NEW YORK — The 2017 NBA Draft on ESPN is finally here, and with it ESPN’s 15th straight year of coverage.
We’ll find out which team helicopter dad LaVar Ball will torture during the 2017-18 season, whether his son, Lonzo Ball, or Markelle Fultz will go No. 1 (bet on Fultz) and whether bumbling Knicks GM Phil Jackson will break the heart of Knicks fans by trading away Kristaps Porzingis.
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One big development: ESPN will allow its talent to reveal draft picks before they’re announced by teams, according to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. I hate it when networks pull this. I prefer NFL Draft coverage, where networks don’t ruin the suspense for viewers.
But ESPN’s NBA reporters were a day late and a dollar short compared to Adrian Wojnarowski and The Vertical’s streaming telecast last year. They don’t intend to make the same mistake again.
The recent layoffs of 100 anchors, reporters and analysts at ESPN will impact the network’s coverage Thursday night. Here’s your viewing guide to who’s in and who’s out for ESPN’s NBA Draft coverage from Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Who’s ESPN’s First Team?
Rece Davis will host, alongside analysts Jalen Rose, Michael Wilbon of “Pardon the Interruption” and college basketball analyst Jay Bilas. Examining ESPN’s first-string team is a good barometer of who’s sitting pretty in Bristol. The brass is high on Davis, naming him host of “College Gameday” in 2015 and handing him a six-year contract extension.
NBA analyst Rose is at the top of everybody’s most wanted list. He could be a regular on Mike Greenberg’s solo morning show debuting Jan. 1. Bilas is one of ESPN’s most fearless analysts across any sport. This team also called the NBA Draft last season.
Welcome college basketball analyst Allison Williams, who’ll contribute for the first time to ESPN’s NBA Draft coverage. Ditto for rookie Coley Harvey, who’ll cover the Knicks as they field offers for Porzingis. These assignments are great news for Williams and Harvey. It indicates ESPN brass views them as up-and-coming stars who can handle themselves on the biggest draft stage outside the NFL.
Meanwhile, Jay Williams will serve as a roving reporter, providing news, analysis and mock draft scenarios. Williams broke a nice piece of news Thursday afternoon on “Outside teh Lines,” telling the story of a Top-15 pick who said Knicks president Phil Jackson actually fell in and out of sleep during the player’s pre-NBA Draft workout.
Sayonara to laid-off college basketball reporter Andy Katz and NBA reporter Marc Stein. Both reported from inside Barclays last year. Neither is listed on ESPN’s announce team this year.
Their departures, and others like “True Hoop” blogger Henry Abbott, pave the way for Wojnarowski, who is expected jump to ESPN from Yahoo later this year.
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Props to Stein. He was one of the 10 or so ESPN staffers given the option to report out assignments like the NBA Draft even though they knew they were goners. He’s continued working hard. Stein will contribute to ESPN Radio’s coverage, with host Marc Kestecher and analysts P.J. Carlesimo and Bob Valvano.
Can the Lakers now land Paul George by offering Thursday’s No. 27 and 28 picks and either Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson? They’re trying.
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 20, 2017
If they’re out, who’s reporting from Barclays?
Jeff Goodman will handle breaking news. Fran Fraschilla will provide international analysis. Tom Penn will offer a GM’s point of view.
So what will ESPN have exclusively?
Unlike last year, ESPN is supposed to have an exclusive interview with the overall the No. 1 pick.
Consider that a nice bonus for an NBA TV rights partner that pays billions for the league.
Should we expect the usual guests?
Take a bow, media hound John Calipari. The Kentucky coach is expected to do an interview with the ESPN desk.
Will ESPN have reporters around the country?
C’mon, they’re still ESPN.
ESPN will place NBA reporters with several key teams remotely, including Dave McMenamin (Celtics), Ramona Shelburne (Lakers), Mark Schwarz (76ers) and Harvey (Knicks).
How will this NBA Draft do in TV ratings?
Last year’s NBA Draft drew a 2.4 overnight rating, the lowest since 2012, according to SportsBusiness Daily. But there was little to no suspense as everybody expected the 76ers to take Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick.
This year’s NBA Draft reminds me of the 2014 NFL Draft, when viewers were beside themselves over who would pick Johnny Manziel. That draft coverage did boffo ratings. I expect this one will, too.