Hiding In Plain Sight: The Failure of the NBA Draft

A front office takes a few months of interviews, workouts, and as much game tape as they can get their hands to try and project the athletic future of a teenager. The NBA Draft is a crapshoot, to say the least, but so many teams seem to come up empty handed.

Often front offices fantasize about what a player can be and envision 7’3 shot blocking monsters developing an offensive game and becoming a star (Hasheem Thabeet, oof). Or are wowed by athleticism and romanticize a clearly streaky, almost non-existent perimeter game (Anthony Bennett, shot 32% from the arc in college) believing the player will suddenly become a lights out shooter at the next level.

Non-lottery picks, 2nd rounders, and undrafted players pop up on a team in the middle of the season or a year or two down the road. They establish themselves, play like savvy vets, and are labeled “steals” or “diamonds in the rough” by the media and fans.

However, upon digging deeper you realize the inherent unwillingness to draft older accomplished players. While these players perhaps don’t have the same upside of younger one and done prospects, many of them have much more polished and NBA ready skillsets. For every Hasheem Thabeet and Anthony Bennett, there is a Malcolm Brogdon.

Malcolm Brogdon was drafted 36th overall in 2016 after a decorated career at The University of Virginia. Brogdon was a two time ACC Defensive Player of The Year, three time 1st Team All-ACC, and was ACC Player of The Year his senior season.

Also important of note, Brogdon was not at all a size concern (a reason why many players drop in the draft) at 6’5 with a lengthy frame. While he was not considered as having top-end athleticism, he was more than adequate. Look, hindsight is 20/20, Brogdon won Rookie of The Year in 2016 (albeit in an overall lackluster year for rookies with Ben Simmons missing the whole year.) However, the fact that Brogdon not only dropped to, but was projected as a second round pick is astonishing.

He was drafted after Dragan Bender, Kris Dunn, and Georgios Papagiannis… GEORGIOS FREAKING PAPAGIANNIS. If you don’t now who that is I do not blame you (a flame out draft pick by Sacramento.)

My point is, if Brogdon was even just 20 instead of 22 when entering the draft, he would’ve been a surefire lottery pick. He never had the pop of a top five pick, but what he lacked in flash he more than made up for with an incredibly well rounded skillset as a ballhandler, shooter, and defender. Upon reading the pre-draft projections of Brogdon, you commonly find the only negative listed as his age or that he was good at a lot of things, but not necessarily great at any particular skill.

Brogdon is dispelling these projections even more, as he is putting together a potential All-Star season for the Pacers (19.4 pts, 4.9 rbs, 8 asts) and showing great improvement across the board.

Not bad for a second round pick.

And, while this may seem like an isolated incident, it most definitely is not. Just within this year, Eric Paschall (41st pick) out in Golden State and Terence Davis (Undrafted) in Toronto are significant contributors for their respective teams.

Paschall has thrown his name into the Rookie of The Year conversation while balling out for the depleted Warriors, proving he more than deserves a place in the league.

Davis, a three year starter at Ole Miss, has completely surpassed expectations having played in all 20 games for the Raptors. He stepped up into an increased role off the bench while Kyle Lowry was injured and solidified his spot on the Raptors. He’s been a smart gritty defender, often the primary ballhandler off the bench, and shot the ball with incredible efficiency from the field (49 % fg, 42.6% 3fg, 93.3% Ft).

Davis’ teammate, Fred VanVleet, is another player potentially garnering an All-Star nod this year. A four-year player at Wichita State, VanVleet led the Shockers to great team success while being extremely successful individually. While VanVleet’s main knock headed into the draft was his lack of size, it was clear then and clear now that he could hang with the best as he routinely was the reason for upsets of much larger blue blood college programs. Most notably when he helped knock off a 2-seed Kansas team to reach the Sweet 16 in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

VanVleet is a free agent this summer and is expected to receive near a max contract.

All around the league you can see players once overlooked in the draft who have crafted significant careers.

Paul Millsap, Draymond Green, J.J. Barea, Montrezl Harrell, Josh Richardson, Wesley Matthews, Norman Powell, Danuel House, Josh Hart, Kenrich Williams, Jalen Brunson, Monte Morris, and Allonzo Trier.

No one would confuse these guys for stars, but they have all carved out roles that few expected them to. Every single one of them had an exemplary college career playing 3 plus years, then more than outplayed their draft position or undrafted status.

We have such a tendency to just write off guys because of one thing, whether it be their age, stature/size, they shoot the ball funny, they look weird when they’re on the floor, or some other reason that we hone in on. So while it’s great to see these guys pop off and succeed in the NBA and be talked about as an “underdog story,” I think it’s such a discredit to these players to brand them as such.

They spent their whole careers showing us that they could be credible players in the league. We just weren’t paying attention to them because they didn’t fit the mold of what we thought an NBA player should be or could be.

They were hiding in plain sight.

6 thoughts

  1. Good read Mark. It’s interesting how NBA much like all levels of Basketball from grade school up gets caught up on one or two great athletic skills instead of a complete player including attitude and teamwork! Let’s get back to valuing a complete player over one or two great skills and maybe the entire game of b-ball will improve.

  2. Love your insight into this! Teams go into the draft looking for “rising stars” and are overlooking players with consistency and solid all around skills in the process. When those same players show off the powerhouses that they are, they aren’t sudden sparks. They’re a wake up call for teams to change their drafting strategy!

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