The NBA Draft is one of my favorite sports things in the whole world. Heck, it’s one of my favorite thing things in the whole world. The fact that Jerian Grant is going in the first round and might even be a lottery pick is going to make the evening of June 25 a special one. Grant has entertained, confounded and delighted me over the last four years and hearing his name called by Adam Silver will be a special moment.
But that is not enough.
Yes, this is greed, and yes, this is probably unnecessary, but here’s my question: Why wouldn’t you draft Pat Connaughton? And why wouldn’t you maybe draft Pat Connaughton at the end of the first round?
We can put to rest any concerns about athleticism. Mr. Connaughton, your rebuttal?
"Deceptively" athletic huh?? (As Chris Carter and the NFL prime time cast would say..) C'MON MAN!! ✈️ pic.twitter.com/KMzQ3Vngfh
— Pat Connaughton (@PlanetPat24) May 15, 2015
Okay, but could you do that in a game?
Yeah, well once is cool but what about-
The response is noted. The idea Connaughton doesn’t have the athleticism to hang in the NBA is silly. For the last two seasons he’s guarded the best wings in the ACC and done a perfectly capable job. This year he spent most of his time guarding freaking power forwards. Against the Monstars of Kentucky he had nine rebounds, and led Notre Dame in rebounding for the season. He is 6’4" without shoes, but has a wingspan over 6’8" and that 44" vertical that certainly helps the cause.
On offense Connaughton isn’t going to be much of a creator. This season his assist rate was only 7.6%, compared to 33.6 for Grant, 15.9 for Demetrius Jackson and 9.2 for Steve Vasturia. He’s not going to create his own shot and he’s probably not going to do much to create someone else a shot, but I think that’s fine. What Connaughton can do is finish, either at the rim (please note above) or from three, where he shot 42% on 220 attempts in 2014-15. This is a bump from last season’s 37.8% on 201 attempts, but not a crazy one. His shooting stroke was on display at the combine 5-on-5 games and it seems like that’s a very translatable skill. And, honestly, there aren’t that many guys out there shooting well unassisted (your new MVP one of the big exceptions):
If your knock against Connaughton is that he’s not fully committed to basketball, I don’t know what to tell you other than you should pay closer attention. He could have skipped his senior season and gone to the pros. He could have skipped all of this draft nonsense and reported to the Orioles minor league camp. (He’s a top 20 prospect for them.) Every time anyone asks him what he wants to do, he says he wants to play basketball. If your thinking is "Well, maybe he’ll bail at the first time of adversity," I don’t even know what to say. Just read this profile and let me know where it hints that Connaughton might not be interested in pursuing his hoops dream for the long haul.
The idea that Connaughton may have difficulty finding a position to defend - the power forwards are going to be too big and athletic, the wings too quick - is interesting, but being acceptable at defense in the NBA is about having a baseline level of athleticism and size (check), a commitment to giving a crap about it (check) and intelligence to understand coverage schemes so you don't screw over your teammates on rotations or pick-and-rolls (check). "I'm not sure what position he plays" or "He might be an inch or two too short" is how you end up with Draymond Green going in the second round and then earning a max deal a few years later. Just read this Green scouting report:
Weaknesses: One of those great college basketball players that doesn't excel in any one particular area ... Tweener, undersized for a physical forward yet lacks the athleticism of a wing ... Lacks explosiveness, agility, elusiveness and quickness off the bounce ... Under the rim finisher, which is troublesome when you consider his size ... Not a threat to shake his defender off the dribble ... Minimal upside ... Vulnerable defending quicker guards on the perimeter ... Could stand to drop some weight ...
I am not saying Green and Connaughton are the same player - Green plays a different position and has him by a few inches on wingspan and a little over an inch on height - or that Connaughton has anywhere near the upside of Dray, but if your problem with selecting a player is a lack of vision, get more creative.
The one legitimate knock outside of the creation ability is his age, but we’re not talking about a lottery pick, where that matters more. We’re talking about a potential sturdy rotation player in the late first or second round, the kind of guy who can step right into your system. If you are the Cavaliers, Warriors or Spurs, why in the world would you not just take Connaughton with your first rounder? I guess you could take a swing at a higher-upside prospect, but check out the bottom of the first round in recent drafts and let me know how often that works out. This is a guy that can immediately step in, space the floor, play defense, rebound and generally make life easier for your stars.
In an interview with Tom Noie, Connaughton compared himself to Wesley Matthews, the Marquette alum who went undrafted but eventually found himself as a key part of the Portland rotation. That story also contains an important anecdote about the perception Connaughton is working to overcome. In a workout for the Spurs prior to the combine, they asked him to finish the session by dunking. Like, they just wanted to see if he could dunk? The Spurs are one of the smartest franchises in all of sports and even they didn’t realize the capabilities of the person in front of them. A lot of considerably dumber franchises still need to overcome this, although the combine performance is certainly going to help.
So that is my screed: I need people to tell me not just why Pat Connaughton shouldn’t be drafted, but why he’s not a smart pick late in the first round. Thankfully, there is at least one mock that has him going there (27th to the Lakers), but I’d like to see some more of this over the coming month. And considering how well I think Connaughton will do in the workouts and interviews over the next few weeks, that just might happen, especially if we can create a little extra buzz around the water cooler.