With the NCAA season coming to a close, there is a pool of college players who have to make a decision on whether to enter the draft or stay in school. During this time, there is a great deal of unknown with buzz words like “stock” and “potential” that complicate the process. Kids get the feeling that they have a closing window and if they miss it it's gone.
This article is meant to demystify the process and reveal the truth behind what the next 2-3 months and beyond are about… I hope that it is helpful.
Right now, you have 20-35 players who have been told that their draft range is the end of the first round, which represents about 5-10 picks. I have never really understood why this seems to be the default answer given, but it is extremely common. I believe it ties into the goal of guaranteed contracts, but that thought is a bit of a simplified view.
The truth behind this is there's an extreme amount of guess work in place for the majority of players in the draft period that we are talking about.
For me personally, there are 8-10 players that I could tell with a high degree of certainty where I feel they might be drafted. Outside of these 8-10 players, anything I would say to any player would be my opinion and a flat-out guess. Now my guess would come from what I feel is 30 great relationships in the NBA with 30 great GMs, but the truth about NBA decision-makers right now is for the most part they have not even begun to dissect the draft or form accurate opinions about it. As such, I wouldn’t even ask them about their opinions yet.
To back this up a bit, it might help to understand what is an NBA decision-maker.
In the NBA today, there are approximately 30 GMs/presidents and about three owners that are going to ultimately decide everything a team does personnel-wise. The three owners on this list are going to make their decision based on a great deal of input from their GMs/presidents and all of the other GMs/presidents are going to make their decisions based on their opinions and a great deal of information from their staffs.
Those decision-makers have not watched enough of the draft pool outside of the Top 8-10 to make decisions yet. This is not to say that they have not done their jobs. It is just that they have only completed what to them might be 25 percent of the actual process of drafting a player.
When you see an anonymous quote in the media regarding a player’s draft position these days, it typically comes from scouts. Well, scouts do not draft players. During the year, when scouts cover college basketball games, they are placed by the schools in the same sections as the media, so during a game scouts and reporters will make small talk.
Scouts will often get asked if Player X is an NBA player. The truth is it affects scouts nothing to give an off-handed opinion either way as they know they will never be held accountable to the opinion given. This is not a problem. Where the problem arises is when players and their families see these quotes and begin making life decisions or creating expectations based on these stories.
It has also been my experience with scouts that they place the majority of players in two categories: 1. "He will be a great player for a long time” or 2. "A horrible player who will never be in our league." Scouts either love to love players or love to hate them.
This means that for many players making a decision is a flawed process from the beginning since they make it based on draft projection. At this point in time, it is simply impossible to gauge draft position accurately for the majority of players. Too many kids will be told “You’re in the first-round bubble” and come draft night end up extremely disappointed. The opposite also remains true where many kids will be told “You’re not a first-round pick.” They will stay in school, they will not not improve their career possibilities and will begin their pro basketball journey a year older and a year more dissected and plateaued.
So what is the answer? The advice I always give is to make your stay-or-go decision based on everything but the draft.
Obviously you have to know the business ramifications of the draft and what it is we are discussing. You have to know that the 30th pick in the 2014 NBA draft signs a contract starting at a minimum of $911,000 that will be a four-year deal with only two years guaranteed. You also have to know the highest-paid second-round pick of last year’s draft were Joe Harris (33rd pick) and Jerami Grant (39th pick), who signed contracts for $884,000 in Year 1.
While second-round pick contracts don't have to be guaranteed, a common practice has become teams selecting players late in the draft with great expectations and an investment in their development. These players will typically sign contracts for slightly more than the minimum in exchange for additional unguaranteed years at the end of these contracts, so teams have control. The range for a second-rounder that is a home run is landing two years fully guaranteed with one unguaranteed year at more than the minimum. The most common situation is players signing with just one year guaranteed and future years unguaranteed.
The dynamic that this creates is rookies are given 1-2 years to prove themselves as serviceable NBA players. You can expect that a first-round pick is going to be given two years minimum, but some first-round picks only get one year.
The meaning of "proving you're a serviceable NBA player" changes from team to team, but for the most part rookies in the NBA will be given the opportunity to prove themselves as either members of the NBA team or, if they are in situations where the opportunities aren't there initially, showing promise in the D-League as assigned players.
These young players will be judged on work ethic too. All rookies in the NBA are going to be asked to do extra work. Teams put a premium on players who come in early to work individually with coaches and stay late after practices to lift weights.
Vince Carter, who's 38 now, developed the habit in recent years of taking a cab to road games with a coach to shoot at 3 pm. This is about an hour and a half earlier than anybody else. Mike James, a player I have worked with for nive years, wakes up at 5 am to find a yoga studio in the city where he's playing to practice Bikram yoga before shootaround. I changed his life about four months ago when I explained to him what Uber was so he wasn't constantly wondering if he would be able to catch a cab.
I gave my client John Lucas III the nickname "I have to go" because of his innate ability to get up from any table in any city at anytime and simply look at whoever he might be with (he's done this to me 100 times) and say "I have to go" and head right back to his hotel room. Like if John was in the movie Hangover right before they clinked the glasses and then the next scene is them waking up in the hotel room with a Tiger walking around. John would have looked at the group and he'd say 10 times out of 10 "I have to go" and he'd leave.
Discipline is a developed and special trait. Those little things matter.
Working hard is a talent, doing the little things is not easy. Something I often say to young players in reference to the NBA is, “If working hard in the NBA was as much of a given as you are assuming right now, then it really wouldn’t stand out as much as it does when someone truly is a hard worker.”
You will be judged on your personality too. Are you a likable person? Can you get along in groups where you’re going to be challenged? This is often the toughest thing for people to answer because the truth is the last person to know he's a jerk is the jerk. So this is probably something that people close to the player can assist with or at least know it is going to be a very large factor to a player's success.
You have to know and understand what the NBADL is and how the NBA is using this league right now because odds are you’re going to end up playing there at some point.
One thing I have learned is for whatever reason a lot of college players have formed a negative opinion of the D-League and spending time there is viewed as a negative or a demotion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Does every player want the idyllic NBA career, where you go directly from college to the NBA, step onto an NBA roster and immediately contribute and compete for a winning team? Obviously. But life is not a movie for everyone and the reality is 60 percent of current NBA players have played in the D-League, which is the best place for future NBA players and coaches to develop.
Yeah, the bus rides and Southwest flights suck, but this is part of the work ethic we discussed above… You’re going to be dropped into a fish bowl and either it’s going to be in you to swim and improve or it isn’t. If it isn’t, you’re going to be weeded out very quickly. A large part of development that is often overlooked is playing. A player has to play to improve.
The time that I can somewhat accurately predict to a draft eligible person what is going to happen is in the days leading up to the draft when all the workouts have been done and all the feedback has been given. But even then, there is a tremendous amount of unknown for players outside the Top 10.
Multiple foreign players you have never heard of are going to be drafted, 2-3 absolute fliers are going to be taken by GMs who (on the surface) would seem are trying to do nothing more than show how smart they are. The second round goes goes fast and if you are a player sitting there with an expectation that hasn’t been met, it can literally become the most stressful hour of your life.
While these negatives are not reasons to stay in college, the question becomes "What’s the answer?"
To me, it's a two-fold answer:
1. Remove the expectation. Understand the morning after the draft is when the true work will begin. Yes, the work is made easier the higher you get picked – with more support, more money and more care given. But ultimately all the picks have the ability with luck or an absence of luck to end up in the same place.
2. Limit the bullsh*t. Don’t spend money before the contracts are signed. Don’t take lines of credit, don’t take loans, don’t begin to live a life you haven’t earned yet. Everyone wants the nicer things in life but nothing complicates the draft night and the emotions that come with it more than realizing you’ve made a financial commitment that you now can’t meet. As you go through your draft process, live the most basic life possible – train, eat, sleep and repeat. Invest in yourself in your draft prep and realize you have accomplished nothing yet, you’re working to meet your potential.
When everything is said and done with your pre-draft process, know the thing you want to say to yourself is “I did everything I could” and come draft night allow whatever is to happen happen and don’t ever look back as that is pointless.
Tie the end thought to what should be driving your decision and that is… Are you prepared to be a professional basketball player?
That is the bottom line.