Transcript: 2021 NBA Draft Preview with NBA Front Office Insider Bobby Marks and NBA Draft Analyst Mike Schmitz

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Transcript: 2021 NBA Draft Preview with NBA Front Office Insider Bobby Marks and NBA Draft Analyst Mike Schmitz

Prior to the 2021 NBA Draft presented by State Farm, ESPN NBA Front Office Insider Bobby Marks and NBA Draft analyst Mike Schmitz spoke to media members about draft prospects and possibilities surrounding team selection this morning via Zoom.

Both Marks and Schmitz will provide analysis and commentary throughout tomorrow night’s NBA Draft coverage, exclusively on ESPN and ABC beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Full Details

Full Transcript Below:

  1. Let’s start at the top of the draft with Cade Cunningham and the Pistons seemed to be noncommittal whether they’re going with Cunningham or maybe going with Jalen Green. Do you see a big difference between the fit for either of these guys?

MIKE SCHMITZ: Yeah, to be honest, personally I think the pick is going to be Cade Cunningham when it’s all said and done. I think Detroit is just kind of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s and taking it to the final buzzer. You can’t fault them for that.

I think Cade, the intrigue with Cade is he can fit anywhere because he can play off the ball; he can play on the ball. You can use him as a wing, you can use him as a point guard. He’s going to fit really with any roster, and that’s why I think he makes sense with Detroit. I think he’s the best prospect.

Now, with that said, I think Jalen Green would fit with this roster, too, just because they’ve been looking for that explosive perimeter scorer, right, somebody who could kind of infuse some excitement into that fan base. I think he would fit with Saadiq Bey, with Isaiah Stewart, even alongside Killian Hayes, who’s more of a play maker, and then Jalen could kind of focus on scoring.

With that said, I think when it’s all said and done, Cade will be the pick, and I think he’s the best prospect in the draft.

  1. Bobby, for the front office, when there’s players like Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, there’s rumors about them possibly asking out ahead of the draft but no one is clear whether they’re going to ask out, how do you plan for all those different scenarios from a front office perspective as you’re going into a draft where you may be trading your picks, you may be making your picks, there’s so many different things up in the air?

BOBBY MARKS: Yeah, I think there’s a couple ways to look at it. I think the first is that you go in there with the mindset that whoever you pick is going to be on your roster come training camp. I think you can’t be thinking who would Washington want or maybe who would Portland want.

If you stay put at 19 and 21, which I don’t — I’d be surprised if they stay put at 19 and 21, who are those two players that maybe fit for you from a long-term standpoint.

Until those players are made available or maybe they’ll never be made available, I just think you’re focused on kind of where you are as far as from a — I think when you’re at 19, I think you’re probably picking best available. I think when you’re at 21, I think you’re probably looking at more of a need standpoint, and if those two do become available post-draft mid-August let’s say, you still have enough to potentially go out and do something.

We’ve seen — when we saw Andrew Wiggins traded in the Kevin Love deal 30 days after he was picked No. 1. Probably Cleveland didn’t think that was going to happen at the time until LeBron committed.

Draft picks can always be moved even though you select them, and I just think in this year’s draft, I think it’s just such a deep draft where there are probably 30 to 35 really quality, maybe even more quality players, and if those two players or maybe one become available down the road, I don’t think that would be somewhat of a deal breaker.

  1. When you look at sort of the activity and the job that this new Grizzlies front office has ventured off into with Zach Kleiman, Tayshaun Prince, Rich Cho and all those guys over the last couple of drafts being aggressive, what’s been the perception across the league in terms of the direction this front office has been moving with these aggressive trades around the draft time?

BOBBY MARKS: I think they realize who they are. I think they know where they are. I think they know the kind of market they’re in. It’s kind of a little bit the trade or the proposed trade will happen after — on August 6th. It’s kind of a little bit of a blueprint of what Oklahoma City has done where they take — Valanciunas was great for them last year, but here’s a guy who’s about to go on an expiring contract, so then you flip him and then you get two guys back who have two years left on their contract, so there’s never that ever-ending contract. They’re constantly turned around. The cost is to move up seven slots, and in this year’s draft could be, you could land a very good player, or maybe you could move up a little bit closer because you have that Laker pick and you’ve got a Golden State pick and you have a Utah pick.

I just think that how Zach and his group have — certainly Ja, too, when you look at guys like Brandon Clarke where he was picked in the early 20s, how they’ve kind of maneuvered and basically — they’ve got a foundation, and it’s kind of like plug and play. Guys fit. De’Anthony Melton fits. They went out and got Tyus a couple years.

Cap space is very tempting. Cap space is — I always call it fool’s gold. They could have easily done nothing. They could have easily just said, you know what, we’re going to decline Justise’s contract as team option, and we’re going to go in with $24 million and we’re going to be spenders. We’d all love to be spenders, but they look at their roster, they had 13 players under contract, who’s that $24 million guy out there or can you go out and get three guys at $8 million?

I just think, as I said, they know kind of where they are on their timeline. Like they’re kind of — I’ll steal a baking analogy, like the cake isn’t cooked yet. The cake is still in the oven, and we still have maybe another year to go before this team is — we’re talking like we talk about Phoenix or one of these top four teams. I think they’re a really good team. Another year of development, I think they know that their focus is on their younger players, Jaren, Ja, and then you just kind of fill in the gaps from there.

  1. Mike, I saw where you mentioned a little virtual time with Ayo Dosunmu in an ESPN film session. I’m curious what you took away from that and maybe what you think about Ayo at the next level.

MIKE SCHMITZ: Yeah, he was really, really impressive, probably one of the more impressive film sessions that I’ve done this year just in terms of not just the basketball IQ but his ability to kind of reflect on his mistakes and talk about things he could do better, also, like there were plays when I would show a misread or a defensive mistake and he remembered, oh, I got chewed out for this by Coach. It seemed like he just really had a good understanding of like where he’s really good right now and where he can still improve.

Incredibly mature in general. You saw the improvement he made each and every season. You could argue that he was one of the most improved players in the country over the last couple years.

I liked the way that he went about it. He was a guy who we had, I believe, as a one-and-done coming out of high school, and he didn’t fall victim to that. He went back to school and he improved. You could make the argument that okay, like he’s still a fringe first-round pick, but he’s definitely ready to contribute wherever he goes.

I think contender type of teams, playoff teams who value the things that he does are going to be attracted to him because he’s going to be able to fit right away from a preparation standpoint and from a coachability standpoint.

  1. I had a couple questions for Mike about Bones Hyland out of VCU. I wanted to get your assessment of how he’s improved his draft stock over the last couple weeks, particularly with his performance in the combine, and what your prediction is for where he could go, late first round or early second, whatever the case may be.

MIKE SCHMITZ: Yeah, I think Bones has really helped himself. We’ve always been aware of him, even during his freshman season, just because you saw some of the big games and the glimpses of talent, but unfortunately with COVID I think teams weren’t able to get out and see him as much as they normally would, as maybe if he would have been in one of the summer camps with a lot of the rising sophomores that you’ll normally see, and he just didn’t really have that opportunity, obviously.

Then their game gets canceled against Oregon. A lot of teams were at the NCAA Tournament kind of hoping to get that first look at him against high major competition. You never really knew what to make of the body and how ready he was to contribute in the NBA, and is he a point guard, is he a shooting guard, is he just a scorer. But I think during workouts and at the combine, too, even though it was only one game, to come out with that type of confidence, to shoot it the way he did off the dribble, to defend the way he did, I think he showed that he has more passing ability than people thought.

In my view he’s solidified himself as a first-round pick just because the NBA is about guys who can shoot it deep and play off the dribble, and so I think he fits into that.

Still needs to get stronger, improve defensively, improve as a decision maker, all those things, but when you talk about the length and the scoring ability, I think he’s pretty intriguing and someone who will likely go in the first round.

  1. He played mostly point guard as a freshman, moved more off the ball as a sophomore. Just with his shooting and scoring ability, where do you see him fitting into an NBA lineup whether at the point or kind of off the ball in a shooting guard spot?

MIKE SCHMITZ: Yeah, I think he could do a little bit both. I’ve looked at him like an Immanuel Quickley, a guy who’s maybe a little bit more wired to score but can moonlight a little bit at the point guard spot, as well. If you look at the way the game is now, especially in bench units, a lot of teams are playing two, even three guards together. So I think he can fit in that role for sure.

  1. Bobby, Houston has struggled to get Evan Mobley in for a workout, and I was wondering how that plays into their decision.

BOBBY MARKS: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is if they can try to get — the workout part, a player coming in, working out doesn’t move the needle for me as far as if he doesn’t come in or does work out. There should be enough body of work from his season at USC and for what he did if he was playing for Team USA or prior to that.

I think from an on-the-court standpoint, the work — he would have basically gone 1-on-0 in a workout there.

I think probably the one thing and we’ll see where this goes, we’ll see where the medicals are. When you get your hands on the medicals — it’s hard for me, at least in the front office, to draft a player if you don’t have a physical on a player, especially when you’re going to invest four years, $40 million, at least in the first-year contract, and you don’t have anything on him. You have background certainly.

But that would be my concern if I was Houston, and we’ll see what happens leading up to Thursday.

But in New Jersey and Brooklyn we’ve drafted plenty of players that never came in for a workout just because we had enough body of work that we saw them and we did have the physicals just because of the combine.

  1. Following up, is their interest in playing for whatever team it is, say Mobley for Houston, taken into account at all, or how much is that a factor in whether they’re drafted or not?

BOBBY MARKS: What do you mean as far as them not — going to the workout?

  1. Yeah, if it’s a sign of like oh, I would not like to play for this team or something like that.

BOBBY MARKS: Well, I mean, I always say this is the process — up until 8 p.m. on Thursday night the agents really have a big — have control of this process. This is kind of one of the few things where they have full control as far as where they jockey positions. If Evan wants to play in Cleveland or if he wants to play in Toronto, then they will do their best not to send him to Houston here.

But yeah, at the end of the day the teams are going to be — they’re going to pick as far as what’s the best interest for their franchise, not what’s the best interest for that player or for his agent.

  1. Mike, this is now the better part of two draft cycles that have been affected by the coronavirus and pandemic across the world. How has that sort of impacted how teams have been able to evaluate particularly mid-lottery to mid-first-round prospects where they seem to be sort of bunched up together? And when a team such as the Grizzlies have a proposed trade on the table where they can jump from 17 to 10, what kind of value does that shift you into going from middle to late first round into a top-10 spot?

MIKE SCHMITZ: Yeah, the trickle down of COVID-19 and how it’s changed the scouting landscape I think is still being felt. You’re not seeing as many teams go overseas and see some of the international prospects. Some NBA teams elected to not even go on the road at all this year into college gyms.

Usually these teams have a baseline for the elite prospects from McDonald’s All-American camp and the Nike Hoops Summit and all these All-Star circuit events for the high school guys, and they didn’t — all those were canceled.

So when you look at guys like Jalen Johnson, like no one was able to see him prior to Duke, and then he has the shortened season. Ziaire Williams out of Stanford, no one was able to see him, NBA teams, prior to his season at Stanford. So then you just have this small body of work to go off of for the guys who played maybe 12, 13 games.

So I think right now there’s probably a little bit too much emphasis put on pre-draft workouts, especially 1-on-O pre draft workouts, and that’s just what I continue to hear is oh, man, this guy looks unbelievable, or this guy… you hear names like Davion Mitchell who’s got this amazing body of work, like a grade A kid, he might go out of the top 10.

It’s definitely shifted things a little bit. Personally I think you always rely more on the body of work and the film and all of that, but it seems that teams have been a little bit more prisoner of the moment just based on the limitations that they’ve had.

And then in terms of moving up to 17 to 10, I think it’s a big jump honestly. I think you go from getting maybe a rotation guy — maybe you could take a swing on a guy who has some more upside, but you go from getting a probably rotation guy to potentially a starter at No. 10. I think that’s how deep this draft is. I think you have some stars at the top like we’ve continued to talk about, but whether it’s Josh Giddey, Franz Wagner, Corey Kispert or Moses Moody, all those guys I think have starter potential in the NBA.

I think it’s a sizable jump and a good move for Memphis overall.

  1. I wanted to ask you about the front office and what the pressure is right now, when you have the No. 1 pick in the Pistons’ case, that you get it right, that you don’t do what the Sixers did with Markelle Fultz and Jayson Tatum and that you get the right guy. Maybe that’s what some of this handwringing is about the No. 1 pick with Cade or Jalen or whatever the case was going to be.

BOBBY MARKS: Yeah, I think what you can’t do is be cute with it, cute with the draft, meaning if there’s an opportunity if you can move to 3 or 2 and you were going to pick up some future draft assets down the road, maybe a couple No. 1s or — and you bypass a potential star in Cunningham to pick up a pretty good player in certainly Mobley, Suggs, Green, that group there, I just think you can’t overthink the process here.

Yeah, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with taking this to the last minute here. That’s the beauty of the draft, where if you just need to kind of get everyone on board that he is going to be the right guy.

The other thing is in having — we had the No. 1 pick in Kenyon Martin in 2000. The one thing you can’t have is buyer’s remorse to it. That means whatever you do, that everyone in that room is in agreement to, right, that there is no dissension as far as what direction you go, and if it’s Cunningham or if it’s Green, that’s your guy. That’s your guy moving forward.

I think as I said, you just can’t — Mike made a good point. We talked about it yesterday, if Jalen Green came in there and wowed them on a 1-on-0 workout, who cares? Last I checked it was 5-on-5. 1-on-0 fools a lot of people out there. I think there’s a purpose for individual workouts by themselves. It’s more for the coaches, how coachable is that player?

But yeah, I just think — I do think there is pressure. I’ve talked to teams in the lottery and they said, man, I’d rather be at 6 or 5, like we’re going to get a good player, compared to — I’m sure they’d like to be one right now. But there is pressure because we’ll look back at whoever they picked, if it’s Cade, and we’ll compare him to who Orlando picked at 5 and 8 and who Toronto picked at 4.

  1. I wanted to ask you about Ayo, as well, and maybe since the pre-draft process started how he’s helped himself with his combine workouts, interviews, what have you, or if he did.

BOBBY MARKS: Yeah, you know what, he’s one of the prospects, one of 40, that I got to spend time with to help him prepare for his draft interviews, as far as just to try to educate him a little bit better and put him in a better spot.

He’s got a fascinating story. Here’s a kid who declared for the draft a year ago. He interviewed with 28 out of 30 teams, so he’s already been through this already. His dad quit his job basically to support his son on this to try to get him to the NBA. Dad I believe emigrated from Nigeria.

I think he’s kind of overlooked because when you’re drafting, we all want to draft on potential, right? Who’s the next Giannis out there, who’s the next — maybe the guy isn’t ready to play right now, but could be an All-Star four years from now, that 18 or 19-year-old, compared to like — it’s okay to hit singles and doubles in the draft. It’s okay to get the Malcolm Brogdons and the Draymond Greens of the world here. I kind of see him in that light, kind of as an older player, a three or four-year player who could probably come in and play right now compared to maybe some players that are going to be picked ahead of him.

There’s not much more he can do. There’s three years of tape. There’s a year of draft workouts and there’s countless interviews that he’s already gone on.

We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if he kind of falls into that same narrative of teams bypassing an older player, going to go out and try to draft an 18, 19-year-old.

  1. With the G-League Ignite players, first year we’re going to watch them get selected in the draft, how do you evaluate a G-League Ignite player versus a guy who played college ball?

MIKE SCHMITZ: Yeah, I would say it’s a higher level of competition, obviously. I mean, I think it’s a little bit more translatable, as well, just because it’s the NBA line, it’s a 24-second shot clock, and you’re playing against guys who have either played in the NBA, have been right on the fringe, have played all over the Europe. I’d give those guys a lot of credit; it wasn’t easy.

I was able to go up and watch some practices up in Walnut Creek, and it was the middle of COVID. The area was very, very locked down. They were very restricted in terms of the practices they could have, the workouts that they could have. It was daily testing every single day, and not to say that some colleges weren’t going through that, as well, but they were sitting there one practice or so a day and watching their peers on ESPN every night getting triple-doubles and leading their teams to wins.

I think that the fact that they were able to endure all that, they were able to go perform down in the G-League bubble — what Jalen Green did at 18, 19 years old, he was one of the better players in the entire league at that age, and that’s just really rare.

I think overall it was a big win for the G-League just to have two top-10 picks, one top-2 pick. Isaiah Todd might go in the first round, Daishen Nix might get drafted. So given it was the middle of a pandemic season, to pull that off I think is pretty impressive.

Shakeemah Simmons-Winter

I am a senior publicist for men’s pro sports, working predominantly with the NBA and FIBA properties. I’m a Jersey City, NJ native, so I cheer for all New York sports and athletes, win or lose. I began my sports career as a small forward for JCPS #9’s elementary basketball team, and then years later gave up my hoop dreams (sort of) to work as the Public Relations Coordinator for the New York Knicks. Prior to working in sports, I briefly worked as an intern turned production assistant for the Wendy Williams Show. I earned a B.A. in Communications from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, where I met my husband Matthew, and later attended New York University to earn a M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. I am excited to continue my sports journey with some of the most knowledgeable professionals in the sports industry.
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