Grain of Salt

Euro influence among reasons 2011 draft holds great uncertainty

Mock drafts are great conversation pieces. They’re fun to read. But even the few conducted by those with unfettered access to the folks who’ll actually make the picks are little more than consensus-gathering at this point, and most everybody else bases their mock drafts off of those rare mocks with credibility. Bottom line, it’s guesswork.

And this year, the guessing is based on the flimsiest evidence. So here’s the best advice in the five weeks remaining between now and the June 23 draft: It’s impossible to predict what the people in position to act will do until those people finish analyzing their evidence – and if the process were a football field, they’re now somewhere a few yards on either side of mid-field.

They’re still collecting evidence, never mind sitting around the big table and making the hard choices: “What do we do if Player A slips? He’s probably more talented than the Player B we think might be there and definitely more skilled than the Player C we’re pretty sure will be and we believe to be more ready to help immediately, but is his upside worth his character risk?”

That’s the conversation a GM and his tight inner circle reserves for the last precious days before a draft, all the while networking with other NBA executives and player agents to get a feel for what the teams ahead of them are thinking.

Yeah, scouts have been following most of the names that dot the top half of most mock drafts’ faux first round for months, years in some cases – weeks in others (see: Bismack Biyombo). But that just helps them whittle down the list to the working number on which they will now begin to … well, work.

That visual evidence they store in memory banks and video files is one big piece of the puzzle they’re now assembling. But there are other big pieces to come. One of them gets put into place starting today, when more than 50 draft prospects will assemble in Chicago. Teams are going to pore over the results of their measurements – how tall they are in shoes, their vertical reach, vertical jump, wing span, body fat index, sprint times, etc.

They’re also going to schedule interviews – teams request certain players, then the NBA ultimately decides which teams meet with which players, based on lottery results and consensus opinion of draft status.

That’s a huge piece for many teams, the Pistons included. They want to see how a player handles tough questions, get a feel for his sense of himself, his confidence, his maturity and readiness to become a professional and all that it entails. Some players love basketball, some love the lifestyle that playing at basketball’s highest level allows. When you spend a lottery pick on and invest guaranteed millions in a kid, you want to know if he falls into camp A or camp B.

So quasi experts filling out a mock lottery at this point – before that process has really begun – are engaging in creative futility. And this year, because as many as five international players could be top-10 picks and because the European version of the Chicago draft combine won’t take place until June 11-13 in Italy, the process is going to play out much closer to draft day than usual. And that will make mock drafts even less reliable as May spills into June.

Last year’s draft was fairly predictable. A year ago, on the morning after the lottery, it already seemed a pretty good bet that John Wall, Evan Turner and Derrick Favors would go 1-2-3. It seemed extremely unlikely that DeMarcus Cousins would fall to the Pistons at No. 7 and about 80-20 against Greg Monroe getting there. As it got closer to draft day, the Monroe odds seemed to go down. Ekpe Udoh was thought of as a late lottery pick, perhaps creeping as high as 10.

Less than 24 hours before the draft, the Pistons got wind that Golden State was leaning toward taking Udoh at No. 6. We recount that tale now to warn about the turbulence ahead in a draft that shapes up as far less predictable.


We’ll be in Chicago for the rest of the week to talk to as many candidates for Pistons picks – at No. 8, No. 33 and even No. 52 – as possible. We’ll start a 15-part draft series on Pistons.com on Monday and have ongoing updates from Chicago via Twitter and Pistons.com.

Only Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams as of today appear locks to be off the board by the No. 8 pick. I rate it a long shot that Enes Kanter will be available – though one of the few mock drafts with credibility, DraftExpress.com’s, currently has the Pistons landing Kanter – but Kanter is scheduled to be in Chicago, the only big man among the foreign contingent expected to go in the lottery who will be.

Among big men, others the Pistons are likely to attempt to interview in Chicago are Tristan Thompson and Marcus and Markieff Morris. Will they attempt to interview Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard, perimeter players projected as lottery picks?

That information might not become public. Among the data that will be released by the NBA are heights and weights. The numbers on Tristan Thompson will be of particular interest. He was listed at 6-foot-8 as a Texas freshman. Some scouts believe he will come in at least an inch taller than that at Chicago.