Welcome to the Third Annual YouTube Draft! As in years past, the goal of this exercise is to select the best prospects in the NBA draft based solely on their Internet highlight reels. What’s that? This is a stupid way to rank basketball players? Well, the YouTube Draft’s record speaks for itself. Over the years, our eye for goofy highlights has led us to select outside-the-lottery diamonds in the rough like Kenneth Faried, Donatas Motiejunas, and Evan Fournier. Full-time scouts and the draft combine can take you only so far. Sometimes, a player’s true value can be revealed only in footage of him dunking on balding 40-year-olds in the Slovenian CCC-Division. That is why we are here.
12. Victor Oladipo, 21, 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, shooting guard, Indiana
— Selected by Jay Caspian Kang
Before Oladipo, the long, mostly terrible history of NBA singing has produced two watershed moments: Jerry Stackhouse’s rendition of the national anthem …
… and Rasheed Wallace and the Pipstons singing “Jingle Bells.”
No disrespect to Stackhouse, who sounds like a broken-down Isaac Hayes (this is about as high a compliment as I can give a man) or Sheed, whose performance reminds us why YouTube exists, but if that’s the best a half-century of basketball history can do, let’s go ahead and crown Victor Oladipo the LeBron James of NBA singers.
First off, let’s give Oladipo his propers for choosing an insanely ambitious song. “U Got It Bad” starts with a massive “OHHHHHHH-noooooo-whoooaaa,” followed by an equally important falsetto “neh-hooooo …” If we adhere to the Diva System rule that all singing performances should be judged within the context of Amateur Night at the Apollo, the stakes are raised even higher — fuck up either of the first two notes in “U Got It Bad” and the Sandman is coming to tap-dance your ass off the stage.
At 0:29, Oladipo nails the “OHHHHHH-nooooo.”
At 0:42, he narrowly escapes with the falsetto “hoooooo.” Both of which are pretty damn impressive — sure, he’s not Brian McKnight, but Brian McKnight isn’t getting drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, either.
After that, the rest of the performance is in the bag. There are no more huge notes in “U Got It Bad,” no runs, no sexy bass talking in the style of the last minute of “End of the Road.” All Oladipo really has to do is let the crowd scream “fucked around!!!” and sing the same three notes over and over again with a little brass in his voice. He clearly runs out of gas and coasts a bit at the end, but the work has already been done up front.
One last, largely irrelevant comment: I’ve always felt a bit conflicted about the singing career of Usher Raymond — he came out around the time when mainstream R&B abandoned the Motown melodies for more bouncy, almost-talky songs that required the artist only to sing a few notes repeatedly. (This trend hit its nadir with the singing career of Jennifer Lopez, who turned her ability to hit one or sometimes two screechy notes into seven albums.) What would Usher sound like if he had to sing Al Green or David Ruffin? How badly would Sam Cooke expose him?
Takeaways: Already the best singer in the NBA, but needs to expand his repertoire. Can I suggest this?
Video Grade: B-. How about some visual effects, or at least a close-up? Maybe one of those concert documentary cranes?
11. Joffrey Lauvergne, 21, 6-foot-11, 230 pounds, power forward, France
— Selected by Rafe Bartholomew
The discussion of Joffrey Lauvergne’s YouTube highlights begins with the uploader, a user who goes by the name “Joffrey Lauvergne.” Assuming this is the real Joffrey and not one of Joffrey Lauvergne’s thousands of Internet fakers, I have nothing but love for Joffrey’s decision to post his own greatest hits. I’ve done the same thing, only my greatest hits are me lip-synching to Philippine rap in the dark.
Taking a deeper look at what Joffrey has to offer, one thought springs to mind: He’s so French! All four of his uploaded videos are backed by funky acid jazz and smooth bass lines. Does he also rock berets and black-and-white striped long-sleeved shirts? Does he sit in cafés, thumbing through worn paperbacks by the great Western philosophers? I’d accuse myself of gross, ignorant stereotyping, except that Joffrey’s most recent video quotes Aristotle at the beginning and borrows its title from one of the Greek thinker’s famous one-liners: “L’excellence n’est pas une action mais une habitude.” If Shaq were a GM, would the Big Aristotle be too intimidated to draft a big man who knows a thing or two about the real Aristotle?
But enough with that. Now is the time in Grantland when we crack wise about Game of Thrones. If Lauvergne is drafted and eventually makes it to the NBA, “King” Joffrey will immediately become one of the league’s best nicknames. Opposing teams with clever marketing staffs will stage mock beheadings of Joffrey at halftime, and this unfortunate young man from Mulhouse, an industrial city in the Alsace region of France, will spend half his rookie season wondering why fans in every NBA arena point toy crossbows at him and promise to make him pay for what he did to Sansa. This has to happen.
10. Nemanja Nedovic, 22, 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, point guard, Serbia
— Selected by Robert Mays
As someone whose life was seriously about 20 percent worse without Derrick Rose in it, I originally chose “Nemanja Nedovic-European Derrick Rose” purely for comedy’s sake. Yep, I’m sure this 6-foot-3 Serbian guy is just like Derrick Rose. Then I started watching.
The carnage begins at about the 42-second mark, when Nedovic takes a midcourt steal all the way to the rim and puts down a nasty LeBron-style, ball-cocked-behind-the-head tomahawk. There is no sarcasm here. This guy puts it down. And the quick scream-and-flex celebration is pretty on message.
This may just be a coincidence, but this is the second highlight video I’ve watched on YouTube today that featured a Skillet song. Apparently, Skillet is a Christian metal band, and its strong YouTube presence is only further proof that in 2013 the playing of nu-metal is limited to highlight videos, our nation’s various Houses of Blues, and MMA events. Since what Nemanja Nedovic is performing on the rim at least borders on a martial art, I’m going to say it fits here.
Next, we get Nedovic putting it down on an opposing big man. Because this part of the video was apparently filmed with the Talkboy from Home Alone 2, it’s tough to tell how tall this dude actually is, but it’s safe to say that he’s too tall to be getting done like this. We get to see the dunk three times over, and ya know what? It’s still not enough.
All that really matters, though, is the dunk that comes at 1:42. An important factor in how I judge prospect dunks is how the bench reacts. Are they excited? Do they like this guy? Well, after Nemanja finishes over a dude here on the break, everyone on the floor reacts like KG after the Frederic Weis dunk. His coach, played by Danny DeVito playing the Penguin, fist-pumps so hard that he almost falls over. These guys only want what’s best for Nemanja. That stuff counts.
9. Cody Zeller, 20, 7 feet, 230 pounds, power forward/center, Indiana
— Selected by Bartholomew
Seven rhymes from the “Cody Zeller Anthem,” offered without comment:
Everybody hands up for the anthem / Cody Zeller, a.k.a. Big Handsome!
Goin’ coast to coast for a monster slam dunk / The world has never seen such a high-flyin’ hunk.
Brought the Hoosiers back into the national spotlight / Even winnin’ tips over players who are not white.
Cody’s so tall got his head in the sky / Hope a ceiling fan doesn’t catch him in the eye.
The Handsome, Big is what they call him at the doc / And when it’s time to win big you know it’s handsome o’clock.
Got the height of a giraffe, the hops of a kangaroo / Crimson goin’ so crazy turns the Hall into a zoo.
Cody’s so large and aesthetically pleasing / The movement is here / This is our season.
8. Glen Rice Jr., 22, 6-foot-6, 211 pounds, small forward, Georgia Tech/D-League
— Selected by Danny Chau
Sorry, this isn’t a Glen Rice Jr. highlight video. This is you getting dragged into another bizarre corner of the Internet. This is an automated slideshow of Rice — one of at least 20 that I’ve found — that presumably uses Google Images search terms and creates a slideshow from its findings. The images are not resized to fit the screen, so for much of the video we’re just staring at Rice’s teeth and torso. These clips were produced by several YouTube accounts, all created within the past week. But the 20 or so Glen Rice Jr. videos are a grain of sand to the thousands of soulless slideshows that these accounts have churned out.
It’s creepy in the way that @Horse_ebooks is creepy. They’re mysterious robot accounts spewing out random bits of data without context, but at least with @Horse_ebooks, the tweets sometimes come with a link to an actual horse e-book. These slideshows come with five search terms in the description. That’s it. They offer no information about the publisher, nor do they try to sell anything. They stand no chance of going viral, but I guess that matters little when they’re all part of some greater viral entity. Just as @Horse_ebooks can read like a collection of found poetry, the random nature of these videos can make them feel profound. They have to mean something, right? I spent hours looking through more than 75 prospects on YouTube, but Glen Rice Jr. was the only one with spam videos dedicated to his image. Why? What makes him more compelling than the rest? Why does the video focus on Rice’s teeth for the first eight seconds? What does that say about him? What does that say about us? What can we really learn about a player from his highlight mix that we can’t learn from gazing at his teeth?
Feel free to join me down this rabbit hole. There’s plenty of space.
7. Nate Wolters, 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, point guard, South Dakota State
— Selected by Mays
Credit to Rafe Bartholomew for pointing this out: What seems obvious from this Nate Wolters highlight film (which, we have to say, is excellently edited) is that Nate’s ultimate destiny, based on those sneaky great handles, is to stoke the White Chocolate–era Jason Williams clearly smoldering inside him. My goal here was to break down the film and determine just how far along he was in each element of his potential White Chocolate transformation.
Much closer than you might think right away. Wolters already has enough length to get some bounce when he crosses over, and really, it would just be a matter of letting it grow out for about a month before rocking the shaggy look for a couple of seasons and then taking a Bic to that shit by Year 3.
Easily fixed, and probably the earliest change to expect upon entering an NBA locker room. Exhibit A.
Variety of moves: 5/10
We see the crossover several times in this video, but check out the in-and-out at :21. He just leaves this guy. Also, 1:42. That poor kid.
Six may not seem like a lot, but I’d encourage you to go check out any highlights of Sacramento-era Jason Williams. Six is high, high praise, and it’s almost entirely based on the pass that ends this video. Reverse-between-the-legs dribble, switch-hands bounce pass to the baseline for a lay-in as the entire bench loses its collective shit. Again, it’s not how often he’s showing off he can do this, but whether he can do it at all. Which brings us to …
Overall coolness: 3/10
He’s not there, by any stretch, but the best way to start is by simply owning the persona. That pass can’t be a once-every-few games proposition. It has to be expected. This is another area where time in an NBA locker room should help. If Nate’s a smart guy, and we’re just assuming he is, he’ll understand pretty quickly that this is the role he was born to play.
6. Janis Timma, 20, 6-foot-7, 226 pounds, small forward, Latvia
— Selected by Bartholomew
You probably know Janis Timma from YouTube hits like “Janis Timma: ‘Mammu, es gribu iet uz basketbolu!’” but the legend of the Latvian Loose Cannon started right here. The makers of Timma’s highlight reel seem to have spent their entire production budget on animated graphics to introduce the various aspects of Timma’s game. And, well, these graphics explode onto the screen with digital confetti and DEFCON 1–level intensity:
THREE POINT GAME
Do you know what you’re seeing when you watch this video? Only some of the sickest moves ever executed in the history of Latvian rec league basketball. That’s no exaggeration, folks. It’s a bit of a challenge to figure out which player Timma is while each of these plays develops, since he keeps appearing in different uniforms and every possession is captured from the vantage point of Timma’s bored, possibly drunk uncle, who’s manning the camcorder at midcourt. But you eventually figure out that every play ends with Timma getting buckets, which is exactly what he intends on bringing to the league. Also, bear in mind that this video was uploaded before Timma’s 18th birthday, and here’s the good news: Now Timma’s 20 and he’s looking toward an NBA future, because every team has a need for a small forward who resembles a mop-haired Dolph Lundgren and has a sweet pec tattoo. And only Timma can fill that need.
5. Giannis Adetokunbo, 18, 6-foot-9, 196 pounds, point guard/shooting guard/small forward/power forward/center, Greece
— Selected by Kang
0:00 You can always tell a YouTube highlight video is going to be great if it starts off in sepia. The ideal cinematographer for one of these things is a 16-year-old who can’t keep his finger off the effects button on the $100 camera his mom bought him at Costco — only he, wired on Adderall, can come up with genius innovations like WHOA HOLY SHIT, NEGATIVE IMAGE DUNK! and OH SHIT, I CAN TYPE WORDS INTO FINAL CUT? All right, how about, “TREMENDOUS LENGTH LOL ;-)!!!” So, we’re off to a good start here with Giannis.
0:04 Good timing on the music here. It’s as if Michael Bay made a movie about prisoners who were shuttled to an island and forced to play a game of basketball to the death. In the opening three seconds you hear young Giannis explaining why he thinks he has a shot of making it out alive. There’s an interrogation-room vibe, kind of like the start of Inside Man. But then the synthesizers kick in and you realize that it’s 2001 all over again and there are about to be a bunch of helicopter shots of Monte Carlo at sunset and that Larenz Tate is going to be playing a scrappy young point guard from the Bronx who falls in love with a young Jordana Brewster or someone who slept with Derek Jeter in the late ’90s. We’ll call it: GAME OF PWNS. Directed by Hype Williams.
0:14 JOEY DORSEY IN SEPIA COMPARING GIANNIS TO KEVIN DURANT!
0:32 That’s like 15 visual effects at once! Good job, Amautmix, creator of the Giannis Adetokunbo mix!
0:33-0:44 I don’t know what the average height is in this Greek league, but Giannis looks like he’s about 8 feet tall and weighs 135 pounds. At this point, do we compare all skinny, tall dudes who shoot 3s to Kevin Durant? I’m fine with this as long as we compare all fat, tall dudes who shoot 3s to Big Smooth Perkins.
0:44 Giannis crosses over between his legs and then jacks up an ill-advised 3-pointer as two teammates flash wide open on the wing and cut toward the hoop. His jump shot looks like he didn’t properly wipe his ass before the game and now it’s all itchy.
0:50-1:40 Nearly a full minute of Giannis layups. He doesn’t seem to have a pass button. This isn’t going to get him off the island. This dude jumps like this.
Thrilling picture showing this draft’s mystery man Giannis Antetokounmpo’s length & leaping abilities on full display pic.twitter.com/nWGooZrPs2
— Rafal Juc (@rafjuc) June 18, 2013
And then there’s this from the New York Times:
Filathlitikos helped Adetokunbo’s mother find work, and Spiros Velliniatis, the coach who persuaded the Adetokunbo brothers to try basketball, said he and others chipped in to help the family on occasion. “You’re in front of Mozart and he has no food, what do you give him? You have a dilemma,” Velliniatis said. “The answer is not a violin. The answer is a loaf of bread.”
We need more dunks or more amazing quotes from Spiros Velliniatis. (Seriously, who is that tiny dude wearing the low-tops on the blue team? Rusty LaRue? He’s like 5-foot-6.) Attention span waning. Need Amautmix to bring in some more effects or at least change the track to that Puff Daddy song from Godzilla.
2:37 Aaaaand we’re back to sepia as Amautmix brings us full circle with an obligatory, “Hey, Giannis not only can hit a bunch of awkward layups in traffic, but he’s also a good teammate!” shot.
Takeaways: Greek Darius Miles. Dario Milkos.
Video Grade: B+
4. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 20, 6-foot-6, 204 pounds, shooting guard, University of Georgia
— Selected by Chau
The highlight mix game has gotten a bit stale for lottery-tier prospects. Look no further than every single fan-made Trey Burke mix available on YouTube. They are all the same, right down to a very particular shot of his maize yellow jersey hanging in the locker room. I can’t blame them for it — it’s a gorgeous, high-quality shot — but you can only watch the same scene so many times before realizing it’s a creative crutch. Anyone can string together decent quality footage, but that isn’t always what makes a mix hum.
There are several “highlight factories” that churn out mixes using the same overlay effects and the same tired songs. We get it; Kanye’s “All of the Lights” and Macklemore’s “Wings” are very tempting, but you can’t tell me they accurately reflect the stories of every single NBA prospect worth noting.
Just as I was getting a little burned out in my research, I found my oasis: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, through the misty lens of Boss Dawg. Boss Dawg is not a highlight factory. He has only one video on his YouTube account, and it’s a poignant tribute to Caldwell-Pope set to Brad Paisley’s heartbreaking “I Wish You’d Stay.” (A Georgia Bulldog and Brad Paisley? Rembert must be so conflicted.) In six minutes, we get a sense of how much Kentavious meant to Georgia Bulldogs fans in his two seasons in Athens. One of the last scenes in the video has Caldwell-Pope on a breakaway dunk, being chased down by Glen Rice Jr. of archrival Georgia Tech. They collide, and Caldwell-Pope lands hard on his hip, with a teammate rushing to his side. It’s the perfect analogue. Kentavious is indeed breaking away, and the Bulldogs will likely fall without their leading man. It’s sad to see Bulldogs fans so torn up about his departure, but it’s nice to know someone this highly regarded is coming into the NBA.
With all that said, I’ll leave the final words on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Boss Dawg:
“KCP: You will always be remembered as a Damn Good Dawg.”
3. Jeff Withey, 7 feet, 222 pounds, center, Kansas
— Selected by Mays
It’s tough to determine exactly how much of this video’s effectiveness comes from the music choice, but I’m going with somewhere around 85 percent. That figure is helped by some great editing, including a choice to bookend the breakdown with Withey banging one on some dude from American and a bring-the-house-down one-handed lob dunk.
The most important element in play here, though, is that this video was uploaded by YouTube user “witheyunchained.” Until I hear otherwise, I’m choosing to believe every element of this video is actually the work of Jeff Withey, in which case the “I do not own any of the content in this video” isn’t necessary. You more than own it, bro.
It would also mean that Withey is responsible for the Skrillex choice, and I can’t really imagine anything better than Jeff Withey in a neon tank and white sunglasses throwing down with Alien from Spring Breakers. I always pictured Withey as a dude who never stopped listening to Knife Party live sets on SoundCloud, and I guess now we have our confirmation.
2. Steven Adams, 19, 7 feet, 255 pounds, center, Pittsburgh
— Selected by Bartholomew
At first glance, Steven Adams’s YouTube highlights might make you think How quaint! According to a widget on the bottom left corner of the screen, this video has been stitched together using software called ezvid, the “Best Free Video Maker for YouTube.” You can even see the Windows “Start” bar on the right side of the screen. The background instrumental sounds like it could have been lifted from the Sega Genesis version of Streets of Rage, and the action moves in a halting, frame-by-frame manner suggestive of stop-motion animation, so-cheap-it’s-free video editing programs, or computers running NSFW webcam chats in 15 other tabs. The no-frills approach seems fitting for Adams, a raw, workmanlike big man from New Zealand who is viewed as a likely late-lottery pick thanks to his size, excellent athleticism relative to that size, and improving offensive skill set.
And then you read Adams’s DraftExpress profile and the scales drop from your eyes.
He’s very mechanical with his movements and not overly instinctive with his approach to the game.
This is where you drop your mug of coffee, and when it shatters you see “Kobayashi” and realize Adams has always been three steps ahead of you. This YouTube video isn’t all herky-jerky and awkward because of the ezvid recorder or the processor on the uploader’s overheated Gateway 2000. No, the video looks like that because Adams actually moves that way — like a robot in desperate need of a hot tub filled with WD-40. The low production values are there to fool you into thinking otherwise.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, right? Well, the greatest trick the Kiwi ever pulled was convincing NBA scouts he wasn’t a stiff.
1. Jamaal Franklin, 22, 6-foot-5, 191 pounds, shooting guard, San Diego State
— Selected by Kang
THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE. Props to YouTube user TrIpLeGHighlights, winner of this year’s “bc 2-Tone Award,” given to the highest-quality YouTube highlight video. For those who have forgotten, bc 2-Tone not only put together 2011’s best Kenneth Faried video, but he also rapped an original Faried-themed song over Xzibit’s “The Foundation” and immortalized the phrase “Been dunkin since a young ‘un like Kenneth Faried.”
0:00 Let’s just etch it in YouTube highlight video law: If you’re going to blow someone up, make sure you start with a voice-over with no instrumentals. If you can put the voice-over in captions, all the better. This quote from Steve Fisher — “I told Jamaal, I’ve coached for over 40 years. I’ve never had a guy with the spirit, with the commitment, with the will to win more so than him” — gets an A-plus, given that Steve Fisher coached Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, and the Fab Five. One editorial note: Starting off a highlight video with “competitiveness” is awesome but also kind of a demerit at the same time, no? If you’re a draftee, do you really want to be known primarily for your competitiveness?
0:19 TrIpLeGHighlights starts us off with two 30-footers and a banging track. To all you dudes trying to use tasteful music in highlight tracks, just stop. If M.O.P. can’t rap on the track with Freddie Foxxx, let it go.
0:27 Jamaal Franklin in a long-sleeve T-shirt straight-up mugging everyone in the arena looking like Bone Crusher yelling about how he’s never scared.
0:30 Oh shit! It was all a trap! Fuck you, UCLA dude who runs over Jamaal Franklin. So far, we know that Jamaal Franklin works really hard and bombs 3s and takes charges and mad dogs the camera.
1:20 We’re more than a minute in and the expression on Jamaal Franklin’s face has not changed. We’re verging on all-time great game-face territory here. Jamaal’s stuck somewhere between Crazy Rashad Anderson and Roshown McLeod right now.
1:21 Practice dunk time! Two “meh” between-the-leg dunks and then …
1:30 Off the wall of the gym and then straight to reverse two-handed jam?!?!? Franklin is projected as a late first-rounder. The Knicks own the 24th pick. James White, you’re on notice.
1:37 That’s just irresponsible.
1:37-3:40 A bunch of footage of Franklin passing and awkwardly dribbling the ball. Could have done without this. Honestly, all I want to know about Jamaal Franklin is that he bombs 3s and dunks. Don’t want to know that he sometimes passes the ball.
3:49 FULL CIRCLE: Back to Steve Fisher talking about Jamaal’s work ethic and the time he spends in the gym.
Takeaways: Jamaal Franklin is gully as fuck. Also my references make me sound like a 33-year-old man who hasn’t signed up for Spotify yet.
Video Grade: A+