Viva La Draft

Next week is all about the red, white and blue.  This week it’s all about the rouge, blanc et bleu.

As the ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Teresa Walker explained after what went down last night at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center:

The NBA may have to rethink the timing of its annual draft. Not the month, but a tweak to the hour the picks start coming off the board.

Paris is six hours ahead of New York, so French basketball fans eager to see history had to stay up into the wee hours of Thursday morning to see France join the United States as the only countries with three players drafted in the top 10 picks of an NBA draft.

And as the first round was a coming to an end, a total of four Frenchmen had been drafted: Zaccharie Risacher. Alex Sarr. Tidjane Salaun. Pacome Dadiet.

No, none of these gentlemen are even close to the transformational once-in-a-generation talent that their countryman Victor Wembenyama is.  On the other hand, San Antonio was still the fourth-worst team in the league last year, so there’s a fairly good chance they might become more familiar to you by next year.

Risacher was the somehwat surprising top pick, joining the Atlanta Hawks for an almost pedestrian four-year, $56M deal which no less than SIX USA TODAY sportwriters put into context of his needing to be more immediately impactful than even Wembanyama:

The Hawks need this pick – their first No. 1 pick since 1975 – to work out. They won the lottery with just 3% odds to get the pick, and Risacher, 19, gives Atlanta a two-way wing. He has spent his early professional career playing in France’s top pro league, and in 2023-24, he averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds and shot 43.9% from the field and 35.2% on 3-pointers this season for JL Bourg.     

He was named French League Best Young Player and EuroCup Rising Star in 2023-24. Risachaer was on Wembanyama’s team with Asvel in 2021-22.

So he’s not quite duck pate, but he’s clearly not chopped liver.

Meanwhile, there were a few Americans that provided some encouragement to the teams that drafted them.  The Houston Rockets used their number three pick on the first American-born of this draft, who prompted this insightful piece yesterday from THE WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Robert O’Connell:

(W)hen Sheppard was selected by the Houston Rockets with the third pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft, it wasn’t because he’s a decent shooter. It’s because, during his lone season in college, he transformed into something entirely different.

He became the best long-range shooter in the country.

The story of Sheppard’s one-year overhaul doubles as the story of how data is reshaping the very foundations of sports. At Kentucky, he became obsessed with a screen affixed to the wall at the practice facility, whose readouts told him how close he’d gotten to the perfect shot. Sheppard would hoist a 3-pointer, watch the net ripple, and look immediately at the “Splash Board,” which told him how close to the platonic ideal of arc and aim he’d just gotten.

“He was looking at the Splash Board on every shot, every day,” said John Carter, CEO of Noah Basketball, the shot-tracking company that manufactures the product. “He was just so dialed into it.”

And, naturally, the Lakers couldn’t help make some news of their own even on Day One, per the USA TODAY sextet member who drew the short straw in this case:

With a new coach in J.J. Redick and a team playing for the present (LeBron James, Anthony Davis) and the future, the Lakers went with (Tennessee’s Dalton) Knecht who at 23 years old should be able to contribute sooner rather later. He is strong on catch-and-shoot 3s, can drive to the basket with power and finesse, and is athletic. He needs work defensively. He delivered great offensive performances late in the season, scoring 40 against Kentucky and 37 against Purdue in the Elite Eight. He averaged 21.7 points and 4.9 rebounds and shot 45.8% from the field and 39.7% on 3-pointers for the Volunteers. 

But it’s the overwhelming likelihood that he will be joined, at least in the Summer League, by a far more newsworthy pick that could come late this afternoon.  With a desire to expand their audience as they have the NFL, the second round is transpiring today (albeit out of prime time, thank you, Don and Joe).  And if somehow Bronny James doesn’t become Knecht’s teammate, that’ll be even more newsworthy than anything that happened last night in Brooklyn.

And yes, that footprint includes France.


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