Making The Most of Round 2
NBA teams changing their approach to the Draft?
by Ed Isaacson / @nbadraftblog
Sacramento Kings’ guard Isaiah Thomas was forced to wait until the final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft to hear his name called, but that didn’t prevent him from not only making the Kings’ roster, but putting together conceivably the best season ever by a 60th pick (since the NBA went to a two-round Draft).
Breaking into the Kings’ starting lineup halfway through the season, Thomas was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for February and March, and was ultimately voted Second-Team All-Rookie.
Thomas was not the only second-round pick last season to make his presence known. Chandler Parsons (38th pick) was also named to the Second-Team All-Rookie squad after starting 57 games for the Houston Rockets. Charles Jenkins (44th, Warriors), Andrew Goudelock (46th, Lakers) and Lavoy Allen (50th, 76ers) all also made key contributions to their new teams.
With the exception of Jenkins, where teammate Klay Thompson had an outstanding rookie season, each of these second-round picks made a much bigger impact than players their team picked before them in the same Draft. While to some it may seem like an aberration, I feel secure in saying that the trend of NBA teams maximizing the value of their second-round picks will continue for a number of reasons.
This past season, the D-League had arguably its greatest year to date, with 43 players being called up to NBA teams, and a few players more than one time. That number doesn’t include players who were under NBA contracts and were sent to the D-League to work on their game, get back into shape, or just have a place to play regularly.
Every NBA team used the D-League in one form or another this season, and the magnitude should increase over the coming years. The ideal model would have a 1:1 ratio of NBA to D-League teams. But even as it stands today, D-League franchises that are not owned directly by NBA franchises are given substantial input by their affiliates. NBA teams that own their own franchises, or are in a single-affiliate model, have greater input, down to the coaching level. Currently 10 NBA teams either own their D-League franchise or are single-affiliates, and that number is expected to grow in the next few years.
So you ask, what does this have to do with second-round Draft picks? Simple—no longer does a team need to worry about players who need playing time to develop. While a good number of first-round picks have also been sent to the D-League, most teams choose not to send players they are paying well to play somewhere else.
The current system allows teams to keep a close eye on the development of their assets, while also being able to retrieve a player quickly if needed. In most cases, the difference in talent between players at the end of the first round and the second round is relatively small, so the D-League encourages NBA teams to not only utilize their second-round pick(s), but to have a bigger hand in turning them into the player they want.
As this system develops, it comes at the expense of the old method of drafting international players, and letting them stay overseas to develop before bringing them to the NBA. Not only was this method incredibly flawed, but in most cases, it was a waste of time, money and a pick.
From the 2006 Draft to the 2011 Draft, 41 international players were picked in the second round. Of those 41 players, just 14 have played at least a single game in the NBA, and seven (Marc Gasol, Goran Dragic, Ersan Ilyasova, Jonas Jerebko, Nikola Pekovic, Semih Erden, Omer Asik) are still in the League today. Admittedly, those seven remain because they have shown that they belong in the League, but the other seven were completely outmatched at the NBA level.
Problem No. 1 is getting international players to leave the comfort of wherever they are playing. But bigger than that, the problem is being able to scout in a way that you maximize your chances of getting the rare international player capable of playing in the NBA. Of the 27 international second-round Draft picks who have yet come to the NBA since 2006, maybe one or two may come over. So, essentially 25 second-round picks may as well have been never made over the past six NBA Drafts.
NBA teams may be starting to catch onto this problem as well. Since that 2006 Draft, the number of international players picked each year in the second round has decreased (2006: 10, 2011: 5), and I anticipate the number to be even lower this year. Going hand-in-hand with the decrease in international players is the greater exposure of the college player.
Advances in scouting technology have allowed NBA teams to have greater access, in a less laborious manner, to most of the information they need on college players who interest them. Add to that the amount of college basketball available to watch on any given night during the season, as well as overall increase in the quality of the college game, and the odds of players catching someone’s eye increase exponentially.
So where teams in the latter half of the second round may not have had a great comfort level with their picks, now they not only have a comfort level, but a large number of players who fit within it. You have a choice between a player you are comfortable with or a player you know little about—and who may not even come to the States—the answer seems very simple.
Adding one further wrinkle to why a team would want to capitalize on the value of their second rounders—team finances and the salary cap. The days of teams having money to spend on their bench is gone. Teams now need to spend more time developing their own talent at a lower cost. The most cost-efficient way to do it is the NBA Draft.
Take a team like the Sacramento Kings, who not only need to save money, but need to bolster their team as a whole. Instead of putting little thought into the last pick of the Draft, they were able to secure a player who not only fit their team well, but could help them right away and at a tremendous value.
Thomas, Parsons, Jenkins, Goudelock and Allen will probably be joined by more second-round players who make their impact in their second year. In the meantime, there is a whole new class of great value players who will be available for teams in the second round, and while it may not be from the 60th pick, there will be more than a few players who make a Thomas-like impact as a rookie.
Ed Isaacson is the owner/writer of NBA Draft Blog. Check out the site for the latest in player scouting reports and more.