The draft is just five (!) days away, and boy do we have questions. Josiah and I each came up with three on our mind in the lead-up to the season two entry draft, and took a crack at trying to answer them.
Just like when we did this last year, this exercise is less about trying to predict what will happen (although there’s a bit of that here) and more about viewing the draft with a wide lens and perhaps trying to pick out some narratives and trends.
So without further ado, let’s get to it.
How many unretained players will be drafted?
Will Beverina: Let’s start with the question everyone has been asking basically since teams locked in their protected and retained players. There sit 49 unretained season one players in this draft pool, and I’d say maybe a handful are locks to be drafted again. The real meat of unretained players selected is going to be in those later rounds I think, where teams may opt to go with an experienced hand to help guide their team through the long season over some of the young guns in the pool. For a range, I’m going to say 10-12 will ultimately be drafted again, though trying to predict the draft is a crapshoot.
Josiah Cohen: A small number of unretained players have done enough to lock themselves into a draft spot, but the majority have to rely on the wilds of the 3rd and 4th rounds to get a spot. Consensus oscillates between a relatively high number and a relatively low number of unretained players getting drafted. It will all come down to how high of a priority comfort and league experience are for teams. To split the difference, though, I’ll say that about 15 unretained players will take slots in the 74 picks.
Do you feel more comfortable going into the draft with two picks or four?
JC: I feel more comfortable going into the draft with two picks, especially with a 1st/4th combo. There’s a real sense of constancy and confidence in having your team set for the most part already. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a level of uncertainty and weight that four picks hold. With the exception of rare playoff teams like the Raptors, teams with 3+ picks are really looking for something, and when you’re looking for something you’re at the whims of the draft. Drafts are by nature unpredictable; this is only the second-ever NBA 2K League draft, and the first with this format, so for now I’m siding with the devil I know rather than the one I don’t.
WB: Two picks is definitely the right answer here for the exact reasons you mentioned, Josiah. When you have four, or even FIVE picks if you’re the Mavs, there’s so much variance and a much higher possibility for you to get absolutely screwed. Hitting on one draft pick is hard, and if my math is correct here, hitting on four draft picks should be at least four times as hard. When you go into the draft with an almost complete roster already, you can come up with viable contingency plans as you watch things unfold. “Well okay, I didn’t get exactly what I wanted with my first pick, but we had a feeling this could happen and can move some guys around (on the court or with archetypes) that are already on the roster so we can make this work.” To play devil’s advocate, however, there is a certain excitement when there are a lot of picks to be made. A real, “what’s in the box?” kind of excitement. And there’s maybe something to be said for the increased chances you get on drafting a real diamond in the rough with one of your numerous picks.
How does the quality of this year’s draft class compare to last year’s?
WB: I’ll start this off by saying that no draft class will ever match season one’s class in terms of top-end talent. I’m talking about your Fabs and Ramos and Hotshots of the world. Those guys will forever be the best of the best in any class, in my opinion. But the season two class has a couple of things going for it: one, I’m assuming the combine process behind the scenes (the “in-depth analytics” and tracking and what have you) were fine-tuned and, hopefully, made better this year, and two, the increased size of the pool allowing teams to pick what they feel are the best players of the bunch. To me this means that while the season one pool had the cream of the crop, the season two pool could very well have a stronger middle to upper-middle tier of players available. There are some players in this pool who certainly could be a franchise cornerstone, but the potential complementary pieces available to both struggling and contending teams are more enticing in my opinion.
JC: This year’s draft class will determine its own quality. There are at least seven potential all-league players in this year’s class, and if there aren’t as many potential MVP candidates, that won’t be for lack of trying. But they’ll determine their quality in how they learn from the mistakes of last year’s class. One would hope that this year’s will be better, thanks to an improved qualification system and thanks to a new draft pool where not every player must be picked, but learning the lessons for which players last year had no playbook will be monumental. If players go in with an open mind and willingness to learn, this could be the draft pool that creates the most wide-ranging impact on the league for years to come.
Point guard or lock with your top pick?
JC: Point. Guard. Point guard. Just to be clear, point guard. Now, there are situations where I’d look to a lock over a point guard if I needed both: a team picking late in the first round shouldn’t reach for a point guard just to fill that spot, and more. But for the most part, guard play is so essential that, ceteris paribus, point guard has to take priority over every other position. We don’t know what the league build will be like, and how it will differ from last year, but success demands a thoughtful and capable ballhandler across all levels of basketball. Ten point guards went in last year’s first round; most are back in the league for season two, and yet we could still see 10 guards go in the first round. Sometimes, majority opinion wins out.
WB: It took me about 0.2 seconds to process and answer this question: point guard. I’m much more confident in throwing someone who has never played lock in their life on a lock than I am trying to make someone learn point guard mid-season. I believe it was FamousEnough who said he was convinced you have to be a DOG to play point guard in this year’s version of the game. Point guards make the world go ’round in NBA 2K, and dang, this year even secondary ball-handlers carry significant importance. And that’s not even mentioning how completely overpowered backcourt positions were in the combine this year, although that’s always subject to change once the league build rolls out. Obviously go with a lock if you have your backcourt figured out already, or if you’re at the top of the draft and going best player available, but point guard should be the way to go most times.
What’s the best strategy for using your fourth-round pick?
WB: You’ve got a few options with your fourth-round pick, I think. The first is to go for an unretained player who proved they’re willing to be the sixth man and do what’s necessary for the team. A guy like Nacho comes to mind if you’re looking for that. There’s also the option to go for a versatile player whom you know can play multiple positions for you. If season one showed anything, it’s that not many guys stick to the same position or archetype they were drafted for. Having that Swiss army knife available on the bench can be a comforting safety net for any coach. The third is to take a flier on a high-ceiling or raw prospect. Each is viable, and there’s always the good ol’ “best player available” route to take, but recent Twitter beef has reminded me that the more stable personalities you have in your locker room, the better. I’m a big fan of the idea of drafting someone late who you know won’t make a fuss and will be an active coach and player during practices and games. Mix in a non-toxic personality, and you have the perfect player to add to your highly talented roster, assuming you drafted well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of teams take this route come March 5.
JC: I think it depends on where you stood heading into the draft. Teams like the Knicks and 76ers, for example, have already established strong team cultures and are looking more for players to fit into their systems and locker rooms without disrupting what’s already been built. A team like the Mavs, however, will look at their fourth-rounder more opportunistically, since they need to fill four open starting roles and might well be able to find such a player with their final pick. In regards to the various types of players mentioned above, the prevailing trend seems likely to be consistency above anything. Teams are less likely to be adventurous with their fourth-round picks. In a certain sense, that’s very understandable, since one wants to err on the side of caution. But this might be the perfect year to take a flier on a talented, versatile player (certainly avoid toxicity, though), since there’s a midseason trade window and since every team was locked into having a fourth-round pick.
What is this draft going to teach us that last year’s draft didn’t?
JC: Hey, this is a good question. I think it will teach us several things. First among those is which managers know how to find talent and which merely pieced together players in the 102 last year. As I said before, the draft pool itself will teach us about its skill and more importantly its overall ability to transition to the league. But one unheralded lesson we’ll learn from this draft, I think, is the character of the players already established in the league. New players have come into the league before, but no league player has ever had to compete with a new person—a new teammate, a new competitor—being drafted specifically to play alongside them. How the season one players adjust will teach us a lot about the character, and thus the capabilities, of their team.
WB: This draft is going to be our first glimpse at how much teams have learned and whether they can make the right adjustments. Let’s face it, there were at least a few decision-makers in last year’s draft who didn’t know what they were doing yet, didn’t understand the game of NBA 2K yet, didn’t know the community yet. That can’t be an excuse now. Teams have wisened up at least on a surface level by hiring analysts, coaches, scouts and whatever else, or they’re at least confident that a year of experience under their belts is enough to improve this season. At any rate, this league is about adjustments, with the mid-season adjustments made by last year’s two Finals teams being pretty good evidence of that. Consider the season two draft as this semester’s first big exam for some of the top brass of the NBA 2K League.