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Dosunmu and Jones, The Plight of the Upperclassmen
Plus the JackJumpers marching, James Wiseman, Illawarra's defence and mailbag.
No Draft for Old Men
Redrafts, as a general rule, suck.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
In the 2021 NBA Draft, freshmen (or internationals who would be classed as freshmen), made up the first seven draft picks, before Michigan sophomore Franz Wagner broke the trend. In the lottery, there were only two upperclassmen (juniors and seniors) drafted, Baylor junior Davion Mitchell at #9, and Oregon senior Chris Duarte at #13.
Duarte is an exception to the rule. Already 24 at the time of the draft, stories like his, playing all four years in college after a relatively late high school career (he began his freshman season at Northwest Florida State at the age of 20).
Duarte is a throwback to a bygone era, where it was unthinkable to leave college before your junior year at the earliest, to enter a league where men were men and brawlers picked apart the bony twigs of undercooked rookies.
Nowadays, college upperclassmen are treated like milk left out in the sun. Once you finish your sophomore season, it’s off to the draft or get left behind. In the first round of the draft just gone, a grand total of five upperclassmen were drafted (Mitchell, Duarte, Corey Kispert [15th], Trey Murphy III [17th] and Quentin Grimes [25th]).
So what’s prompted this discussion on older draft prospects you ask?
Ayo Dosunmu and Herbert Jones.
Jones, a senior out of Alabama, was drafted 35th, while Illinois junior Dosunmu went three picks later. Both have been selected in the upcoming NBA Rising Stars Challenge (the only two second round rookies this year to do so), and if you ask a lot of people who enjoy doing those silly redrafts, both would now struggle to fall out of the lottery at the latest.
The second round of the NBA Draft is famously a crapshoot. For every Jones and Dosunmu, there’s fifteen guys who play one sporadic season in the league before embarking on a long European journey. For every Khris Middleton (39th overall in 2012), there’s ten guys who get cut in their rookie preseason and toil in the G-League. For every Nikola Jokic (41st overall in 2014), there’s a dozen guys who get stashed overseas, never to even sniff the Association.
Jones and Dosunmu were hardly “can’t miss” prospects, but their draft slide is symptomatic of the modern NBA GM’s thirst for youth and potential over production.
The rookie-scale contract is the best value contract in the NBA. For first rounders, it gives teams up to four years of control over their stable of elite young prospects at extreme price deficits before the inevitable market hike (the post rookie extension).
Looking at the current trends, the majority of these prospects will be due for their extensions by the time they’re 22-23 years old, still five years away from the prime of their careers, and leaving them enough time for another bumper contract on top of that.
Had Ayo Dosunmu been drafted in the first round, his rookie extension wouldn’t kick in until age 25. Herb Jones? 26. While a couple of years may seem inconsequential, in the NBA where time flies and potential can fizzle out like that, having guys due for post-rookie extensions as they’re hitting their prime should be viewed as a hotter commodity.
General managers are often guilty of chasing an extra few years in a player’s career rather than drafting proven production at the price of an extra season or two. With the youth of most high level draft picks, their rookie extensions are often a show of faith rather than a reflection of true on-court value.
Now sometimes that pays off handsomely, and sometimes you need to swing for the fences and take that risk. But there’ll be times when the next Herb Jones or Ayo Dosunmu is just sitting there in the second round, coming off a season where they averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, only falling because they’re already 22, until some team is guilted into drafting them.
Sometimes the guilt trap works.
JackJumpers marching to top four?
For loyal listeners of the Beyond the Fence podcast, you’ll remember the NBL season preview I did with Michael Houben from the Pick and Roll (episode here). We were both in agreement when it came to the JackJumpers chances of making the top four.
Expansion franchises in any sport rarely go well in their first season. It took years for the likes of Orlando and Charlotte to get remotely close to relevance in the NBA, while Vancouver had to move to Memphis to avoid folding. In the NRL now, the Dolphins not of Redcliffe but based in Redcliffe are struggling a year away from even playing a game, signing over the hill veterans and hoping they can still run in 2023.
The South East Melbourne Phoenix struggled their inaugural season, finishing 8th with a 9-19 record after a strong early start. The Phoenix attracted local talent Mitch Creek and star import John Roberson, but as with most expansion teams, struggled to competently place adequate depth around them.
Looking at the JackJumpers roster in the preseason, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d be nothing more than fodder for the established powers of the league, maybe scrapping the odd win against some of the lower level competition like Adelaide or Cairns. They signed a horde of NBL journeyman like Clint Steindl, Jack McVeigh, Fabijan Krslovic, Sam McDaniel and Jarrad Weeks, while the import trio of Josh Adams, Josh Magette and MiKyle McIntosh did little to inspire confidence.
And yet the most important man in this entire puzzle may have been a man we all overlooked at the start of the season, head coach Scott Roth. Roth has NBA coaching experience and was previously the assistant under Trevor Gleeson in Perth.
To anyone who watches “the Jackies” play, it’s apparent that Roth’s brand is imprinted all over this team. They know they’re at a talent deficit, but they make up for it with relentless energy and pressing defence, unselfish offense and making use of the depth of the bench. This was typified over the weekend when Tasmania knocked off two preseason favourites in the Sydney Kings and Melbourne United.
The United game was particularly impressive, in a hostile John Cain Arena in front of United’s largest crowd of the season, the JackJumpers were unperturbed. Withstanding a monster 20-20 game from premier big man Jo Lual-Acuil, the Tasmanians found a way to swarm (pardon the pun) United and hit their shots when it count.
The JackJumpers might be playing above their talent level right now, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in basketball over the years, it’s that energy is a great equaliser. The JackJumpers outwork their opponents and execute what they want to do on both ends.
Will this last? Tough to say. The reality is good teams find ways to overcome eventually, and there’s only so much the JackJumpers can do before their lack of talent catches up to them. What’s in their favour is they’re playing like this largely on the back of key contributions from locals like McVeigh and Will Magnay.
Magette has been solid as the lead guard, but both Adams and McIntosh have been inconsistent as imports so far. If they fire, and there were positive signs over the weekend, then the JackJumpers will go from major annoyance to legitimate playoffs scrappers.
No one saw that coming.
Will the wise man show up?
The worst thing that Golden State Warriors fans could’ve seen was LaMelo Ball being named to the 2022 NBA All Star game as a replacement for the injured Kevin Durant.
Because it’s cued hysteria about the state of 2020 second overall pick James Wiseman, who has yet to see the court this season as he recovers from a leg injury that has been pretty vaguely reported.
When the Warriors earned the second overall pick in last year’s draft, it was widely accepted that they would probably trade it away. This was a team banking on returning a healthy Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, a championship level core.
They had no time for youth.
Obviously it didn’t eventuate that way and Wiseman would stick around through another frustrating season for Golden State, with not even Steph’s nuclear end of season play enough to see them make the playoffs, losing in the play-in to Memphis.
Now Klay is back, Steph is healthy, the team has added some serious depth in Nemanja Bjelica, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr, as well as rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, it begs the question.
Where does Wiseman fit in?
That doesn’t sound like a man expecting his raw sophomore center to play this year.
The reality is Wiseman was drafted to be a project. Golden State’s situation he came into last season was exceptionally unique in that it was a championship roster accidentally tanking through injuries and bad luck.
Warriors fans are understandably frustrated with the lack of clear messaging re: Wiseman. He’s been “ramping up to play” for what seems like months now. But with the Warriors now possessing the second best record in the NBA, a healthy roster (Draymond aside) and a stacked frontcourt rotation, does Wiseman even really fit in at all?
On the off chance Wiseman is cleared to play, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s sent straight to the G-League to just get reps and feel good. There’s really no use him sitting on the bench in an NBA game with zero path to meaningful minutes.
Maybe there’s even a bad team on the phone to Golden State wondering what it would take to give Wiseman a fresh start, medical pending.
I doubt we see Wiseman in the NBA this year (I have been wrong before), and that may be for the best for his long term future. He doesn’t turn 21 until late March, and big men with histories of leg issues don’t traditionally have long pro basketball careers.
For Wiseman’s sake, the best chance he has is to wait.
Are we Illa-worried?
The Hawks came into the season as one of the presumed contenders for the NBL title, assembling a stacked roster including bringing in high-level imports Antonius Cleveland and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, returning Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup, and adding local star Duop Reath. Brian Goorjian, along with Reath, was coming off the back of a successful Olympic campaign, earning a bronze medal with the Boomers.
The Hawks are 6-6, behind fourth placed Tasmania on percentage, and half a game ahead of the Kings in sixth. Why?
Recently, their defence has, to put it mildly, completely sucked.
Illawarra haven’t struggled scoring the ball, second in the league at over 87 points per game. But for a Brian Goorjian coached team to be basically giving it all back on the other end, with the second worst defence in the league, is borderline unthinkable.
Watching the Hawks demolition at the hands of the Breakers over the weekend, you could see Goorj wanting to tear out what little hair he had left. One particular timeout, players took charge, highlighting defensive adjustments and calls they weren’t making. Goorjian looked them all in the eye and basically said “why aren’t you doing that then?”
The Hawks were blown out 90-67 to the last placed Breakers.
The Hawks have constantly missed switching assignments, not hedged pick and roll ball handlers, and allowed themselves to be beaten up inside. The Hawks also allow their opponents to shoot the second best FG%, and give up the most rebounds per game (although only 6th worst in offensive rebounds conceded per game).
To put it simply, the Hawks haven’t quite gelled as pundits thought, and they’ve been soft inside. You don’t allow opponents to shoot 45% without giving up a lot inside. The Hawks are third worst in 3p% allowed but I do give them a pass for that, three point shooting is generally high variance and not the sign of a good or bad defence, unless tracking data reveals all the opponents looks are wide open.
The issue with the Hawks is, like I said, they’re allowing far too much inside, and struggling to clean up misses when they come.
People have suggested the Hawks were maybe silly to let defensive star Justin Simon go after last season. The import has since found a home in Germany and is one of few players who has a defensive highlight reel more impressive than his offense.
The thinking behind swapping Simon for Antonius Cleveland was that Cleveland could provide more offensive versatility while still being a high level defender, and that logic has largely held true.
What we maybe didn’t appreciate last season was Simon’s impact on the team defensive structure, with his rotations, weakside help and rebounding all sorely missed by this current Hawks squad.
Illawarra better fix their defence soon because they’re not playing playoff level defence, or anything close to it, right now.
Lachie, a Hawks fan, is painfully referring to Illawarra fouling Xavier Munford of the Phoenix in the dying seconds of Sunday’s one point loss. Munford, who had previously given the state of NSW cheeseburgers with two missed free throws, became the first player in history to both give the state burgers and then make game winning free throws (in the Hungry Jacks era). The stats we care about here at The Antisocial Basketballer.
To answer the question, sure there is. Fouls are referee variance, and while you’re often told that refs swallow the whistle late, sometimes they make the calls.
As a Pistons fan, there was a game in 2015 where Matt Barnes, then of the Grizzlies, grabbed a defensive rebound with 6 seconds left, dribbled up court and inexplicably launched a half court shot. Memphis had three timeouts left and were only down two anyway.
It went in and the Pistons lost in a moment of sheer incredulous confusion.
Video below, hopefully it works.
Now that’s a terrible way to lose a game.