I loathe the NFL draft. It is the most over-hyped event in sports. Primarily because there are very few players picked in that draft that make an immediate and profound impact on their teams. For every Joe Burrow, there are dozens and dozens of players that take two, three, even five years to acclimate to the professional level, complete their physical maturation, and become difference makers in the NFL. And yet we hear about the next draft for roughly 11.5 months of the year on ESPN and other sports media outlets.

The NBA draft is only slightly better these days. I think I was bombarded by at least two new mock drafts a day, every day, for the month leading up to the draft. And I do not subscribe to a bunch of NBA-specific news sources. It seems like every day brought a “reshuffled” mock draft, in which the guys going 14 and 15 were swapped, all in the name of getting more clicks.

It is exhausting.

And then we get last Thursday.

In a draft where there was a consensus belief that three players were well above the rest of the crowd, and could go in any order, people flipped out when one of those players went first when they thought he was more likely to go second or third. Sure, the tea leaves were leaning towards Orlando taking Jabari Smith at number one rather than Paolo Banchero, but it’s not like the Magic took a huge risk and picked Shaedon Sharpe. Yet all the talk after the draft was what a surprise Banchero at number one was. I hated it.

My conspiracy theory is that the NBA asked Orlando to take Banchero first so the entire draft could be framed as another piece in the endless Coach K retirement party.

OF COURSE K had a video message ready for Paolo. Because it’s about the kids, not him.

OK, those are my rants for the night.

I must give ESPN props for giving us the option of watching multiple feeds. Most importantly, this allowed me to avoid Stephen A. Smith on the main, ABC feed. It also meant I got to watch Jay Bilas, who knows way more about all of these players and is more concerned with educating the viewers that SAS.

I complained about all the pre-draft coverage, but I will admit I paid pretty close attention to the local beat writers as they explored how the Pacers prepared for the players that might be available when they picked at number six. There were persistent rumors they might trade up, notably with Sacramento at four. Or they might package current players like Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and/or TJ Warren to add picks in future years.

At a minimum it was expected that even if the Pacers kept the number six pick, we’d hear about some of those veterans moving on draft night.

And then we got a dud. Sacramento surprised some by taking Keegan Murray at four, then Detroit took Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, who the Pacers coveted.

I think the draft got interesting right at six. The Pacers had a range of options from safe to stretch, with several steps between those extremes.

Bennedict Mathurin was the safest of those options. A great athlete with some size and a good stroke. He may never be an All Star (although the Pacers think he is capable of that), but he also seems to have a decent floor and is a good match for Tyrese Haliburton. If things work out he’s a really solid piece for a decade.

With their second round picks the Pacers got Gonzaga point guard Andrew Nembhard and Baylor wing Kendall Brown. Decent picks, both. Nembhard should slot in on the bench the Pacers clear out some of their veteran guards. Brown is the classic, second round stretch pick for a guy with tons of athletic talent but not much game. You hope he figures it out and turns into a rotation player in a few years, but the risk is low by taking him at 48 (or having Minnesota take him and then swapping rights).

Once the Pacers got their pick out of the way, it was time for Ochai Watch. L was very interested in where the KU guys went. She and her AAU buddy said they wanted to go see the Pacers play whatever team picked Ochai this coming season. I think they might both be a little in love with Och. Which I get.

It was interesting to read the pre-draft buzz about Ochai, and how indicative it is of the way we think about NBA prospects. Because he’s 22 he’s viewed as a finished product by some, and they don’t see much room for improvement in his game. Others know that he started concentrating on basketball late, has made a dramatic leap in ability and hoops knowledge over the past five years, and believe there is still room for him to clean up the holes in his game.

Cleveland at 14 is an interesting spot for him. They have a lot of athletic perimeter players already, although they have been struck by the injury bug often. It seems unlikely Och will be asked to start from day one, and instead will be a shooter and defender off the bench. But if the roster falls apart like last year, the opportunity for a greater role could pop up quickly.

People get hung up on whether a player is a lottery pick or not. It’s cool that Och was the final lottery pick. But I would have been fine if he dropped a pick or two and maybe slid to a team that is a slightly better match than Cleveland. I don’t think Ochai cares.

Then it was on to CB Watch. I kept hearing rumblings that Christian Braun would be a first round pick. But those primarily came from KU people and I didn’t trust them. I didn’t see a single mock draft that had him in the first round. I did read one analyst who thought he would have a better NBA career than Ochai, though.

And then Denver shocked me by taking him at 21. TWENTY ONE!?!?!

I thought that was a reach, but Denver is also in a position where they are poised to win, have a very good roster (when healthy), and can pick based on specific needs to tighten up holes in their depth. Take the guy who may never be spectacular but can probably accept the role you’re offering on day one rather than a guy with upside but who won’t be ready to contribute for a couple years.

Most of all I was thrilled for CB. He became a bit of a cult figure for KU fans during the national title run, with his massive shots in big moments and constant shit talking.[1] There may not have been a more confident KU player since Mario Chalmers. And homey bet on himself by declaring and staying in the draft and won big time. Good for him!

If you had bet that CB would go 27 picks before Kendall Brown eight months ago, you would likely have made a lot of money.

My joke to KU friends after CB went at 21 was that we needed to launch David McCormack watch. That was funny, but suggesting Christian would go at 21 seemed pretty funny at the start of the draft, too.

I have a hard time getting into the guts of the draft because those generational talents come along so (seemingly) seldom these days. With all the changes in the game, you’re almost seem better off picking in the 5–12 range and hoping the wing you select becomes an all-world shooter and turns into a star based on that, rather than picking at the very top of the draft. Looking at the list of number one picks over the past decade, so many of their careers have been interrupted by serious and/or lingering injuries that they never/have yet to live up to expectations.

Of course it’s not fair to judge a draft just on the number one pick. And my perspective is forever colored by growing up in the ‘80s, when each draft was filled with fully-formed stars-in-waiting. Who knows, this might be the year when six or seven of the top ten turn into All Stars and we look back on the 2022 draft as one of the best and deepest in recent memory.

  1. KU won the national championship in April. Don’t know if you heard.  ↩