ESPN needs to overhaul its NBA Draft coverage

My plan Thursday night was to watch the first round of the NBA Draft.

That plan evaporated before Andrew Wiggins had even been announced as the top pick. On Twitter, Adrian Wojnarowski had already revealed the first two picks. If I were to keep watching, it would be due to the quality of the ESPN coverage.

shabazz napier
At 7:34 p.m. – four minutes after the draft started – I turned off ESPN. I returned about two hours later to see where Shabazz Napier would be drafted and that was it.

ESPN is usually very, very good at covering live events. We have seen from their coverage of the World Cup that they can bring their A-game when necessary. You would think the NBA Draft would warrant a similar commitment to excellence.

Instead, ESPN produced a disaster.

The biggest problem with the coverage is ESPN tries to super-impose its NFL Draft coverage onto the NBA, despite the fact they are two completely different animals

Look, I may hate the NFL Draft as much as anyone but that hate is focused more on the endless buildup. The actual NFL Draft on ESPN is a pretty entertaining affair. Sure, I could do without Chris Berman, but ESPN employs their best talent focused on doing what they do best. As Johnny Football plummeted on draft night, I could have followed along just on Twitter but ESPN did an excellent job keeping me informed of what was going on.

During the NBA Draft, Twitter wasn’t just ahead of ESPN – the reporters on Twitter were in a different stratosphere. It was like there was a real event going on in social media and there was a television production going on in Brooklyn and the two didn’t match up.

For next year, ESPN needs to do a lot differently. Namely, it needs to do everything differently.

Forget the “suspense” angle
There is true suspense in the top part of the NFL Draft because teams have so many different needs. There are 22 starters on an NFL team – there are 5 on an NBA team. There are a lot more players in the NFL Draft, which means there are far more ways a team can draft in.

In the NBA, there is not. The ESPN announcers spent so much time endlessly speculating about draft picks and they were almost always wrong, particularly Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons. The draft coverage in the Twitter age needs to look back, instead of forward. Why was it a good pick? What should they have done?

jalen rose bill simmons
Get rid of Jalen Rose & Bill Simmons
Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons had no clue Thursday night. This is not entirely their fault – the NBA season just ended two weeks ago. These are two guys paid to watch the NBA all year. It is insane to think they would provide enough insight from basically taking a two-week crash course on the college game and prospects. It made them look silly and inferior to Jay Bilas, who has been watching these guys for six months.

If you look at the NFL, there is a crazy amount of time between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft, so a guy like Jon Gruden can immerse himself in game film and provide expert analysis. Simmons and Rose – really, any NBA guy – simply cannot.

This is not to say Rose and Simmons don’t have a place in the telecast but they would be better served in the corner, getting maybe 5 minutes to recap what has happened and give their two cents.

Where are the coaches?
During the NFL coverage, ESPN interviewed Nick Saban and had Jon Gruden on set all night. A draft is begging for insight from a coach. On Thursday night, ESPN employed zero coaches.

Where was the current college coach? Where was Doug Collins? It was a gaping hole in the coverage because a coach would have been able to give great insight into a player’s strengths and why they fit into a particular system. Is it any wonder that Fran Fraschilla, a former college coach, was the star of the night with his European player recaps?

The “Front Office” segments were awful
After Shabazz Napier was drafted, ESPN cut to their “front office guru” Tom Penn, who kindly explained that the Miami Heat won’t have cap room if Bosh, Wade and LeBron opt-in. Anyone with a sliver of NBA knowledge – or someone who has watched ESPN for three seconds in the past two weeks – knows this. What is the point of that segment?

There are so many fascinating aspects to the NBA draft from a front office point of view – from trading picks to salary cap maneuvers to stashing picks – that ESPN missed a huge opportunity to exploit this for the basketball aficionados who are tuning in.

Why was Jay Williams interviewing people?
I like Jay Williams as a game commentator. I really like Jay Williams as a studio analyst. I loathe Jay Williams as an interviewer.

I don’t think I’ve seen Jay Williams interview one person all year and on one of the NBA’s biggest nights, ESPN has him conducting interviews with draftees? I understand we don’t need Barbara Walters there, but ESPN has a literal army of folks – Doris Burke, anyone? – employed to interview people.

The worst part of this is that Jay Williams is really, really good at breaking down and evaluating talent. In draft parlance, it’s like drafting a stretch 4 and keeping him in the paint. Let the man play to his strength!

What I would do:
  • The four main analysts: Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams & Doug Collins 
  • Interviewers: Doris Burke and Andy Katz 
  • Keep Jalen Rose & Bill Simmons to the side. 
  • Maybe they do something for during the Draft and they show up on ESPN once or twice an hour 
  • Eliminate the useless Front Office segments 
  • More Fran Fraschilla! 
  • Acknowledge trades in real-time, do not ignore Twitter 
  • More analysis from smart NBA guys, like Tim Legler, during the draft. He was very good on SportsCenter, non-existent during the draft. 
  • No Chris Broussard ever 
  • Way more insight on what teams are thinking. Ed Werder is embedded with the Cowboys every draft and did an excellent job monitoring the Johnny Football saga. Everyone knew the Heat wanted Shabazz Napier, why wasn’t that addressed once until it happened? 
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