The coronavirus pandemic has thrown off-kilter the entire sports calendar. March Madness: canceled. NBA and NHL seasons: suspended. Even Major League Baseball, which wasn’t set to start its season until later this month, has already laid out plans to delay its season amid the global health crisis.
The cascading effect from each of these league’s decisions continues to trickle down, and the NBA’s in-season halting has thrown a particularly large wrench into the sports calendar. Not only is there uncertainty about when — or if — the remainder of the season will be played. There’s also uncertainty about one of its biggest summer events that impacts all 30 teams: the NBA Draft.
As ESPN reported this week, the league is now formally accepting applications to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee for student-athletes to receive feedback on their potential draft stock. (Translated: the draft process is moving forward, even if key dates seem subject to change.) Still, most in the industry believe the process is likely to be altered — and perhaps significantly — given the pandemic and the league’s limbo status. From players, agents, families, scouts and teams, everyone will be (and many already are) affected in one way or another.
“I think the biggest thing right now is feeling out the impact and trying to answer all these questions that we’re left with,” said Ethan Rosenberg, an NBA-certified agent with Sports99. “It’s not just as an agent, but players their families, coaches, people at the NBA level; everyone just has a lot of questions right now.”
Scouting events canceled
Rosenberg is not alone in seeking answers to questions without them at present. Not only has the NBA’s season been suspended, but critical events for scouting — like the Portsmouth Invitational, conference tournaments, the NCAA Tournament and the McDonald’s All-American Game — have also been shut down. While the draft process is technically moving forward, it is anything but business as usual.
“This is typically the most productive time of the year for scouts,” one Western Conference scout told CBS Sports. “It’s where you’re connecting with other colleagues around the league, around the industry, and you’re not on the day-to-day grind of covering games. Now it’s a little bit different. There are ways around it, but we’re not traveling and that’s a huge part of our job.”
In response to the pandemic, some hard-hit areas have implemented shelter-in-place orders. Other cities have shut down restaurants, bars and gyms. The sports world is just a fraction of the real world being hit hard by the crisis, and the impact is being felt like tremors across the draft landscape.
“I honestly don’t think there will be an NBA combine,” the scout added. “I don’t think there will be a summer league either. I think those will be cut.”
Whether it helps or hurts players that the league’s operations are in limbo for the foreseeable future depends on who you ask, and from the lens with which you look through. Deshaun Harris, an NBPA certified agent, and CEO of Instrusive Sports Agency, has taken the outlook of an optimist while realizing there are challenges everyone involved with the draft process must overcome.
“I think it gives current student-athletes time to make a more educated decision on testing the draft waters,” Harris said. “I think it gives them a little bit more preparation time. But there’s a lot of details that are in limbo right now just in terms of recruiting predraft and the draft workout process. Seeing the Portsmouth Invitational being canceled — although it was for the safety of everyone — it puts seniors who are looking to raise their stock in an undesirable situation.”
Impacts of postponing draft
What the NBA decides about whether to continue the season at a later date (if at all) and when other operations will resume will, predictably, affect college hoops. While the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is set for April 26, and the draft itself scheduled for June 25, both dates should have asterisks in bold given the uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic has caused.
If indeed those dates get pushed back as many believe they will, there may be an unintended consequence that benefits the college level, with more players potentially opting to return to school amid a period of unpredictability in the basketball world.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more players returning next year to college just because there is that uncertainty with the draft,” Rosenberg said. “I think the people who have the biggest disadvantage right now are seniors, because if you’re a sophomore or a junior or a freshman and you’re kind of on the fringe of being drafted, at least you can fall back on going back to school another year. For seniors, if Portsmouth isn’t rescheduled, then they’re just kind of stuck at whatever their stock is going into draft workouts.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew offered up a similar sentiment this week in an interview with Dennis Dodd.
“I know we also have to find out what they’re going to do with the NBA,” Drew said. “If they cancel all that then I think you have a lot more kids that want to come back.”
How to evaluate prospects
Meantime, the cogs that make the draft go are stuck at a standstill. Many agents are planning to conduct Skype interviews in place of face-to-face interaction to abide by the CDC’s recommendation to abide by social distancing practices. Scouts, typically on the road this time of year, are unusually at home in March. And many players, meanwhile, are suddenly stuck with a decision to make on whether to stay in college or go pro — well before many anticipated being faced with that burden.
“The evaluation part is pretty much on hold apart from what we’ve already done because you can’t be anywhere live,” another scout told CBS Sports. “Now you can watch film from previous games that you may not have seen. But as other scouts will tell you, being there in person is different. You can feel the energy of a player, you can get a better read on their body language. Little things that you wouldn’t pick up on film. Watching film you can evaluate the talent but missing on those things you get with live scouting makes it a little harder. At this time of year, though, most teams have done the groundwork. If you don’t have a good feel by then then you won’t have a feel at all.”
As for the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on Wednesday that he remains optimistic about the season starting up again later this year. Perhaps June, July. He didn’t set a date or even speculate. Let’s just call it an indefinite disruption.
“It’s completely unprecedented,” Harris said of what the league is facing. “It definitely pushes back the timeline for a lot of guys coming into the draft, pushes back the season. But there are still a lot of questions for draft prospects because they don’t really have a real timeline right now.”
Added one scout: “It’s the hand we’ve been dealt, and we’re just trying to take it in stride.”