BOZICH | ESPN's Chad Ford shares NBA Draft thoughts on UK, U of - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | ESPN's Chad Ford shares NBA Draft thoughts on UK, U of L, Calipari

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Chinanu Onuaku (right) appeared at the NBA Draft combine with U of L assistant coach Kenny Johnson. Chinanu Onuaku (right) appeared at the NBA Draft combine with U of L assistant coach Kenny Johnson.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Not all the news on Friday features the leadership at the University of Louisville

We are six days from the NBA Draft. ESPN made its NBA analyst Chad Ford available Friday for a conference call. He discussed guys who will be taken in the lottery as well as guys who might not be selected.

That includes the top local prospects. ESPN transcribed the entire conversation, more than 14,000 words. I’ve pulled the questions that concerned players from the University of Kentucky as well as the University of Louisville.

This is Ford’s take on UK’s Jamal Murray, Skal Labissiere, Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress as well as Damion Lee and Chinanu Onuaku from U of L.

Can you run me through the latest on the four Kentucky guys, Murray, Labissiere, Ulis and Poythress and especially any health concerns with Ulis that may have popped up late?

FORD: Yeah, Murray will go 3 to 7. He's got a pretty narrow range right now. He's in the mix literally with every single one of those teams with maybe the exception of the Suns. The Celtics are looking at him at three, Wolves are looking at him at 5, Pelicans like him at 6, and Denver even likes him at 7 as a nice backcourt made to Emmanuel Mudiay, and it's a little bit fluid there because he's battling guys that are in the same tier. All of them are very different at what they do, and I think it's going to come down more to team need than it is on necessarily ranking talent. I think as far as talent goes, Murray has the ability to be the best perimeter scorer in this draft. I think he's going to be a 20-point-per-game scorer in the NBA and one of the best shooters in this draft. Defensively I think the concerns are there.

Labissiere is a little bit harder. I put his range right now at about 7 to 13, so Denver at 7 being the high point, Phoenix at 13 being the low point. I think many of us have projected, and I think it's very accurate, that the Orlando Magic at 11 look like the most likely spot for him to land. His ability to shoot the ball, to stretch the floor, to protect the rim are elite. The question is does he know how to play basketball? Does he have a feel for the game? Does he have the toughness to play in the NBA? Those are all huge questions that when you get to that portion of the draft, I think because there aren't a lot of players left that are sure things, that most of those players are just rotation players now, you start to look at Skal and say, look, if Skal hits, he could be Channing Frye, he might even be better than Channing Frye, and if that's the case, he's worth gambling, even if it ends up being that he can't play and I think that's why I think you'll see Milwaukee at 10, Orlando at 11, Utah at 12 and Phoenix who now have a second first-round pick in the lottery, just go ahead and roll the dice and gamble. I think he's got a really safe range there. How he pans out as a player, man, that -- I really think anybody that says they know is guessing. I think so much of it is going to have to be about his maturity and his mental development and whether that can click because the skills are there.

As far as Ulis goes, teams are all over the board on him just because of his size. At 5'10", 150 pounds, there's not a lot of precedent for guys that size excelling in the NBA. And people point to Isiah Thomas, but Isiah Thomas is a good 30 pounds heavier than Ulis is, and he's more of a scoring, super athletic stocky guard and there is some precedent for guys like him, Nate Robinson, in that role succeeding in the NBA. Ulis is going to be -- he's going to be a bit of a trendsetter there. But he has elite court version. He is probably the best passing point guard in this draft, and I think that intrigues some people.

As far as the hip goes, I'm still trying to collect information on how big of an issue this is.

When you hear those medical reports, it's difficult to ascertain how serious these sorts of things are down the road because they go through these prospects with such a thorough look that any little thing that has happened in your entire life would show up. If you broke your arm in second grade, it would be there on the report, and there might be a certain level of concern about it, how it healed. If it's something small like his hips are tight, the muscles are tight, I'd say that's 80 percent of the NBA, these players struggle with hip tightness, calcification of the hip, things like that.

It could also go the other way. Kevon Looney last year slipped all the way down to 30 last year because there was a concern he would have to have hip surgery, which obviously turned out to be true and he's had it this off-season, and that's obviously a more serious concern.

The feedback I've gotten from teams is they're aware that there's an issue, and there's varying degrees, depending on doctors, conservative nature of things, on how concerned teams are, so it's really hard to pick where Ulis goes. But I think he either goes somewhere in the 20s or he ends up going somewhere in the 30s. But I think he's going to get drafted, and I don't think it's going to torpedo his draft stock.

Poythress, I think he's a possible second-round pick because he's an elite athlete and I think he can defend multiple positions and I actually hear he shot it pretty well in workouts, and that's what he projects as a guy coming off the bench, playing great defense and hitting some spot-up threes. If he can just do that I think he has a long career in the NBA. It's the question about will he be a great three-point shooter that teams are concerned about. He shot it really well his freshman year, kind of went down from there, but I see -- I watched him work out several times in LA. I think I see the potential there for him to become that, and you can't teach his athleticism.

Q. I'm sure you're aware of John Calipari recommended, if that's the right word, that Jamal Murray be the first overall pick. How do you think that recommendation went over? How much influence do college coaches have in these kind of decisions?

FORD: None. And he's not going to be the No. 1 pick, and I don't think it carried that much weight. What John Calipari does is have huge influence all season because of the way that he plays his players, the system he runs them in, the access that he gives the NBA teams. He does help players get drafted. There's no question if my kid was an elite prospect, I would send him to Kentucky because I think he's got the best -- that would give him the best shot to go high in the draft.

You look at the terrible season that Skal had and the fact that he's going to be a lottery pick is amazing, and that has a lot to do with John Calipari. But going to a team and saying, you know what, you ought to take him over Ben Simmons, I don't think that that's going to carry a lot of sway.

As far as Jamal goes, I don't think anybody is actually going to debate John, that if you're talking offensively, this kid is special. He can shoot it. He can score off the bounce. He has a scorer's mentality and instinct, and he's not afraid to do his job, and that's a huge plus.

But defensively there are going to be issues in the NBA. There were issues in college, and I think those issues will be compounded in the NBA, and I think that may hurt him via a Kris Dunn, for example, if you're trying to compare those two guys together or Marquese Chriss or Jaylen Brown, all those guys, very elite athletes, and just that questioning, does Jamal Murray have the lateral quickness? I think he's okay vertically and explosively, but does he have the lateral quickness to defend his position in the NBA? And I know that's what every general manager from 3 to 8 is trying to figure out right now, how good is his offense versus his defense?

Q. And you mentioned Skal and questions might be, does he know how to play basketball? Does he have the toughness? How are those kind of questions answered prior to getting him out on the floor in the NBA environment?

FORD: Well, they're not figuring them out in workouts because Skal is doing one-on-none workouts at all of the teams, so they're not able to put him on the floor with other players and see how he responds to physicality or toughness or whatever. So they really have two options. One is that a lot of teams design these one-on-none workouts to extremely fatigue and stress players. They're constantly throwing things at them and trying to confuse them, trying to wear them down, trying to get them tired, and then they want to see what is their resiliency, right, how do they respond to getting thrown a bunch of things at them that maybe they're not expecting and being asked sometimes to do hard things that they're going to fail at and then being asked to do it again and again, and some players respond to that and really take up the challenge, and other players, believe it or not, quit. You'd be shocked. Players quit, stop workouts. That's not a good sign. You know, they're really bad signs.

I'm not saying Skal has quit anything. I don't have any evidence that he has. I'm just saying that's one way to test it. Most teams are using forms of psychological evaluation now. They have team sports psychologists, as well, as tests that they give players to try to ascertain the makeup, the mental makeup of players. It's become a much, much bigger part of the draft process. They now have a database that goes back seven, eight years, so they're able to start to compare players with similar emotional, psychological profiles to see how they ended up handling adversity in the NBA, and as more and more data begins to come in, I think it's going to become a more and more important tool. So that's the other thing they're scouring over is what do their sports psychologists say in their one-on-one interviews with him, how did he do on the test and trying to figure out -- after maybe health. I think health is probably the most important thing when we're talking about Valentine, like you have to be healthy to be a star in the NBA. You just have to be. I think mentality might be the next thing. You know, one of the things that we know now is that Draymond Green like tested off the charts on all of those mental and psychological profiles, and should have been a signal to NBA teams that this guy was going to figure it out, so he was so competitive, that he was so intelligent, all these things, he was going to figure it out.

I do think this is becoming a bigger and bigger deal because you can have all the physical tools in the world, but if you don't have a feel for the game and you're not going to be a hard worker and if you're not competitive, it's not going to translate onto the court.

Q. I just wanted to ask you, you touched on him a little bit, about Chinanu Onuaku and maybe the impact of the procedure he had right after the combine, on his stock, and I also wanted to get your thoughts on Damion Lee while I have you.

FORD: I think it's a concern whenever you talk about a heart condition, and you see Sean Rooks just pass away from that, and a history of that with NBA players, it's always a concern. I do think that teams are pretty confident that in some ways it was really great that Onuaku had declared for the draft, got to the combine, had that issue identified and was able to go through a surgical procedure that should help him in the future, and so I think that the read that I'm getting from most teams is that they're comfortable that the procedure that he had should make him fine and be able to play basketball for a long time.

But there's always, with those risks, right, whenever you introduce risk into the picture, it destabilizes your draft stock a little bit. And when players don't have any of those risks, I think the way he played at the combine, he would be a first-round pick for sure. I think he's a bubble first-rounder now. I do think that you'll see teams like the Spurs and the Warriors, for example, and Toronto at 27, that will give him a real look because of his age and just what he's able to do physically, and if he doesn't go there, he's going to get gobbled up in the first five or six picks in the second round, because then the risk is so much more minimized, and I think you're just going to see an appeal there that I think will help him.

As far as Damion Lee goes, I think it's unlikely that he gets drafted, and I think that the most likely scenario is that he gets an invite to a Summer League team, tries to make the team there, and if he can't do that, then he goes either to the D-League or he goes over to Europe. I think he can have a long career in Europe. I think that's probably the best way for him to go.

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