Without ever having been in one, it’s difficult for me to know just how NBA teams’ war room’s operate. I do have my ideas though. I imagine piles of data everywhere, organized by player, with a dry erase board full of player’s names (probably on magnets) and ranked by position, overall and where they will likely be drafted. When one team reaches further down that board than other organizations expected, I envision a mass panic ensuing, resulting in the shuffling of the mock draft that’s been set up and a call to action to figure out why things have happened the way they have.
And while it seems a safe bet to assume that this room is being run by a general manager (or owner if he’s very hands on), it’s difficult to peg just how much input everyone else in the room has.
With that being said, I’m not sure how much stock to put in John Hammond’s drafts as a member of the Detroit Pistons front office. Sure, we now have two years worth of data about Hammond’s first picks as the Bucks general manager, and a season of statistics about his second draft in Milwaukee, but we potentially have tons more information about the thoughts and ideas that shape John Hammond’s draft philosophy from his days in Detroit. Even if Hammond didn’t have lots of direct input on who would be the pick, it’s likely he’s shaped his philosophies based on his time in that front office.
And there was a pattern to their picks. Often drafting later in the first round during their successful run as one of the top teams annually in the Eastern Conference, Detroit rarely gambled on their picks. During Hammond’s run as VP of Basketball Operations, Detroit had six first round draft picks, and only twice did they draft players that would fall into the category of players who may not have been ready to contribute right away.
The first instance, quite famously, was Darko Milicic. His whole situation was so bizarre, that I’m not sure anyone will ever figure it out. Why he didn’t have success after such hype coming into the draft is a question that has tons of answers. Mental toughness, Larry Brown and the difficult transition from Europe to the NB all played some kind of role. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say that he didn’t work out for the Pistons. Though their other “upside pick” has been quite a coup for them as the 15th pick of the 2007 draft.
Rodney Stuckey came out of a small college, Eastern Washington, and didn’t exactly have a sterling resume there. They didn’t even make the Big Sky conference tournament in his final season, finishing 15-14. Stuckey’s numbers were very good in college, as he scored over 24 points-per-game in each of his two years at school. His level of competition was significantly below average though, suggesting that his numbers may have been a product of their weakness rather than just his skill. But Stuckey’s strong body and good size made him an intriguing prospect that could blossom down the road. Stuckey had a solid rookie season and has progressed in every season since then, rewarding the Pistons for their slight gamble, and when looking at Detroit’s other picks, Stuckey does look like a gamble.
In the year before the Darko Disaster (2002), Detroit selected college all-american Tayshaun Prince 23rd in the first round. Prince’s length intrigued everyone, but there were questions as to whether or not he could play the small forward position and get off that herky-jerky shot of his. By the time the playoffs rolled around in Prince’s rookie season, he was earning significant minutes and making his name as a defensive stopper. Prince had the pedigree as a four-year player at Kentucky.
In 2005, the Pistons first post-Darko first round pick, Detroit selected Jason Maxiell. Maxiell was a four-year player at Cincinnati, where he rebounded with tenacity and seemed constantly on the edge of fighting someone. His long arms and better than expected athleticism helped him at the draft combines that summer and combined with his productive college career, earned him a selection in the late first round for Detroit. He had the ability to help out as a role player immediately for Detroit and by his second year was an average NBA player, helping out with defensive and rebounding for a very talented team. That may not excite most, but any time a team can find a rotation player in the first round, they typically can feel good about that.
And that seems to be a philosophy that John Hammond holds in high regard. Use the draft to get quality rotation players that can contribute right away. This is where you say, “but they took Joe Alexander and no one thought he was anywhere near ready.” This is where I say, but they appear to have thought he would be ready right away, with more upside to come. The Bucks seemed to zero in on Alexander and Anthony Randolph in 2008, with Alexander winning out in the end, possibly because he would help the Bucks more up front. Billy McKinney (the Bucks director of scouting) had this to say in 2009 regarding their philosophy before the draft. I think it seems to hold up with regard to Alexander the year before too.
“One of the things you hear quite a bit when drafting young players, you’ll hear guys say well he might not be ready to play now. When we draft a player we expect him to come in and play. That player has to have that mentality as well.”
Milwaukee seemed to have thought that Brandon Jennings’ one year in Europe made him a little more NBA ready than the other prospects they were considering at 10th in last year’s draft, specifically Jrue Holiday. In addition, Milwaukee had a significantly larger amount of work done on last year’s draft than they did on the previous one.
Milwaukee had time to scout Jennings and the other picks they were considering thoroughly throughout the season in preparation for the 2009 draft, whereas the whole staff was only completely assembled in the weeks before the 2008 draft. That placed more significance on workouts leading up to the 2008 draft, an area that Alexander and Anthony were both able to thrive in. But the workouts are now just pieces of the draft puzzle the Bucks have been working on all season, leading up to the big day this year. Production will likely once again take a more significant role when the Bucks decide who will be wearing the green and red next season.
So on draft night this year, it seems like it would be out of the ordinary for Milwaukee to make a big splash by trying to find the next big thing on a whim. As for Patrick Patterson, Gordon Hayward, Xavier Henry and James Anderson? Well, they might want to start getting to know what Milwaukee’s like, just in case.