How did we get here?
The NBA Draft is about hope. It's a chance at a new start for teams, and an opportunity for fans to talk themselves into players being able to address a team's need. The endless rumor cycle has fans unable to focus on their daily tasks for days. And this year, more than any other, was supposed to deliver.
I am, admittedly, inherently optimistic. I understand this, and I have to remind myself to temper expectations frequently. But as I walked into a friend's place beaming with joy, it felt justified. The stars were aligned. Jimmy Butler was available. Nerlens Noel was available. Khris Middleton and Greg Monroe were being discussed. The Sixers, Pelicans and Timberwolves were all interested in the services of Kris Dunn and were seemingly beginning an arm's race to land him. Hell, Thadeus Young - a very useful, above average NBA starter - was traded for the 20th pick and our second pick of the night was better than that.
The third pick came up and I purposely stayed off my phone. I didn't want to read what was happening from twitter or via text. I wanted to enjoy the moment "real time." Then the pick happened, and I can only remember a hand full of time's sports have let me so down.
It wasn't just a bad pick, it was the instant death of hope. Drafting Jaylen Brown meant you could throw all those players that had been rumored to be available right out the window. Danny Ainge took the guy he valued more than anyone else, and opted against trading back to do so.
There's this excerpt from the book "Money Ball" that always stuck with me, and frighteningly, it's become very top of mind since the Celtics selected Brown. It's a chapter that focuses on traditional baseballs approach to scouting. More specifically, how they'd overvalue non-baseball effecting traits - how a player looks, how he runs, who he dates, how well he fills out a pair of jeans, etc.:
One by one Billy takes the names of the players the old scouts have fallen in love with, and picks apart their flaws. The first time he does this an old scout protests.
"The guy's an athlete, Billy," the old scout says. "There's a lot of upside there."
He can't hit," says Billy.
"He's not that bad a hitter," says the old scout
Yeah, what happens when he doesn't know a fastball is coming?" says Billy
"He's a tools guy," says the old scout, defensively. The old scouts aren't built to argue, they are built to agree. They are part of a tightly woven close of former baseball players. The scout looks left and right for support. It doesn't arrive.
"But can he hit?" asks Billy.
"He can hit," says the old scout, unconvincingly.
Paul reads the player's college batting statistics. They contain a conspicuous lack of extra base hits and walks.
"My only question is," says billy, "if he's that good a hitter why doesn't he hit better?"
I have spent the past week reading about how wildly intelligent Jaylen Brown is, and how remarkable it is that he has such an NBA-ready body at nineteen years old. And today I'm forced to wonder if he' that smart and his body is that remarkable why can't he ball?
In a weak conference Jaylen Brown averaged just 14.3 points a game on 43% shooting and averaged more than five turnovers a game (compared to two assists). If he's so insanely intelligent, why can't the former chess captain figure out the algorithm for not giving the other team the ball five and a half times a game?
The NBA Draft will always be a gamble, and there's destined to be hits and misses at any spot. But what's most concerning is that it feels like it's this type of player, more than any other, who ends up being a bust. The, doesn't-exactly-have-a-position-but-he's-athletic-enough-and-will-figure-it-out Anthony Bennet's of the world. The countless, ya-but-what-if-he-develops-a-shot types that the Washington Wizards have drafted to play small forward over the past decade.
It isn't Danny Ainge's job to deliver hope. That doesn't mean it doesn't suck when he doesn't. Today was supposed to be a day of minor celebration, not one where super fans struggle to muster up the energy into talking ourselves into the player we selected with the #3 pick.
I guess, it could be worse: