With the NBA season suspended and the future of the league up in the air, the NBA Draft is impacted for the Indiana Pacers and all 30 teams.
The NBA has a lot on its hands to figure out over the coming months. Each of the decisions to be made on how it will pick up its season has a considerable impact on the Indiana Pacers.
On the forefront of the issues to be resolved is how the league will pick up the remainder of its season if it isn’t canceled outright. Once that decision is made, there are runoff impacts on free agency, the 2020-2021 season, and the NBA Draft.
The draft might be the one area that is most impacted for teams because of the scouting element that has long been rooted in in-person relationships and talent evaluation. Especially for international prospects with not as much accessible footage, scouts and general managers spend a fair amount of time flying to cities around the globe to find their next prized prospect.
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As Jonathan Givony notes in a recent article for ESPN, this process is being completely altered due to novel coronavirus and the impacts it has on domestic and international travel as well as the cancelation of events.
Beyond that, the league calendar being a question mark at the moment is preventing prospects and teams from even knowing when the draft might take place.
An executive told Givony that the draft would be the last piece of the puzzle:
“We saw it in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2016. They never even got to [the draft]. Revenue drivers will come first, and then we’ll see what happens with the draft after all that gets figured out. It might be a while.”
A source in Givony’s article also went on to discuss the importance of having a robust scouting team year-round, not just during March Madness. He noted the NCAA Tournament to be a “catch-up” event for some teams and speculated that the best scouting teams may be even more advantaged this year since they do the legwork on identifying talent year-round, and will have more months to focus solely on the draft without quite as many distractions.
I don’t see it that way. Talent identification is hard and is often a random thing more than it is an actual skill one can count on. Yes, good scouting departments will do better than bad ones this year, but everyone will be flying blind this year more than normal.
The lack of information compared to normal years may put this year’s draft in the category of one of the most upside-down drafts of all time when we look back on it years down the road.
Some of the top prospects we already don’t have much tape on. LaMelo Ball ended his season with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia early, playing just 12 games. James Wiseman played just 3 games at Memphis before leaving due to sanctions brought down from the NCAA.
Pulling away the opportunity to gain more info through workouts and interviews with players is going to make this year’s draft difficult, even more than normal.
If the draft is typically throwing a dart while blindfolded, this is like doing it after spinning around 10 times, too.
Teams may not have the luxury of even having access to information, even if there is enough time to get it.
Here’s what a team president told Givony:
“This is the year to shut players down,” one NBA team president said. “If a team wants to keep those medicals out of the hands of 29 other organizations, they might try and lock down that player with a promise that they’ll draft them. It wouldn’t surprise me if agents decided to go out and do their own medicals and then dispersed them to the teams of their choosing to try and guide players to specific situations.”
So, what does this mean for the Pacers?
It means last year’s selection of Goga Bitadze will now start paying dividends.
Bitadze didn’t have the best year if you look at his per-game statistics. He’s averaging 3.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. More than anything, though, it’s a lack of opportunity behind the already primed and functioning Pacers big men.
The rookie has played just 8.4 minutes per game, and in the few games where he’s gotten considerable minutes, he’s done quite well.
In the two games where he averaged between 20 and 29 minutes, he averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Even if this season had been a disaster for him and the Pacers, though, having him in their back pocket gives them insurance for this year’s draft. There may not be obvious gold this year due to the pool of talent to pull from and the natural deterrents in terms of actually available information on the prospects.
Indiana knows going into next season they have a developmental player in Bitadze. They are familiar with who he is and how he learns. They know everything about his game and the proper areas of emphasis for growth in his game.
They have more information on what they need to do in his development than they will be able to obtain from any potential prospect in this year’s draft.
And on top of this, the Bucks have the Pacers first-round pick in this year’s draft, anyway, a pick they traded to secure Malcolm Brogdon. While no one could have seen the impacts of COVID-19 coming, the value of giving up that pick in return for Brogdon has plummeted, making the deal now look even better.
Good drafting sets you up for a year of misses in the draft or a year marred with widespread uncertainty. The Pacers drafted well with Bitadze, and it will put them out in front of many other teams in terms of the talent at their disposal to develop and nurture.
His stock can only rise from here.