Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Talk’s cheap for Heat
Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Micky Arison are not saying the right things.
When it comes to his preference for veterans, Pat Riley’s commitment to experience seemingly starts with the NBA draft.
Mario Chalmers? Three years at Kansas. Norris Cole? Four years at Cleveland State. Shabazz Napier? Four at UConn.
All arrived to the Miami Heat with significant degrees of ready-to-play poise.
If the pattern continues with Thursday’s No. 10 pick, perhaps all eyes should be on Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Willie-Cauley Stein, upperclassmen with definitive track records.
But with the Heat back in the lottery for the first time in seven years, many of the most tantalizing potential options in the Heat’s range come with few experience strings attached, freshmen such as Arizona forward Stanley Johnson, Kentucky guard Devin Booker, Texas center Myles Turner, Kansas swingman Kelly Oubre.
The last time the Heat went for a oneand-done? A pair of rollercoaster seasons with Michael Beasley as the No. 2 pick in 2008.
The last time Riley went to an even greater degree against his penchant for polish? That was when he took forward Dorell Wright directly out of high school at No. 19 in 2004, one pick before four-year collegian Jameer Nelson would get his starting point for an instantly productive NBA career.
Even with preps-to-pros jumps no longer
allowed, the draft has remained a largely youthful process. Only five seniors were selected in last year’s first round and of the 30 players selected in the 2014 first round, nine were freshmen, one shy of the record set in 2008.
This year, as many as nine freshmen could go in the first round, a number that would stand at 10 if counting Congo product Emmanuel Mudiay, who elected to play this past season in China instead of a freshman season at SMU. As it is, Booker, the youngest player in this year’s draft class, won’t even turn 19 until Oct. 30 (the NBA’s requirement of being 19 years old only applies to having your 19th birthday in the year of the start of your rookie season).
Of course, some freshmen have arrived with more basketball savvy than some seniors. And because NBA teams can control the rights of first-round picks for up to five years, there is something to be said for ingraining a team’s system into a prospect from the outset.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who will be working the draft for the network, said the polish-vs. -promise debate is among the most challenging parts of the process, using Wisconsin senior Kaminsky and 19-year-old Kentucky freshman Trey Lyles as his examples.
“I don’t tend to look at it from a maturity standpoint,” he said. “I look at from more kind of sort of what they are versus what they could be. I think what winds up happening is you get seduced by the potential of a player. People aren’t talking about Frank Kaminsky ’s potential. They’re talking about Trey Lyles’ potential. Because right now, Frank Kaminsky is a better player than Trey Lyles. You put him in an NBA game today and Kaminsky’s the better player. Now, in five years, is that going to be the case?
“So you’re making a projection and making what you hope is an educated guess. The one thing that anybody who has been involved in this, whether you’re a scout or you’re an analyst or you’re a frontoffice person, is you know you’re going to be wrong in a number of these cases and you try to limit how many times you’re wrong.”
For some, that was among the questions with the Heat’s selection a year ago of 23-year old Napier, of whether his game had maxed out, of whether there still was potential for the needed upgrades in his shooting stroke, his explosion, his defense. The opposite of that in this year’s draft is Oubre — raw potential and athleticism, but a freshman season that hardly overwhelmed.
“The upside potential that a player has, you get seduced by that, that this guy’s going to be awesome,” Bilas said. “You’re rolling the dice there. Years ago, like when I was a player [at Duke], people weren’t going, ‘Look, dude, Michael Jordan’s a junior. He’s old now. He is who he is.’ Now they’re saying about juniors and seniors, ‘Well, we know what he is.’ As if a 22-year person can’t get significantly better going forward.”
It used to be that NBA scouts could not even develop a book on an NCAA freshman. Now, NBA scouting consultant Ryan Blake said, the scouting process begins so early that even the rawest of freshmen can stand as known quantities.
“In this draft,” he said, “you see a lot of these kids that you did get to see a little beforehand, and the feedback you get is: ‘They ’re coachable.’ ‘They’re mature.’ ‘They had great leadership skills.’ ”
In the end, it comes down to upside.
Which also can be a downfall.
“There’s a sign that an NBA scout friend of mine has over his door that he tells me that he looks at when he walks out of his door,” Bilas said. “And it says, ‘Don’t be seduced by athleticism.’ And I would take that a step further, and say, ‘Don’t be seduced by potential.’ ”