Ever read about how Bob Ryan got to hang out with the great Celtics teams of the 1960s? He’d go drinking with them, get meals, fly on the team plane. He saw them in unguarded, unscripted moments where they revealed their insecurities, idiosyncrasies, and was able to understand their genuine character.
Sounds nice, right?
Well the NBA Draft Media Availability Session is basically the exact opposite of that. There’s almost no back-and-forth and the formality of the setting squelches any hope you’ll really find something out about the players.
Here’s how it works: Twelve top prospects show up in two waves of six for 30 minutes each, and the assembled media goes to where they are sitting (at 6 different tables) and starts peppering them with questions.
Here’s who was there: Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Harrison Barnes, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Myers Leonard and Austin Rivers.
Here are my (printable) thoughts:
- These kids have been coached, and well. The NBA now puts top draft picks through a class to teach them how to handle the media, and it showed. These young men (the oldest is 22) were like polished politicians, staying on message and avoiding anything besides statements related to a) how hard they would work (very) and b) that they are happy to play anywhere. They were all well-spoken and looked like the knew what was coming.
- Andre Drummond looks slim. He claims to have lost around 20 pounds and be down to 260. Drummond has been working with Idan Ravin famed hoops trainer (covered by Chris Ballard in this Sports Illustrated profile), and I have to think it’s going to make a big difference when he comes into the league. People make a big deal about college players being too skinny, but the last thing a basketball player’s body should be is fat. The game is foremost about quickness and “being light on your feet” should be taken literally. Watching Drummond play for UConn, he always seemed like a kid who just hadn’t been taught the right things, not a kid willfully screwing around. If he seriously takes to working out and taking care of his body the way he has for the last few months, watch out.
- Dion Waiters is a rascal. If you haven’t heard, Dion Waiters didn’t work out for any NBA teams because he reportedly has a guarantee from an unknown team. When asked why he didn’t work out, Waiters slyly smiled and replied “Because I didn’t have to.” It made for a weird dynamic in which multiple reporters were trying to get the same information, and Waiters just had to stonewall them. It’s possible (but exceedingly unlikely) that Waiters himself doesn’t know which team has offered the guarantee, but because his agent has kept it a secret, he was forced to basically be curt and un-personable with all guarantee related questions. Waiters said that instead of working out for teams he’s been working out with Kyle Lowry “and friends who play basketball” (I assume this just means his high school buddies) in Philadelphia. Waiters said all the right things, but his eyes and expressions seemed to say “I know this is BS, you know this is BS, so let’s just take ourselves a little less seriously.)
- Watching camera men jockey for position and then snap at each other for a bumped shoulder or impinged view is pretty entertaining.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a speech impediment that comes out in straight interviews, but vanishes during improvisational banter. For instance, he was asked a couple times to talk about his speech impediment (irony alert), and he had trouble saying more than a few words between long, tense pauses during which his expressive face stalled in a blank position. But he dropped a few witty one-liners and flashed a big bright smile whenever he was responding to some off-the-cuff remark, as when he answered SB Nation’s Mike Prada, who asked about which question Kidd-Gilchrist was tired of hearing, by saying “Yours. Or the next one.” He also said he’s been working with a speech therapist, and as he becomes more and more accustomed to being on camera, I bet we’ll see more and more of his naturally engaging self.
- John Henson looks 13 years old.
- Tyler Zeller was the biggest “storyteller” I saw. I didn’t learn a ton but I now know that he interned for Morgan Creek Capital Management for a summer and made 15$ an hour. He said he got the job because he knew the president, but that he was generally interested in the work.
- Thomas Robinson seems to carry himself a little differently than the other prospects. His personal story may have something to do with that, he’s basically said that he’s worked so hard to become a pro so that he can support his sister. They lost their mother and both grandparents in a very brief span at the end of last season.
- Bradley Beal, to my mind, is the key to this entire lottery. A number of teams have expressed interest in moving up to get him, which suits the Bobcats (who have the number 2 pick) just fine. I think Thomas Robinson is the second best player in the draft but the worst teams seem to value a shooting guard more than a power forward. There were also rumors floating around that a team or two outside the lottery are thinking about moving way up to get him.
- Damian Lillard on attacking pick-and-rolls in the NBA: “Usually I’m looking to see how the big is playing — if he’s hard hedging I can drag him out and come off it hard, or if he overplays it I know I can split. So usually I know how he’s going to play, but usually I’m just coming off hard and attacking, so they have to adjust to me and I can change my pace so if he jumps out I can split or I can make the easy play and throw it back. I think it will translate [to the NBA] because of my speed, I think I’ll be able to do the same thing [I did in college].” On what he’s working on to get his pick-and-roll game ready for the NBA: “Just playing lower because bigs have a trouble getting out on guards when they’re moving fast and lower then them. Also making quick reads, head fakes. Taking the contact, getting fouled and still being able to play through, stuff like that.”