He’s still raw but has the potential to develop into a special player with the right coaching.
It feels wrong to call the NBA draft exciting because the sensation is more peculiar than that. It is more like the anticipation of excitement, a cousin of anxiety. We have the tracking number and our package is in NASHVILLE, TN. The estimate says it’s showing up on Thursday, no later than next Monday. Why are we checking in on the delivery process every hour? Because we ordered these dish towels, dammit, and we’re going to be adequately prepared for their arrival. A UPS truck rumbles down the street and our gaze drifts toward the window, even though we know today isn’t the day. We return to whatever we were doing, which apparently isn’t enough to hold our attention.
Every year I grow less convinced of the utility of pre-draft coverage. Either that or I come into a stronger awareness of what it’s for. It’s there to give you, the NBA fan who presumably cares about who’s coming into the league next year and might root for a moribund team that has a shot to land one of the best new imports, a rough idea of what to expect. So: Coby White is a pacey scoring guard with a nice jumper who will probably struggle defensively. That’s helpful enough, but it’s also something you can understand immediately. Maybe if you watch a ten-minute highlight compilation you have a slightly clearer idea. Anyway, he’s going coast to coast and scoring against Virginia Tech. You have little idea what this means.
The tools are enough to gamble on, but he’ll require some patience.
What a player is right now, some high-flying fawn with fantastic ability and only half a clue how to use it, and the bold and bracing future of what a player might become is communicated in the dullest possible terms. Lateral quickness, switchability, feel for the game. The athlete is broken down to his component parts, green indicating a strength, red indicating a weakness, passing ability and potential rated on a scale of one to five. The antiseptic clinicality of the language this is meant to give the impression that there’s science at work. It’s the house style of Consumer Reports. Except the buying guide people have never been as wrong about a microwave oven as Europhilic draft experts were about Jan Vesely.
The concerns are real (tunnel vision to the hoop, subpar 3-point shooting), but the upside is a slithery, creative James Harden-esque scorer.
It is on some level admirable that so many people put so much thought into figuring out who’s good and who’s intriguing and who might be a solid fit with one squad and a disaster with another. This is a heroic waste of time, but so is (ahem) using Stan Van Gundy to describe the horror and stress you feel as the workday begins to consume your night. There is no nontrivial way to talk about sports, so all you can do is meet the triviality with enthusiasm and hone the stupid craft you’ve chosen. Intimate knowledge of P.J. Washington’s rebounding technique is inapplicable outside of one narrow silo of the internet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard won, or not worth sharing.
But it’s overdone, isn’t it? In the same way talking about Kawhi Leonard’s possible Toronto exit in the middle of a colossally impressive playoff run is a sign that we need to cool it with the unceasing transaction chat, mock drafts with more updates than a finicky piece of software are as much a hustle or a cry for help as they are helpful. I feel like I had a firm handle on what the ACB heads made of Luka Doncic by, like, February of last year. Everything after that was just insistent noise—which had grown to an earsplitting pitch by the start of the offseason.
He has the makings of being a difference-maker inside, but he will likely need some time to develop his skill and physicality.
At their best, sports supply secondhand transcendence and sudden surprise and the simple pleasure of watching difficult things done well. The draft and all the hype around it serve a different purpose, which is to promise that some sportsily cool things might happen somewhere down the road, and then there’s a lot of fretting about which jerseys which players will be wearing when those things happen. (It is also, for what it’s worth, the hyping up of an anti-labor policy, but that’s a whole other problem.)
The draft is a fine thing to ponder, but if you let it, it can easily carry you pretty far away from the core of why we’re here in the first place, leave you GM-brained and thinking about a bunch of asymmetrically talented and mentally incomplete 20-year-olds like they’ve got 2K ratings floating above their heads. And that’s a bummer, not only because you’re bound to be wrong about at least a third of the dudes you have opinions about, but because it’s reducing what is fundamentally a human spectacle into something that belongs in whole different section of the paper, the boring one that occasionally chronicles how Aetna is trying to acquire the rights to your blood plasma. Sports are way more interesting than that, and they’re worthy of deep study, if not the type they often receive.