We are a few days short of two months from the NBA’s return from Coronavirus suspension. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there is a plan in place for the National Basketball Association to continue where it left off in March. NBA fans, and, really, most Americans, are excited for the resumption of sports.
However, there are multiple facets of the timing and sequencing of NBA events that could profoundly affect the future of the sport. Multiple NBA sources provided me with input as to how they think the virus, itself, and the return-to-play plan affect the draft process. One even offered short-comings of the plan.
The impact on the draft is significant
“The workouts are more about meeting the player and getting a feel for personality.”
One NBA agent felt that the draft process wouldn’t be harmed by the virus or the resumption of the season. He said:
I think successful scouting departments with great track records in the draft have already done a lot of the work ahead of workouts. The workouts are more about meeting the player & getting a feel for personality. I think there are probably other groups that can be fooled by one good workout, or one good performance at the end of the season during low-leverage meaningless games. The teams with not-so-great records can be fooled by a great workout without having done the right level of due diligence going in.
“So many moving pieces…”
But could certain positions on the basketball court benefit or lose out as a result of a rushed pre-draft process in the midst of the continued season?
It’s tough to say.
The source said, “So many moving pieces…I think the guys that get hurt most in normal year are the guys that can actually play…Maybe not the super athletes, but guys that are just really good basketball players. I think this year, maybe with no workouts, those guys that can play and would maybe do better at Portsmouth [Invitational Tournament] than they would in draft workouts, maybe those guys have a better chance this year?”
Another agent offered a much different insight into how the virus and the plan affect the draft process.
“What might happen is a lot of guys take offers overseas.”
“It’s so far out, we don’t even have clarity on the workouts,” he said of the pre-draft process. The source continued, “The gap between these guys finishing college, getting drafted, and then playing professional games is going to be significant. What might happen is a lot of guys take offers overseas. Think about it, the G-League is still focused on recovering from its incumbent season. It very well could start later than the NBA does next season. That’s essentially a year between these guys’ last college games and their first paychecks. So, they might look for something overseas that pays well and starts in August.”
Seems simple, right? Maybe even convenient?
Not this year. Not when everything else has been complicated.
The source said, “You have to think about the number of imports that these overseas teams are allowed to have. For a lot of them, they can bring in two to three guys. If enough border-line second rounders or G-Leaguers go overseas, that pushes the supply and demand out of balance. There are more players available than spots to fill. Those teams then recognize that they don’t have to pay as much to get a good player.”
“Regardless, this year’s pre-draft process is long and slow without many opportunities for players to increase their draft stock.”
Matt Babcock, a former agent and current NBA Draft Analyst, talked of the unprecedented uncertainty regarding this year’s draft. He said, “The virus has affected the pre-draft process significantly. There have not been any team hosted workouts or agent hosted pro days, and we’ll see if they’re actually able to put together some sort of combine. Regardless, this year’s pre-draft process is long and slow without many opportunities for players to increase their draft stock.”
Across all sources, the level of uncertainty and, thus, concern for fringe-draftees is high.
The plan is good, not great
“We need sports back.”
Today, I asked one of the sources if he had any on-the-record opinions on the NBA’s plan, or if there was anything he’d change about it. He expressed what a lot of people feel–“In general, I would say it’s important. It’s part of the fabric of the country. We need sports back. I think it’s gonna be good.”
Babcock echoed that sentiment: “I can’t speak for everyone in basketball, but I personally think Adam Silver and the NBA have done a terrific job of putting together their plans considering the incredibly challenging circumstances.”
Another NBA source was not as convinced.
“A ‘good-enough’ plan, not a great one.”
When asked whether he thought the plan to continue the season in Orlando was a good one, the source offered context to his sentiment–“Because it’s unchartered territory and unprecedented times, there was just going to be a ‘good-enough’ plan, not a great one.
The changes he prescribed would’ve been more focused on alternatives for younger players. The source said, “The eight teams out, most of the time those teams are loaded with young guys. Those are the teams that have players that are itching to play.” As an example, he referenced the video footage of Trae Young playing pick-up games in Oklahoma following the publishing of the NBA’s plan to return.
The source also felt that small-market teams were neglected in the formation of these logistics. He said, “I don’t think the NBA thought about small-market teams. This wasn’t just about money for the league, this is about money for the owners. You see that with the fact that they chopped part of the regular season off but kept the playoffs completely in-tact.”
“This extra month is lost time.”
My source also expressed skepticism about the timing of the plan. “I don’t think you need such a late start, either,” he said. “That’s what’s pushing the end so late. This extra month is lost time. Why not just have everyone in training camp by mid-June? Now, with eight small-market teams out, that’s nine months without revenue. It’s going to strain them financially.”
“I don’t know that this plan was explained well to the young guys, either.”
The same source also had questions as to whether there was adequate education provided to every player representing his team in discussions with the NBA’s Player’s Association, as well as whether all teams were properly represented in the Player’s Association. “I don’t know that this plan was explained well to the young guys, either,” he said. “I don’t know that anyone sat them down and made them aware of the financial repercussions of their teams being excluded. Like, how much money they’d be losing. The Cavs, for example, had a rookie who hadn’t played a second all season [Dylan Windler] as their NBPA rep. Do you think he’s going to vote against the plan when everyone else is voting in favor of it? Or, is he going to follow what everyone else is doing?”
All sources felt the plan is, at the very least, good in the context of the circumstances.
Some advantages are clear; others, not so much
“Younger players might be frustrated and have a harder time adapting.”
One source noted that older teams with veterans might have an advantage unrelated to the cliche “experience” advantage. He said, “Those players have discipline. They might have kids, they might be more settled down. They might be more used to this sort of solitary, uniform structure. Younger players might be frustrated and have a harder time adapting. They might get bored and resort to playing video games all night or sneaking out to the parks in Orlando. They might look for a loophole.”
Babcock added that the home-court difference was a lost advantage: “The biggest disadvantage will be for top-seeded teams in the playoffs that will not have a true home-court advantage.”