the recruiting part of it, this is about recruiting and that’s important. But when you look at a media guide… remember when Media Guides used to be for the media, they’re not anymore, they’re for recruits. Every media guide has this long section about all their NBA players. And Kentucky and Duke and Michigan and, you know, Michigan State, North Carolina, they put out a bunch of pros over the years, there have been a bunch of talented players that have gone there, and have become pros. They so you have these huge portions of these media guides that sell that. So the idea is if you get recruited by Kentucky, you’re pro-caliber. And that’s the, that’s the mindset. And that’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just, it’s business and there’s nobody better at this business than John.

Q: Speaking of Kentucky. They had their pro day this evening. And I’m wondering how helpful that is to NBA scouts to get a look at a player, you know, eight, nine months prior to possibly drafting a player.

JB: It’s a good question. It’s just another data point, I mean that the pro days have become, and John was the first in that realm too, I think I was at his first pro day that that he did, and it’s a great marketing tool. In the past, it’s gotten all these NBA people on the campus, it creates a lot of interest, and I think it’s a fun thing for the players. They enjoy it and it’s something that can be controlled. So it’s nothing but a good thing. I mean, I remember referring to that it was a job interview – an early job interview – for all the players. So now, how much value is it? I don’t know that it’s a great value. I think what’s the best value is how they perform in practice and five-on-five and in games. I mean, you’re there at practice all the time. I don’t think I’ve been to a Kentucky practice where there aren’t NBA scouts there all the time. So it’s another data point that they can have. Right now, there aren’t a lot of data points you can gather so you’re having to take whatever you can get. And so, is it going to be helpful? Yes. Is it just positive of the issue and of these players? No, there’s a lot more it’s going to go into any decision for them to go pro for them to get drafted, things like that.

Q: We’ve got two guys from here – Grant Riller and Aaron Nesmith, what do you see in those guys, do you see them as first round picks?

JB: Grant Riller, I think, is probably going to be a second round pick At least, that’s where he’s projected but he certainly could be a first round pick because he can really shoot the ball and he is spectacular in pick and roll situations. He’s got a great feel and understanding for how to use screens, the pace in using them, and then the decisions when he you know sees a switch, he can split, he makes really good decisions. And so I think he’s going to do very well. He’s not all that big, but, but a very, very talented player that I think is, is not only going to play in the NBA, but he’s gonna play in the NBA for a long time because of his skill level and his competitiveness. Nesmith I think is the best shooter in the draft and, you know, there are a couple guys that that compete with them in that, but just an extraordinary shooter and can shoot it off the dribble, can shoot behind screens, can catch and shoot. He just launches it, deep range and he’s always moving, always hunting the shot. And I think in in the NBA, that’s going to continue and he’s going to be a valuable commodity. I’ve got him ranked 12th overall. He’s really good and I think he’ll have a long career as well as.

Q: I just wanted to know if you’ve heard from any teams high on Myles Powell and what would keep him from getting drafted?

Jay Bilas: Well, I think he’s going to be drafted. You know, just a question of how high. I’ve got him as a in the second round. He’s in the 40s on my best available list, which isn’t a mock draft. It’s not predicting where a guy is going to go. It’s just, you know, ranking players by how good of a prospect that I think they are for the NBA and the kind of career I think they’re going to have in the NBA. Powell is a man. I mean, he’s a big strong guard that is ultra-competitive and can score. He’s not like I wouldn’t call him a great shooter, but he’s a bucket getter. And so I don’t I don’t put it past him of not only getting drafted but being in the league for a long time because that’s the kind of competitor he’s always been. I haven’t talked to teams about hey you know what, where do you rank him or no are you going to draft him and stuff like that. But he’s on draft boards and I don’t see him going undrafted, but you never know. Players don’t want to hear this but sometimes not getting drafted – I’m not talking about Myles, I’m talking about other players – sometimes not getting drafted isn’t the worst thing in the world, because then you get to choose where you go as an undrafted free agent. You get drafted, you know, they own your rights, and you gotta stay there till you get cut and sometimes you can get cut, you know, if you do get cut then depending on when it happens, it makes a lot harder to hook on somewhere else, but I’m a big fan of Myles Powell. I think he’s not only going to be drafted, I think he’s going to be in the league next year.

Q: My question for you is, obviously, after all these years, I’m sure you have a pretty solid routine down for your draft night kind of what you’re doing during the draft and how you’re going to handle Post draft stuff. But obviously this year, everything’s different. So can you just walk me through kind of what you’re imagining your draft night is going to look like next week?

JB: It’s going to be really different this year as it is for everybody with the pandemic and all the different protocols we have to go through. I just had my COVID test couple days ago, got the results back and I was negative. I’ve had the swab thing before, but I never had to do it quite like that where you 30 seconds each nostril and a couple of sneezes and eyes watering and all that. So that was a small price to pay to be able to work. But in past years, when the Draft has been in Brooklyn, or New York, whatever it is, you know, you get there a couple days in advance. You have long meetings where everybody’s in a room, we used to go over the whole draft pick by pick, including news elements and all these things, and we’re not going to be able to do that this year, for obvious reasons. So I’m flying up to Connecticut, the draft is going to be held in an ESPN studio on ESPN campus in Bristol, Connecticut. And my understanding is that Adam Silver and Mark Tatum are both going to be there for the Draft. So we’re doing that. Doing it that way. And so that’ll be that’ll be really different. And we’ll have our whole crew there Rece Davis hosting Mike Schmitz, who’s just a spectacularly good evaluator of talent – both international and US – Jay Williams and myself. So we’ll be sitting there and I don’t know whether we’ll be at a desk or director’s chairs or what, I’ll find out when I get there. So it’ll be a little bit different not having all the players and everything there. Usually one of the things I have to worry about not worry about, but as I’m getting older, is making sure, like sitting up there on that that set for like six straight hours and not being able to use the restroom. It makes you think twice about every time you know want to hydrate. So I don’t know how all that’s going to be this year, whether the Draft will be as long or how we’re going to our going to do the post-Draft stuff. I’m not exactly, I’ll find more about that as I get there, but my prep hasn’t changed. It’s just, you’re not able to see as much. I’ve got more time this year, and so part of it is you try to get away from it a little bit so you don’t overthink things and you know you’re constantly looking at your list going, Oh, I should move this or I should do this and You know, usually the Draft would be in our rearview mirror by now, and we would have, I mean the players would have gone through summer league already. They’d have found a place to live wherever they’re playing. They don’t even know where they’re going yet, and so I can’t imagine what it’s like for a player. An adjustment as a broadcaster, we can make that it’s not that difficult. But what an adjustment for the players both mentally and physically and really, really incredible. I’m hopeful that we can make this as enjoyable for the players as we can, because it’s a big night for them. It’s obviously a big night for the teams and the fans and all that, but it’s especially big for the players and they’re not getting to do the bro hug with the Commissioner and you know suits and all that stuff …it’s unfortunate.

Q: Just wondering what your thoughts of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman’s draft prospects are.

JB: I think both are borderline first round picks – both could go in the first round, both go early second.  Cassius Winston, offensively, no question marks for me. He’s not the biggest of point guards, but he’s so savvy, such a great passer, so good with the ball, low error rate, can really shoot it well and because of his size, I mean, getting a shot off may prove a little bit difficult against bigger defenders, but man, he is so savvy with the ball. And great in screen roll situations. The only issue or question mark about Cassius Winston, and I think it’s a very real question, is on the defensive end. He’s not a great defender and he doesn’t have positional size as a defender. That’s been an issue, a little bit at Michigan State, it will be one in the NBA. But can be overcome that and improve? Yes, I think so. He’s gotten better, just in this time under Tom Izzo, but I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to succeed in the NBA, it’s just a question to what level. And I find the same true of Xavier Tillman in a different way. Tillman’s big, strong, good skill level. He’s only 6’8, but really good defender and moves his feet well. He can switch out and he does block shots, even though he’s not a super long arm, big guy that’s a legit four or five size wise, but he can knock down and open shot, you know, he scores at a high rate around the basket. He’s very good in his decision making rolling or popping when he gets the ball off. The screen role he sets good screens and then he operates well off of them. I think he shot like 68% as a roll man on pick and roll situations and most of those were with Cassius Winston. So I think both of them are right in the 28 to 35 range as far as you know where their draft position will likely be, so I wouldn’t be surprised him go first, I wouldn’t be surprised early second

Q: So with the Grizzlies obviously they need some shooters to kind of pair with Ja Morant and the young core they have there. Who are some good, young shooters that you see maybe be in the second round, maybe that number 40?

JB: If it’s second round, we already mentioned, I think got a question about Grant Riller of College of Charleston. I don’t know if Jordan Nwora from Louisville will be around that long. I can’t imagine that he will be, but you never know. And he can really shoot it. Elijah Hughes from Syracuse is a very good shooter. Malachi Flynn from San Diego State. I think he’ll probably be gone in the first round. Like the best shooters in the draft I think our Desmond Bane of TCU and Aaron Nesmith of Vanderbilt. Those guys they’ll be gone in the top dozen or so. I don’t know where Bane is going to fall. I’ve got him in the top 40, I don’t haven’t quite in the top 30 so I would say those guys would come to mind as shooters, first and foremost. There are other guys that can shoot it, but I have a little bit further, further down the list of players. We talked about Myles Powell a little bit from Seton Hall. He’s not a guy that I would say is a great percentage shooter, but if you’re looking for buckets, he would be in that 40 range.

Q: There’s has been a lot of talk about the Pistons potentially trading up to draft LaMelo Ball. How do you feel LaMelo Ball will fit into the Detroit Pistons rosters in this way, in Dwane Casey’s coaching?

JB: Mike Schmitz, whose opinion I value as high as anyone’s, has Ball as the most talented player in the draft. I have Edwards there, but I’m probably factoring in Edwards like freak athleticism into that as well and that puts them over the top for me. But LaMelo Ball’s got, you know, he’s 6’7. And he’s really good with the basketball. He’s got an uncanny ability to pass the ball and I think even maybe even at a little bit of higher level than his brother Lonzo when he came out of UCLA. He can really pass it. The one thing he doesn’t do is, he doesn’t shoot it and he’s got a bit of an odd release. It’s a very low release point when he lets it go. So that’s got to improve. The one thing that that’s a little bit difficult for me is I’ve not met him yet, I don’t know him. So from afar, you kind of wonder… he has not had a normal maturation as a player. I think going to Australia really helped him and he really improved and definitely matured that way. But he didn’t have a normal high school experience for a great player, and clearly didn’t have a normal experience after high school, but you can’t deny the the talent. You watch it on tape and it’s, I mean he’s uber talented. It’s just going to be a question of fitting into an NBA team and can he take over as a leader if he’s going to be the point guard and, as a young player, how is he going to relate to other players on the team. I’m not as worried about, you know, sort of what some have termed ‘the baggage’ that comes along with being a Ball. I look at him as his own man.

Q: When you look at this draft it the feedback, I’ve gotten so far as it might be deeper than people thought, but there really are no sure things. Last year, you kind of thought Zion and Ja and even RJ Barrett were guys, you could see as all-stars. But this year, it just seems like it’s there is that sure thing, but there might be more rotational guys. What are your thoughts, just n this draft and what it could be?

JB: I think that’s a fair interpretation of things. There’s a lot of “I don’t knows” involved in the draft or I’m not sure. But what I find most interesting is, you know, we can flip a coin on the top three and it could really be in any order and you’re not going to scratch your head like the one year was a 2013 when the Cavs took Anthony Bennett and you know we were all sitting on the desk going what like what just happened. I don’t think we’ll be saying that this year. I think they can go and go in any of those three directions and will be, yep, that makes sense. You know, it’s interesting, Anthony Edwards didn’t lead his team to the NCAA tournament, LaMelo Ball didn’t even play in the United States, he went to Australia and James Wiseman kind of pulled the plug after three games at Memphis, so there’s a lot of I don’t knows with these guys. But man, they’re talented. But after that, I think I mentioned before, after that there are some really intriguing prospects that I think could be outstanding and I think I mentioned, you know, Tyrese Haliburton is going to be an outstanding pro I’m a big believer in Isaac Okoro of Auburn on the next level. I mean, he was really good on the college level but on the next level I think he’s going to be better. And Devin Vassell is another guy plays both ends of the floor like these guys are the modern game and I don’t even think we’ve mentioned Obi Toppin yet of Dayton who reminds me a little bit of a Amare Stoudemire with how he plays and, you know, plays above the rim and you know lab threat can really run can shoot it from three point range as a standstill, a catch and shoot guy. Has to get a little bit better with his lateral movement. But even further down the draft with is Kira Lewis Jr of Alabama, who is one of the youngest players, even as a two year player at Alabama still one of the youngest players in the country because he came into college age 16. Tyler Bey of Colorado could wind up being a first round pick because he’s one of the best defenders in the draft. And he’s one of those guys because of his freaky long arms and athleticism, and has built his ability to guard at finished plays and all that, he could wind up being a guy you look back on and go how did he go 29th, you know, he should have been in the lottery, stuff like that. There are a lot of players like that we just don’t know. But I agree with you. I think there’s a lot of value further down in this draft that’s going to prove out over the long run.

Q: One of those guys that might be down the list, we’ve talked about him before, Cole Anthony. It’s funny, he came back a lot of guys would have done that, he obviously didn’t have a great year, but are you surprised when you see these mocks that have him going in the early twenties, late teens? What do you make of that?

Jay Bilas: Yes. I make of it that in today’s world it’s a right now thing. You know, Cole was a top five talent coming into last year. I didn’t know anybody that didn’t have him in the top five among prospects for this year’s draft. He got injured and then he played on a team that didn’t perform at a high level. So it was a losing North Carolina team that every time you turned around, they’re losing one point games. It’s just a miserable year from a win loss standpoint. But I give them a tremendous amount of credit, like he never shut it down and he kept coming back and playing his tail off like he never gets tired and you know now can we quibble about Okay could you make some better decisions here like You know, it would have been better if he passed it here or, you know, you take some challenge shots. Yeah, but he’s going to get a lot better there. And those are those you know those issues are at the forefront for Anthony Edwards, too. So I’m a believer in Cole, Anthony. I think he’s going to do very well as a pro. And if somebody grabs him at 12 or 10 or whatever, they’re getting the top five talent at that level.

Q: The ultimate goal for a top high school prospect is get to the NBA and right now which route to the NBA do you think is the better option: traditional college route or the newer G League, overseas route?

JB: The short answer is I’m not exactly sure. I mean, I prefer the college route, just because of the socialization part of it that you’re playing in the United States, you’re able to take advantage of what at the overwhelming majority of power five schools have, you know, facilities and nutrition and all that, that are better than you would get in the G League. I would rather they opened up the name image and likeness and allowed the players to make a little bit of money, then it would be more of a no brainer to me. But you also get started on your education and I’m a believer in education. I’m not saying that I don’t think a player should leave early or go directly out of high school, but I think once you get your start at a major college you’re more likely to go back and finish and I think that’s good for anyone not just basketball players. It’s important and a lot of these young prospects, once they start and they’re in the system, they do come back. That’s nothing but a good thing for them and for everybody else. But the G league is an attractive option because you’re going in and you’re being developed as an NBA player from the word go. You’re not running college offenses, and you know a lot of college offenses now are more geared to what the NBA does anyway, but you’re not dipping your toe in, you’re jumping in headfirst and that’s not a bad thing. Same thing with going overseas. It’s not a bad thing. You can do it. And heck James Wiseman, who is one of the smartest young men I’ve met, bailed out of Memphis after three games and has been working out ever since and he’s going to be a top three pick. So there’s all kinds of ways to do it and do it right. And I’m glad the players have options. I still feel like the college route, though, is the best option.

Q: I was doing some research and I saw that Jordan Nwora had potentially in a couple mock drafts gone from a mid-second round guy to potentially late first round. What’s your evaluation of Jordan and where do you think he might land?

JB: Well, I mean, I think he’s worthy of a first round selection, because he’s got size. He’s strong and a good athlete and he can really shoot the ball. I think the question marks about Jordan have been sort of on a toughness competitiveness level. I’m not saying they’re not fair because they are, his own coaching staff questioned that, but he’s very, very talented and he’s still a young player. When I was coming out of college, people talked about 22 year olds that graduated from college being young rookies that had a lot of maturing to do. And now all of a sudden, you got a 20 year-old and we act like they’re finished products and they’re not. But he’s got a lot of tools and I think his ability to shoot it like he shoots it with ease from deep, with ease. I think Chris Mack would have preferred if he rebounded at a higher level, and was tougher defensively. But he’s got the tools to be an outstanding NBA player. And so I think, I think it’s fair. I think he’s good enough to be talented enough first round, but, same thing, like he wanted the top of the second round. There’s not a whole lot of difference there, and he can we talked to a bunch of guys that have gotten the second round that have had, all-star careers and so I wouldn’t put that past him.

Q: Can you just elaborate on Isaac Okoro’s game where team will get if they draft him. And also is there a good maybe current NBA comparison out there?

JB: Yeah, of course. I’m terrible at the comparison thing. I apologize. I’ve never been any good at that a coral is long armed wing, very athletic very strong and he’s an outstanding defender. I mean, he can switch out and guard anybody one through four and that’s a valuable skill in the NBA because NBAs a lot about switching now. You know, the court gets so spread out and all that. You’ve got to be able to guard space if he can do that with a strength and athleticism. And his lateral quickness. And then he’s excellent and attacking the basket off the dribble because you got to the free. I don’t remember exact numbers, but he got to the free throw line ton He’s not a great shooter. That’s something he needs to improve upon to refine his mechanics and become a consistent perimeter shooter but he’s a good passer. Great personality as a basketball player. And he is ultra-competitive. Never backs down and you know i think you know you’ll often hear you know so and so’s a winner, well, he’s had a winning profile, this whole career. And so I’m very high on him. I would not be surprised. Like, he’s the type of player, I’m not saying they’re going to do this, but he’s the type of player that the Warriors would grab. Now what they do that at number two when Wiseman’s available, I don’t know, but he’s like a Warrior type of player. And so that means he can play for anybody. He’s legit.

Q: How much credit do the coaches get at the college level for producing NBA talent, but Penny Hardaway his pitch has been, you know, he can ferry guys to the NBA with an NBA style program. How crucial do you think, maybe not necessarily the draft order, but the success of precious that you and James Wiseman will be in the NBA to solidifying that message going forward?

JB: It’s helpful. I mean, I think anytime you have really good players that you’re able to attract and then they not only perform well while they’re playing there but they go on and have success afterwards. It lends credibility to the program so that you know when you’re recruiting other players, they’re thinking, well, I’m I must be really good if they’re recruiting me. I think we talked about that a little bit with regard to Kentucky. I think it’s also true for Memphis. But, you know, look, I mean the discussion that I had started in the Kentucky realm was the idea of, you know, you don’t take you don’t take like just average raw material and turn it into a pro, like that that’s not happening anywhere that doesn’t happen you know they’re taking great talents, and you know really good coaches can help players get better. And that’s true on every level. But it’s sort of the idea for some reason in this in our society and in the way American basketball works. We give credit to the college coach for, you know, producing a pro and I’ve never bought into that, like how much credit does a high school coach get versus the college high school coach usually has the player longer how much credit like and what high school program produces the most pros. And then you never hear this, what professional coaches produce the most NBA All Stars and Hall of Famers you never hear that and I made a made a point before about. And it’s not just because of it was because of the discussion among the Kentucky writers, but the idea of Tyler Hero. Well, Tyler heroes spent more time as a pro than he did his college player. So how much credit, do you give everybody it’s, it’s kind of a useless argument in my, in my judgment, but the one thing that’s different is high school coaches and pro coaches don’t recruit college coaches do and so there’s a part of that, that, that there’s a marketing and sales element to it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I get it. I don’t have any problem with it. But I just choose not to say, well, this coach produces pros because i don’t think coaches are going, okay well I’m going to produce pros like these four guys I’ll produce them as pros. I don’t have time to make all of your pros, but I’ll take these– It doesn’t work that way. And it never asked.

Q: I know you were very complimentary of DJ Jeffrey’s last year I know we’re talking about the following your draft. But, you know, we’re starting to see him appear on draft boards. Do you see you know him capable of shooting up your mock drafts come next year?

JB: Yeah,  I think DJ is got the chance to be a breakout player this year because he’s going to have more responsibility on his shoulders and he is such a good all-around player. And check so many different boxes with what he what he can do. I think he’s going to have a great year. You know, last year, Memphis was so young and losing Wiseman was a body blow to the program, but they bounced back they played really hard throughout the year. I would have liked to have seen everybody get a chance to finish it off but i think DJ is going to have a really good year this year.

Q: There’s a deep draft class coming out of the Dallas area high schools this year with RJ Hampton Tyrese Maxey, Jahmi’us Ramsey — I’m curious, from your perspective, have you ever seen, or what classes might compare to the local ties that these players have and what do you think that says about the state of basketball in Texas and Dallas where football might be king more often right now?

JB: I don’t know how to compare that whether, you say okay, well, the draft class from Los Angeles in 1982 was better or something like that. I don’t know that, but I think in areas like Florida and Texas and there are other examples of this, where you know football is number one among young people. You know, a commitment to basketball, a year round commitment, it has shown — like Texas has always been strong and producing great basketball players always so I’m not surprised that there are three guys from Dallas that are as widely regarded as Hampton and Maxie and all that. But a lot of it is no sort of based upon a particular year and this year I think all three could be first round picks. You know Jahmi’us Ramsey’s been projected for late first, early second, Maxie is going to be a first round pick and I think Hampton will be another first round pick so that speaks well, obviously, of the talent level in the Dallas area, but that’s it. Dallas has always been really, really talented but the year round play, there’s good parts and bad parts of it, but that’s been a big factor. I think over the years.

Q: Looking at the mock draft from, let’s say, one to fifteen, do you see anybody in a trade scenario that can go to a when our team and really help them?

JB: I see a bunch of guys that can really help a really good team. You know, we mentioned Neil Smith before because you can really shoot it, so he can he can fit in just about anywhere. There are a couple of guys that I think are high value players that we haven’t talked about. One is Onyeka Okongwu of USC, big guy, block shots, finishes around the basket, can really run the floor, mobile, and I think is going to like he shoots a good ball. So as a face up shooter I think he’s got a good deal of potential. And the other is Patrick Williams of Florida State. I had Williams sort of in the 15 to 20 range at the end of the season. But the more you watch of him on tape, the more you’re going, he’s just scratching the surface of how good he is going to be united long arm super strong athletic, his hands are huge. And he really makes a lot of impact plays and both he and Devin Vassell played on a team under Leonard Hamilton, where Leonard wanted them all to play as hard as they could, for as long as they could and then take them out. And so it’s almost like a hockey team, get a new shift in there and they had so many good players that individually maybe their numbers didn’t blow you away. But then you’re going per 40 minutes, man, these guys are really productive and so I think Patrick Williams in the long run, it’s going to be really good. I don’t really know kind of what trade scenarios are out there. You know, I hear that it’s going to be an active trade night. But the truth is, I hear that every year and some years. It’s really active and other years not active at all. So a lot of people say this is lying season as you get this close to the draft, but I don’t really know whether people are lying or not.

Q: You mentioned how high you are on James Wiseman, what do you think about his outlook as pro as well as Precious Achiuwa who’s kind of been like going from like maybe top 10 kind of middle of the first round mock drafts?

Jay Bilas: Well, first of all, he’s an outstanding young man. I got to spend a little time with them before the season started and I was so impressed with his maturity level. He’s unbelievably smart and so I really appreciate the way he plays. I think he’s Uber talented. His mobility laterally in a straight line is high level especially for guys seven feet tall. He can really change ends, high, low, high volume rebounder and a guy that can block shots can finish around the rim and has a reliable repeating stroke, like, is he a 40% three point shooter from NBA range no, but I think he’s going to be able to stretch out that range and I think he’s going to be really, really good. I mean I know part of it’s because he’s left handed. But I liken him to a Chris Bosh type, type player. He’s bigger and Bosh turned out to be pretty damn good. So he’s got all the tools and I think he’s going to be very good. I wish you would have stayed in college and played the whole season, it would have been fun to watch him but I understand why he didn’t. Precious as an interesting prospect. Like, I don’t think when I first watched him play I truly appreciate it how talented he is. It was only when Wiseman went out that you saw man Achiuwa is way more than I thought. And he’s another guy that can really run rebounds at a high level, long arms. He makes plays, you know, you can get deflections and block shots. His mobility is really good. He’s always moving and he’s got a high motor and he can shoot it like you can step away and shoot it. So I think he’s very talented and would not be surprised –I think he’s a lottery pick, but whether it’s like number 10 or number 40 I don’t know where it’s going to be, but I can’t imagine that he’s going to be outside of the top 20 under any scenario, but his ability to shoot it, and with his length and athleticism that sets them apart.

Q: What kind of gambles and trades do you expect to see?

JB: Well, I mean, you keep hearing that there’s going to be a lot of trade activity, but I think I mentioned before, I hear that almost every year and I don’t spend a lot of time talking to NBA people this time of year. Hey, what are you hearing and all I do, if I want to know what’s going on, I read Woj’s stuff. He knows what’s going on before it happens. So I don’t spend a lot of time on that. And I don’t want to put people in a position. You know, I’m not that interested in that stuff. My thing is more about just evaluating the prospects, rather than trying to anticipate what’s going to happen because I think this is my 17th or 18th year doing this, one of the things that you kind of have to catch yourself doing when a player is drafted is projecting how they’re going to be with that team, because they’ll put the hat on and then you know 20 minutes later they got a new hat on. And so you’ve projected them with that team. It’s not what that team anymore and that’s why Woj’s Twitter feed is so important because you know when the kid gets dropped. I don’t look at Twitter during the during the draft, but when you know like Rece Davis will say okay this pick is being used for this and that, you don’t wind up getting caught in that of projecting a player and Woj already knows he’s going somewhere else.

Q: Which star or best prospects are you keep an eye on?

JB: Well, I mean, obviously the first three – Edwards, Wiseman, Ball. And that’s the order I have man. Other people have a different, but I’m really interested in seeing where some of the players further down the list are going to go and I mentioned, you know, Isaac Okoro, Devin Vassell, Tyrese Haliburton and guys like that, that I think are going to be really good. That gonna be fun I think to watch. And then as you get further down in the draft like what happens with Cole Anthony or Tre Jones or Cassius Winston, and in there are a couple, I think I mentioned Tyler Bey of Colorado and Robert I didn’t mention Robert Wooward Mississippi State. But those two guys are elite defensive prospects and I think they’re going to be first round picks. Now, they could be early second but like I think this draft has a lot of value in it way beyond the lottery and look, we’ve seen this happen in the past. It’s not going to be with every player but you know you’ve seen players get drafted in the second round turned out to be all-stars. That’s happened and I think it’s a good chance it will happen this year.

Q: When you’re speaking with players during these workouts interviews, whatever it may be. What did they say overall about how this process has gone for them during the pandemic with respect to no March Madness, the program’s ending early, likely all virtual interviews, what did they say about all this and how they’ve experienced it and reacted?

JB: I haven’t done any those interviews. Mike Schmitz has done a ton of that and I’ve watched most of them. I think for most of the players it’s been an exercise in adapting, they don’t have any experience of going through it. So they don’t know what they’re missing. But I think the amount of time that this has taken it’s easy for it to take a toll on the players. And you wonder, like, can they keep, you know, sort of their intensity up doing these workouts, month after month after month and, like I had read something and I don’t know how true any of this stuff is that I’m about to say, but it’s just I wanted to point it out. So I’d read something recently like on ESPN, we had televised a workout that Klutch Sports had put together for Tyrese Maxey Anthony Edwards. So I was not only really excited to work again, but I was really excited to see a ball bounced on hardwood again and so in watching it, I knew going in It was a very little value watching a one on 0 a workout. But I had heard on read, excuse me, that some, you know, anonymous NBA scouts had said they were really disappointed in in Edwards. And I was thinking, Okay, well, whether it’s true or not, it’s just a one on 0 workout. To me, that’s not dispositive of the issue, but it just shows there’s so much that’s going into this now there’s so little. Normal data available. So you don’t have your normal combine where you can really sit down take your time with a player in an interview. Now you’ve got a limited number of opportunities where you can bring a player in there, all these COVID restrictions, and the one thing I wonder is the lack of sort of normal information going to help a team to team in evaluating because they’re, they’re going to have to go more on the body of work and five on five stuff from last year then then stuff you would get in workouts. That may help that may be better. I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s going to be fascinating as all get out to watch.

Q: You talk a lot about Edwards and Wiseman, can you talk from for a bit about Ball and how you think his strengths and weaknesses will fit into the NBA?

JB: His strengths will fit in extraordinarily well. He’s got positional size as a point guard, 6’7. You know, he reminds you a little bit with his, his profile of Shaun Livingston when he came out of high school. The one thing that Ball does not do, like he’s a fabulous passer fabulous and has just unique passing instincts, I think better than his brother Lonzo, who is a great passer. He’s very good and pick and roll situations. And I think he’s really matured. That his time in Australia was great for his maturation, I believe, as a player. Two things that I would say are question marks: one is shooting. He is not a great shooter and he’s got his mechanics need to be overhauled. And he needs to fix a shot. And now that was true of his brother Lonzo too but I think his shots actually a little bit better than Lonzo so you don’t have that elbow flying all over the place. And the other part of it I frankly don’t know the answer to this, I would have a little bit of concern and want to satisfy myself as to his you know his socialization into a team that he’s not had a normal high school experience. He bounced around and you know, had a Kardashian like kind of environment around them and then and he didn’t have what I would consider a normal process after high school for a great player, a great prospect. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to step into a team and operate smoothly and be terrific teammate all that stuff. But, but I’d want to know that. And right now there’s not a lot of not allowed to go on because I didn’t see him. I just saw tape so I wouldn’t over there in Australia and he’s only had a couple of workouts, I believe. I think he’s only had one really with Minnesota. So I don’t know how that’s being processed, but man, the talent level is undeniable.


Anna Negron

It was always a dream of mine to work at ESPN, and here I am! I joined the College Sports PR team in March 2016. Hailing from the great Garden State, I graduated from Seton Hall University (Go Pirates!) with a degree in sport management, where I not only sang the National Anthem at games, but was also a member of the Seton Hall Sapphires Dance Team and a student reporter for Pirate Sports Network. Before joining ESPN, I served as a Public Relations Associate for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
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