OK, NBA draft. I give up. You win.
For all the faux-confusion I frequently direct at the NBA draft -- especially around Seebpomd time -- typically, I get where NBA general managers are coming from. (Except Timberwolves GM David Kahn. Kahhhnnn!) You're drafting players on potential. You're filling needs. You're stockpiling for the future. All of these things aren't mutually exclusive to selecting productive, successful college basketball players, but those interests don't always align. I get it.
Still, sometimes you look at a mock draft board, and you see Iman Shumpert being projected as a first-round pick ... and the cognitive dissonance is enough to make you dizzy. What on Earth is going on here? Iman Shumpert? Are we talking about the same player?
As of this writing -- which is just a few hours before what should be a wild and wacky NBA draft; no one really seems to know what's going to happen -- ESPN Insider Chad Ford's mock draft lists Shumpert as the No. 20 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, a pick that belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Kahhhhnnn!)
That's momentous news for Shumpert, who seemed certain to go low in the second round (or even undrafted) when he decided to forgo his senior season at Georgia Tech and enter the draft this spring. It's also difficult to fathom. Ford's reasoning (read: the reasoning of the NBA general managers who Chad talks to about these things) goes like this:
The Wolves added some serious offensive pop with the arrival of Ricky Rubio and, in this mock, Derrick Williams. Shumpert would give them a major defensive presence in their backcourt. While he's not the most offensively gifted player in the draft, his ability to guard both backcourt positions, combined with his elite athleticism, make him an interesting choice at No. 20.
I suppose I can understand that reasoning. Shumpert is a solid, versatile defender. Fair enough.
Still, there are a handful of other solid, versatile defenders out there, and they happen to be players -- Nolan Smith, Shelvin Mack, Tyler Honeycutt, Jimmy Butler, E'Twaun Moore, even DeAndre Liggins! -- who are also a) able to play offense and b) likely to be available in the second round, via trade, or as undrafted free agents. All of those players experienced much greater levels of success in college than Shumpert did. All of them actively made their teams better, which is not something we could always say for the Georgia Tech guard.
In his defense, Shumpert did improve during his junior season, and his 25.7 percent assist rate was encouraging. But it's hard not to feel like Shumpert is the beneficiary of that age-old draft red herring: workouts. Shumpert tested well at the draft combine. Scouts were impressed by his athleticism in individual sessions. "Hey, he jumps higher than we thought. Maybe he's not so bad after all!"
The problem -- and college hoops fans already know this -- is that Shumpert has always been a great athlete. He's always "tested well." Between the lines, though, he's never played up to potential. He's never shot the ball well. He's never been an effective distributor. With Shumpert at the helm -- and this isn't entirely his fault; Paul Hewitt shares this blame, too -- Georgia Tech's offense has often looked downright lost.
At the risk of sounding like an old, stodgy baseball writer, winning does matter. Shumpert's career record at Georgia Tech? 48-50. Twenty-three of those wins came in 2010, when Derrick Favors, last year's No. 3 overall pick, patrolled the paint next to 2010 second round pick Gani Lawal. And the Yellow Jackets were still pretty mediocre.
Anyway, this isn't meant to pick on Shumpert. Honestly, if he goes first round tonight, good for him. No, this post is for the NBA scouts and general managers who overlook three years of reliable data and game footage and hastily ignore it for the chance to give an elite athlete a guaranteed first-round contract. It's as valid here as it is when a team selects a foreign prospect thanks to a few exciting shots over the outstretched arms of steel folding chairs. Yes, this is a weak draft, and yes, there's something to be said for filling a need ... but really? Iman Shumpert? A first round pick?
Somebody hold me. The NBA draft is always wild, and the Timberwolves are the Timberwolves (Kahhhhhnn!) but if Shumpert is a first round pick, then tonight can't possibly be anything less than totally insane. Frankly, I can't wait.