NBA Draft 2011 Preview: The Lottery

A less search-friendly but perhaps more appropriate title for this article is “Nobody Knows Anything about Anyone.” This year’s likely lottery picks feature more unknowns than any draft since the new eligibility rules were put in place (banning high school players) in 2006.

In the past five drafts, there have been six foreigners chosen in the lottery, as well as Brandon Jennings, who never attended college. In the last four years, there have been just three. This year’s lottery (Thursday, 7:30 EST, ESPN) is projected by many to exceed that total—both ESPN’s Chad Ford and predict four foreigners will be taken in the first 14 picks.

And those figures don’t include Kyrie Irving, the consensus No. 1 pick, who played just 11 collegiate games due to injury. You would spend more time watching the first two Harry Potter movies (313 minutes) than you would watching every minute Irving played against college competition (303).

The media chatter is that this year’s draft class is one of the weakest in recent memory, especially in the lottery. With a lockout looming, many college stars opted to stay in school, meaning this year’s lottery will look more like the mid- to late-first round picks of past years. But is this draft class, overall, weak? The truth is, we just don’t know. If even half of these mysterious prospects pan out it could prove to be a very impressive class.

But how much do we really know about 19-year-old Enes Kanter? We know this: He is a Turkish citizen, he was born in Switzerland, and he bounced around American high schools two years ago and didn’t even play this past year because the NCAA ruled him ineligible.

Bismack Biyombo is just 18-years-old, incredibly raw offensively—when you watch tomorrow night’s draft, keep in mind that “raw” is a euphemism for “not good”—but could go as high as No. 8. If this was a draft based on “thinking on the fly” abilities instead of basketball skills, Biyombo would certainly go undrafted.* From his interview with contributor Davy Rothbart:

Grantland:A lot of teams are giving you serious consideration in the draft. There’s easily 10 or 12 cities where you could wind up. Let’s play a game: I’ll say the name of a city and you say the first word that comes to mind. Any word you want—just the first word that pops into your head. Cool?

Biyombo: Cool.

Grantland: OK, here we go. Washington, D.C.

Biyombo: No.

Grantland: OK. Detroit.

Biyombo: Detroit? Yes.

Grantland: Toronto.

Biyombo: Yes.

Grantland: Houston

Biyombo: Yes.

*I don’t mean to pick on Biyombo, who is from the Congo. He speaks five languages, which is cool, and he’s about to become very wealthy, but he clearly doesn’t know how word association works.

I haven’t even mentioned Jan Vesely, from the Czech Republic, or Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, both of whom will receive rave reviews from the analysts on tomorrow’s telecast. And on what are the experts basing their analysis? My theory is that most of them simply watch YouTube highlight reels, just like the rest of us, and then deliver the phrases we’ve become all too familiar with: upside potential, tremendous length, second jumpability

What can we learn from these 30 second clips? Absolutely nothing. I played against a guy last night who would project as a lottery pick based on his highlight video. He could jump high, he was quick, and he had a smooth jumper. He’d look like a stud in his video as long as you cut out the long stretches where he didn’t try on defense, deferred to his teammates despite being the best player on the court, and missed several point-blank layups.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were the GM of a team in this year’s lottery. Maybe it is a good year to take a chance on one of these unknowns. It’s not like the college kids, aside from possibly Irving and consensus No. 2 Derrick Williams, are especially strong.

Or, I could take The Jimmer and know I made a good pick.

See also:
NBA Draft 2011 Preview: Interview with NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake

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