NBA Draft: Chemistry Tests Could Be the Real Challenge

Kevin Durant (left) brings the star power, but role players like Christian Braun (right) help win titles.

Getty Kevin Durant (left) brings the star power, but role players like Christian Braun (right) help win titles.

It’s a pretty fair bet that NBA teams will make their draft picks Thursday night mainly on exhibited skill and measurables, feeling they can then mold the players to fit the needs of the collective.

“The problem is, that’s not how these kids have been brought up in the game,” said one scout who figures prominently in his team’s draft preparation. “You still get intrigued by what a guy can do physically, but we all know it’s how guys understand the game and understand winning that make you a great player and make you a great team. But that’s hard to judge out here before a draft.

“There’s a lot of guys that learn how to play out of their bag, but they don’t ever learn how to play basketball,” he said. “Guys have to learn how to make the right decisions and make plays as a team, because that’s what people are looking for. That’s what wins. But too many guys want to show what’s in their bag, and the problem is you’re showing us the exact opposite of what we want to see.

“Chemistry is a very ephemeral thing. You know it when you have it; you’re not sure how you got it. You know it when you don’t have it, and you don’t know where it is or where it went.”

Suns Must Create Chemistry From Nothing

Bringing the matter into current NBA roster light, one league executive pointed to Phoenix, where last season’s acquisition of Kevin Durant and the still-being-completed deal for Bradley Beal leave some chemical questions.

“They’ve got all the scoring you could want, and I think those guys (Durant, Beal, Devin Booker) are past the point where they’re focused on their personal numbers,” he said. “But you’ve got to be able to fit in around them and do the dirty work every night. (Deandre) Ayton should be one of those guys, but is he? You traded one away on (Mikal) Bridges, but you had to give him up to get Durant.

“Now Phoenix has to find a way to surround their stars and fill in the chemistry.”

Nuggets’ Chemistry an Example for All

Another front office source pointed to the Nuggets — fast becoming the most popular example of all that is good and right with basketball — to show the importance of role players and even stars who know how to fit.

“Look at how important Bruce Brown and Christian Braun were to them, a second-round pick and a rookie,” he said. “Now, it definitely helps when your best player (Nikola Jokic) is the most team-oriented star in the game, but they won because they had guys who were trying to do their job, not show you all the things they could do.

“I get it with guys in the pre-draft process and coming into the league. They want to let you know all the stuff they have. But in almost every case, they’re going to be asked to play a lot more defined role than they did in college or wherever they were before this. They’re not going to be asked to carry a team here; that’s for just the elite guys.”

That point may be getting across to players projected for the latter portions of this draft. One personnel man told Heavy that the economics are coming into play for those beyond the first round.

“No question, everyone wants to get into the first round and that guaranteed money,” he said. “But when you see some of the way these guys have changed from college, you realize someone’s gotten in their ear. Everybody hustles in the workouts — well, most everybody — but I’m seeing more guys come in focused on showing you their defense and movement.

“I think a lot of these guys realize what’s at stake for them. It’s the difference between getting taken in the second round and showing you can play a role or not getting picked and having to go overseas, where you can get lost after a couple of years.”


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