In June, draft profiles become almost canonical in their importance to fans. We quote them, we memorize them, we judge teams’ intelligence based on them. They are holy writ.
If you’re anything like me, these profiles are the way you get to know the players about to be selected. I don’t have time to follow NCAA as religiously as I do the pro game, so instead I read what others have opined about their strengths and weaknesses, watch a few breakdown videos, and mostly trust what I get from those experts.
But how good are those experts? As we preview the current draft batch, we thought it would be fun to look back and see what the punditry had to say about our current core back before they were making the big bucks. How accurate were they in foreseeing the feats and foils of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks? Let’s see.1
“He could be awesome someday, but he’s going to have to put in the same hard work that Dwight Howard has on the court and in the weight room.” -ESPN’s Chad Ford
The draftniks nailed Favors better than any other current core Jazz member… which could be construed as a polite way of saying Favors’ profile hasn’t changed that much since 2010.
He was seen as a rebounding, shot-blocking, athletic attacker with a burgeoning mid-range game but not much offensive polish. DraftExpress called him active and fundamentally sound, with the lateral quickness and length to both hold guys in check out on the floor and challenge shots in close. Check and check.
For a full report card on Favors’ fourth NBA season, check out Ben Dowsett’s recent piece on the former #3 pick. For these purposes, suffice it to say that Favors, in broad strokes, is on the path to fulfill the defensive profile of these sites. There are some stat systems that beat Favors up a little bit, but I believe that a lot of that comes from having to cover up for frontcourt mates that are undersized (Marvin Williams) or at times inattentive to defensive principles (Kanter). By all accounts, Favors has become the de facto captain of the Jazz defense. He sported the highest rating on the Jazz’s proprietary defensive adherence system, and often directed others as to the right spots & rotations.
As far as weaknesses go, they’ll all sound familiar. ESPN’s draft card dinged Favors because he “lacks a go-to scoring move.” As recently as 2013, Jazz legend Karl Malone would play back that sound byte. DX pointed to his free throw shooting — again, pretty accurately. He shot under 60% in his rookie season but has gradually improved into the high 60s.
I’ll tell you what else ESPN nailed: this analysis of the Nets’ choice to draft him. “I’m not sure the Nets will keep him. They think of him more as an asset right now.” Pretty clairvoyant stuff right there, since a few months later they would indeed parlay that pick into a chip in their quest for a star.2 Hence Favors to Utah, where he’s still the work in progress offensively, but has displayed great defensive understanding.
For better or worse, the draft profiles seem to have mostly gotten it right when it came to Favors.
“I like this pick for the Jazz. He’s got a lot more upside than people think.” -Ford
Hayward’s pre-draft projections were a bit all over the board, prompting DX to dub him “one of the most highly debated prospects in the draft.” He was lauded for “underrated athleticism” in some reviews, and then elsewhere would be criticized because he “lacks the prototypical athleticism… to seamlessly transition his game.” DX praised him for his “high motor,” while NBADraft.net said, “questions exist about his commitment to being a great basketball player.”
In other words, what you thought about any single part of Hayward’s game in 2010 probably depended largely on which sites you were reading.
There were some places that all the scouting reports aligned, though. For example, issues with his lateral quickness came up all over the board, and that made people wonder what kind of defender he’d be in the NBA. True to those questions, Hayward hasn’t exactly been a lockdown stopper on D. He gets a lot of credit from fans for his chasedown and help-side blocks, but as an on-ball defender he concedes the first step far too often, and he also gets stuck in no man’s land3
The other common worry about Gordon’s game in 2010 was his jumpshot. Early in the draft scouting process, he was referred to as a “lights-out shooter” or a “sharp shooter with deep range.” But the regression on his outside shot his last year at Butler started to change the narrative a bit. Some concluded, as did DX, that “the decline in his performance in catch-and-shoot situations had more to do with his role with the Bulldogs than any tangible changes in the way he shot the ball.” Others, seeing his crafty Manu-esque carving of defenses in the 2010 NCAA tourney shifted their analysis altogether. ESPN said he was “a versatile player who can score in a variety of ways.” That’s probably closer to what Hayward was all along: sometimes his shot falls and sometimes it doesn’t, but he has tools to put points on the board.
Incidentally, Hayward’s three-point performance suffered a very similar slippage this past season. Like at Butler, the downward trend corresponded to a larger role within the offense.
The one area that pre-draft profiles seemed to miss altogether when it came to Gordon was his ability to run a team, and just his versatility as an overall basketball player. Hayward has become one of the most interesting players to me because of his Swiss-army utility. He had the 7th highest Assist % for a wing last season, and one of just five players to average 16-5-5.4
Broadly speaking, it’s hard to say whether the draft community got it right or wrong on Hayward. He has turned into a far more complete talent than most had him pegged as, but he has also struggled in some of the same areas they predicted. He has certainly already outdone Kevin Pelton’s similarity projection. Pelton had him rating out similar to Marcus Williams, a guy who played for three teams in four years as a sub-replacement level reserve before he lost his NBA job.
“It’s a risky pick because Kanter is a mystery and no one knows how he will respond to the rigors of the NBA.” -Ford
Pelton had no comps for Kanter because of his lack of reliable pre-NBA numbers. He called Kanter “the most mysterious draft prospect since the early entry rule was enacted.”
Three years in, Kanter is still a bit of a mystery. His numbers looked really solid for two years while the Jazz deliberately limited the amount of time he faced top-tier competition at his position. He backslid this past year, and still gets criticism for his low defensive adherence and occasional lack of engagement.
But most of what was said about him prior to the 2011 Draft held up. ESPN touted him as extremely skilled, physical, possessing good touch on his jumper and crafty around the hoop — and that was before Professor Al got his hands on the young Turk.
DX was similarly accurate in describing one of his most glaring weaknesses, something that remains a focal point today: “This lack of experience shows up first and foremost on the defensive end, where Kanter was incredibly ineffective in the film we watched. His fundamentals, instincts and positioning leave a lot to be desired. He can often be found standing straight up in the paint with his arms down, putting in little to no effort.”
Kanter has made some strides in this area, but is obviously still a ways from answering those questions. He often fails to stay within the team defensive concept, and he still does occasionally tune out on that end. But like DX said in that 3-year-old piece, these are correctable issues.
Finally, this NBADraft.net profile really sings his praises as having all the right mental tools: coachability, focus, basketball IQ and a strong motor. It’s a big part of the reason he was #2 overall on their draft board that year. For whatever reason, I don’t think we’ve seen that laser focus out of Kanter yet. I’ll be very glad when we do, because there’s obvious potential there.
“With his athleticism and aggressiveness as a scorer as well as his passing ability, some believe he can be a Brandon Roy type of guard down the road.” -Ford
You can tell by that Ford quote how complimentary he was toward Burks leading up to the draft. He had tagged Burks as a great scorer and slasher who “can kill you in multiple ways.”
DX highlighted his ability to score in transition, in halfcourt, going right, going left, in a hat, on a mat, with a cat, and about 20 other ways. They also mentioned his uncanny ability to get to the line, something that carried over to the NBA.
The big pre-draft question on Burks was about his shot. NBADraft.net said, “(He) really needs to become more of a consistent threat from the outside. Mechanics on his shot break down when he shoots from outside 15 feet. Sort of pushes the ball instead of shooting it in one fluid motion.”
The funny thing is, he still does this, but his percentages haven’t suffered all that much. At exactly 35% from downtown (for both last season and his career), he’s now firmly in that range where you’re OK with him taking the 3. But his long-range shots can be more frozen rope than the touch he displays elsewhere.
Comp-wise, Pelton pointed out that Burks’ highest similarity scores hinted to shoot-first point guards. That’s essentially what Burks has become: a combo guard with an attacker’s game. Perhaps not that far off stylewise from the Roy analogy Ford dropped, although he’s level-wise he’s still a ways off from Roy in his prime.
The fact that so much of what was written about these four in 2010 and 2011 could still be said today probably speaks to the growing sophistication in pre-draft analysis. Sure, the community still misses wildly here and there, but they got these four guys mostly right.
To the degree that they were wrong, it mostly came down to mental makeup. They saw Hayward as lackadaisical and “too nice,” not foreseeing that he would put in the work to become an all-around team leader. And we haven’t yet seen that killer instinct and hunger that they gave Kanter so much credit for.
And that’s my main takeaway, as it relates to extrapolating lessons about the coming draft. Dozens of scouts have picked these guys over and I think will be mostly in the ballpark when it comes to projecting where they’ll be good right away and where they need to chart a course for development. But there’s this enormous variable that’s almost impossible to project: who’s going to care enough to say “screw the projections” and become a franchise player?
So much of being successful comes down to your situation. Teammates, coaches, system and other factors can be the difference between getting a shot to improve and getting stuck in bad behaviors. But the between-the-ears factor goes very far in determining who the eventual stars are in any draft class.