The 2020 NBA draft will be held this Wednesday, almost five months later than normal, for reasons that do not need elaboration.
I had a chance to talk to Chris Ekstrand, a longtime NBA consultant, who emphasizes that his views are his own not those of the NBA.
“This year’s draft process is one of expansion and contraction,” he told me.
Expansion? NBA teams have had longer to look at game film, longer to interview players and their coaches, more time to conduct background checks, the kind of things an employer does when vetting applicants for seven-figure jobs. They’ve even been able to weigh and measures prospects, check their vertical leap and quickness and so forth.
But that contraction part of the equation is a big one.
“They didn’t have NCAA Tournament, . . . no five-on-five play at the NBA combine,” no chance “to be able to watch guys in person . . . . Those kinds of things, were contracted out of the process.”
He says NBA teams got “about half of what we used to get.”
In other words NBA teams have had more time to do almost everything except the thing they most want to do, which is watch these guys actually play basketball against other basketball players.
That’s so 2020.
But that’s not going to be the only thing different about this draft. It’s going to be the least Duke-centric draft in a decade. Beginning in 2011 Duke has had 20 first-round draft picks, eight in the top three, including the top picks in 2011 (Kyrie Irving) and 2019 (Zion Williamson).
Duke may well have a first-round pick this year, maybe two, even three. But Ekstrand says Duke’s early-entry trio if Vernon Carey, Jr., Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley “can start to really pay attention to the draft picks at around 20. They could go 20, they could go 45. I think that’s the range of a lot of really good players. Some of them are going to be really disappointed. I don’t think anybody has a real good feel on anything once you get past the top 10 or 12 guys.”
Ekstrand expects Jones to go first. He uses words like “safe” and “reliable and says in the 20s that teams will be picking for a specific position.
“There’s going to be somebody in the 20s who’s going to need a point guard . . . and certainly Tre Jones is going to be in the conversation. But if they decide to pick somebody else besides him then maybe the next team that needs a point guard will be five or six picks later. The one thing that every team wants . . . is to draft somebody who’s going to be a viable NBA player. If he’s compared to his brother [Tyus] that’s a compliment because his brother didn’t wash out of the league.”
What makes Tre Jones an attractive option?
“He’s probably someone who’s not going to fail. A lot of teams will be very comfortable acquiring him. He’s got the quickness, the defensive ability on the ball—which is something very prized by the teams—and he did improve his shooting from his freshman to sophomore season. And he has the passing ability. He’s a smart player, who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He plays within himself. He knows what he’s good at.”
There’s something else.
The teams that have interviewed him are “impressed with him as a person.”
Ekstrand sees Carey as a player who would have been a lottery pick a few years ago.
“If you post him up on the blocks I have no doubt that he can score in the NBA. The problem is no one is throwing the ball into the block. He’s big, strong, has great hands, knows how to use leverage with his body. If you would deploy him that way that would be successful. But no one will use him that way.”
Can Carey score from the perimeter?
“I looked at his shooting form and I thought it was pretty good. He went through peaks and valleys with his free-throw shooting. The more repeatable that release is . . .. then you have the belief that in the long run he’ll be able to extend his range. I think Vernon is credible as a shooter. You can’t leave him alone. But he’s not at the point on the perimeter where opposing teams think he’s going to hurt us out there.”
Ekstrand says that Carey’s defensive abilities will be the determining factor.
“Most teams aren’t even throwing the ball into the post, so defending the post isn’t that important. For a guy like Vernon everybody is running a zillion pick-and-rolls from every place on the floor, he’ll be asked to switch and contain guards off the dribble . . . keep them from getting to the rim. Can you contain that driver on the pick and roll?”
Carey has lost a lot of weight since the college season ended and is playing at less than 240 pounds. This should enable him to be a more effective defender on the perimeter. But again, Ekstrand cautions “nobody’s seen him play defense at his new weight.”
Cassius Stanley had a reported 44 inch vertical at an NBA combine.
“We all know what a great athlete he is,” Ekstrand says. “That number shouldn’t surprise anybody. One negative is age. He’s a freshman by year but a junior by age. For NBA talent evaluators that’s a really big deal.”
Can Stanley leverage that athleticism into a long NBA career?
“My answer is yes,” Ekstrand says “I’m more bullish on him then others are. If people had more confidence that he would develop into a more accurate shooter, have a more repeatable shot,” Ekstrand says, letting the sentence trail off.
Ekstrand says senior Javin DeLaurier will have to go the undrafted-G-league route, a path that Lance Thomas, Seth Curry and Quinn Cook have followed in the last decade.
“A lot of guys like him at Duke get circumscribed into a role. They’re playing with so many other great players. . . . At a school like Duke where they’re bringing in great players every year a lot of times you get into that big-guy-who-defends-and-rebounds role and that’s all you do. I think he has a little bit more than what he’s shown. I think there’s more there.”
Ekstrand emphasizes that this is not a great draft and there are a lot of players clustered together.
“Some of these guys in the 40s are going to end up being better than some of these guys in the 20s.”
Duke assistant coach Nate James discussed Duke’s draft crop earlier this week and sounded some similar themes.
“I just tell them to control what you can control. . . . bust your butt every day, work hard, it only takes one team to like you and hopefully that’s someone who finds a place for you, whether that’s first round or second round. Sometimes it might be best to go second round, to someone who wants you, who has a plan, where there’s an opportunity for you.”
So, sometime Wednesday three members of the brotherhood will find out who likes them, who has a plan for them.