Welcome to the Fourth Annual YouTube Draft. As in years past, we will be selecting the best players in the upcoming NBA draft based solely on how much we enjoy their YouTube presence. This process has led us to sing the praises of past draft sleepers like Kenneth Faried, Steven Adams, and, uh, Tomislav Zubcic. Here are the top 10 for 2014.
10. Russ Smith, 23, 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, shooting guard, Louisville
Rafe Bartholomew: What good are highlights, really? Sure, they can show us a prospect’s leaping ability or demonstrate how well he finishes with both hands, but do we really need that for Russ Smith? He played four years at Louisville, helped the Cardinals win the 2013 national championship, and led the team in scoring the past two seasons. By now, we have a pretty good idea of who he is on a basketball court: a gunner; a bit of a streak shooter; a guy who can spot up behind the arc or create space for difficult jumpers off the dribble; a player who probably won’t be a very efficient scorer, but who will attack the basket and manufacture points; an undersize guard whose slight frame might prevent him from making an impact in the NBA.
I could find a mixtape of him scoring in a dozen different ways, but would that help you understand what really makes Russ Smith tick? Probably not. The above video will. One of a series of videos1 posted when Smith was 18 years old, it shows him with his sister and another young woman, singing and dancing in an apartment full of basketball trophies, providing living proof of the equation YouTube + Photo Booth = Fun.
Not since Paul Harris rapped “21 Questions” in his dorm room at Syracuse have we seen an elite-level U.S. college basketball player bare it all like Smith does when he sings “Umbrella,” moonwalks, and then performs a duet of “My Boo” with his sister. The other young lady adds a welcome layer of grit to the otherwise saccharine proceedings with her constant mean-mugging in the lower left corner of the screen. (Check 6:50, when she pops in to make the BOW BOW BOW gunshot sounds right after Smith croons the Usher lyric “I was the one who said put your lips like this.”)
We don’t know how Smith’s game will translate at the highest level. To be honest, the odds are probably against a player with such a slight build being able to stick in the NBA. But if this video is any indication, we can say it’d be a hell of a lot of fun to be his teammate and that he has a chance to become heir to Kent Bazemore’s 12th-man-as-hype-man throne.2 Extra points to Smith for using Photo Booth’s heart frame.
9. Jordan Bachynski, 24, 7-foot-2, 254 pounds, center, Arizona State
Danny Chau: Every panelist in the YouTube draft looks for something different in his video deep dive. I look for truth. The essence of every player can’t be captured with some austere choral arrangement meant to sound epic to viewers’ ears. When all players are epic, no player is epic. Can YouTube highlight mixes be windows into the soul? They can, one day. That I believe. But we’ll need more Jessica Bachynskis in the world.
Jessica Bachynski is Jordan Bachynski’s sister. She is the creator of this lovely video. The song, “Raise a Little Hell,” an almost too earnest late-’70s gem by Canadian band Trooper (a nod to the Bachynski family’s Canadian roots, and a harmless affront to their Mormon faith), gets to the point without painting Bachynski as something he’s not. At 7-foot-2, he’s one of the tallest players eligible for this draft. He’s a rim protector, a disruptor. He’s a solid athlete for his size. He is going to raise hell, but just a little. He’s the type of guy who will block your shot twice on a single possession for multiple possessions, then take you out to his favorite Honduran hole-in-the-wall for some baleadas to get your thoughts on the Death of Wolverine no. 1 cover.
He’s that type of guy. He’s also literally that guy. When asked who his hero in life is, he responded with Wolverine; his dad got second billing.
That’s one way to look at him — as this glowing, life-affirming human being. Or you can look at his NBA draft combine interview and fall into his dark, sunken eye sockets and wonder if this dude butchers animals when insomnia kicks in.
8. C.J. Fair, 22, 6-foot-8, 218 pounds, small forward, Syracuse
Robert Mays: When I asked Danny Chau, who researches and compiles the YouTube prospects list, to recommend a player from the 2014 class who might fit my tastes, he went straight for my wheelhouse. “Not to stereotype you,” he replied, “but there’s a video of C.J. Fair with inspirational speeches playing in the background.” Stereotype away, my friend.
As someone who had a real conversation about Billy Bob Thornton’s halftime speech from Friday Night Lights last week, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in chill-inducing sports monologues. And it’s not just that this C.J. Fair collection is soundtracked with that sort of material — it’s that it features two of the most inspirational figures in history.
Right off the bat, our director, meatfactory13, pairs images of Syracuse’s Final Four despair in 2013 with the immortal words of Rocky Balboa from, well … Rocky Balboa. “It’s not about how hard you hit,” Rocky tells us. “It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” C.J. Fair endures.
If you’re thinking, like I was, Who the hell can follow Rocky?, don’t worry. Ray Lewis fears no man. I have no idea when this speech is from, but the major beats are perfectly synced with classic moments from Fair’s career. Just as Lewis implores us to consider the thought that the sun may not rise tomorrow, Fair turns out the lights on St. John’s no. 15.
Fair’s actual basketball plays include a few more off-the-backboard layups than most highlight reels, but anyone who can inspire the use of Rocky in any capacity is an American hero.
7. Patric Young, 22, 6-foot-10, 247 pounds, center, Florida
Chris Ryan: If I told you Patric Young ran 17 miles with that heavy bag on his shoulder, would you not believe me? If I told you that when the camera cut away, Young went back and actually lifted up a 16-wheel rig and put those tires on a truck so it could deliver heating oil to a city in the winter, would you doubt it? When you watch a dude do this kind of heavy lifting, you start to think anything is possible. And I don’t mean in the Kevin Garnett just won a title way. I mean the maybe we can send a man to Mars way, and maybe that man can be Patric Young, and maybe he can go there without a spaceship because he can just power-squat his way into space.
I hear a lot of voices in this clip, but the one I don’t hear is Alfonso Cuarón. This is weird because Cuarón DEFINITELY DIRECTED THIS SHIT. One take! The continuous emotional tapestry of humanity in extreme conditions. Patric Young is the Children of Men! I hope he gets drafted by the Rockets and teaches Donatas Motiejunas how to live in a dystopian society.
6. Casey Prather, 23, 6-foot-5, 199 pounds, small forward, Florida
netw3rk: Most draft websites have Florida wing Casey Prather ranked in the bottom fifth of their top-100 prospects. But I doubt any of the draft intelligentsia has peeped this video of Prather balling the hell out while wearing a motorcycle helmet. Now, some may say that showing an ability to handle the ball under zero defensive pressure while wearing a bulky headpiece that limits your vision translates better to DJing an EDM festival than to playing NBA basketball. These are the same kind of haters who would take issue with Luke Skywalker flailing around the Millennium Falcon in a training visor. Roll the tape and watch Mr. Prather stunt on that nonsense tout de suite.
0:00-0:06 Prather does some kind of defensive slide move toward the general vicinity of a ball, picks it up, and makes a layup. Great start.
0:07-0:20 He displays his Hot Sauce–esque dribbling skills — through the legs, multiple crossovers, two watered-down Shammgods — then launches a fallaway college 3 that misses off the back iron. (I think he makes the shot if he doesn’t fade away. He’ll learn. He’s only 23; plenty of time to improve his motorcycle helmet shooting skills.)
0:21-0:26 He launches another 3 that arcs out of frame, followed by the sound of a basketball smacking rudely, brick-like, into plexiglass. All the while, Prather holds his shooting form, bouncing on his toes, trying to guide the ball home by sheer will. He doesn’t quit on his shot like other players wearing motorcycle helmets might.
0:27-0:33 Prather gets the ball back and the disembodied voice of the cameraman demands that he “bang that.” A teammate pounds on Prather’s helmet. Prather launches himself at the rim for a two-handed dunk that dribbles off the tin even as he hangs on the rim.
0:34-0:45 Prather continues to hang on the rim.
0:46-0:48 Showing his defensive prowess, Prather descends from the rim and closes out on a 3-point shooter. The full package on exhibition!
5. Sim Bhullar, 21, 7-foot-5, 360 pounds, center, New Mexico State
Bartholomew: I know what you’re thinking. And yes, it is uncanny. But no, that’s not Shaquille O’Neal in his senior year at San Antonio’s Cole High School in 1989. That’s Sim Bhullar, the Indian Canadian center from Toronto who’s as tall as Yao Ming and as round as Jahidi White after three months on the Felton Spencer diet.
Bunyanesque. Brobdingnagian. Words don’t come big enough to describe how big Bhullar is. And it’s not just his size; Bhullar is also pioneering a new way to play basketball: without ever leaving his feet, or even moving at all. He hasn’t quite pushed this style to its logical extreme yet — he occasionally jumps six inches or so to finish a dunk — but when it comes to pitching a tent beneath the basket and swatting shots without so much as getting on his tippy-toes, Bhullar is golden. If a team is brave enough to draft him, you better believe I’ll be looking forward to the day when he proves it’s possible to execute a hard show while defending the pick-and-roll with one’s feet firmly rooted to the ground.
4. Vasilije Micic, 20, 6-foot-6, 202 pounds, point guard, Serbia
Chau: I don’t know. I don’t.
I can tell you all about Vasilije Micic. He has been playing professionally since he was 16. He was extremely impressive at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship. He’s up there with Tyler Ennis as the best “pure” point guard prospect in this draft. He’s big for his position. He’s a gifted passer in the pick-and-roll, and he’s blessed with great timing.
But what I want to know about are these uniforms. Micic plays for KK Mega Vizura, and their team colors are allegedly yellow and blue. There is evidence of this online, and I’m inclined to believe their team’s Wikipedia page. But for whatever reason, whenever they face KK Crvena Zvezda, they don the most terrifying uniforms I’ve ever seen. Pick your poison: baby shower swag with the pink shorts and periwinkle jersey, or the classic pink jersey/green bottoms combo, as inspired by album cover art from Elvis Presley, the Clash, and Gil Scott-Heron.
These uniforms almost highlight Micic’s understated flair as a passer. He is kind of a plodder relative to other point guards, and as such, it can be hard to tell when to get excited when he moves around on the court. Actually, it’s still kind of hard to tell when to get excited when he moves around because these heinous jerseys make it impossible to tell who is who. It’s like watching the “World of Color” show at Disneyland, except the colors don’t change and there’s no music. Look, this isn’t something I’m going to be able to sell to you. You’re either in or you’re out. I think I’m in. And I think I want some sherbet.
3. Nick Johnson, 21, 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, point guard/shooting guard, Arizona
Mays: Sometimes a title means everything. When a video is called “Nick Johnson Is a Machine,” there are certain expectations. And this one meets all of them.
We get clips of Johnson throwing down tip dunks and between-the-legs hammers at various high school field houses during his AAU days. It serves as a pretty good reminder that Johnson is a crazier athlete than you remember. Like, way crazier.
Some people might consider it a bad thing that blocked shots make up the most impressive segment of a point guard’s highlight reel. I’m not one of those people. We’re not talking about one or two rejections here. I count three shot-erasing chase-down blocks. I’m not going to look up how many shots he blocked against UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, because that violates the spirit of the YouTube draft. But based on this video, I’m going with 17. Maybe more.
When I watched Johnson stalk the court for the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA tournament in San Diego, I thought he looked more like a Seahawks defensive back than a point guard. Fitting, then, that this was YouTube’s first recommendation for anyone watching “Nick Johnson Is a Machine”:
That’s right: a Kam Chancellor hit reel. Johnson plays more like a soul-cleaving strong safety than a point guard. Machine.
2. Cleanthony Early, 23, 6-foot-7, 209 pounds, small forward, Wichita State
Ryan: Whoa, back the hell up and let the Bertolucci of iMovie do his thing. So. Many. Filters. I love Cleanthony Early. I think he was the best player on the floor the night his Shockers lost to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, and I love that he almost died trying to dunk over three dudes while Brady Heslip took a selfie. That’s a really heroic way to go out, if you ask me. But the crowning Cleanthony achievement on YouTube is definitely this cinematic masterpiece.
It has everything you could want from a film, much less a YouTube mix: random wild kingdom sound effects; some witch-house-trap-wave-doom-rap soundtrack that makes basic practice footage seem like a lost scene from Belly; some footage of a white guy measuring Early’s wingspan with an iPad (FYI: It’s 6-foot-11! I looked it up on my iPad! What a world!); some time-bending footage of Early playing basketball on a football field; alley-oop dunks on ball boys; frenetic editing; silent-film sepia tone; and pretty much anything else you could think of.
This video’s lone misstep comes in the third act. If there’s one thing I always say at the end of a YouTube video, or an episode of Halt and Catch Fire, or pretty much any filmed entertainment, it’s this: THAT SHIT NEEDED MORE CODY TOPPERT FROM THE ELEV8 SPORTS INSTITUTE. He is the John Slattery of Cleanthony Early YouTube videos. You can never have enough.
1. Dario Saric, 20, 6-foot-10, 223 pounds, small forward/power forward, Croatia
netw3rk: One thing the NBA needs more of: team-specific fan songs. Fans are generally quite good at chanting about MVPs and telling various people they suck. Miami, of course, has “Seven Nation Army.” European teams, though, have these raucous fan anthems that dial up the in-arena intensity to borderline scary levels. Take, for instance, Panathinaikos fans’ “Horto Magiko,” which features lyrics about fans loving the team “like heroin, like a hard drug, like hashish, LSD.”
I mention this because the very first clip in Dario Saric’s highlight reel shows Saric starting a Cibona chant from the court that eventually spreads to the stands of what looks to be a one-third full arena as his teammate shoots free throws. While singing, Saric dances like a marionette doing the running man. It saddens me that we will likely not see this side of the Croatian forward when he eventually lands in the NBA.
Now, if this video is an accurate representation of the Dario Saric Experience, then his future teammates need to guard their grills, because Saric is bursting with the unalloyed exuberance of a child on sugar and caffeine, coupled with a general disregard for the safety of others. The above video is titled “Dario Saric Season Highlightz” and features exactly two actual basketball plays, one of which is Saric boxing out a dude by elbowing him in the trachea.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about Saric very nearly injuring his own teammates in violent fits of joy.
At 0:42, Saric chest-bumps Brooklyn-via-UNLV’s Jerel Blassingame, followed by Saric and Blassingame slapping hands so hard that the reverberation gets picked up by the arena mikes.
At 1:02, we have some kind of celebratory scrum in which Saric appears to be joyously strangling two teammates. Another teammate, Dominik Mavra, runs up to join them, and Saric, perhaps thinking that Mavra is some sort of invader, swings an elbow at him. (Mavra had recently been acquired from KK Split, so it’s possible that Saric really didn’t recognize him.)
Rumor has it that Saric has a promise from the Denver Nuggets at no. 11. Dario Saric plus JaVale McGee: a match made in YouTube heaven.