The NBA Finals may be over, but the next big basketball event is just around the corner. The NBA draft airs live on ESPN at 7 p.m. E.T. on Thursday. I interviewed Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner of the NBA, to ask him about how he prepares for the draft, why it is a special night, and his thoughts on how this year is shaping up to be different.
One of Tatum’s favorite parts of the draft is seeing dreams come true. “I spend time with the draft prospects, and it's a wonderful night,” he said. “Getting called onto the stage by [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver as a draft pick, or if you are in the second round by me, it's a night that they all dream about forever. It is a lot of fun to see in the eyes and the faces of not only the draftees, but also in the family and the friends that come with them.”
Another way Tatum makes sure draftees’ dreams come true is by pronouncing their names correctly on draft night. He spends lots of time preparing, especially when it comes to the names of unfamiliar international players.
“The first thing I do for the draft is I try to study up on all of these very difficult names,” Tatum said. “I remember my first draft I had Thanasis Antetokounmpo. When I first saw his name on paper, I said, There is no way I can pronounce that. After many many hours of practice I got it. And on the night that he was drafted by the New York Knicks I called his name, and I got it right, and that made me very, very happy. So I will spend time now studying up on some of the difficult names. People want to hear their names, and they want to hear it right. So I feel there is an obligation for me to get it right on their night.”
There could be more international players taken in this year’s draft than in any previous draft. The 2003 draft currently holds the record for international players selected in the first round with eight.
This year Dragan Bender is a 7-foot, 18-year-old forward from Croatia playing for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv. He is projected to go as high as third in the draft. Another international stand-out is Timothe Luwawu, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard/small forward from France who could have been drafted last year but chose to stay to improve his game in Europe’s Adriatic League. Tatum said that there are currently 100 international players in the NBA from 37 countries.
“There is a very talented group of players both internationally and domestically who are going to help NBA teams this year,” said Tatum, giving Bender as an example. “There is a Chinese player, named Zhou Qi, who is doing very well now with the Chinese Basketball Association, and I think he may get drafted this year as well….There is a steady stream of talented international players that play in our league and will continue to play in our league.”
Whose Stock is Rising?
Many analysts say the draft starts with the third pick, as LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram are certain to go first and second. There are several other players who are getting more attention recently. Buddy Hield from Oklahoma should go in the top 10 and may be the first senior to go. He is a 6-foot-4, 209-pound guard who led the Sooners to the Final Four last season. Marquese Chriss is a 6-foot-10 power forward who is coming on strong following his one year at the University of Washington.
“I think a lot of the players have been rising in terms of coming out of the draft combine, doing the different workouts,” said Tatum, pointing to Simmons, Ingram, Hield, Providence’s Kris Dunn, and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. “There is a lot of talent, and the players have the opportunity to showcase and demonstrate that talent to teams over the last several weeks. I know that there is going to be a very deep class, and that our teams are going to be happy with the talent that is entering into our league this year.”
Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images