NBA PREVIEW

A.J. Hoffman: 5 thoughts on tonight's NBA Draft

Mo Bamba has drawn comparisons to Rudy Gobert. Chris Covatta/Getty Images

The NBA Draft is upon us, and while it doesn’t carry the appeal of the NFL Draft, there is still plenty to talk about here. It seems like DeAndre Ayton to the Suns at No. 1 is a lock, and it makes sense. He played his college ball at Arizona, and the Suns think pairing a dominant post player with Devin Booker will give them a solid foundation to build on. There are still plenty of questions beyond that pick though. Here are a few thoughts about the draft. 

1) Marvin Bagley III is the best player in this draft

Bagley has spent years leading up to today obsessing about being the No. 1 overall pick. While it’s becoming more apparent that he won’t hit that goal, it doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t. He has always reminded me of Kevin Garnett. He has the skills of an athletic center in the (slimmish) body of a forward. He hit on 40% of his 3-pointers at Duke, and has a nice touch at the rim. The lone knock on him is that he still needs some development on the defensive end, but he has the body and the work ethic to improve there. One thing going for him is that he seems to be the only top-end prospect willing to play in Sacramento (the Kings hold the 2nd pick), as Doncic and Bamba didn’t even submit medicals there. Bagley is a cornerstone player and I think the Suns (and any other team that passes on him) will end up regretting going a different direction. 

2) Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Mohamed Bamba are the perfect bigs in today’s NBA

The days of guys like Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing dominating the paint are long gone, at least for now. Today’s NBA wants a more versatile big man, who can score at the rim but also stretch the floor, all while providing rim protection on the defensive end. Jackson and Bamba both fit those molds to a T. Jackson is an odd prospect because he isn’t coming off a fantastic college season. He only played 22 minutes per game at Michigan State, so the stats aren’t mind-blowing, but his game checks a lot of boxes on both ends. On the offensive end, he is an efficient scorer around the rim who can play with his back to the basket or face-up. He can stretch the floor, hitting 39% from 3-point range (although his awkward shot is cause for concern at the next level) and he moves without the ball, which is not always easy to find in a big man. Defensively, he is a monster. He blocked 3 shots per game and is versatile enough to deal with forwards and bigger guards when he is switched on the perimeter. The glaring flaw in his game is that he tends to find himself in foul trouble, which partially contributed to his lack of playing time with the Spartans.

Bamba has been drawing comparisons to Rudy Gobert for a couple of years already, and defensively, he could be just that. Bamba has a 7’10” wingspan (Gobert’s is 7’8” 1/2) and a nose for shot blocking that should make him an instant impact player on that end. The questions with him come on the offensive end. He has been working tirelessly on that aspect of his game since Texas’ season ended, and reports say he has drastically improved in that area. He was a decent outside shooter for the Longhorns, and if he can continue to develop on the offensive end, he could end up being a steal if he falls outside the top 3. 

3) No, Trae Young IS NOT the next Steph Curry

Early last season we saw a lot of incredible things out of Young. Late last season we saw that those highs came with some extremely low lows. People see a playmaker. They see a solid shooter, and they instantly start to make unrealistic comparisons. To be fair, when Steph Curry came into the league, very few people imagined him becoming a two-time NBA MVP and winning three titles in his first eight seasons. Like Young, there were questions about Curry’s frame and defensive abilities. Lucky for Steph, he is the best shooter who has ever played basketball. Trae Young isn’t that. While there is a lot to like about his game, and he is the type of player who can explode for a big game every now and then, his defensive flaws and proclivity to turn the ball over and go into shooting droughts make him a guy that I would steer clear of on draft day. 

4) You want Mikal Bridges on your team

Bridges isn’t the sexiest player in the draft. He is the oldest projected lottery pick, and he was overshadowed by Jaylen Brunson on Villanova’s national championship team last year. That said, he is one of the most complete players in the draft. He perfectly fits the “3 and D” mold that basically every NBA team covets today.

Bridges is an excellent defender, particularly away from the ball. He is 6’7”, but has the wingspan of a player who is 6’11”. He has the versatility to defend multiple positions in the NBA. He is an efficient scorer, never finishing a season below 50% shooting from the field. He also took his 3-point % from 30% and a freshman to 43.5% this year, and has NBA range. The only knock I can see on him is physicality. He isn’t the biggest guy, and sometimes seems hesitant to go to the basket and create contact. If the 76ers aren’t going to land LeBron James, landing Bridges at number 10 would be a welcome consolation. 

5) Who will be the diamond in the rough?

Only 60 guys will get their name called on Thursday night, but there are a ton of players out there for whatever reason (off-court issues, small school, etc.) won’t be taken despite having the skillset to play in the NBA. Some of the guys I will be looking for to get a summer league invite are Texas A&M’s D.J. Hogg, San Diego State’s Malik Pope, Virginia’s Devon Hall, New Mexico State’s Jemerrio Jones, Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge, Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews, Murray State’s Johnathan Stark and Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett. 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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