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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From ESPN’s NBA Draft Coverage

Back in April, we took a look at the good, bad, and ugly from ESPN’s coverage of the 1st round of the NFL Draft.  And, apart from walking caricature Chris Berman, ESPN hit a home run.  So, we thought it would only be fair to give the same scrutiny to ESPN’s NBA Draft coverage, which is often just as entertaining even without the maniacal following the NFL Draft has amassed over the years. However, with last night’s debacle, ESPN’s NBA Draft coverage may have hit a new low, a next to impossible feat seeing as how Stephen A. Smith wasn’t even a member of the studio team!  Let’s start with the good news first…

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The Good

-As big bro Matt said on Twitter last night, the star of ESPN’s coverage was their “international expert” Fran Fraschilla,  The glut of international players selected throughout gave Fraschilla extra air time, but every time the former coach was on the air he delivered thorough analysis of those drafted.  Not only was Fraschilla on target with known quantities like Kanter and Jonas V, but Fraschilla also delivered the goods in the 2nd round when players like Targuy Ngombo from Qatar left every other ESPN “analyst” speechless.  For every international prospect, Fraschilla came ready with strenghts, weaknesses, comparisons, and even contract information.  With Fraschilla’s knowledge of both international talent AND college prospects (after all he is a game analyst for the network), he would be a welcome addition to ESPN’s main set.

-The other big winner from ESPN’s Draft coverage had to be Jay Bilas, the smartest guy in the room no matter where he is.  Though I’m getting pretty tired of Bilas’s pious act when discussing larger issues like education and the NCAA, he’s at home analyzing draft prospects.  His smart, succinct analysis, including the flaws in each player’s game and their projection into the pros, was a breath of fresh air for draft coverage. Unlike Jon Gruden’s unending QB love and “THIS GUY” act, Bilas pulled no punches on players he thought weren’t ready for the NBA.  The former Dukie even showed his self-aware humor with a nod to a drinking games based on his heavy use of words like wingspan.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get more sharp analysis from Bilas and Fraschilla because of other choices ESPN made with their broadcast…

The Bad

-The decision to interview new Warriors head coach Mark Jackson in the middle of a fast-paced 1st round was ESPN at its best, meaning ESPN at its self-worshiping worst.  For one, the NBA Draft moves so quickly (5 minutes between picks), that there’s barely enough time to discuss a prospect or the team on the clock, let alone both.  But of course, ESPN made time to interview their former lead game analyst Mark Jackson soon after his 1st pick as head coach for the Warriors.  You can’t tell me that if Jackson weren’t a former ESPNer he’d be interviewed.  Why not pay that type of attention to any of the other half-dozen new coaches around the league?  Why not interview Byron Scott, whose team owned the 1st and 4th picks?  In fact, Jackson was the only head coach interviewed on the entire broadcast except for fellow ESPN alum and current Nets coach Avery Johnson!!  Again, ESPN proved they want to be just as much of the story as the event they’re covering.

-As with their NFL Draft coverage, ESPN’s choice for interviews was remarkably uninspiring. Whether it was Mark Jones bumbling through interviews with international players, Heather Cox interviewing family members and Spike Lee (?!) or an interview with the “soon-to-be interim GM of the Knicks” the time away from analyzing the picks was largely a waste.  Instead of hearing from the teams who actually had a major impact on the draft, ESPN lavished attention on the Knicks like they were defending champs with three lottery picks.  Also, the uncomfortable and unpolished interaction between Mark Jones and Stu Scott was particularly excruciating, especially when Scott started belting out the first couple of bars to “O Canada.”  The few good moments Heather Cox got with Mrs. Morris and Kyrie Irving’s dad saved this part of the coverage from being pug fugly.

-Once again, ESPN also ignored the elephant in the room with the impending NBA Lockout. Only when discussing the contract issues of foreign-born players did the word lockout even appear on the telecast.  Without prior knowledge, it would be impossible to tell that the NBA was on the verge of a cold war between owners and players that will likely cause at least part of the upcoming season to be lost.  At least at the NFL Draft, their labor situation was acknowledged instead of being completely ignored.  Also, ESPN also chose to pretend that NBA commish David Stern wasn’t being booed out of the building even more so than usual likely due to impending lockout doom.

The Ugly

-Overall, the coverage of the NBA draft by ESPN can largely fall into the ugly category based on two factors, sloppiness and lack of chemistry.

-Seemingly every on-air personality (save Bilas and Fraschilla) had a major gaffe on their lowlight reel from last night.  Jeff Van Gundy at least made his lack of pronounciation skills of international players humorous.  But, it was embarrassing when neither Barry or Van Gundy could give any analysis of substance on prospects, both domestic and international.  You can’t tell me that would happen with Mel Kiper on ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage.  While other mistakes were more innocent slips of the tongue, the frequency was eye-popping.  Heather Cox referred to Knicks draft pick Landry Fields as Carl Landry to Spike Lee.  ESPN’s production was consistently behind other news sources, especially Twitter, on potential trades.  

-But the king of goofs last night was host Stuart Scott.  Normally, I can’t stand Stuart Scott because of his flood of inane and useless statistics.  But overall, Scott turned in one of the sloppiest hosting jobs ever seen.  He screwed up several basic logistics on 1st round picks for teams like Charlotte (picking for themselves and not someone else) and OKC (picking at 23, not 24), thinking Darko was a 3rd overall pick instead of a 2nd overall pick, and many more.  Late in the draft, Scott mistakenly referred to a 2nd round pick as being from Croatia when he actually was from Serbia, earning a call-out from Fran Fraschilla.  Even basics like George Popovich instead of Gregg Popovich and the Toronto Trailblazers (?!) proved troublesome.   That’s not to mention one of the worst jokes ever attempted in a broadcast when he said the Bulls should draft Bobcats GM Michael Jordan.  Last night was definitely not one of Stuart Scott’s best performances.

-Worst of all though was the complete and utter lack of chemistry between Scott, Barry, Van Gundy, and Bilas.  There was ZERO interaction between the NBA guys (Barry and Van Gundy) and the college guy (Bilas).  It seemed like Barry and Van Gundy were only able to address team needs while Bilas was only able to address what the college prospects brought to the table.  Heck, there was even zero chemistry between Van Gundy and Barry, documented perfectly today by Bill Simmons. I’ll admit, normally I love Van Gundy working games, but is it so hard to look at the camera once while talking on air or not make it seem like you’re being held offstage at gun point?  And aside from seeing Iman Shumpert in person, could Barry be any less informed on some of the college and international prospects?  Meanwhile, Scott did a horrible job involving the analysts in discussion of teams and picks because he was too busy throwing out worthless stats and anecdotes.  The beauty of having Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden on set at the NFL Draft was that they knew both the prospects and the needs/philosophy of the pro teams.  Thus, they could engage each other and sound informed no matter the topic of discussion.  The studio crew for last night’s coverage was pretty much the exact opposite.  

Final Grade

Aside from the brilliance of Bilas and Fraschilla, ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft was pretty much a disaster.  Stuart Scott apparently can’t handle the glut of information in such a short frame of time anymore.  Jon Barry and Jeff Van Gundy have no business being near an NBA Draft set ever again with their lack of knowledge of the college prospects.  Where’s Chad Ford, who ya know, does this stuff for a living?  Why consign him to the internet and radio when he’s obviously your most knowledgeable person about the draft?  Going forward, ESPN would be better served using Bilas and Fraschilla alone on the main set with a more competent studio host who can spark discussion. Hopefully by then, ESPN can also get one of their 50 NBA analysts to be even just a little bit competent on next year’s draft class to help the telecast as well.  Overall, the NBA Draft coverage from ESPN gets a well-deserved D+ with no room for improvement until major changes happen.

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