The RTC Interview Series: One on One with NBADraftBlog’s Ed IsaacsonPosted by Walker Carey on June 25th, 2014
Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the NBA Draft taking place Thursday night, we thought it would be a good idea to get some input from an expert. RTC Correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the please of speaking with NBA Draft Analyst Ed Isaacson, the founder of NBADraftBlog.com. You can follow Isaacson on Twitter via @nbadraftblog.
Rush the Court: Joel Embiid’s back (and now foot) injuries are the hot topics leading up to Thursday’s NBA Draft. How badly do you see this impacting Embiid’s stock and how would you approach these legitimate concerns if you were a team picking early in the draft?
Ed Isaacson: I do not think Embiid’s drop is going to be as drastic as Jared Sullinger’s (Note: Sullinger was medically flagged due to back issues) was in 2012 when he went from being a top six guy to being the 21st pick. My basic thought is that there is no way Embiid makes it beyond the Lakers at seven – if he happens to still be around then. If you are a general manager who is already on board with taking the risk with Embiid – he had a back problem in high school and had it again at Kansas – is the stress fracture in the foot suddenly going to be the thing that dissuades you from picking him? Once there is more information regarding the surgery and the timetable for his recovery, I think that will alleviate some concerns. I still believe Joel Embiid will be a top four pick.
RTC: Andrew Wiggins entered college with a ridiculous amount of hype. He was a very good player at Kansas, but it would be tough to say that he was a superstar. Do you believe his year in Lawrence negatively impacted his pro prospects and where do you see him ending up Thursday evening?
Isaacson: He is still the number one prospect to me. Even when Embiid was healthy, I had more value in Andrew Wiggins. One year in college is extremely tough to gauge a player and the Kansas system is much more different than at other schools. The main concern with Wiggins is the question if he is too passive on the court. The exact same thing was brought up last year in regards to Ben McLemore. I am not concerned. He is still a 19-year-old kid and I think he is going to be an All-Star. I have had him at number one throughout the process and I really think he is the best fit for Cleveland.
RTC: Jabari Parker proved in his lone season at Duke that he is a dynamic scorer who can provide instant offense. How do you see what he did in college translating to the pro game and do you think the popular Carmelo Anthony comparisons have validity to them?
Isaacson: Anthony brings up a lot of negativity with fans. They only see him as a selfish scorer and that is not 100% true. The comparisons between Parker and Anthony are pretty good. Out of all the freshmen in this class, Parker is the one that is most ready to come in and contribute right away. He has a pro scoring game at this point. The concerns with him are mostly on defense. If he can work on that over the next few years, he will alleviate some of those concerns. I am not going to say that he is going to be Carmelo Anthony, but he could end up being a new version of Anthony somewhere down the line.
RTC: In the age of the lottery being littered with underclassmen, it is rare to see a player like Doug McDermott – who had an illustrious four-year collegiate career – project to be taken early. Will McDermott’s experience help him transition to the NBA and what can be reasonably expected of him as a rookie?
Isaacson: The combination of his experience and the pro style kind of offense that Creighton ran will strongly help McDermott. Shooting almost always translates. You do not suddenly forget how to shoot when you transition from college to the pros. He is not going to be the first option on a team. He is probably not going to be the second option. He is going to be a very strong role player that is going to come in, stretch the floor, score from inside and out, and get some rebounds.
RTC: Nik Stauskas and T.J. Warren are two players who took giant leaps forward in their second collegiate seasons. Both are great offensive talents who took home the Player of the Year award in their respective conferences. Do you think Stauskas and Warren are ready to contribute in the NBA right now and in what range do you see them coming off the board?
Isaacson: I think both are ready to contribute fairly early in their careers. Stauskas could be a top 10 pick. When he showed his ability to be more than a shooter and that he could handle the ball and attack the basket, teams saw that he was a much more versatile player than what was thought after his freshman year. His range is probably 8-13. Warren is a little different because he is pretty much just a scorer. His defense is probably never going to be better than average. On the offensive side of the court, he just finds so many ways to score. He can get out in transition, he can find holes in the defense, and he can attack the basket. A concern with him is that he is likely going to be playing the three in the NBA and he is really going to need to show that he can knock down the three-point shot. He had a problem with the college three-pointer, so he really needs to work on that it. The fact that he was such a prolific scorer when he really did not make many three-pointers is pretty amazing. Still, Warren is going to be a guy that will give a team 12-15 points every game. I have him in the 14-20 range.
RTC: Elfrid Payton is a player that not many people know too much about, but he has been steadily climbing mock drafts since the process began. What makes Payton such an exciting prospect and do you believe the fact that Damian Lillard has been so good since coming out of Weber State helps Payton out in the eyes of NBA teams?
Isaacson: Payton’s all around game – besides his inability to hit jumpers – will translate well to the NBA. He is a terrific on-ball defender, very good ball handler, strong passion, and has great vision. He is a player who will be very hard to defend. He gets into the lane, attacks the basket, and draws fouls. He does what you want a point guard to do. I am not sure if the Damian Lillard thing helps Payton that much, but I do think the thing that has helped him has been the Rajon Rondo comparisons. Back when Rondo was coming out, people were very torn on what kind of player he was going to be. That is not the case with Payton, as people have seen what a lanky point guard – like Rondo – can do a little bit of everything to help the team. I think that has bolstered Payton’s stock more than anything.
RTC: There is plenty of hype surrounding Australia native Dante Exum being the top guard in this draft class. What is it about Exum’s game that has so many enthralled with his pro potential?
Isaacson: It is his length and athleticism. Those are always going to be two things that draw people when evaluating a prospect – especially in a guard. Where it gets sort of muddled though is what position is Exum? Is he going to be a point guard like some think? I do not see it. If he ends up playing the two, he is just going to be another athletic two guard. He is not really a great shooter. If he does not develop into a point guard or his team does not really see him as a point guard, his value is a lot different. I do not think you will be getting a future All-Star if he is at the two, but if he can learn how to play the point at least competently at the NBA level, he may end up being a steal early in the draft.
Isaacson: To me, Julius Randle is the only one of the three that is ready physically to play the four at the NBA level. Aaron Gordon just does not have the body for it. He has the body of a three, but he does not have the skills of a three. Noah Vonleh has the raw tools that you would want from someone at the four. He just needs to work on getting stronger. Randle right now has the body to go in there every night and battle against NBA forwards. That is something neither Gordon nor Vonleh can say at the moment. In my opinion, Gordon is not in the same class as Randle and Vonleh. Gordon’s lack of skill just really bothers me. Between Randle and Vonleh, I really think Randle is the one who is going to end up paying off long-term dividends because he just has that nature about him where he wants to just go out there and dominate. Vonleh is one of those big guys who does not really like playing near the basket. He prefers to be out on the perimeter. That is not really ideal if you have his type of size.
RTC: Marcus Smart would have likely been a top three pick in the draft had he entered last year, but he returned to Oklahoma State for a season that was a bit marred by an incident with a fan at Texas Tech and a wildly disappointing team. Smart is obviously still a great talent, but do you see the events of his sophomore season being a potential red flag for any teams?
Isaacson: No. I think a lot of teams sort of understand what happened there. He really just tried to do too much on a team that was not very good. He also had to deal with the constant questioning about whether he should have left or not. I do not think anything about him will be a long-term concern for anyone. NBA personnel got to know him last summer when he was working out with the United States Olympic team in Las Vegas. They know what his temperament is really like and they know what he brings to the fold for a team. I do not think this past season really hurt him at all. It was not a wasted year for him. He actually probably learned a lot from it and he is most likely going to be a top 10 pick.
RTC: Mitch McGary’s draft stock has probably taken the most substantial hit from this time last year until now. If McGary has fully recovered from his back surgery, is he a potential hidden gem towards the end of the first round?
Isaacson: I think the end of the first round is probably where he should be to begin with. I think people were just really overrating him following a few NCAA Tournament games last year. Once he would have gotten into workouts for draft preparation, he would have been exposed a little bit more. He is just a limited player. Even so, in the right system, he is someone who can go out and do a lot for a team. He can hit the boards and he is still continuing to improve as an offensive player around the basket. You can put him at the high post and he can make good reads from there. On the other hand, he is not really a great defender and that is something he is going to need to really work on. In college, he more used his body and hoped for the best. That is not going to work in the NBA. He can definitely flourish if he is selected into the right system late in the first round. Late first round is realistically his value – back injury or not.
RTC: Shabazz Napier obviously took the college basketball world by storm in leading Connecticut to the national title this spring. What kind of impact can he have as a pro and will his lack of size be an issue?
Isaacson: The size is not ideal, but the guy is a leader. That is what teams are looking for. They want a guy who can come in and be a back-up point guard without an issue. I think coaches will have full confidence in that he is going to go out there and execute what they need him to do. He does not shy away from the moment. He is a big game kind of guy with big game experience. With the word out that he has been invited to the green room for the draft, I think that shows that there are not a lot of worries about his size and that a lot of teams are interested in taking him in the top 20 now.
RTC: Who is one player that will likely be taken towards the end of the first that you believe has the potential to be a solid contributor right away? Are there any similar guys who will likely come off the board in the second round?
Isaacson: Just off the bat, I am thinking of a guy like Adreian Payne. He is a guy that will come off the board anywhere between the late lottery and early 20s. He can be a huge asset right away with his ability to score inside and out and protect the rim if needed. Kyle Anderson is another guy who can potentially contribute right away. He needs to find a good fit. He needs to be in the right system with a coach who can think outside the box and find the proper way to use him. The last end of the first round guy is K.J. McDaniels. With him, you are getting a guy who can defend at the NBA level right away. He has the kind of athleticism that if he gets into a system with a team that likes to run, fans are going to get really excited about him. There is a lot of great choices for this type of player in the second round, but one guy who can make an impact if he gets some playing time right away is Joe Harris. I think he is someone who can make an impact for a team right away as a fourth guard to come in and knock down shots, make some tough passes, and play some defense.
RTC: On the opposite side of sleepers there are busts. Who do you believe has the most bust potential in this draft class?
Isaacson: Since “bust” is sort of related to where a guy is picked, to me, I think Dante Exum could fit in that category. If you are picking him in the top three or four, I am not sure if you are getting a guy who deserves to be picked that high. Zach LaVine is another guy who can fit in the category. If you are picking him towards the end of the first round and giving him some time to develop, that is not a bad thing. However, if you are taking him in the lottery like a lot of people think a team will, you are making a mistake. His rookie deal is going to run out before he is ready to contribute in an NBA game. I do not see how many teams can put him on the floor right away, but he needs to be on the floor to improve. I think the odds are that in two or three years, we will question why LaVine did not just stay in school for another year or two.
RTC: If you had to predict the 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year right now, who would it be and why?
Isaacson: Jabari Parker. He is the guy who is ready to come in right away and contribute. His offensive game is NBA ready and he is going to be given the time, which is the most important thing for anyone to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation. There is going to be no shortage of that for Parker no matter what team he goes to. He is going to be playing at least 25 minutes a night right away.