Made for Mockery

Few things in sports media are more deserving of mockery than mock drafts, those annual exercises in ignorance and misdirection.

Then again, few things in sports media are more popular. For websites desperate for clicks, for sports talk radio shows anxious to fill time, for fans seeking conversation starters at water coolers and watering holes, they are catnip.

And they are everywhere. Few self-respecting sports publications or websites dare go without one before the NBA or NFL draft, for fear of failing the public's interest. And fantasies.

"It's gotten to be lunacy, to tell you the truth," said former Pacers president Donnie Walsh, who built championship contenders by ignoring the general consensus of the mock drafts. "It's overdone, but that's our world."

Any fool can do one, me included, and you can be as wrong as wearing a backward baseball cap with a tuxedo and still keep doing them, because people forget fast. So they live on. And spread. Kind of like cockroaches.

Scan the current crop of mock drafts and you'll find at least nine players projected to go to the Pacers with the 11th pick on June 25: Cameron Payne, Frank Kaminsky, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Bobby Portis, Myles Turner, Jerian Grant, Mario Hezonja and Stanley Johnson.

Odds are, one of them will turn out to be right, but don't count on it. Mock drafts have been impressively inaccurate regarding the Pacers' pick over the years, primarily because they've usually drafted in the middle or bottom half of the first round. If you are in the business of mock-drafting, the lower you go, the less you know and the more you throw darts.

Even in the 2010 draft, when the Pacers had the No. 10 pick – their highest since 1989 – the forecasts were overwhelmingly wrong. Of the 12 leading mock drafts that year, not a single one had the Pacers taking Paul George. Four went with Epke Udoh (who was drafted sixth), three with Luke Babbitt (16th), three with Gordon Hayward (ninth), one with Ed Davis (13th) and one with Patrick Patterson (14th).

The consensus of the 2010 mocks was that George would go 12th to Memphis. Only one (Yahoo! Sports) had him going ahead of the Pacers' pick (eighth) and one (NBC Sports) didn't have him in the top 14. No problem. The mock drafters had done their job, which was to take guesses, and nobody remembered by the time the following year's draft rolled around.

Fortunately for Pacers fans, team president Larry Bird wasn't influenced by the 2010 mock consensus. This was the best call of his career as a team president. None of the other players projected for the Pacers that year have had nearly the NBA career George has had, although Hayward, who went a pick ahead of George, has been productive enough for Utah to be awarded a max contract.

No wonder NBA decision-makers either ignore the mock drafts or chuckle at them.

"I don't pay a lot of attention to them," Pacers scouting director Ryan Carr said. "I'm more worried about where we have guys ranked.

"I know the guys who run the main ones. They're good guys and they're working hard, but they're doing it for public consumption, not for us. I'll stick with our internal thinking rather than someone who isn't in all our meetings and isn't invested in what we're trying to do."

The fundamental problem with mock drafts is that the authors don't have access to nearly the quantity and quality of information teams do. They don't send an army of scouts around the country to college games, they don't go overseas to watch the international players, they don't conduct workouts for the players they are considering, they don't interview the players and they don't spend endless hours burning their eyeballs by watching videos of those players.

The secondary problem is that the people with knowledge don't tell them anything of substance. No team official is going to tell a "draft expert" who he's hoping to take in the draft, and some will tell outright lies to keep other teams away from their choice. Walsh famously did that in his first draft, 1986, when he put out the word he was "going big" to enhance the likelihood his primary target, small forward Chuck Person, would be available. Person went on to become Rookie of the Year.

"There's a lot of lying that goes on, and a lot of gamesmanship," Carr said.

Walsh, like Carr, often accepts phone calls from mock drafters. But he reveals nothing.

"I'll start the conversation by saying, 'I'm not going to tell you who we're taking. And if you guess it right, I'm going to lie to you,'" Walsh said.

If you're doing a mock draft, as I once had to do, the first order of business is to check the other mock drafts to build a framework. You then put your spin on it based on (1) what you've learned from NBA sources, if anything, (2) your personal opinion of players, many of whom you've never seen play, or (3) dart-throwing guesses. That makes mock drafts a self-fulfilling prophecy. No mock drafter is likely to stray far from what others are predicting, so they feed off one another and take on a life of their own.

Every draft brings surprises, though. When that happens, it doesn't necessarily mean a team made a mistake; it could mean the mock drafters weren't familiar enough with that player. In those cases, mock drafters are likely to give a poor grade for the pick, rather than admit ignorance.

The other complicating factor is that each draft is amoeba-like, capable of shifting at any time once it's set in motion. A single trade or surprise pick early in the first round can adjust the thinking of several teams. The Pacers, for example, didn't have a pick in the 2001 draft, but wound up trading a future first-rounder to Atlanta to select Jamaal Tinsley with the 27th pick.

Walsh liked Tinsley going into that draft, but had no idea he could work a trade for him when the draft began. He initiated serious talks with teams once the 14th pick passed. He eventually made an offer to Atlanta, which had acquired the 27th pick from Vancouver earlier in the evening, but was rejected. He took another last-minute shot as the pick approached, and the Hawks agreed.

Nobody could have predicted that the day before the draft, including Walsh.

Nobody can predict surprises, either. Danny Granger fell to the Pacers at No. 17 in 2005, much to their delight, but they didn't enter that draft expecting to land him. He was widely expected to go to Toronto at No. 7, but the Raptors took Charlie Villanueva. When Orlando also passed on Granger at 11, taking Spanish center Fran Vazquez instead, all hell broke loose in the Pacers board room because Walsh had a good feel for what the teams with the 12th through 16th picks would do.

"I remember sitting there thinking, Holy ----, this guy's coming to us," Walsh recalled. "I never expected any of that."

Neither had the mock drafters, of course.

Apparently concerns about Granger's knee contributed to his free-fall, but the Pacers' medical staff had investigated and believed he would be OK. And he was, for most of his first seven seasons, during which he led the Pacers in scoring five times and was selected to one All-Star team.

Pacers Have Proven to be Tough to Predict

It's uncertain who concocted the idea of a mock draft. Locally, the Indianapolis Star first published one in 1998. It continued to run one every year until 2007, and has published them sporadically since then. It has never accurately predicted the Pacers' selection, so it has basically amounted to a disinformation campaign. One would think the local newspaper, with a beat writer following the team throughout the year, could come up with a good guess now and then, but no.

I'm not insulting anyone, though. I'm responsible for five of them and went oh-fer like everyone else. I know how difficult it can be, because nobody within the Pacers' organization has ever dropped the slightest hint of what they're hoping or expecting to do on draft night. You might uncover a nugget or two of information, such as a player coming in for a second workout, but that doesn't help much. Walsh used to conduct a pre-draft press conference and go through the picks ahead of his and tell what he expected to happen, but he stopped there for obvious reasons.

So, if the primary local media outlet has no clue, you can be sure the national outlets don't, either. Most have been every bit as consistently wrong as the Star, and those who have gotten the Pacers' pick right a time or two were more lucky than good.

Here's a rundown of the Star's mock drafts. Not to insult, but to show how difficult the process can be.

1998: Mock drafts had not yet become a "thing," so the Star's first ran on Page 2 of the sports section, below the fold. Conrad Brunner had the Pacers taking Sam Jacobsen with the 25th pick. They took Al Harrington, who Brunner had going 12th.

1999: The Pacers had the 26th pick, and Brunner gave them Devean George. They wound up trading the pick to Golden State to move up to 21st and took Jeff Foster. They also traded Antonio Davis to Toronto for the fifth pick and took Jonathan Bender, whom they had not worked out. Foster had been brought back for a second workout, which I reported, but I had no clue they would be able or willing to trade up to get him.

2000: The Pacers had the 27th pick. Brunner assigned them DeShawn Stevenson. They took Primoz Brezec, who did not appear in Brunner's mock draft. Stevenson was taken 23rd.

2001: The Pacers had no first-round pick, so a mock draft hardly seemed necessary. An editor, Dave Lewandowski, took on one anyway, but made it a low priority by placing it on an inside page in small type. A good thing, because he had no way of knowing the Pacers were going to trade a future first-round pick to take Tinsley at No. 27.

2002: I took my first crack at mocking. The Pacers had the 14th pick. I gave them Kareem Rush, who filled a need and had been brought in for a second workout. They took Fred Jones, who I – like most of the other draft prognosticators – didn't have going in the first round. I didn't do badly overall, guessing the top five picks correctly as well as the 15th,. I was within one pick in three other cases, too. Still, I didn't get the Pacers' pick right, which seemed to be the most important part of the exercise.

2003: The Pacers didn't own a first-round pick heading into the draft, having traded it to Atlanta two years earlier to grab Tinsley. (They took James Jones, now playing for Cleveland, in the second round.) I got the first four picks right – LeBron James to Cleveland, Darko Milicic to Detroit, Carmelo Anthony to Denver and Chris Bosh to Toronto – but things began to fall apart after that. I was correct on two others, and close on several more. For example, I had David West going 19th to Utah; he went 18th to New Orleans. But, I was wildly wrong on a couple as well. I had someone named Sofoklis Schortsanitis going 14th to Seattle. He went 34th to the Clippers. I had never seen the guy play, had probably not heard of him until I began looking at other mock drafts, and no doubt followed their lead. We all missed on Kyle Korver. Nobody had him going in the first round, and he wasn't taken until the 51st pick. He's had a first-rounder's career, though.

2004: My best mock draft, everybody! I nailed 10 first-round picks, and came close on several others. Alas, I didn't get the Pacers' pick right. I gave them Delonte West with the last pick in the round, but West went 24th to Boston. I had assigned David Harrison to Boston, but he went to the Pacers. Had West been available, Bird almost certainly would have taken him. The X factor in this draft was Rafael Araujo, a 6-11 center from BYU. I had him going 19th to Miami, but he went eighth to Toronto. Rob Babcock, who had taken over as the Raptors general manager a couple of weeks before the draft, made that call, passing over Andre Iguodala, who went ninth to Philadelphia. Araujo wound up averaging 2.8 points over three NBA seasons before settling for a journeyman's career overseas. As it turned out, 19th would have been too high for him, too.

2005: I made seven accurate predictions and was close on several others, but, of course, missed on the Pacers. Then again, nobody could have predicted Granger would fall all the way to the 17th spot. I conformed to the majority of the other mock drafts and had Granger going seventh to Toronto, but Babcock came back with another shock selection, taking Charlie Villanueva. (I had Villanueva going 30th, to New York.) Blowing consecutive lottery picks isn't good for a GM's job security, which is why Babcock is now an assistant GM in Minnesota. Villanueva has had a solid NBA career and is still in the league, but Granger – at least when healthy – has been a much better player. I had the Pacers drafting Francisco Garcia. Good thing they didn't. He was still in the league at the start of last season, but was waived in December after averaging 3.2 points in 14 games for Houston. My big miss was Gerald Green. I had him going third, but he went 18th. He's still in the league after a stuttering start to his NBA career, but third would have been far too high given how things have turned out.

2006: My worst mock draft, everybody! I had just three accurate guesses, at Nos. 1, 11 and 28. How did I get the 28th pick right by predicting Dallas would take Michigan State's Maurice Ager? I have no clue. Ager wound up averaging 2.1 points over 82 games spread across four seasons and three teams. He's had more success as a music producer – which I didn't predict. The Pacers had the 17th pick, and took Shawne Williams. I took wild guess and gave the Pacers Alexander Johnson, an undersized but athletic power forward from Florida State. Don't ask why. It turned out he was indeed drafted by the Pacers, but in the second round, and only to trade him to Portland, which turned around and traded him to Memphis on the night of the draft. Johnson wound up averaging 4.3 points over two seasons for Memphis and Miami before slipping into the purgatory of the Development League and lower-level international leagues.

2007: Perhaps turned off by my slump the previous year, the Star didn't publish a mock draft. The biggest debate was whether Greg Oden or Kevin Durant would go first. I was right on that count, at least, predicting Oden would go first to Portland and Durant second to Seattle. I also tossed in some cogent analysis of Durant, writing he would be "the consolation gift who keeps on giving." So there's that.

2008: Another draft that couldn't be predicted for the Pacers. Mike Wells took over the mockery and had them taking D.J. Augustin with the 11th pick. They wound up going with Jerryd Bayless and trading him to Portland along with Ike Diogu for the 13th pick, which they used to select Brandon Rush, along with Jarrett Jack and Josh McRoberts. The day before the draft they traded Jermaine O'Neal and the 41st pick to Toronto for the 17th pick and T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and Maceo Baston. They used the draft pick on Roy Hibbert. Was anyone supposed to predict all of that?

2009: The Pacers had the 13th pick, and Wells tried to give them Eric Maynor in his mock draft. They took Tyler Hansbrough instead. Wells had mentioned Hansbrough as a possibility, along with Maynor, DeJuan Blair and Jeff Teague.

2010: Another mock-less year for the Star. Wells speculated the Pacers might take point guards Avery Bradley or Eric Bledsoe with the 10th pick, but would "likely go with a power forward." He did mention Fresno State small forward Paul George as a "sleeper." The Star happened to run a photo of Bird shaking hands with George after George's workout with its pre-draft story, and that turned out to be prescient – but also entirely coincidental. A poll of readers indicated one-third of them wanted a trade for a point guard, 25 percent wanted to draft Gordon Hayward (who went one pick ahead of the Pacers) and 14 percent favored Epke Udoh. Wells only predicted the top 10, and had the Pacers taking Udoh, following the lead of the majority of national mock drafts. Udoh, though, went sixth and wouldn't have been available even if the Pacers wanted him. He's already played for three teams, and averaged 0.9 points for the Clippers last season. Not quite up to George's standard.

2011: The Pacers had the 15th overall pick and took Kawhi Leonard, for the purpose of trading him to San Antonio for George Hill on draft night. Wells listed four possible choices for them: Jimmer Fredette, Markieff Morris, Marshon Brooks and Tristan Thompson.

2012: With the 26th pick, the Pacers took Miles Plumlee, who had not appeared in the first round of anyone's mock draft. Wells had predicted they would go with Draymond Green, who went in the second round, 35th overall, to Golden State. He was runner-up for both Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player this past season.

2013: The Star ran USA Today's mock draft. The Pacers had the 23rd overall selection, and were assigned California shooting guard Allen Crabbe. They took Solomon Hill instead. Crabbe went 31st and has averaged 3 points over two seasons for Portland.

2014: The Pacers had no first-round pick because of a previous trade for Luis Scola, so there was no need for the Star to waste valuable real estate with a mock draft.

So there you go. Enjoy the mock drafts, everyone. Just try not to believe them.

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