1. Focus on the positives, not the negatives
In drafting an NBA player, I believe in focusing on what a player can do rather than what they cannot. Not every star player is great at everything, but they have several elite skills. I scout to determine whether a player has the necessary skills to fill a certain role, whether it be a 3D guy, shooter, stretch 4, or star scorer.
When scouting guards (1-2), I believe in focusing on their current offensive skills, their basketball IQ and what I have seen them do.
As an example, I would prefer to draft Jamal Murray, who already possesses elite offensive skills (shooting, playmaking, IQ) over Marcus Smart, who was drafted primarily due to his size, athleticism, and defensive ability at the PG position. Smart is more of a body than a complete basketball player.
When scouting bigs, I believe their measurements (height, wingspan, athleticism, and touch) are more important. For true PFs and Cs, I am looking at the physical tools and what they can learn rather than their actual production.
I would prefer to draft a player like Cheick Diallo, who has all the physical tools (size, length, natural timing, switchable) necessary to succeed as a modern NBA C, rather than a Henry Ellenson, who already possesses great skills for a big, but will have speed and defensive problems keeping up in the NBA.
SFs and stretch PFs are a hybrid of this thinking. For example. in stretch 4s, I look for a combination of athleticism to guard 3s, size to guard 4s, and shooting ability to stretch the floor on offense. A player I would love to draft in the second half of the first round is Patrick McCaw. McCaw’s elite skill is getting steals, and he is also a good 3 point shooter and facilitator. Most importantly, though, he has the physical tools to become a lockdown defender, and should be able to switch onto a number of positions. McCaws combination of good guard skills and high athletic potential make him an intriguing prospect.
2. Look for the star
First and foremost, I am selecting a player that I think can be a star. There is no point in drafting a role player if the team doesn’t have a star. The NBA is a stars league, and a team needs to be built around them based on their strengths and their weaknesses.
I would only draft a player near the top of the lottery if they have star potential. A player like Dragan Bender does not appear to have that, and that is why I would avoid drafting him altogether. Once the lottery is over, I look for strong all around players with an elite skill and no glaring weakness. Meaning, if I draft a wing, they should be able to shoot the 3, defend well, and have a high basketball IQ.
3. When drafting role players, ensure they have a definable NBA skill
To further my last point, non-lottery picks should have an obvious NBA skill that you know can fill a role. Even when a player is drafted for potential, such as Cheick Diallo, I know he has the timing to block shots at the NBA level, and should be able to defend multiple positions.
Another example of a player with definable NBA skills who will likely be a late first round pick is Tyler Ulis. I like Ulis because he has NBA starter potential, but is a safe bet to be a backup PG because of his elite feel for the game. Much like Kyle Lowry of today, or Chauncey Billups in the past, he knows when to move the ball and when he needs to score. He always knows what his team needs from him and understands the game is about key points at key times. At worst, I know Ulis can be a good backup PG who can run a team no matter how many minutes he is given. Sometimes players force shots when they aren’t given big minutes, in an attempt to stay on the floor. I know this wont be a problem with Ulis, who always makes the right play no matter how limited his minutes are. Despite his size, Ulis is also a great defender, who should be able to bother backup PGs other than Shaun Livingston. If Ulis maximizes his ability he could become a good NBA starting PG as he can already shoot and pass at a very high level.
The stronger the skill the player possesses, the more I am willing to gamble on their weakness. Examples of this are Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis, who both pose defensive concerns due to lateral quickness and size concerns, respectively.
4. Don’t let injury concerns deter you
I believe there is more risk drafting a player based solely on potential than taking one with skills who has injury concerns. As such, I don’t believe in focusing on injury concerns late in the first round or later, because those factors are beyond our control. For example, I would draft Caris Levert, who is the perfect modern NBA guard (high IQ, good size for a guard at 6’7, can shoot, good playmaker, switchable on D) because the value of getting a top 10-15 talent is worth the risk at that point.
5. Ignore projections. Draft each player on their own merit and stick to your guys
Drafting, in general, is a balance of current skills, body, and projected ability. You have to weigh these factors in each situation to make a draft selection. I don’t believe in the idea of “best player available” because nobody knows who that will be based on these factors. For example, I would draft Jamal Murray over Brandon Ingram. I believe people see Ingram and think Kevin Durant, but he is not that. While Ingram could become a star scorer, and has the physical size and athleticism to switch on a number of positions (which is what every team is looking for in the modern NBA), you need a star scorer first and foremost. I am certain that Jamal Murray will be that.
I have taken issue with a number of picks in the past that seem to be drafted due to their player comparisons. Ingram is compared to Durant because of his long skinny frame and shooting ability, but because Murray doesn’t have a similarly impressive comparison, he isn’t being touted as the next great PG.
Similarly, Kristaps Porzingis’ rookie success will help other 7-foot athletic European players, such as Dragan Bender. I don’t believe Bender deserves to be anywhere near the top 5, and I actually prefer Juan Hernangomez. We don’t have enough evidence of Bender being great to warrant a top 5 pick, and all scouts agree he will never be an elite scorer or defender. So my question is, why even draft him?
Projections seem to decide a player’s draft stock. I believe in having a list of players you like and sticking to drafting those players, no matter where they are projected. I would draft players like Hernangomez and Yabusele over Jakob Poeltl, Henry Ellenson, and Skal Labissiere. Poeltl, Ellenson, and Labissiere have glaring holes as players, and Hernangomez and Yabusele have the offensive skillset, aggression, and natural athleticism to succeed.
6. In the second round, shoot for the stars
I believe in drafting stat stuffers from smaller NCAA schools late in the draft. Lots of teams draft players with potential who have not actually produced on the court and were highly touted prospects at big schools. Instead, I prefer drafting a star from a small school such as Kay Felder. Felder is an elite scorer and passer, despite his size. We have seen him put up big numbers (37 pts, 9 asts) vs. Michigan State and there is a chance he becomes a very good NBA player just like Isaiah Thomas. We don’t yet know how good Felder can be, but he did all he could for Oakland. Another similar situation to this was Damian Lillard. People questioned Lillard because he played at a small school, but how much better could anyone do than the numbers he put up?
Another player I love in the second round is Ben Bentil. Bentil put up big numbers in his second year at Providence, and I still question why he isn’t a projected first round pick. He is thick enough to guard big 4s in the post, and has extended his shot to the 3-point line. He had a huge increase in production this past season and its worth a shot seeing if that steady incline can continue.