Ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft, airing exclusively on ESPN and ABC, ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas spoke to media members about Thursday’s event and a number of prospects. A transcript of the call is available below. Audio recording is available upon request.
Q: I wanted to get your thoughts overall on the top of the draft. I’ve talked to people who think we might have four or five All-Stars there. Is it comparable at all to 2003? Is that too high praise? What are your overall thoughts?
Jay Bilas (JB): Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. It’s not like I keep a list of this is the best since ’07 or top five or anything, but it’s the best in my view, it’s the best since ’03. Because we’ve got I think four players at the top of the draft that in another given year, not every year, but in another given year would be a No. 1 overall selection or at least we’d argue about it. That’s pretty good.
There are going to be picks in this draft, I believe, that you’re going to say, okay, well, maybe I thought somebody else should have gone here, but I don’t quarrel with it. It’s kind of like to your point about ’03, that if we’re sitting there and the No. 4 pick comes up and the choice is between Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, I honestly, you might remember this, I honestly don’t remember whether any of us, anybody in our position in the media said, well, both those guys could be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know that we brought that up.
But you’re talking about multiple guys like you’re saying, you’re hearing, that could be All-Stars. And I really believe that this is the deepest overall draft since I’ve been doing this, and combined with the power at the top and the depth of the draft, I just — look, having LeBron in a draft was certainly better, Zion made it more interesting that year, but none of the drafts that I can remember since 2003 have combined power at the top and depth of really good talent like this.
Who would you take No. 1 if it was your pick?
JB: I would not hesitate to take Cade Cunningham. Look, it’s not like it’s not worth an argument or due diligence or all the stuff we say, but he’s the most complete player that I can remember coming out in the draft.
He really does check kind of every box you have for a player. Well, let me say this. The only box he doesn’t check is freak athlete. He’s just a really good athlete. But he’s not like a unicorn athlete. But everything else, mature, poised, length, he’s a play-maker, shoots 40 percent from deep. Because Detroit has the first pick, it’s a natural comparison to Grant Hill, and while Grant was a better athlete overall, he was more of a high flyer, at his age Cade Cunningham is much more skilled and a far better shooter than Grant was.
As we know, the Warriors have two top picks this year. Do you think anyone in this draft can help them next season or will they make a trade with these picks?
JB: I don’t know if they’ll trade it. Assuming that all their guys come back healthy, Klay Thompson comes back healthy and Steph Curry and Draymond Green, all that stuff, they’ve got a championship contending team. So I think when you’re a contender like that, you have the luxury of being able to say — maybe you can draft for need instead of best available player, and you can certainly take those picks to get something out in the marketplace that helps you win now.
Other teams are in the building mode, but if they’re going to stick with those picks, I’m sure most people haven’t forgotten they got Steph Curry at No. 7. You can still get some great value at No. 7, and drafting there, heck, they could get Davion Mitchell, they could get Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, James Bouknight, there’s a whole bunch of talent they could get at that spot.
You mentioned Moses a second ago. Obviously I’m interested in him. What do you think about him as a player? What do you like about his game? Where do you think he might fit in the draft and who he might be a good fit for?
JB: Well, yeah, he’s a lottery pick, and I would be very surprised if he’s not a sort of top 10. I’m a big believer in Moses Moody. He not only has size, but he’s got great length. His arms go forever, and he can make shots.
He’s a scorer that can not only knock down a perimeter shot and a mid-range shot, but he gets to the free-throw line, and that’s a skill. He shot like 150 free throws or whatever that was. That was among the top free-throw performances in the Southeastern Conference and one of the best in the country, especially for a young player, and he shot 80 percent or so from the free-throw line.
He’s got the length and the athleticism and the motor to be a really good defender. I think he had some really good games defensively, and he seems willing, but I think he can really improve there. He can improve in every facet, but he’s already way ahead as an offensive player, I believe. But he’s played with great players before, he’s done it in high school, played at Montverde and played around talent including Cunningham and Scottie Barnes and those guys. But I really think he’s got a high ceiling, and he sort of fits the NBA.
How much did it benefit him to play for Eric Musselman, obviously with Eric’s NBA background? A lot of guys on the staff had NBA backgrounds, as well.
JB: I think it helps. I think one of the things about Eric Musselman that is great isn’t just — the NBA experience I think is helpful, but it’s the level of detail that he has as a coach. You’ve seen it up close, the scouting stuff. Those guys are detail oriented.
I’m a believer that players respond to whatever the coach really believes in. Some people’s are — they play music during practice, they do this, they do that. Eric is really detail oriented and really high energy, and I think the players respond, and clearly they responded really well to it at Nevada and Arkansas.
But I think Moses certainly benefitted from being around that level of detail, and you could see his improvement over the course of the year as a result of it.
I wondered how you assess the two Kentucky players that are in the draft, Isaiah Jackson and Brandon Boston.
JB: Well, I think Isaiah Jackson is sort of an underrated talent in the draft because as you know, Kentucky did not have the kind of season that was expected, and so Jackson was in and out of the lineup early.
His athleticism and his energy level, his rim protection, his defense, his ability to guard multiple spots and his versatility really stand out, that he can block shots, he can rebound and get stick-backs. He’s just an elite athlete that can run the floor and impact the game with his athleticism.
You know, he’s not yet an offensive player. That’s coming, I think. And I think he can get there. But heck, he had seven or eight blocks in a game, if I remember right, earlier this year, and you don’t get that by accident. His motor is really good.
I think if Kentucky had had a better year, he’d be a little bit more on sort of the average fan’s radar about how good he is and can be, and I think the same is true of B.J. Boston. If he had not played at all last year, I think he’d be higher regarded. He and Jalen Johnson of Duke I think would be higher regarded. They were higher regarded coming out of high school than they are right now.
But he’s talented and can make plays. His size and length certainly fit the NBA. I think he can certainly get stronger. But I’m not — he had disappointing numbers last year. He didn’t shoot the ball well. His numbers were in the 30s both from the field overall and from three, but he’s better than that, and I think he’s a better passer than he’s showed, and he’s got a higher basketball IQ than he’s showed.
But he’s going to have to overcome just going into the draft and not having a great year. But the thing I like most about it is his attitude remained really good, and he wasn’t — he I think answered every question that was asked of him. He didn’t make any excuses. He just didn’t play as well as he’s capable of playing, and he’s not the first player that that’s happened to because he’s still a teenager.
But I think he’s got some ability level, and I think he’ll go late first, early second round.
I wondered if you can elaborate on if he hadn’t played at all he would be higher regarded. I’m wondering if that’s a good thing, or is it better from the NBA point of view to see somebody and reassess?
JB: Well, I mean, yeah, I hope I stated that correctly or artfully. Like I don’t want to make it sound like he shouldn’t have played at all. What I’m saying is that before the season when he was coming out of high school, he was higher regarded.
He dropped because of performance, and that’s probably the same with the Jalen Johnson kid out of Duke. When he decided to opt out of the season, I think his standing dropped a little bit, and he was a top — both these guys, but especially Johnson, he was a top 10 talent. He is a top 10 talent still.
I think Boston, some question marks were raised. It was like, is this who he is? Did we miss on him? And I think those are fair questions because he had a whole year and never got out — he should have shot better than 35 percent from the field. He’s better than that, I believe.
At some point you go, okay, he didn’t perform well, but he still has really good tools. In a way, however you play now, it’s not determinative of what you’re going to be in the future, but they’re drafting now, so that’s all the information they have.
But it is a fair question that if he hadn’t played at all, where would he be drafted. I don’t think, though, if this makes any sense, though that may have affected his standing, his performance, it’s not career determinative. To me that’s not necessarily going to affect the kind of player he is going forward, if that makes sense, because we’ve seen as an example, you’ve seen guys have poor freshman years and great sophomore years and junior years and turn into great players.
The fact that a player, whether it’s Boston or anybody else, didn’t have a great year, that’s not outcome determinative for a career. It may affect draft status. Those are two different things. Does that make sense? Have I explained that halfway decent?
Yeah, thanks for clarifying.
I just wanted to ask about a couple Alabama guys, Josh Primo, Herb Jones, John Petty, what do you think about their prospects for the draft?
JB: You want me to start in order with Primo?
JB: I think the more I watched him, the more I really liked him. I’d be surprised if he’s not a first-round selection. Really a talented player, one of those kind of do-it-all guys that can — he has better size than I thought, and he’s versatile on both ends of the floor. Came off the bench, but great effort and can handle it.
I was very impressed with the way he played at the combine. He’s a good catch-and-shoot guy. I liked him a lot, and with the way he defended, as well, and he showed he could handle it, which I honestly wasn’t sure that he projected necessarily as an initiating or handling guard.
He’s got a lot of ability. I was really impressed with him, and just — he can be a sniper shooting the ball. He’s got — he really shot past, I thought — I thought Herb Jones was going to be the best prospect off that team and Primo wound up being. But Jones isn’t far behind. He’s got 3-and-D written all over him. He just needs to become a more consistent perimeter shooter.
But he’s a really good handler, passer. His motor is great. Plays with energy, and his defense is fantastic. Just relentless on the ball. He has long arms. Tough guy to score on. He gets steals, he can block shots, rebounds at a good rate.
I think as a point guard because he was thrust into the point guard position based on what Alabama had, he turns it over a little bit too much, but I don’t think that’s that big of a deal. But I’m a big fan of his.
I don’t know if I was the — I probably wasn’t the first to say it but I hope I was the loudest early on to say he should have been the SEC Player of the Year. Really good player.
And then Petty is a shooter, as you know. Really good range. He moves without it, catch and shoot, pretty good off the dribble, and did a good job sort of in screening action, whether it was ghost screens or whatever of setting up for a shot. I think he got better and better.
But his value is going to be as a floor-spacing shooter. He’s not going to be a primary scorer in the league, at least I don’t see that, but he can go in and help space the floor and make shots.
I’m going to ask you about a couple guys from Auburn, Sharife Cooper and JT Thor. JT especially has been rising lately, but how do those guys project at the next level?
JB: Well, Sharife Cooper, as you saw, is sort of a self-made player, really a talented handler, passer, scorer. I think he averaged about eight assists last year and scored about 20 after that ridiculous crap he had to deal with the NCAA where he never should have had to sit at all, but it was hard getting him out on the floor early on.
He’s small, though, and he’s not a great shooter, but he’s a scorer, not a shooter. I think as he refines his shot, he’s got a good floater and all that, he can get into the lane and find people. He just has the ball on a string, a total like wizard with the basketball.
But the only down side is his size. He’s not a big player, and it would — I think the bigger the better, but it’s certainly not a detriment being smaller, but it doesn’t help. But really good talent. I think a clear like middle of the first round to in-the-20s player.
I think you mentioned JT Thor from — out of Alaska actually. He’s got size, real high flyer, and I agree with you, he has been rising, because he can switch on defense. So he can play a bigger guy, he can play a smaller guy and move his feet and stay in front. He’s a really good shoot blocker, including blocking perimeter shots.
I think as he gets more consistent with his defensive effort, he’s going to be an even better defender because while he made wild defensive players, there were some times when his assignment was able to shoot a decent percentage. But he’s talented. He’s not a great shooter, so he’s going to have to improve upon that 30 percent, whatever he shot from the three-point line, but the fact that he’s so athletic, he can get up and down the floor, he can guard, he can rebound and he can even rebound the ball and take it himself, kind of grab it and go or rip and run, whatever you want to call it, and he’s a decent rebounder.
There’s some upside there with him at the next level.
What’s it say about what Bruce Pearl has done at Auburn? This could be three years in a row with a first round pick and back-to-back years of a one-and-done guy. 10 years ago that was unheard of.
JB: Yeah, I certainly can’t remember it. I was surprised Sharife Cooper as a McDonald’s [All-American]. I think he was the first one at Auburn Frank Ford. When I played with Frank on the U.S. Select Team back in the ’80s, he was a hell of a player.
But yeah, I think the quality of player there at Auburn has certainly gone way up since Bruce got there, and that’s not a huge surprise. I mean, Bruce is one of the best coaches in the country.
How do you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Scottie Barnes?
JB: Well, the strengths are numerous. First of all, maybe the best teammate, and that’s saying something, in the draft. Talk about somebody who will do whatever his coaches and teammates ask him to do. He came off the bench, he played the point, McDonald’s All-American, expected to be a lottery pick from the time he stepped on campus at Florida State, and nothing was ever about him, it was always about the team. I don’t want to say that’s unusual, but it’s certainly refreshing.
Scottie has got the freakish body, and I don’t mean that in a bad way but a positive way, like unicorn freakish. His arms go forever. He can really handle and pass at his size. Before he got to Florida State, I’d called — I’d obviously seen him, but you’re trying to get — it was before I was supposed to do their Indiana game early on and did it via remote, and I talked to Stan Jones and talked to Leonard, and they had both said — and those guys are not exaggerators, and they had both said, he’s like Scottie Pippen, and you’re going, really? You’re going to go there? And they were right. There’s a lot of similarities.
Defensively he can guard — he can literally guard anybody on the floor. If you switch him off onto a big guy and he can handle it, you can switch it off Sharife Cooper he can stay in front of him and really impact him on a little guy. His value as a defender with his versatility and length and athleticism is really high, and then the fact that he can pass and handle and get out in transition and finish plays, he’s not a shooter yet, that’s got to be developed, and he doesn’t shoot well from the free-throw line. He’s like a low 60s from the free-throw line, under 30 percent from three. So he’s got to improve there.
But I think if he continues to work on that and improves there, he’s a top 5, top 10 talent no question.
What are your thoughts on Austin Reaves, and what situations do you think will be the best fits for him in the NBA?
JB: Well, Austin reminds me a little bit of Jeff Hornacek back in the day. That’s going back a ways but I’m an old guy.
I think when — I first saw him at Wichita State in the Maui Invitational, and I kind of pegged him as a shooter. He’s turned out to be way more than that. He’s really a combo guard that can play the point, and he’s a good defender. He’s not a ridiculously talented athlete where he’s going to run and jump and blow by people in that way, but he’s crafty. So with the ball he can get by people with his strength and his handle and get downhill and then get to his spots in the mid-range, and he’s got pretty decent hangtime to hit shots over defenders from the mid-range and in.
He’s a very good pick-and-roll shooter and scorer. He has a runner game, a floater game, and he’s a good play-maker, and he’s also a good passer.
But with his strength and his savvy, he’s able to get to the free-throw line. He averaged about six or seven attempts from the line a game and shot in the mid-80s from the foul line.
He plays at both ends of the floor, but the fact that he can shoot it, he’s mature, he’ll stick his nose in there and rebound, he does a lot of different things. But he’s one of the older players in the draft at 23, so I don’t think teams are going to be looking at him saying, boy, there’s a big ceiling there, big upside, he can get better and better. I think he’s going to be looked at more as, you can take him and plug him in right away, and what you see is what you get.
I still think he can get better. It’s funny how we say that stuff now, but when I was a player back in the dark ages, everybody was 22 and 23, and they called them rookies that had lot to learn. That’s kind of weird how things have evolved.
What do you think is possible for Ayo Dosunmu at that level, if projections hold true and winds up a late first round pick on a playoff team?
JB: It’s kind of interesting, Ayo was arguably the best point guard in college basketball last year during the regular season, and obviously they got bounced out pretty early by Loyola Chicago in the tournament when as a No. 1 seed they were expected to go further. I certainly expected them to go further.
But it shows the strength of this draft that he’s considered a player around 20 or later because he’s still the same player. He’s a guy that averaged 20 a game, five assists. He’s a creator. He’s got a really good first step. He can handle the ball. He can separate a little bit, and he’s a good isolation player and just fantastic in transition. And he’s got a really good motor. He plays hard and plays hard at both ends.
I think he’s still got — I say still. I think he’s got value in this draft. Really good value. I think he’s a lottery type talent in most drafts that could get pushed down a little bit because this is an extraordinarily good draft.
How do you feel like he was able to maybe utilize that third year at Illinois to answer questions about his game or maybe show off kind of fully what he can do?
JB: It’s helpful. I think it was really helpful for him to come back, but I don’t want to make it sound like that’s the only option. I think one of the things about today’s game that fans especially but all of us, too, need to wrap their heads around is we used to look at the G-League or other things as kind of a detriment, that if you go into the draft and go to the G-League, that’s some kind of a problem. It’s not. You can develop at a really high level at the G-League and develop really quickly. It’s just you’re developing kind of further out of view than college.
In college all our eyeballs are on that, especially us, who consider that a big deal. But Ayo coming back I think and playing the role that he did and having that extra year, whether it was in college, the G-League, whatever, was really helpful to his development and his maturity as a player, and I certainly thought much higher of him last year than I did the year before, and my guess is after another couple years, I’ll think he’s even better in continuing to watch him.
Obviously the talk here in the state of Michigan is largely surrounding the No. 1 pick, but I want to ask you about a couple college guys here from the state, as well: Franz Wagner out of University of Michigan and Aaron Henry out of Michigan State. I know both guys are looking at coming in and wanting to contribute immediately. I just wanted to get your ideas on both of them.
JB: Yeah, Wagner is interesting. He’s been rising up sort of in the minds of some as a prospect because he’s got positional size and he’s a long-armed, athletic wing that can guard a lot of different people and guard them successfully.
He didn’t just — it’s not sort of just his assignment. He’s a really good off-ball defender. He’ll get steals and blocks and deflections and all that stuff, but he’s an excellent team defender. You watch him on film, and he’s in the right spots all the time. He plays the ball very effectively.
And then he’s, I think, a good offensive player that is evolving into a really good offensive player. I think he should be a better shooter. Like he’s got good shooting form, but his numbers don’t equate to that form in my view. I think he should be better, and I think he can be better. But he’s such a good cutter.
I know you watched a lot of him, but the way he cuts to the basket, and then he’s able to actually become a driver off of his cuts, which is a little bit unusual, but I really like the way he plays and the way he moves without the ball. He’s a good — I think he can become a better corner shooter, a better floor spacer, but that’s something he’s going to have to continue to work on.
A lot of people are talking about him as like a top 10 pick, and I didn’t see that earlier in the year with him. I saw him as a first-round pick, but I didn’t see him as sort of that high, but a really, really good prospect, and I think he’s going to be taken — sounds like he’s going to be taken in the lottery.
And then I think you mentioned Aaron Henry from Michigan State, also. Henry is a lefty. Really, I thought, came a long way last year in developing his game and showed what he’s — a little bit more of what he’s capable of as being a go-to scorer, and I think he’s an excellent defender. He’s very, very good in transition and can shoot from the mid-range and was able to take his range a little bit further out and extend it.
But because he does so many different things well, including shoot it, shoot it from mid-range, get to the rim and finish and then defend — and I think he can defend multiple spots. I think he’s a solid NBA player and a solid second-round pick.
We’re also kind of on that Aaron Henry type of mindset. When it came to him, your interpretation of what he did this past year? Obviously last year he was testing the waters in the NBA, but what he did this past season in order to kind of move his stock up any way or show that he’s not only that mid-range and extended type of shooter, but really is a big leader that a lot of NBA teams can look to.
JB: Yeah, that’s a good point. Let me see if I can state this artfully. He went from being a good defensive prospect to a defensive stopper. He went from being a player with potential to being someone who produced consistently. He was a better leader. He had a mature — a more mature floor game. He started to impact the game on both ends consistently game after game after game. Just a high-level asset, I think.
He’s 6’6″, 6’7″, but his arms are 6’10”, 6’11” or so, so he’s got that — that makes him a compelling prospect from the defensive side because he can switch and guard multiple spots. I think he’s tough.
Look, if you play for Tom Izzo, you’re going to be tough or you’re not going to survive it. I think Aaron took the nurturing and the tough coaching and really responded positively to it.
But to your point of going from when he tested the waters a year ago and decided to go back, he’s ready. In that year I think he really did an excellent, excellent job to become a more mature, polished play-maker that is fully prepared for this step now, when last year might not have been, if that makes sense.
Another guy in our area who’s making another step into making sure he’s ready is Isaiah Livers at Michigan. Obviously he went through an injury before the tournament got started, but what have you seen from him that he would be an impactful player when it comes to making an NBA team?
JB: I see him as kind of a sharp-shooting forward. He’s always struck me as an elite offensive player that he shoots over 40 percent from three, and that puts him in a high category among shot makers.
I think he’s a pretty good defender that’s worked hard at it to get better. It wasn’t a strength of his early on in his career, but he’s gotten better and gotten tougher. But I think he’s more of an offensive talent rather than — I think early on, I can’t remember if it was you or somebody else asked about Franz Wagner. Wagner, I think his value, while he’s a good offensive player, his value is more as a versatile defender, and I say Isaiah more as a — his value is more as an offensive player.
You talked about earlier the college performance of guys like Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Johnson kind of hurting their draft stock, and I was wondering how you felt about the G-League guys and if it was kind of the opposite situation with guys like Kuminga and Jalen Green, their kind of lack of tape kind of helping them in their draft stock or is there something else you attribute to that?
JB: No, they have more tape than college players have. The NBA people have been able to see them throughout the whole G-League experience. They were coached by NBA people, they were in NBA systems, they were playing in NBA games essentially, in G-League games playing against men.
Their rise, if you will, they were highly regarded. Jalen Green was really highly regarded out of high school, along with Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley, those guys. They were all at the top of their class as far as their ratings were concerned. But both Green and to your point, Kuminga, really helped themselves with their performance.
The fact that other people didn’t see it is the thing I was talking about before about fans having to wrap their heads around. But an example of somebody who played in the G-League, Daishen Nix, who was supposed to go to UCLA, played in the G-League and didn’t perform at that level and he’s looking at being a second-round pick. And it may be late second round, I don’t know. But he didn’t perform very well in the G-League and did not look — I didn’t think he performed very well at the combine.
That’s going to — that’s sort of the difference.
You know, hopefully my point, like I unartfully stated, for Johnson and Boston it wasn’t that they chose to go to college or chose to go to the G-League, they didn’t perform well. I think Jalen Johnson performed much better than Boston did, but he made a decision to end his season after 13 or 14 games, whether you call it opt out, quit, whatever you want to call it. Boston saw it all through but didn’t perform very well, and it raised a lot of questions, like he shot in the 30s from the field, and heck, that includes lay-ups. So that’s not a good performance for him.
But he’s still got the same tools, which I think are going to carry him through, and I think he’s going to be a good player. But the performance last year raised more questions than it answered.
I’m curious your thoughts on Oregon guard Chris Duarte and where you think he’ll go Thursday night and his NBA prospects overall?
JB: His NBA prospects are excellent because he can really play. Chris is a complete — one of the complete players in this draft, and as you know, he’s a Junior College Player of the Year, All-American, and his performance at Oregon — he played at a high level on both ends of the floor. He’s a terrific defender, and talk about a sniper, he can really shoot it.
I’m a huge believer in Chris Duarte.
I think the only thing you hear is, well, he’s 23 years old, as if 23 is now the new 80. He’s going to play in the league for 10 years. Maybe it won’t be 14, but it’ll be a long time.
Like look at his numbers at Oregon. He shot over 50 percent from the floor. He shot over 42, if I remember right, from three, and then he’s over 80 from the free-throw line. He fights on defense.
He had if not the best, one of the best true shooting percentages in the Pac-12 last year, which takes into account three-point percentage in addition to your overall percentage.
The fact that he can guard multiple spots and he puts so much into his defense, he’s a two-way player, he’s really valuable. I think you’ll see him taken in the first round. I don’t know whether it’ll be 15, 20, whatever, but whoever takes him is going to be able to plug him in right away, and he’ll be valuable.
One of the reasons Nick Saban is regarded as one of the best college football coaches in the business is his ability to recruit, develop and produce NFL caliber talent. Nate Oats wants to build a caliber program like that, he’s certainly early in his tenure, but how important is it for guys like Primo, Jones, and Petty to not only get drafted but be productive NBA players?
JB: I think it helps. As you know in recruiting, and I agree with you on Saban — Nick Saban is not only a great coach and a great recruiter, every good coach helps develop players to make them better, but you’re not going to see any coach, whether it’s Nick Saban, Nate Oats, Coach K, take a non-NFL talent and turn them into a NFL talent. They’re bringing NFL and NBA talent in there, and you certainly help those players develop.
I’ve never been one that considers like programs produce pros. They recruit them. But I don’t want to delve too far into that argument. But Saban is also one of the great leaders that’s ever coached in any sport, and that goes beyond your X’s and O’s and ability to develop. He’s on a different level.
But I think in the age now where players are looking for examples of others before them that have achieved what they want to achieve, it’s a selling point for universities and for teams. Like you never hear in the NBA, which team produces the most All-Stars, or which coach produces the most All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers. You don’t ever hear that. You never hear it in the NFL. No coach gets any credit for developing players. That’s never discussed. It’s only discussed in college, and it’s discussed in college for one reason, and it’s because they recruit.
So if you look at any media guide, whether it’s football, basketball, whatever, the media guides used to be for the media. Now they’re for the players. So they’re loaded with NBA stuff on the basketball side – how many players have played in the NBA, where they got drafted, showing them shaking hands with Adam Silver or David Stern, whomever. Those are all big parts of the media guides. They’re in the locker rooms and all that stuff, because they’re selling points.
If Josh, Herb, John, if those guys get drafted and do well, that’s going to be another selling point for the Alabama program, that you can reach your destination of the NBA through Tuscaloosa. And every program that has that kind of talent is doing that, and so I would expect to see the same thing from Alabama, absolutely.
Just curious your thoughts if Cade does indeed go No. 1, there’s kind of consensus that the next three will be Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs and Evan Mobley. Curious have the Rockets called you and asked your thoughts on who they should take, what would you say?
JB: It’s hard to argue with any of those three because of what we had mentioned before, so you’ve got four players that I think would be worthy of the 1 pick in another given year, but they’re all in the same draft. As you know with Green, you’ve got a high-flying sort of ridiculous acrobatic athlete that could wind up leading the league in scoring, and with Suggs, the other Jalen, you’ve got a superior athlete who’s unbelievably strong, surgical in his approach to pick-and-roll offense, and has elite vision. Played quarterback in high school and could have played quarterback for Saban or Dabo. That’s how good he was.
And then Mobley is a prototype NBA big that can switch off on to a point guard and guard him for two or three dribbles and stay in front. He can switch on to anybody, just as versatile a big guy defender as you’re going to get, covers up the rim from 12 feet and in, rebounds, runs, has a beautiful form on his shot and has the ability, I think, to stretch it out at some point to three-point range.
I had ranked Mobley the No. 2 overall prospect in the draft, but it was like 2, 2A, 2B really. You’ve got to slot them in a certain thing, but Houston has got a good problem, and that’s they’ve got that decision, because you can’t — I don’t think you can screw it up. It’s just a question of what you feel is best.
I’m just curious, he was the College Player of the Year, where does Luka Garza fit in today’s NBA?
JB: Probably in the second round, and the problem if you want to call it a problem, is he’s not a big-time athlete. Sort of having to defend out on the perimeter in pick-and-roll situations and get up and down the floor, I know he’s slimmed down a little bit and he’s a little bit quicker, that’s going to be the issue. Like he’s not super explosive to play above the rim, and he’s not like crazy big like Nikola Jokic or something where he can say well he’s not that quick either. But he’s super skilled.
I think Luka Garza is going to play in the NBA, and I think he’s going to have a nice career. But the question is are there other players you would take ahead of him? And yeah, I think there are a number of them.
But that doesn’t diminish that he’s an outstanding player, and I think he’s a good prospect that’s going to play in the league. This draft is really good. There are a number of guys that are going to go in the second round that are going to play in the league for a long time. Not all of them because it’s a numbers game, but there are a number of them, and I think Luka is one of those guys that’s going to play in the league, but because of his athletic profile I think his draft position is not going to match up with his accomplishments in college.
On one level you don’t like to see that, but on another level it’s sort of the way it is.
You talked about Sharife Cooper earlier. He did have a really ridiculous stretch of playing only 12 games. Do you think with his skill set and what he did at Auburn, is that enough for him to get into the first round?
JB: Oh, yeah, he’ll be taken in — he may be gone before the 20th pick. He’s so ridiculously talented with the ball and so good in the open court, good off of pick-and-roll situations and start-and-stop, he averaged eight assists per game, and all respect to the players he was playing against, but he wasn’t playing with an NBA All-Star team. He can find people and make plays, and he’s a scorer.
The guy can — he just knows how to play, and he’s going to continue to get better. He’s just not going to get any bigger, which that would be nice for him if he were a little bit bigger. He’s not a great shooter, he’s not a knock-down shooter, but the only he really doesn’t have is size.
You talked a good bit about Primo and you think he’s going to be a first-round pick, but I wanted to know when you think in the first round. A lot of people have him going around 23 to 28. I wanted to see where you thought he was going to land.
JB: That’s what I thought in the 20s. I hadn’t pegged whether it was 23 or 28 or sort of that five-player range, but I had him ranked I think after the combine — I keep a list. Everybody says I have a board. I’m not a big enough deal to have a board, so I have a yellow legal pad with all this stuff on it, and I think I had him 27th the last time I did an iteration of it.
That falls within the range you’re talking about. I might even have him higher now if I went back and redid it.
Do you expect any teams to be active in the trade market before the draft or on Thursday night, any teams in particular?
JB: Nothing in particular. Like I’m not sort of on the edge of my seat waiting for Golden State to do this or the Lakers to do something. It’s more sort of knowing that given how many good players there are in this draft and how many teams have multiple picks that there’s going to be movement. Usually on draft night there are between 15 and 20 trades that are executed, and that’s one of the — I should look at Woj’s Twitter feed during the draft, but I don’t, because I don’t think my mind can handle all that.
But one of the things that can be difficult is when you’re dealing with the draft and a player gets drafted, puts the hat on and all that, it could be that 10 minutes later they’re on a different team, and we don’t know it at the time. It’s an odd — sometimes it can be a little bit of an odd feeling, but that’s part of the fun of it, too, is that some of these trades are made and you wind up seeing a player in a different spot or finding out stuff from Woj as to what’s going on. It’s all part of the drama of the night.