If you’re interested in the NBA, you probably know Chad Ford. He’s ESPN’s go-to source for all draft-related info, the man behind the mock drafts. This weekend Ford did Vol fans a solid and took some time from his busy schedule — draft day is June 26 — to focus on UT’s two potential draftees. What will the future hold for Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae? Here are Ford’s thoughts, via an email response to the News Sentinel:
* When Stokes announced he would forego his senior season to enter the draft, he was projected to go in the second round — if it all. Now he’s flirting with the first round according to your mock drafts. Is there a chance he goes round one? What has changed since he declared that boosted his chances?
Ford: I think there’s a good chance Jarnell goes in the first round. He brings a premium NBA skill to the table (rebounding) that typically translates from the NCAA to the NBA. He’s also a darling of the analytics crowd. Most of them have him rated as a Top 10 pick.
* If you can, take me into the head of an NBA executive. Why do I draft Stokes? Why do I pass on him?
Ford: He’s an elite rebounder for his position. That’s the big plus in his favor. He has long arms which off-set his lack of ideal height for the position. He has the strength to carve out position in the paint. He’s actually pretty athletic and would be even more so if he lost some weight. He’s also younger than most of the players in his class which is a good thing when it comes to the draft. If teams pass on him it’s because he’s not yet an elite scorer, he doesn’t have elite size or athletic ability for his position and he’s struggled with conditioning issues in the past.
* You have mentioned in your ESPN chats that NBA folks who are high on analytics are high on Stokes. Can you elaborate on why he appeals to the number lovers?
Ford: His rebounding rate is the thing that sets him apart. There’s a high correlation for players his age that rebound as well as he does.
*We often hear NBA prospects compared to current and former NBA players, both in how they play and how they were able to get into the league and stay there. Name a player(s) that fit that description for Stokes. Who does he remind you of? Whose footsteps should he try to follow?
Ford: Think Paul Millsap. That’s the NBA comparison I hear most often for him.
*While Stokes seems to have helped his chances of being drafted, McRae has fallen off most draft boards. Do you foresee McRae’s name being called? If not, what held him back?
Ford: He’s a bubble second rounder. Like a lot of very good college players — he just doesn’t do any one thing to set himself apart from a host of other very good college players. If he was a better shooter, or a more explosive athlete, or if he racked up more assists or steals. He’s pretty average just about everywhere.
*If McRae goes undrafted, do you like his chances of making a team as an undrafted free agent?
Ford: It’s so hard. He’ll get a look in Summer League and probably make a training camp squad. But the odds are against him. I expect he’ll be in the D-League or Europe next year, even if he squeaks into the second round.
*McRae is 23 years old. Will that hold him back?
Ford: Age is a turn-off. It’s an analytics thing. But the basic idea is that if it takes you until you are 22 or 23 to be great in college, you have an inherent advantage because of your age. It doesn’t mean you suddenly became a better basketball player. It means you were just more experienced than everyone else. Obviously that advantage immediately disappears when you go to the NBA.