We huddled around the table as the clock ticked 10 minutes down to zero, letting us know that the break leading into the third round was almost up. And we weren’t sure exactly what we were going to be able to do. Was our draft plan going to actually work? Would we have to call an audible? I took in a sharp breath and sat there under the bright TV lights, wondering exactly what was going to happen. A trickle of sweat made its escape from my armpit.
It was late on a Saturday night at FedExForum, where we gathered around a table in the Grizz Gaming practice space, our war room for the 2020 NBA 2K League Draft. Heading into the draft, what we needed to accomplish was clear. A few months ago, I sent our 2020 first and second round picks to the Knicks in a trade to acquire the center G O O F Y 7 5 7, aka Dayvon Curry. Goofy won a title with the Knicks in season one, led the 2K League league in rebounds (14.9 rpg) in season two, then won just about every Pro-Am tournament this offseason with his team, Greatness. Adding Goofy to our already strong core of Vandi (Zach Vandivier), Authentic African (Mehyar Ahmed-Hassan) and DDouble (Daniel Davis), who finished one win out of the playoffs a year ago, gives us four players that we feel are top five in the league at their respective positions.
With four players already in the fold, we only needed to add two more players, which allowed us a bit of certainty. The other thing that made our draft prep a bit easier was that we knew for certain that we needed someone to come in and play a shooting guard role, and we had a player last year in Jrod (Justin Rodriguez) who was a perfect fit for us, both on and off the court. I would have loved to have kept Jrod at the end of last season, but with new teams joining the league, every team had to leave a few players unprotected in the expansion draft, and then with the trade for Goofy I didn’t have the required assets to retain Jrod. So we just had to wait and see if he would fall to us with the 45th pick in the draft.
Which can be a harrowing proposition. Sitting and watching 22 other teams draft multiple times before you get to make a selection means there’s a lot that can happen. One thing I’ve learned from experience is that you can’t count on anything going the way you planned, not just in drafting situations but also in life. The best thing you can do is prepare for anything happening, by which I mean you have to think about every option and go through every scenario, just to be prepared for when you’re on the clock. Then you make the most informed choice in the moment that you’re able to make.
So we made a list of about two dozen players that we suspected might be available to us at the off guard position when we picked in the third round at 45th overall. Some of them had never been in the league, some of them were veterans, some of them were well-known, some of them were largely unknown. I set up interviews with all of them, and spent a few weeks getting to know as much as I could about the players.
While many of the people we talked to were straight-up shooting guards, we also talked to some players who played more of a secondary ballhandler role, because as this process went along, we still didn’t know exactly what the NBA 2K League build would be like. Would we need a straight up sharpshooter? Would we need someone to help bring the ball up the court? Would we need someone who could put the ball on the floor and get buckets on their own? How would the meta shake out? We knew we wouldn’t have a concrete answer maybe even until league play began.
After doing research and thinking and talking about all the options out there, one person we kept coming back to was Joel Lazu, who played on Nets GC last season under the name Lavish. He started at multiple positions and played an important role on a team that finished just under .500. He also got buckets when he needed to, averaging 15.8 points per game in the regular season. We interviewed him, twice, and both times came away really impressed.
The other discussion we were having simultaneously was what we should do with our other third-round pick, the 54th overall selection. Should we draft someone to come in and play a sixth man role, with no real promise of playing time? Or should we draft someone who could come in and compete for playing time? The one thing we knew was if we wanted someone to come in and play, it would likely be a backcourt player we were looking for, since we already had Goofy and AA on the inside, and since we had no idea how the league build was going to play. After much discussion, we decided to draft the player that we felt was the best available at the 54th spot, someone who could step in and play if needed and if they weren’t in the lineup could be the best teammate available.
Our board changed a lot over the weeks, but eventually, a few days before the draft, we got it to a point where I felt comfortable. Sort of. Because unless you’re drafting first overall, it’s impossible to feel completely comfortable. And with us not having a pick until 45th overall, we had to consider all kinds of scenarios. What if, for instance, there was an early run on off guards and all the players we had targeted were gone? (If that was the case, I figured, it would mean some other position had been ignored, so we’d be able to draft one of those players and shift one of our retained players to the backcourt.) It was unlikely to happen, sure, but what if it did?
The Draft started at 5:00 our time on Saturday night, so we gathered up, ate a nice dinner from our friends at Taco Bell, and then we sat there and watched our draft board slowly get picked apart. A bunch of players we had in our top ten were chosen early, and when we got to the end of the second round, we used the 10 minute break before the start of round three to refresh our list. Jrod and Joel were both still available, but there were two teams picking before we would make our selection. It was unlikely those two exact players would be the two players drafted before we picked, but what if they were? We went through our lists one last time, you know, just in case, and readied our contingency plans.
And then the Pistons picked, and then the Lakers picked, and… neither of them took our players.
And so, with the 45th overall pick, we took Jrod. When the 54th pick rolled around fifteen minutes later, Joel was still there, too. Which led to this awesome moment at Joel’s home in Milwaukee…
This week, players from around the 2K League will report to their respective cities, and we get to start practicing for real.
We got the players we wanted, now it’s time for us to grind.