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Why I Write About the NBA Draft
A personal, heartfelt, and probably overly long story about why I write about the NBA Draft.
I wanted to start this piece by being brutally honest about myself. Many of you might be turned off by the following sentence, and some of you may even declare me a fraud or a hack (even though I hope that at least a few of you relate to my story), but I feel like I cannot truly begin discussing my journey of becoming a basketball writer covering the NBA Draft without it.
I have never played a season of organized basketball in my life.
I was always short as a kid, so I doubt that I would have been a good player anyway. I knew how to play well enough to not embarrass myself in pickup ball, but that was about it.
In any case, baseball was my first love. I loved the smell of the freshly cut grass, the feel of a high pop fly thudding safely into my glove, and the resounding, immensely satisfying, and unique sound of a bat on a barreled baseball. I remember inventing games of trading card baseball with my younger brother, making up odds of each hit and each strikeout through some basis that was at least slightly rooted in math, and sitting with packs of those cards for hours.
I remember the first time I read Moneyball by Michael Lewis, and I remember being transfixed by the analytical stories of understanding the deeper meanings behind the numbers and the beautifully conveyed human stories of the 2002 Oakland A’s in equal measure. My father bought himself a copy of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract shortly afterward, which quickly became our copy, and I tore through that gigantic and wonderful tome faster than I had read nearly anything else in my life. I still have the tattered old copy of that masterful Bill James book that my father bought, well-worn and well-loved, sitting on my bookshelf in Sacramento today.
I didn’t play baseball after high school; I was a pretty decent outfielder and singles hitter, but I was nowhere near good enough to play at the college level. I had always loved playing the sport, and I had always awaited every opportunity to go to Yankee Stadium with my dad and my brother with bated breath. I followed the playoffs raptly for as long as I was allowed to watch before I had to go to bed. I will never forget the moment when my seven-year-old heart broke watching my beloved hometown New York Yankees lose Game Seven of the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks on November 4th, 2001, on a TV set in a hotel, far from home and yet still feeling so deeply tied to my home city in that particular moment in time.
Still, there came a moment, right before I graduated high school, when I realized something important. I loved playing baseball, and I loved going to games. I loved watching playoff games, even when they broke my heart, and I loved following the Yankees online throughout the season.
There was only one problem.
I didn’t enjoy watching most regular-season games on TV.
That’s not to say that I still didn’t love watching baseball when it was a close game, nor that I didn’t still care about my favorite team. The Yankees were my first sports love, after all. Yankee fandom was ingrained in me from when I was four years old. I was taken to a baseball game by my grandmother, a Cincinnati native and long-time Cincinnati Reds season ticket holder, at Shea Stadium between the Reds and the New York Mets. I knew that I didn’t root for one New York team, so I had to root for the other one instead.
In terms of baseball fandom, I never had a chance about which teams I chose. Yankees fandom and Reds fandom were stuck with me for life. It was exactly half-and-half between independence and inheritance.
Plus, being a Yankee fan was always much more fun than being a Mets fan anyway (shout-outs to Albert Ghim and Nathan Grubel, and my apologies to my dear friend and Mets fan Max).
In any case, by the time I was reaching the end of high school and getting ready for college, there was an anxious itch in me to find a new sport to love. I had started to waver on baseball, and football was out for me after I had a really bad concussion in the tenth grade while playing what was, in theory, a casual game. I had played soccer/association football in middle school, but I had never gotten into it on more than a casual level. Hockey could have been an option for me, but my newfound concussion-phobia would have made that difficult as well.
That was when I fell in love with basketball.
I fell in love with the earth-shattering dunks and seemingly impossible acrobatic layups. I fell in love with the silky-smooth, effortless long-range bombs from the game’s premier shooters. I fell in love with the hard-nosed, gritty defenders, and I fell in love with the beautiful harmony of five players operating as one unit on critical defensive possessions.
Basketball had never really interested me as a kid, so I had no idea of what I’d really been missing. I’d played pickup basketball in school before, and even had occasional one-on-one battles against my (much taller) younger brother when that was the available sport. I’d gone to a couple of school basketball games, but none of them really gripped me as much as a nail-biter of a baseball game ever had. That was about to change.
I started scouring the Internet for basketball highlights, desperate to catch up on what I had missed. I watched dunk highlight tapes, three-point contests and All-Star Games, buzzer-beater compilations, and any snippets I could find online of basketball games from earlier eras. I read basketball books and articles, hoping to strengthen my newfound bond with the sport. I wanted to know the history of basketball, the meaning behind the statistics, and the pace of play, at least as well as I had grown to know those things about baseball.
In short, I was hooked.
I decided immediately that I could not be a New York Knicks fan. I had enough childhood compatriots who had grown up in a painful relationship with the Knicks to know that I would really struggle to root for them. Instead, I went away from my New York roots and went to the Cincinnati side of my family. The team that was now known as the Sacramento Kings had once been the Cincinnati Royals, and I had inherited another sports team.
If only they didn’t have an even more tortured history than the New York Knicks. Alas, it was too late by that point anyway.
Plus, I had been a Yankees fan since I was four years old. It was kind of time to balance the scales.
I made sure that I got to the Sacramento Kings in my Career mode on my freshly purchased copy of NBA 2K11. I consumed all of the highlight tapes of DeMarcus Cousins that I could find on YouTube, and I began to hope fervently that Tyreke Evans would develop a more consistent three-point shot.
To my shock and wonder, I found out about Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings point guard and last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, who was somehow 5’9” just like me and yet had made it to the NBA anyway. He was quick, feisty, had a smooth lefty jump shot and a devastating handle, could get to his spots at will, and somehow found a way to score among the trees in the NBA in a way that I had barely managed to do against my younger brother.
I think it’s safe to say that I’d found my favorite NBA player of all time.
To be honest, even now, more than a decade after I first started following the sport, I doubt that another player will ever mean as much to me as Isaiah Thomas did in the early days of my fandom. I tried to stay away from the GOAT debates, even though I had a nagging feeling that both LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar deserved more of a role in that debate for the crown with Michael Jordan than many others believed.
Isaiah Thomas becoming my favorite player of all time, though? That was never a debate. I was overjoyed when he worked his way into the starting lineup in his rookie year, and I was over the moon when he averaged 20.3 points per game in the 2013-14 season. I was heartbroken by sports again when the Kings traded him away that summer, which sadly wouldn’t be the last time that the Kings broke my heart with a trade. I was ecstatic when he later made All-Star teams and even an All-NBA team with the Boston Celtics. Despite my New York-born lifelong aversion to Boston sports, I could not and would never stop cheering for Isaiah Thomas wherever he went, and I cheer for him to this day.
The start of my college experience is when the story of my basketball fandom leaves the realm of the somewhat/vaguely normal and veers into a bit of the ridiculous.
I started college in 2012 with very little knowledge about where I wanted to go in life and who I wanted to be. The one thing that I was sort of sure of, though, was that I was a pretty good singer. I tried out for many different college singing groups, looking for a community.
I was one of the two basses in my class who were invited into the group I joined during my first year. The other bass who joined the group was a funny, goofy, chill, almost stereotypically Californian, brilliant young man named Drew.
Drew was a huge basketball fan as well. As it turns out, he had grown up playing and watching the sport in the city of Sacramento, California.
He was a lifelong fan of the Sacramento Kings.
It was hard not to feel at least a little bit of a touch of fate over anything basketball-related that happened in my life after that.
I soon felt like I should pick up a second team in basketball, just like I had in baseball. The Brooklyn Nets had just moved to my hometown, and they were in the Eastern Conference. I had a Western Conference basketball team, an American League baseball team, and a National League baseball game.
My sports fandom had begun with baseball, with two teams binding me to the game—a family team, and a team that I chose. Why not do the same for basketball?
The Brooklyn Nets, of course, had once been the New Jersey Nets, and they were my friend Max’s favorite basketball team. Max joined our singing group the year after me, another Tri-State area kid who loved sports. We quickly bonded over that origin, and our mini-baseball rivalry, among many other things. Another tie of friendship and a shared love of a sports team now bound me to the game of basketball.
It has now been more than six years since I first started writing about the game professionally, ever since the day when the wonderful Joseph “Joey” Mamone over at Hashtag Basketball (to whom I am forever indebted) gave me a chance to write game recaps about the Brooklyn Nets in March of 2016.
I did my best to be available, be a good writer, and take the task as seriously as possible. I knew that I had a lot to make up for, given that I had never played the game at more than a basic level, so I tried to learn what I could even more fervently than I had before. I felt as if I had to start by trying to understand the growing analytics movement in basketball. I wanted to emulate the beginning of my love of sports writing and do what I could to learn how the numbers affected basketball instead of baseball. I stumbled a few times along the way, but I began to figure it out as I continued to write. Over time, I grew more confident in what I had seen on film for those game recaps. I began to write about more than just the numbers, as best as I could.
I started to grow not just as a writer, but as a basketball writer. I began writing feature-length articles for Hashtag Basketball, instead of just recaps. I applied to write for two other websites, Nets Republic and HoopsHabit, and received warm welcomes and great support for my writing from Joe at Nets Republic and Michael and Gerald at HoopsHabit.
I took on a stint as an editor for Hashtag Basketball in the second year after I started writing, and I started to cover multiple teams on the written side and on the editing side. I also started to host a podcast for that website called the NBA Deep Dives Podcast.
The first guest on that podcast was Jordan, someone else who happens to live in the Sacramento area and someone else with whom I’d managed to forge a connection through basketball (shout-out to Jordan; hope to catch you at a Kings game next season). The guest on the 18th episode of that podcast was Charles, who played a massive role in how I ended up writing for Nets Republic.
The guest for the 41st episode of that podcast was Tyler Metcalf.
As some of you might know, he’s been on the show a few times since then.
I was already interested in NBA Draft coverage when draft season came around. I was a Kings fan, after all. Still, I didn’t really have much of an avenue to pursue that possibility full-time. I didn’t cover the draft for HoopsHabit, and I didn’t really cover the draft for Nets Republic very often outside of the month or so before the draft. Hashtag Basketball had an NBA Draft section, which was great news for me. The bad news for me was that the dramatically more talented and aforementioned Tyler Metcalf already held the role of Hashtag Basketball draft guru.
So, I continued to cover the sport that I had grown to love. And I continued to wait for my chance.
I’m sure that at least a few of you who decided to read this article are a bit confused (maybe even annoyed) about why I’ve rambled on about my life story over thousands of words before actually getting to the subject matter that the title of the article might have suggested that I would discuss.
Why do I write about the NBA Draft?
Answering any question that covers one’s goals and dreams in life is almost always too complicated to be boiled down into one simple word. Still, I suppose that there is one word for me that encapsulates why I write about the draft more than any other.
I write about the NBA Draft because of hope.
I write about the draft because I hope to see something special when diving into a prospect’s film early in the day, or later at night than I might want to admit. I write about the draft because I want to learn more about the remarkably talented human beings who had the ability and drive to make it to the point in their lives where they could have a chance to fulfill their childhood dreams and become NBA players. I want every non-shooting player to develop a jump shot, and I want every prospect who struggles on defense to figure it out. I hope that every inefficient shot-creator finds ways to get to their best shots more often so that they could cut a few of the dicier attempts out of their games. I want to dive deep into the basic box score numbers and the more advanced statistics to find reasons to be encouraged about a prospect. I fervently hope that every player taken with the last pick in the draft becomes the next Isaiah Thomas, even if none of them will ever replace him in my heart and mind.
I have to temper my evaluations and try to be reasonable; after all, I want to try to do the job right.
But above everything else, I never want to let go of that kernel of hope.
I never quite became the starting left fielder for the New York Yankees like I wanted to when I was a kid, but I could watch on Draft Night in 2018 as Mikal Bridges was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers, the team for which his mother worked. I could find myself near tears of empathy and frustration when he was traded to the Phoenix Suns that very evening, just as I had wept actual tears when I first experienced sports heartbreak in a hotel in Shawnee, Pennsylvania, as I watched the Yankees fall apart in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series.
The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat.
Aren’t those feelings so much of why we love sports?
One of the easiest choices that I’ve ever made in my entire life came along in October of 2021. Tyler Metcalf, my long-time podcast co-host and Hashtag Basketball colleague, told me about a new draft venture that he had recently joined. They were about to start a Substack page about NBA Draft coverage, and they were looking for a few more people. Would I want to consider joining up with them?
I tried to be somewhat professional about my response; I think I took a few minutes to compose a message rather than just sending an enthusiastic “Yes” reply immediately. If you haven’t noticed by this point in the piece, even my editing background can’t stop me from writing maybe a bit more than I should when it’s about something that’s important to me.
But I knew what I was going to say long before I managed to put together a more composed answer.
I was in. I wanted to be a part of the crew.
We decided on the name No Ceilings shortly after I joined the group. The first articles on the website went up, and I became an all-in Draft Sicko. I watched prospect film more often than NBA film for the first time in my basketball writing career, began to pivot away from NBA coverage, and wrote consistently about the NBA Draft throughout the season for the first time in my writing career as well.
Starting with my first solo No Ceilings article about Marcus Bagley on November 4th, 2021, I have continued to write Sleeper Deep Dives articles every two weeks since (barring this piece, that is), finding prospects whose potential piqued my interest and filled me with hope for the kind of player they could one day become.
It has been a wonderful and deeply fulfilling experience.
I could focus more fully than I ever had before on exploring my likes and dislikes when it came to draft prospects. I pushed for Nikola Jovic and his shooting and playmaking potential time and time again in No Ceilings Mock Drafts. I grew turned off by Bryce McGowens and his terrible shot selection to start the season. I listened to and learned from my No Ceilings colleagues, most of whom have far more experience than me. I revised my position on Bryce McGowens largely because of one small fraction of that advice, and I did my best to try to learn from my other mistakes. I learned from worrying too much about Jayson Tatum’s college propensity for inefficient mid-range shots and not focusing nearly enough on his defensive potential and his jump-shot mechanics. I learned from fully believing in Jacob Evans and buying in to his basketball IQ and shot, and not worrying enough about his relatively limited athleticism in comparison to his peer group of giant-sized, ridiculously gifted athletes. I even learned from Bryce McGowens.
And through it all, I kept finding new kernels of hope to convince me to always keep trying to learn and improve. I fully admit that I still have a lot left to learn, and I have a lot of areas for improvement myself. Still, I know that this matters enough to me that I will do my best to learn and grow, and I hope to get better at this in the future. It takes time, after all.
I took on an editing role at No Ceilings in January of 2022, eventually being named Editor-in-Chief as well as continuing to write every other week. I might have learned a decent amount from writing my own articles, but I learned far more from editing the work of my colleagues and discussing all things NBA Draft (most of the time, at least) in the No Ceilings Group Chat.
I got to learn about the life around the professional game and more about how to get really hyped about prospects from Tyler Rucker. I learned more about how to evaluate shooting from Corey Tulaba. I learned more about how to have fun with my work from Albert Ghim. I learned more about re-evaluating my blind spots (and working through some of my aversion to inefficient chuckers with potential) from Nathan Grubel, he of the original McGowens belief. I learned a lot about how to better use film clips in my articles from Alex Amarante. I learned so much about how to evaluate under-the-radar prospects from Evan Wheeler. I learned about audio production and how to try to make my own podcast better from the extremely talented and exceptionally patient producer Kevin Black of the Draft Deeper podcast. I learned about embracing my love of learning more about the draft process from Stephen Gillaspie. I learned more about being thorough and careful with my work from Maxwell Baumbach. I learned, as I have for many years and will for many years to come, from Tyler Metcalf, whose writing still manages to be annoyingly close to perfect even before anyone ever edits his work and who somehow manages to go 15-for-15 with matching his Big Board to the first 15 picks of any given Mock Draft exercise.
It has been a wonderful few months so far for me with the No Ceilings family, and I have so many more people to thank for how I made it here than I could ever mention in one piece of writing. I know that we here at No Ceilings have a lot of exciting work ahead. The 2022 NBA Draft is rapidly approaching, and our No Ceilings Summer League Extravaganza will be shortly after that. I can’t wait to meet all of the No Ceilings people who will be there in person, and I’ll really miss the people who sadly won’t be a part of that Summer League event. Still, I know that I’ll get to meet them in person soon; in the meantime, there’s always the No Ceilings group chat and my opportunities to read through, edit, and learn from their work.
I’d like to believe that many of you who have made it this far (thank you for that, by the way; it means the world to me) will continue to follow along on our No Ceilings journey. I’d like to believe that a few months or a few years from now, I can look back on this moment in time and think fondly about how much we’ve grown, how much I’ve learned, how far I’ve come, and how much there might still be left in store for the future.
There’s always hope.