LATE In the winter of 2013, 18-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo turned his curiosity in Greece’s second-tier profile league. Although he scored less than 10 points on average in the game, Antetokounmpo’s physical profile, body control and vision cried out for “today’s NBA.”
Only a handful of NBA executives had personally witnessed the Antetocounmp, and only the Atlanta Hawks had brought him to his facility. Most of the league relied on video, scout intelligence and various contacts in the European basketball world for information. What many agencies heard gave them a big break from potential customers.
The leader of one of the teams, who passed on the Antetokounmpo in June, did so because it was said that the teenager was soft. Despite all his raw talent and positives, Antetokounmpo, who did not speak English and had limited exposure to the world outside of Greek basketball, was unable to survive in the NBA. Intelligence also warned that the Antetokounmpo family could be an obstacle: the immigration status of his parents and brothers was thorny, and the task of transporting them to the United States could cause complications for his team. Being alone in a strange city without a family, the idea arose that Antetokounmpo would start to struggle personally.
The Milwaukee Bucks chose the Antetocounmpo in the 2013 draw with a 15-choice lead over the devastated Hawks. After a stable period of development in the first years of the league, Antetokounmpo has become a five-time Star Game, a two-time MVP and an NBA champion before his 27th birthday.
Until Antetokounmpo’s potentially problematic family, his success has been characterized by his son-in-law and brotherly love. Antetokounmpo’s commitment to his relatives is far from confusing, but has been a major driver of his well-known work ethic. As much as it informed the final decision of the 14 teams that drafted in front of Bucks, that information was a germ.
Intelligence is just one component that goes into assessing the talent of NBA draft prospects. Despite extraordinary advances in so many areas and exponential growth, the NBA’s overall outlook for the elite draft is no better than it was 40 years ago.
In a landscape where the brighter heads of the NBA have pushed the boundaries, the NBA draft remains the toughest line of resistance. But there is one team that believes he may know something the rest of the league doesn’t know.
FINAL OF THIS SPRING in the power of the draft to provide object hours. The Boston Celtics had four first-round selections in 2014-2018. The Golden State Warriors turned from a backwater glam franchise into a draft by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Younger draft players Jordan Poole and Kevon Looney also proved irreplaceable in the Warriors title competition.
By contrast, the failure of Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic to find franchisees, despite repeated draws in the top lottery, has led to chronic mediocrity.
One team that has achieved mixed results in recent years – like most NBA teams – is the Phoenix Suns. Differently most NBA teams have decided that the best way to value an NBA draft may not be to value it at all.
In a league where teams spend millions of dollars and hire a growing number of scouts throughout the year to reach the June draft, Suns takes the opposite approach under the leadership of current CEO James Jones.
Phoenix’s approach is as unusual as it is anti-founding: Suns is not only achieving a strong excess trend by giving up the Draft Industrial Complex, but they also support the view that less is better in the information age.
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