Transcript: NBA Draft Media Call with ESPN Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas

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Transcript: NBA Draft Media Call with ESPN Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas

ESPN Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas answered questions on Monday ahead of the 2023 NBA Draft. ESPN platforms will combine to exclusively televise this year’s NBA Draft, offering more options than ever. Bilas will appear on ESPN’s main set during the NBA Draft telecast, which emanates from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Full coverage plans can be found HERE.

Q: My question was I’m curious how the transition from college to the NBA mentally can really affect a prospect in being successful in the league, and maybe how some teams have evolved their process to make it more of a smoother transition for some of those athletes or NBA prospects.

JAY BILAS: That’s a good question. I think most teams, if not all, all teams are much more savvy now about drafting young players and their transition to the NBA. It used to be you brought in a 22-year-old oftentimes that had been four years in college for the transition, and even though they were called rookies and had a lot to learn, now you’re bringing in 18, 19-year-olds in. So there’s a lot more — I don’t mean this to sound pejorative, but a lot more hand holding that needs to go on because the players are younger.

So many of them have proven capable of handling the transition, but it’s certainly difficult. You’re dealing with the best players in the world that are mature men. So there’s a learning curve that goes on.

But at least in the last couple years, players now, at least in college and to an extent the G League Ignite, having dealing with money, so they’re a little savvier than perhaps they were in years past, and the players at age 19 have a heck of a lot more experience now than they did in years past.

But it’s still a significant jump into the real basketball world I would say.

Q: How about the international transition, especially with the success that we’ve seen from Luka? How are teams, specifically the Spurs, planning on potentially learning from what others have done from international prospects?

JAY BILAS: Yeah, I think generally international prospects have a little bit more maturity, and again, that’s generally. It’s not true of everyone.

But they’re playing professionally before they get into the draft process and have been raised more so as pros, and they’re playing against older players. There’s probably more of an opportunity to mature faster once they get to draft age, and for an international prospect, it’s 18 years old.

I don’t know that you’d want to say it’s easier because international prospects are dealing with coming over to a new country and things like that, but they’ve played high-level basketball, most of them, if not all, for a period of years before they get into the draft.

They may have a little bit of a leg up earlier because of that level of competition and the maturity of the players they’re playing against. They’re playing against men at an earlier age.

Q: I’m wondering your thoughts on GG Jackson. What makes him such a special talent? As far as growth is concerned, what does he need to improve on?

JAY BILAS: Well, GG Jackson is very talented. He’s got all the measurables. He’s got very good size. I think he’s got a good skill level. It’s just not polished yet. That’s going to be his journey is going to be polishing up the talent that he has.

He not only showed flashes, he was very good this last year at South Carolina, so he’s got a lot of ability. But what I would say is it’s still a little bit raw.

But with his size at close to 6’9″, and he’s got near seven-foot wingspan, and he’s good in pick-and-roll situations, he’s got a good skill level.

He just wasn’t what I would consider to be efficient given the tools that he has, and I think he could be a much better defender, and I think he’s going to get bigger and stronger, obviously, as he matures.

Q: You’re going to be on the ESPN broadcast this year. I’m wondering kind of the evolution of the draft presentation over the years, what are you going to be doing to contribute to coverage that will enhance the viewing experience?

JAY BILAS: A lot of the same things I’ve been doing the last 21 years. This will be my 21st draft sitting on the desk for ESPN. My first was in 2003 when LeBron James came out of high school. So since ESPN had the draft, I’ve been sitting in the same spot for all that time.

But just giving evaluations of prospects and player scouting, which I’ve done from day one for ESPN, hopefully I’m getting better at it. I don’t know that that’s true, but I work with great people, and our presentation, we always do the very best we can to not only tell you about what the player can and can’t do and where the player projects, but giving our best judgments as to the fit in the NBA with a particular team and the player’s value and then background information on the player.

So many of these players now are younger, and certainly younger than they used to be coming into the process. Years ago, you had four years of college to get to know these players, and they were established brands. Now there are players that are coming into the draft process from Overtime Elite, from the G League Ignite, from overseas more and more, and freshmen in college. There’s a little bit more maybe some fans don’t know them as well as we do, so we try to give them a preview of coming attractions once they get to the NBA.

Q: Just wondering your thoughts on what will happen at No. 2. Obviously Wembanyama is going at No. 1, but the Hornets have No. 2. What do you think will happen at No. 2?

JAY BILAS: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure I know the answer to it. The choice seems to be between Scoot Henderson of the G League who’s a really dynamic guard that can really get to the rim and create his own offense and ultra competitive, but even though he’s only 6’2″, 6’3″, he’s got the arms of a guy 6’9″, 6’10” and can really make plays.

He’s not figured out the shooting piece yet. He’s not a consistent perimeter shooter, but he’s got a ton of ability and his competitive nature is really impressive, especially at that age. He’s a hard charger.

Then the other choice would be Brandon Miller of Alabama, who’s 6’9″ and can really shoot it. He’s got deep range. He’s very athletic. He’s got range as a defender. He can switch out. He can protect the rim a little bit and challenge shots, but he can really score.

I think it’s a little bit concerning. The question marks you would have is shooting for Henderson and maybe size, but his length I think makes up for that.

Then for Miller, there aren’t as many question marks, but against top-50 competition, he did not perform as well. His numbers really drop when you look at top-50 teams. He was like 0-of-8 against Houston, he did not perform well in the NCAA Tournament. He had a little bit of an injury issue, so that’s a little bit more understandable. But against the bigger name, more successful, better teams, his numbers took a significant drop. But he is super talented and still a very young player.

That’s a difficult decision. I would lean towards Miller because of the shooting. In a league that values shooting, he can really shoot it, and I think that’s the direction I would lean.

Q: Talk about fit for the Hornets in terms of what player fits best. As an analyst do you think it’s more about get the best player available when you’re picking or should you also think about who fits best for your roster?

JAY BILAS: It’s easy for me to say because I’m not making the selection, but I tend to gravitate toward best available player because you don’t know when you’re looking at fit, you don’t know whether some of the players you’re fitting the prospect in and around are going to be there in a couple years.

I think take the most valuable asset and the best player available. I know this can sound a little trite, but back in 1984, the Portland Trail Blazers felt like they needed a center so they took Sam Bowie and passed up on Michael Jordan because they would have duplicated a position they had filled with Clyde Drexler.

But Stu Inman was their general manager at the time, and when he consulted Bob Knight, who coached Jordan in the Olympics and said Jordan is the best player, take Jordan, I think Inman told everyone this is what Bob Knight has said, he told them, We need a center, and Bob Knight’s response was, ‘then play Jordan at center.’ You don’t pass up a player that good.

I know we don’t think there’s a Michael Jordan type in this draft, but I don’t think you pass up on best available player unless it’s too close to call and the fit overwhelms the best player available idea.

Q: Dariq Whitehead with his injury situation, multiple injuries at Duke and what he showed, how do you assess his draft status? Then also Dereck Lively, there’s kind of a dichotomy between what he showed offensively during games for Duke this year, and what he showed in practice and workouts, so how do you think that’s going to impact things here?

JAY BILAS: Well, starting with Lively, he’s going to be a lottery pick, I believe. Whether he goes in the top 10, 12, 14, whatever it is, I think he’s got lottery potential. He was the No. 1 player, as you know, coming out of high school and had some injuries, setbacks that hurt his development coming into the season, so he was a little bit behind.

For any player, let alone a young player, that can be difficult when your run-up to the season is interrupted.

But what he brings in is what I would call a really high floor because he can really block shots. He’s super long armed. He’s athletic. His timing is really good. He’s very, very mobile and can move laterally, so he can guard pick-and-roll and recover, switch out and guard for a couple of dribbles, and then his ability to block and change shots around the rim is really impressive. He’s got a high blocked-shot rate, and he’s a good rim runner, good lob threat.

That’s the floor, and that’s pretty darn good.

When you look back at prior drafts, I’m not making a comparison, but just to say when DeAndre Jordan came out of Texas A&M, schlepps like me would say, well, he doesn’t have offense. Well, he didn’t have offense and he’s still in the league, he’s still playing, because of that floor we’re talking about that contributes to winning.

I think Lively has the ability to be a much better offensive player, but even if he’s not, the floor is so high. Like I think he’s got a much higher ceiling now, and he had a high one coming out of high school. Like he would have been a top-5 pick coming out of high school, if they allowed that, but the fact that he had an up-and-down season because of injury sort of maybe set him back a little bit.

But you just can’t make up those measurables. When you see it, you’re like, all this defense and rebounding and rim protecting, it’s legit.

Whitehead, Dariq Whitehead, can really shoot it, and he’s a dynamic athlete, as well. He’s strong. He’s got a really good frame. Another guy where injuries set him back, and we probably didn’t see the full bag of tools that he has.

But I think he’s going to be a later first-round pick in the 20s, but he could be taken in the early 30s in the second round, as well. But he’s still the same player.

He’s going to be a good value in this draft because he can score. I think he can be a better defender. He’s a really good athlete, and that’s strength. He’s got an NBA frame right now. So I think he’s a valuable piece and a valuable asset to get late in the first round.

Q: We are at a point right now, the reigning Finals MVP in the NBA and the regular season MVP are both foreign-born players. The No. 1 pick in the draft we expect to be a foreign-born player. You go back to Giannis and his greatness, again, another foreign-born player. It’s happening at the same time that kind of some of the young American stars are definitely on some hard times, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant. We’ve been hearing this, and I’m sure you have, as well, for the entire time you’ve been doing the draft, the contrast between the American player and the international player. What do you think is the state right now of the American prospects vis-à-vis the international prospects, and what do you think the future holds there?

JAY BILAS: Well, I think because basketball truly is a global game, it’s the second most-popular sport in the world behind soccer or football, however you want to call it, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the rest of the world has great prospects.

The United States still has the most, but the idea that we would have them all is kind of ridiculous.

Now, years ago, 30, 40, 50 years ago, we had way more. The United States had way more than anybody else, but basketball has exploded in popularity, especially since the Dream Team in the ’92 Olympics, and I think it’s to be expected that you have great talent coming in internationally.

I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that basketball is not taught as well or the same just because international prospects are doing really well. I think we should have expected that.

But now the game is coached and taught so well globally, that international coaches are the equal of American coaches. It would be similar to say, look at Shohei Ohtani. Baseball is an American game. Well, but they’re playing basketball around the world, and Japan has been playing baseball for a long time. The idea that we wouldn’t see some of the best players in the world coming from other countries — we felt for a long time like we’ve owned this game, and we don’t. I think we should be used to this by now.

Similarly, in the same vein, it wasn’t that long ago that you had some people saying, well, international players aren’t as tough or they’re not as physical. None of that was true. It might be true with an individual player, just like it’s true of individual American players that aren’t tough or physical. None of that is true generally and overall.

I’m not surprised by the ultra success of so many international players, just like I’m not surprised by the success of American players. We’re on equal footing globally now.

Q: I want to talk about the Spurs for one second. Popovich has been greatly known to develop talented big men once they land in San Antonio – David Robinson, Tim Duncan as we know in the past. In your expert opinion, how well do you think Wembanyama will adjust to Popovich’s coaching style and what defensive benefits will the Spurs have in the upcoming season with the addition of Wembanyama?

JAY BILAS: Well, any great talent is going to adjust really well to Gregg Popovich. He’s one of the best coaches that’s ever lived, so that won’t be an issue.

Wembanyama is unique. I’ve never seen anything quite like him on a basketball floor. At 7’4″ with a wing span of close to eight feet with fluidity and athleticism and mobility, I just can’t fathom a combination quite like that on a basketball floor.

If Ralph Sampson were born 19 years ago, maybe that would be a comparison. But Ralph was born in the era of big guys on this end, guards on this end in practice, and big guys were planted in the low post. Now they play all over the floor.

Wembanyama is a reflection of the change in the game. He can really shoot it. He can handle it. He can operate as a pick-and-roll ball handler at 7’4″.

But to your question about defense, he’s an extraordinary defender. He can switch out on to a guard and give the guard five or six feet to take away the drive, and he can still recover and block a shot out of the air, a three-pointer. He’s a range shot blocker.

Rudy Gobert played in the same division in France, and this was several years ago, obviously, because he’s been in the league for a long time, but in 27 games I believe it was versus 34 for Wembanyama, Wembanyama blocked over 50 more shots. He’s an extraordinary player, and there aren’t any question marks with him.

The only thing you could do is if you wanted to make something up is say, I don’t know about his durability because of his frame, or what about injury. But his frame is no different than Kevin Durant’s was when he came out of Texas, and if you recall, Kevin Durant couldn’t bench press 185 pounds one time at the Combine, and we were like, oh, my God, he can’t bench press, like there was going to be a bench press contest during the game, they’d stop the game and have a bench press contest. Worked out pretty well for Kevin Durant.

Absent injury, I think it’s a no-brainer that Victor Wembanyama is going to be great.

Q: Kind of a two-part question for you. Wanted to get your thoughts on the second tier, I guess, prospects in this draft. Who are some of those players that you feel could come in immediately in that mid-to-late-first-round area but potentially make an early impact, and then two, point out one particular player in particular, Brandin Podziemski. What did you notice about him this past season that has allowed him to get into the first-round conversation? He transferred from Illinois and became a first-round prospect. What did you notice about him, as well?

JAY BILAS: Well, I mean, first of all, some of the players. James Nnaji, an international prospect, looks a little bit like Dwight Howard in his profile with his size and his bulk athleticism and his ability to affect things around the rim and rebound and finish plays. He’s just a superior athlete with great length.

I think Noah Clowney of Alabama — I think part of your question was immediate impact. Noah Clowney, he’s still really young, but he’s got all the measurables. He can shoot it, block shots, run the floor. Very good skill level at his size. I think he’ll go higher than he’s been projected. I’ve seen him projected late in the first round, early second. I think he could be up near the lottery with his talent level.

Podziemski from Santa Clara is a really talented offensive player. He can shoot it. He can operate out of pick-and-roll. He may be — Brice Sensabaugh of Ohio State I would probably put up there as maybe the best shooter/scorer. Brandon Miller would be up there, is expected to be the second or third pick, but I think you could make a case for Podziemski to be the best overall shooter in the draft. He could shoot if it off pick-and-rolls, shoot it off the dribble, good in mid-range, and he can shoot it from three.

He averaged about 20 points a game this last year playing for the Broncos, and he’s very, very talented. So I think you’ll see him go sort of around 20 is my guess, and it’s just a guess, because there are a lot of good players in this draft. This draft has really good depth.

I don’t know that — maybe we say it every year, maybe I do, but looking at the depth of the draft, you keep getting further and further down your list of prospects going, man, this guy can play, or this guy is going to be really good and all that stuff, and it seems like I’ve gone a little bit deeper saying that this year than in some of the past years of the 21 I’ve been doing this.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Pistons and their fifth pick? Do you think they’re going to trade them and maybe go for another All-Star caliber player, or what are your thoughts with that?

JAY BILAS: I don’t know what Detroit is going to do. When you have a pick that high, it’s going to be coveted. So if you can trade it, package it, whatever, if you want to get older players that are going to help you — if you feel like that’s going to help you win now, certainly you would look at that.

I think at that slot, at No. 5, there are a lot of really good players available. I have Cam Whitmore of Villanova rated fourth, so he could be gone, but he’s who I would want at that spot. But after that, there are a number of really good players available. The Thompson twins are both really talented and can absolutely play. They’re just not really good shooters.

Amen Thompson is probably the better offensive player I would say, but Ausar Thompson is an outstanding defender, and that’s going to mean a lot in the NBA because he’s so versatile and athletic, and he’s a really, really hard worker.

Then Taylor Hendricks of Central Florida is I think another undervalued prospect in the draft because he’s 6’9″ and can block shots and rebound, especially on the offensive end. He’s a good offensive rebounder, but he can really shoot it. He’s not a create-your-own-offense guy, but he’s an outstanding stretch 4 that in catch-and-shoot situations he can really stretch a defense. He’s very, very talented.

A year ago I don’t think he was expected to be discussed as a lottery pick, and he’s played his way, especially with his athletic profile and length, but shooting ability is a big part of this.

There are a number of prospects in the top 15 that don’t have that shooting piece. Seems like they have everything else and other elite skills, but the NBA, it’s a shooter’s league now, and if you can shoot it, and that’s not a question mark, I think that puts you a little bit ahead.

Q: Terquavion Smith such a high-volume scorer at NC State, what kind of role do you think he’ll have?

JAY BILAS: Well, as you know, Terquavion Smith can really score and he’s dynamic. There’s no shoot that he’s afraid of, so he’ll take just about any shot, including some eyebrow-raisers, but he makes a lot of them.

He’s not the most efficient offensive player, but he’s a jet in transition, and he’s a difficult cover.

He doesn’t project necessarily as a play-maker for others, and I think there are some questions about him at the defensive end. I think he could be a much better defender than he has shown. But he’s got good quickness, athletic, but I think you’ll see him as a second-round pick. But because of his ability to score and the depth of his range and how good he is in transition, he’s certainly going to be drafted. I just don’t see him being drafted in the first round.

Q: Where do you see Emoni Bates falling in this year’s draft?

JAY BILAS: That’s a good question. Emoni Bates coming out of school, he might have been ranked No. 1. I don’t remember where he was ranked. But he’s super talented. Length, he’s a good shooter. He had a very difficult season his first year at Memphis. He took a lot of criticism, and it was not pleasant for him.

But he’s one of those players that you could see somebody taking in the second round, maybe even early in the second round, because of his upside, that he’s very, very talented. He just hasn’t put it all together yet. But he had a good year at Eastern Michigan, and he’s got all the same sort of good points that he did coming out of high school that people were saying lottery pick.

You could look at him and say he could be one of the steals of the draft.

Maybe Nick Smith Jr., of Arkansas, similarly had some injury issues, didn’t have the most — didn’t have the smoothest of freshman years at Arkansas, but the talent is still there, and if you’re willing to work with him, and I think these teams are, there could be something really good there with Emoni Bates in the future. But you’re betting on the potential with him.

Q: The obviously extreme example is Jokic being the 41st pick and two-time MVP, but Austin Reaves and guys undrafted not only making rosters but making rotations. Has the draft become even more of an inexact science? Why are there so many misses? Why are so many second-round picks and guys who were being bypassed in the first round in the lottery making such an impact on rosters? It seems like as the technology has gone up to scout, the misses have increased. Do you notice that, and why do you think that is?

JAY BILAS: You know, I haven’t seen that misses — quote-unquote, misses have increased, because I think, at least when I have looked at it, the NFL gets four and five years to look at their prospects, and they make the same kind of mistakes.

In my view it’s always been an inexact science. I think with some of these picks because there are only 60 of them, there is a tendency to try to hit home runs and use the draft to try to find something truly special, and like some of the players like Austin Reaves you mentioned, you can get players like that as undrafted free agents. Miami has proven that. They’ve used undrafted free agency really well to get solid pieces.

But I’m not sure that you would necessarily call those players “stars” that are going to be huge difference makers. I think the draft teams are looking for difference makers, oftentimes drafting on potential, because the players are so young.

Draymond Green was an example. Like he was taken in the second round, and he’s been an All-Star and a huge component to winning championships. You look back to some of the players — there have always been players that should have been drafted higher when you look back.

To me, it’s always been an inexact science. There are certain no-brainers that you just know, but the rest of it, you’re going on hey, I believe this or I believe that.

Q: We’ve seen some recent examples with Zion Williamson, Deandre Ayton, some of the pressure of the overall No. 1 pick getting to some of these prospects. Over the years, how have some of these players or teams found ways easier so then the pressure doesn’t get so much to them? They feel like they don’t have to save a franchise through this one pick or through this one player?

JAY BILAS: I don’t know what anybody can do about that. It’s like being the favorite in a golf tournament or anything else. You still have to play.

A lot of these players have been highly ranked out of high school and had to prove it in college and all this other stuff. It’s just part of the deal.

I think you have to do — satisfy yourself as best you can that the player can handle that, but I don’t know that you pass up on a player like Deandre Ayton and say, well, let somebody else take him at 2, we’ll look for somebody who can handle No. 1. If you think he’s the best player, you take him.

Now, if you have concern that he can’t handle — because it’s not like there’s no pressure on the second or third pick in the draft. The way I look at it is guys can either play at that level or they can’t. But Deandre Ayton has had an outstanding career. I think he’s lived up every bit to No. 1 status. Just because maybe Luka Doncic has been great, as well, doesn’t mean that somehow Deandre Ayton didn’t perform at a high level. And Zion Williamson has been hurt. When he’s been on the floor, his numbers are absurd.

I don’t know exactly how to process that, but I’m not as worried about players being able to handle it as much as are they the best player.

Q: In your opinion what makes this draft different, and how would you compare the talent over the last few years?

JAY BILAS: What makes this draft different is Victor Wembanyama is in it. I have not seen a draft like this since my first one when LeBron was drafted. The question — I don’t know the answer, but the question I’ve asked myself is if you took an 18-year-old LeBron and dismissed what he has done afterwards, just look at him as a prospect, and Victor is 19, if you took them side by side in this draft in today’s game, which player would you select at No. 1? And it’s a head scratcher because it’s really hard to dismiss what LeBron has done. He’s had one of the best careers in the history of the game, and he’s certainly the best 38-year-old athlete I’ve ever seen. So that longevity is truly amazing.

But Wembanyama is built for the modern game. We’ve never seen anything quite like him on a basketball floor. That’s what makes this different is you’ve got Wembanyama in it.

After that, we’ve got similar outstanding talents, and some have it put together more than others. Others have pieces that they may be missing right now but still can develop.

I’m sure, because it seems to happen almost every year, I’m sure we’ll look back in five years, ten years and say, if you could re-draft over again, the 20th pick should have been taken No. 3. That happens a lot.

I think there was a question earlier about this being an inexact science. It is really inexact. But that doesn’t mean it’s not done the best possible way. The NBA scouts that I know and front office personnel, they’re really smart, and they do their homework. But nobody has a crystal ball in this, and it’s hard to look at an X-ray and see somebody’s ticker or their want-to and how it’s going to work out.

But I think they do a better job than ever now, and there’s more information than ever on which you can base your decision.

Q: I wanted to ask you about Markquis Nowell. It doesn’t sound like he’s going to get drafted, but what are your thoughts on someone like him who’s kind of overcome a lot of obstacles to even make it in the league?

JAY BILAS: I mean, he’s a great story from that regard, but he won’t get drafted or picked up as an undrafted free agent based on his great story. He’s either going to get drafted or have his phone ring right away as soon as the draft is over because he can play. He can really play.

The only thing he lacks is size. He’s not a big player. But man, that guy can roll. He’s an unbelievable passer. He’s a competitor. He can score. I think the world of him as a player.

I think he’s going to not only play in the NBA, but I think he’s got an opportunity to play for quite some time. But it goes back to the potential thing. You know exactly what you’re getting with him and you’re getting somebody who you can rely on and who I think is going to be very good, but at the same time, there may be some other players who you go, well, we’ll take a chance and see if this develops into something great for us.

But he is outstanding, and I’m a huge fan of his.


Julie McKay

I joined ESPN in 2022 as a member of the communications department working on college sports. My passion for college sports came at an early age in a divided household (Big Ten Conference-divided, that is) and followed that to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (sorry, Dad). Four years in the Athletic Communications Department, along with internships with the Big Ten Conference, Big Ten Network and NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, cemented my career path. After spending some time in sports media PR in San Francisco, I’ve spent five-plus years focused in golf, with stints at the American Junior Golf Association, Augusta National and Buffalo Agency, working with the USGA, Youth on Course and Destination Kohler, among others. Despite being a proud Wisconsin native, I’ll forever betray my home state as a lifelong Chicago sports fan. My dog Rizzo knows there’s always next year and wishes his namesake would return home to the North Side.
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