The arrival of the July Moratorium means the excitement of NBA free agency has taken center stage, and although the 2013 NBA Draft is soooo four days ago, I wanted to revisit that night and discuss the event. I was out of pocket for most of the weekend -- and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who missed the draft -- so Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nate Wolters are still new to me.
The selection of Antetokounmpo puts me in an odd spot, because my pre-draft argument for supporting the possible selection of Shabazz Muhammad advanced a line of thinking that works against support for a sudden riser like Giannis. With Muhammad, I liked that a detailed scouting process put his game under a microscope early in his basketball career and he still graded out as a potential No. 1 overall pick heading into his freshman season at UCLA. The drop in his stock felt like an overreaction or an application of unrealistic expectations regarding the evolution of his game. For all the focus on his 27 assists, Muhammad was known as a scorer and that's what he did well at UCLA. Nobody seems to remember that Kevin Durant only recorded 46 assists during his freshman season at Texas, but for some reason that critique will stick with Muhammad now as his career advances. But I digress.
Here's the point: I felt good about Muhammad because people were looking so closely at him for so long that they eventually ran out of things to say and started to pick apart aspects of his game that were never expected to be good anyways. With Antetokounmpo, his lack of exposure and meteoric rise in the past six months means that nobody has been able to evaluate his game at a microscopic level. That's scary.
Without game tape of Giannis playing against NBA-caliber talent, the book on the Bucks' No. 15 is very short. In the absence of evidence or on-point precedent, even the scouts and GMs have to use their imagination to fill in the gaps. We can all dream, but there's not a lot of substance to the analysis. It's impossible to have strong feeling about what Antetokounmpo will become, because the line between talent and skills has been blurred as the young forward prepares to play against athletes that will test him in ways he's never been tested before.
For me, I need to first see if Antetokounmpo can guard opposing players without fouling, apply his freakish length on the glass and understand the geometry of NBA offense before the upside conversation can begin. I'm not fond of the "point forward" talk at the introductory press conference, because that's at least two leaps of faith away from where Giannis is right now.
Nobody would want Kevin Durant to handle the ball if he wasn't an all-world shooter who is deadly when pulling up off the dribble. Without his amazing court vision and anticipation, a young Lamar Odom would never have been given a role as a play-maker in the offense. NBA teams don't put the ball in the hands of a 6'9 player just because they can dribble around without getting the ball ripped from them; they give the ball to 6'9 players to create when the player does something special on the floor. We know Antetokounmpo is a special physical specimen, but that's not reason enough to weigh him down with point forward expectations off the bat. I hope the Bucks dial that talk back, because there is plenty of work to do for our new favorite NBA rookie.
The other addition to the Bucks strikes an entirely different chord. Nate Wolters earned every bit of his reputation as a skilled scorer at South Dakota State, but even he has plenty of questions to answer about how his game will translate at the next level. Watching his Draft Express scouting video several times, I was struck by how often he was guarded when it came to time make a move. He wasn't able to create a ton of separation from his counterpart (con), but he didn't need much room to put up his sterling 61.2 TS% as the main scorer and creator on his team (pro).
When I watch Wolters highlights, I can't help but think of Beno Udrih: a point guard with plenty of size, an array of hesitation moves and just enough athleticism to get the job done (even if things look a bit ugly at times). As Frank and I discuss in the podcast, the biggest hurdle for Wolters will be the transition from serving as the focal point of an offense to becoming a bit player on an NBA bench with far less autonomy when the ball is in his hands. If he can find a way to become effective in short spurts, he could easily earn minutes over Ish Smith. Those are modest expectations, but that's where we should start with Wolters. It's an uphill battle for every second-round pick, after all.
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