Draft Season: Levels to NBA Draft Stock
NBA Draft Consultant with Isiah Thomas, Formerly with the Brooklyn Nets
Manager of Basketball Admin - Madison Square Garden
About Richard: Gray is no stranger to #WhiteBoardWednesday, he is one of our most popular bloggers. This week we dive into all the behind the scenes, insider knowledge that only an NBA insider can give you.
With all of the top NCAA prospects declaring for the NBA Draft, every sports news outlet and social media platform are in a frenzy. You hear the questions. “Who is signing with what agent?” “What impact they will likely have in the NBA?” “What shoe contract they could possibly demand?” “His dad said he’s better than who?” The early glitz and glamour… for about 15-25 guys, maybe.
However, somewhere in a sweaty gym with a dim light and no air conditioning, there is a prospect (and hundreds of others like him) that no one is talking about. He’s likely a guy that has played all four years of college; proven he can lead/win and was once one of the most talked about guys in whatever city or neighborhood he is from. No agent is offering him a “signing bonus” for allowing their services, a car or a superstar like pre-draft training experience. The next three months for him will be full of anxiety, sleepless nights and self-inflicted pressure.
His next destination will possibly be, (1) the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a longshot combine for NBA hopefuls; (2) waiting by the phone to find out which NBA team wants to bring him in for a workout for a summer league spot; (3) Overseas; (4) the G-League (D-League) or a combination of all or NONE OF THE ABOVE.
This isn’t one of those “look at your fate in the mirror moments”, nope. This is a breakdown of how no matter how it looks or turns out, it isn’t as bad as it seems! This, in turn, will minimize the anxiety, sleepless nights and pressure.
I. Portsmouth Invitational Tournament Participant
This is the “middle child” of the pre-draft candidates. You know it’s there, you know it matters but doesn’t matter as much as the Chicago NBA Draft Combine Participants or the Lottery Pick Locks that don’t have to participate in anything because their reputation or potential has their foreseeable NBA future secure already.
This is a place where 64 seniors are invited to get the first crack at showing NBA execs that they have what it takes to be selected in the upcoming NBA draft, consideration for summer league or at least a training camp invite. Each of these guys have received feedback on what their strength and weaknesses are and will come to Portsmouth with the intentions to step on and over each other to prove the critics wrong.
The negative spill: “Very few, if any, will actually benefit from participating in this. Every mock draft has been written and re-written to the extent that each team already have in mind who they want.”
The truth and a brighter side:
- First to the market advantage - This is the first-time NBA execs will see anyone play with NBA rules and in a professional setting from this draft class. Any good performance will likely be magnified because of this due to the fact that the Chicago Combine is a month away.
- Clean slate – Once you’ve made it to this point, any critique toward a prospect is in the past and now has an opportunity to be weakened. You now have a clean slate to show that, for example, you can shoot the NBA three, you can defend with NBA rules or you can effectively play out of the screen and roll. Your canvas is now blank and you have the opportunity to reinvent yourself or do the things that scouts said you weren’t able to do.
- Compete for Chicago - The biggest pre-draft camp is the NBA Combine in Chicago. If you create enough buzz at Portsmouth, it can lead to an invite to Chicago. So instead of using Portsmouth as a direct link to the NBA, shorten your goal and plan to use Portsmouth as a gateway to Chicago and continue to build on it.
- Resume Builder – Being here is an accomplishment in itself. If the NBA doesn’t work out, “Portsmouth Invitational Invitee” looks damn good on a selling list for teams abroad.
II. NBA Workout Standby
The waiting game… We all know about it. This prospect has been promised by agents that, although they are looked at as a long shot prospect, they have the juice to get you brought in for a workout because of their, “great relationships with coaches and front office personnel”. That language is in every agent’s recruitment packet. So, you wait by the phone and wait for this relationship to work its magic in the form of getting an invite to a team workout.
The negative spill: “You didn’t get a camp invite and you’re waiting for a call, so, you’re not in control of your own destiny. IF you get a call for a workout, you have to work from the bottom. Agonizing to even think about.”
The truth and a brighter side:
- Silence - Not to get into clichés but silence can be golden in this case. Gone is the noise of expectations, rumors, leaches and the pressure. No one is focusing on you and family and friends have come to a realization that you’re not about to hit the lottery. So, for what it’s worth, all the distractions are gone, leaving plenty of space to focus and be ready and locked in when your number is called.
- Psychological Conditioning - At this point, your trajectory as an NBA player is likely to be a journeyman that will be fighting for a roster spot until you prove worthy of anything otherwise. Let’s dig even deeper. If you do get a crack at a roster, you will have to learn how to perform in tight situations with limited opportunities. The waiting and patience game that you have had to play up to this point will be a key experience applied toward your mental conditioning.
- It can only go up from here – You’re pretty much unemployed, all the odds against you and all the time in the world to work on your craft. This means you have very low expectations, all the motivation you need and the opportunity to get better while you wait on that phone to ring. This is a good thing. Use it to your advantage.
III. NBA G-League (D-League)
Everyone from the top prospect in the draft down to the lowest ranked long shot can end up here; but, since we are looking at everything from a long shot perspective, I’ll apply this outlook with that in mind. Here, you may have had a decent work out or two, a good summer league showing or someone on the staff may feel like you deserve a look, for whatever reason. Either way, you are getting an opportunity to stay in the states, play in the second-best league in the world (debatable) and fight for yet another chance to make it to the NBA.
The negative spill: “The NBDL is not a true minor league. NBA execs rarely look here to address team need, unless you are a 7 footer (raw but can defend and rebound), can score the ball with the best of them (Jimmer) or injuries have forced the NBA team to dig for bodies. The pay sucks and the travel is a drag.”
The truth and a brighter side:
- Synchronization – NBA teams are now building true farm systems and working in unison with their developmental teams. They have the offensive and defensive philosophies and have a consistent “watch & report” structure between the two staffs. That’s quality positioning for you.
- No contract hassles – To put it in perspective, if you were to sign a contract overseas and a NBA team was to show interest, they would have to work with your international team to negotiate a buy out of that contract, unless you have a NBA buyout clause; all of which is a hindrance to get to the NBA. With a developmental team, it’s a seamless process. If they want you, they can get you… no problems.
- Value builder – The developmental league is still a reputable league. If the NBA doesn’t work out, this is a viable platform to use as a launching pad to make some good money overseas.
- Opportunity to develop – From my personal POV, the D-League is like going to play ball at a Junior College in Kansas. You have nothing to do but work on your game and hit the weights. There is no coincidence that it’s a hotbed for division 1 coaches to recruit. Players that use their time in properly at the right JUCO can completely change their trajectory of their playing career.
Let me stay on topic. You are in a desolate environment with NBA level trainers and coaches (for the most part). There is no excuse not to improve, unless your work ethic stinks.
IV. Overseas Hopeful
The D-league prospect and being an overseas hopeful are interchangeable. Due to the possibility of making good money and living in beautiful “Americanized” countries abroad can be more appealing than financial and aesthetic “struggles” of the D-League. So, for that reason, some prospects prefer the former.
So, speaking from that perspective, this prospect wants to bolster his resume by playing professionally with the hopes of reputation abroad creating an opportunity in the NBA.
The negative spill: “Once you are at this stage, you’re likely an afterthought with regard to playing in the league. It will take a miracle (right timing and situation) to turn a stint overseas into an NBA roster spot.”
The truth and a brighter side:
- NBA International Scouting boom – The NBA has a strong scouting presence abroad. Between team personnel pretty much residing abroad to scout and the Euro front office execs reporting to their NBA counterparts on a regular basis, there are consistent eyes on the ground overseas. Even if you must gain their attention as they evaluate the next Kristaps Porzingis, the opportunity is there.
- The Stash – Some agents use some top leagues and teams abroad as their personal stash box for NBA level talent that need a little development or are a victim of the NBA’s numbers/political game. Through that relationship with the agent, NBA teams will continue to monitor that “stashed” player. So, whether you’re the stashed player or someone that plays in the same league as this closely watched guy, there is an opportunity to show and prove.
Now, through all of the scenarios mentioned above, there are numerous non-NBA gateways that are created on this journey. My focus for the sake of this blog, however, is the guys whose goal is to go to the NBA. They have trained their entire lives for this opportunity. I find it that in some occasions that it is better to speak to the height of one’s aspirations and not focus on the backup plan because if information is shared appropriately, the next best thing seems to just fall in place if plan A doesn’t work.
Every year around this time is the start of months of anxiety and the fear of the unknown for long shot NBA prospects. I am here to say, although it may seem like a rough trip ahead… it’s not as bad as it seems, so enjoy and embrace your journey because you never know what your story will say when you look back on it.
For every future Lonzo Ball, there will be a next Will Bynum: Undrafted – to cut in training camp - to D-League – to Israel – to a multi-year NBA contract. In that order.
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