Draft Lead

An Open Letter to the 2019 NBA Draft Class

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First of all, welcome to all the guys drafted in the 2019 NBA Draft. Congratulations. But if you think this is the “payoff” to your journey, that you’ve ‘made it,’ that all your hard work paid off: you’re sorely mistaken…

Do not take a minute for granted.

Work. Work your a$$ off. Every single day. When people are watching and when they aren’t. Dedicate yourself completely to the game and things will work out for you one way or the other.

Humble yourself. Anything you’ve accomplished to this point? Means nothing. McDonald’s All-American? Cool story bro. 5 star recruit? What does that get you now? Were you “the man” on campus, had almost everything handed to you, everyone telling you how great you are? Hope you enjoyed it. Now the real work starts.

It feels like just yesterday I was an undergrad at the University of Maryland. I was a freshman when Greivis Vasquez was a senior. Greivis was a UMD legend. He worked his tail off. Became 100X better than ANYONE ever thought he’d be. Incredibly made himself into a 1st round pick. Out of Caracas, Venezuela. Had a super productive NBA career – a decent start in Memphis and then New Orleans. Some tremendous years in Toronto. Now, due to injury, his career is likely over. 32 years old. It literally feels like yesterday that the ball literally missed hitting a big man in the head by INCHES on Korie Lucious’s game winner at the buzzer. We would’ve gone to the Final Four that year. I feel old as hell. Greivis had a great run, but it’s absolutely wild that it’s over already.

Kelly Oubre Jr. I love Kelly Oubre Jr. Great person. Treated everyone with kindness and respect. But Kelly Oubre Jr. could be so much better. I’ll tell him that to his face, and I hope he reads this. I hope he gets paid this summer. I’m sure he’ll get something decent, but I don’t think it’s going to be as much as he was hoping.

Let’s flash back a bit. I was of course with the Wizards when the decision was made to draft Kelly. We moved up to get him with the 15th pick in 2015. When we picked him, my reaction was mixed. You heard all the raving about his athleticism and his body and his wingspan. But he was a one-and-done, who had hardly got on the court at Kansas. Bill Self had said MOSTLY good things. But there was always an element of: super talented recruit. Comes in as a freshman thinking he’s hot shit. Ends up not playing all that much. Leaves. Rinse. Repeat.

Raw was the word that kept coming to mind. A project.

When you get to the NBA, your clock is ticking from day one. As a Wizards’ staffer, I felt a tremendous obligation to the organization to make Kelly Oubre Jr. the steal of the draft. To be honest, our future depended on it. Our core was John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. We needed to strike gold with a draft pick, have somebody end up being much better than anyone thought. We failed, and it crushes me.

Kelly was a great guy. But he didn’t quite get IT. Not completely, at least. He didn’t realize that his team needed him to be a defensive stopper and buy in completely on that end. He didn’t realize that it wasn’t about shots, it was about being a star in his ROLE. Your role may not be what you want, but it’s what the team needs for you to be successful. He didn’t get that under Randy Wittman, and then he didn’t get that under Scott Brooks.

He worked hard enough. But not as hard as humanly possible. He played hard enough. But not as hard as humanly possible. He was coachable enough. He played unselfishly enough. He was focused on the game enough, singularly devoted to basketball enough…you get the picture.

Kelly’s four-year rookie deal in DC flew by like lightning. I literally remember his first day in the facility, the promise and flash of this young kid with some flair. He got better, he learned to be more of a worker, he started to get it more and more. But by year 4, it wasn’t enough. The Wizards decided they didn’t want to be the ones who paid him, so they shipped him away near the deadline for a Trevor Ariza rental. And now Kelly is kind of in NBA purgatory: no one’s quite sure if he’s a starter or not, if he’s worth paying the big bucks or not, if he’s a guy you can build around.

Here’s what I hope Kelly takes away from reading this, and to our new draft class: Buy in. Don’t waste a second. Don’t miss a workout. Don’t mouth off at a coach once. Don’t be a second late. Don’t worry about your shots or your stats or anything else about you. That will all come with winning and playing your role and doing what the team needs. Your clock is ticking.

Kelly, four years flew by in a flash. Incredibly, you’re still only 23 years old. Your best years are ahead of you. Commit to being one of the best defenders in the league. Make THAT your obsession. Study your matchup every night relentlessly, and then know anyone else you can be switched onto inside and out too. Make an All-Defensive team. THAT’S where you can make your biggest mark in the league. Work. Work harder than you’ve ever worked in your entire life.

Four years flies by. My seven years working in the NBA flew by. I was also at UMD with Jordan Williams, who was an early 2nd round pick of the Nets in 2011. He lasted about a year with the Nets, even showing a few flashes of huge potential. But then came discipline issues: weight gains, legal problems, and so on. And Jordan Williams ended his NBA career with one year of stats in the books.

Glen Rice Jr. was around in DC as well. Another early 2nd round pick. Was kicked out of college, but had all the talent and potential in the world. Great pedigree, obviously. Won Summer League MVP!! But Glen was an asshole. He treated coaches like crap, staff like crap, himself like crap. He played 16 NBA games for the Wizards, and this is what he’s been up to since. He’ll likely never suit up in the NBA again.

Time is precious. Don’t let it slip away. You control your destiny. Take ownership of it and make a splash. The right kind of splash.

Don’t settle for being good enough. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Don’t think you’ve made it, and think now is the time to enjoy the lifestyle and enjoy the fruits of your labor and take it easy and the hard part is over. Don’t become a cautionary tale. Your NBA career can be over before it started.

The hard part is just getting started. Work like Giannis. Work like Kawhi. Do more than anyone thought you ever would. Including you, Kelly. You have so much more to give.

Good luck.

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About Bryan Oringher

Bryan Oringher spent the past 7 years working in the NBA. From 2013-17 he was the Head Video Coordinator with the Washington Wizards, and in 17-18 he did Regional Advance Scouting for the Raptors and Hawks. This year, he’s doing NBA analysis on Twitter @ScoutWithBryan and his YouTube channel. You can find all his content to date here.

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