Athletes are creatures of habit. It’s why so many of them get lost in translation when their playing days are over.
When your entire life has been subject to a routine, it can get rough when the schedule changes. But what happens when that occurs weeks before the biggest job interview of your life?
Well, the 2020 NBA Draft class is about to find out.
The league is reportedly in talks to restart their season in July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. And you can’t have a draft until the season is officially over. The date for college players to withdraw from the draft and go back to school has been pushed back; and a new deadline still hasn’t been set. The Draft Combine and Draft Lottery have also been postponed, as 205 players have submitted their names including 163 from colleges or prep schools along with 42 international prospects.
“The timing of things will be very unique when they happen,” former NBA player and current agent, B.J. Armstrong told Deadspin. “There are just so many unknown factors that we can’t even get to, because as we speak, [the NBA] is just trying to figure out how to finish the season, let alone get to the draft, combine, and free agency.”
The 2020 class promised to be interesting even before COVID-19 happened. It lacks the type of players that would make a franchise want to tank a season and it’s missing a TV darling like Zion Williamson.
A look at the top of recent mock drafts will have even the biggest hoops fans Googling the names of future lottery picks.
Anthony Edwards could be the No 1. overall pick, but he played at Georgia where football is king.
LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton haven’t played in the states since high school, as they played overseas in Australia’s National Basketball League.
Obi Toppin was the collegiate player of the year, but he played at Dayton, which only had four nationally-televised games this past season, with three of them occurring way back in November.
Other prospects who are considered lottery picks played at non-traditional powerhouses like Iowa State (Tyrese Haliburton), Auburn (Isaac Okoro), or Vanderbilt (Aaron Nesmith). And the ones that did have some preseason hype, either dealt with injuries (Cole Anthony) or battled with the NCAA over eligibility issues (James Wiseman).
“We’re going to have to give them more time,” longtime NBA reporter and current editor-in-chief of The Athletic D.C. David Aldridge said to Deadspin, referring to the patience that will be needed with this group of players.
“Look at a kid like [James] Wiseman who literally played three games in college. How could you possibly have any real confidence that you know what you’re getting in this kid?” said Aldrige of the 7-foot-1 center. “He’s also a big, and bigs always take longer to develop, especially while playing in an era of positionless basketball. And none of that means that he can’t be a great player in the league, but it may take longer for us to find out with these guys. It may be their second or third team before we find out who guys are.”
If you scour social media, you’ll find videos posted of players starting to hit the court in “quarantined” workouts. The players in the NBA are doing it to stay in shape, as it seems like the re-start to their season is inevitable. The draft prospects are doing it because they have to. Most of them never got a chance to boost their status in March during postseason play.
“I think it drives me more,” said former Marquette star Markus Howard to Yahoo about the early morning workout sessions he does with family members at a facility in Phoenix that his father owns. “I want to be sure whenever the time does come I’m ready, even if we don’t play until December. I know the regiment I’m in has worked in the past. Even if I’m not playing, I’m simulating game situations. I want to be prepared for any moment that does come.”
In a time in which instant gratification is a must, and patience and gradual improvements are forgotten, far too many times players are labeled as “draft busts” before we, and sometimes even they, know what they can do on the court.
Back in 1998, Michael Olowokandi, one of the biggest busts in league history, was the first name called, while a two-time All-Star like Rashard Lewis wasn’t taken until the second round (No. 32). In the 2013 draft, Anthony Bennett, a player who has been out of the league since 2017, was selected first overall, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was taken fifteenth and Rudy Gobert, who has been the NBA face of this pandemic, went at No. 27. Gobert played in his first All-Star game this season on Team Giannis.
“Just about every draft, there will be three or four guys that turn out to be good players. It always shakes out that the ones we didn’t expect turn out to be a really good player or an All-Star,” said Aldridge.
At some point, the games will return and the draft will happen. After that, it’s up to the players to create their own legacies. Hopefully, we’ll give them added time to develop and figure things out before we label them. Because even if this class doesn’t produce any All-Stars or future Hall of Famers, they will always be the first, and maybe only, class to have to cope with a global pandemic.
And for that alone they deserve our compassion.