While the Ian Thomsens of the world can't truly evaluate an NBA draft until three or four years down the road, the verdict is already in on ESPN's coverage. Below, we offer the television draft highs and the lows for the network's 2011 coverage:
• ESPN's statistics department always delivers during live events and a perfect example was host Stuart Scott informing viewers that Klay Thompson (son of Mychal Thompson, the top overall pick in the 1978 draft) was the fifth son of a No. 1 overall pick to play in the NBA. The network is terrific at providing interesting facts related to the larger context of an event.
• This will make the suits in Bristol happy: The telecast drew a 2.5 overnight rating -- the highest rating for the NBA draft since 2007 and up nine percent from last year. The top-rated market (not surprisingly) was Cleveland, followed by Salt Lake City.
• You can't fake research and analyst Jay Bilas provided deep and detailed knowledge on every first-round pick. Time after time, Scott went to Bilas as soon as a pick was announced, and throughout the night, Bilas gave you a scouting report that broke down someone's game and offered a projection heading forward. Sure, he went long sometimes but Bilas doesn't cheat viewers.
• Neither does Fraschilla, who was invaluable during the coverage given his international connections (especially on Jeremy Tyler, Milan Macvan and Ater Majok) and first-hand observations of the international players he scouted. This column has long praised Fraschilla's work and will continue to do so. He properly (and not rudely) corrected Scott when Scott (and NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver) incorrectly said that the Serbian-born Macvan was from Croatia.
• Analyst Jeff Van Gundy totally owned the fact that he could not pronounce the name of Jonas Valanciunas. Viewers respect honesty.
• Reporter Heather Cox had a good night. She asked Drederick Irving, the father of Kyrie, about comparisons between his son and LeBron James in terms of supposedly saving the Cavaliers. "Kyrie and LeBron are two different people," said Drederick. "At this particular moment, it's really about Kryrie. No disrespect to LeBron." Later on, Cox had a great interview with Marcus Morris, mostly thanks to Morris. Asked about separating for the first time from his twin brother, Markieff, Marcus said, "It ain't the end of the world. We're going to see each other again. And I'm going to send him some flowers or fruit."
• Having a camera in Glens Falls, N.Y., paid dividends as it was amusing to see people celebrating Jimmer Fredette's selection at No. 10 at the "Jimmer Jam."
• Great job by Scott to go quiet after Jan Vesely's extended smooch of his girlfriend. Silence can often be a great storyteller.
• In an amusing moment, former ESPN analyst-turned-Warriors coach Mark Jackson let viewers know that he texted Van Gundy to inform him that Golden State picking Klay Thompson with the No. 11 overall pick. Later in the night, Van Gundy reported that Golden State had bought the draft rights to Jeremy Tyler. "You get the whole package with Jeff Van Gundy," when Scott asked him if an investigative reporting job was in his future.
• Reporter Mark Jones asked (for the most part) direct questions of the draftees. Examples: "How do you allay the fears of the Cavs about your toe?" (Irving), "How do you explain your meteoric rise?" (Derrick Williams) and "What do you know about the Washington Wizards?" (Vesely). Such direct questions are straight out of the John Sawatsky (ESPN's interview guru) handbook. Of course, some of Jones' questions were mystifying. For example, he asked Vesely: "Tell us exactly about this European Blake Griffin that they call you? Vesely looked at Jones as if he was Robert Blake.
• Bravo for having footage on Targuy Ngombo of Qatar, who was selected with the 57th overall pick. Fraschilla called him Sidd Finch. Said the analyst: "If he makes it, it's a great country, America."
• The byplay between Van Gundy and Barry was painful. Barry tried to make fun of Van Gundy throughout the night ("Thanks, Johnny Most") and Van Gundy's reaction was if he had seen an apparition. The lack of chemistry made viewers long for Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, a pair of who have taken honest mocking to high art. There's a larger discussion to be had whether the NBA draft needs three analysts on the set given how short the time is between picks. Some Twitter followers suggested ditching one of the analysts and adding a reporter (say, Ric Bucher) or draft expert, such as Chad Ford.
• Not addressing that NBA commissioner David Stern was booed at the start of the draft, during the draft, and before the final pick of the opening round was weak given the labor unrest among other issues. It also serves as a reminder for us to praise Rich Eisen and the (league-owned) NFL Network for discussing the same situation last April when Roger Goodell was booed at the NFL draft.
• We'll give ESPN a one-draft pass on kissing Mark Jackson's butt ("Can you give us one of your famous sayings?" Scott gushed during an interview) but now that he's a coach, it's time for ESPN to cover Jackson as they would any other coach. Also, Scott calling the deputy commissioner of a sports league "our friend" sends a bad message for his colleagues who have to cover the league.
• Jones' mic gave out a couple of times early in the coverage, including in his interview with Irving.
• If Fraschilla is going to question the veracity of Bismack Biyombo's age -- which he did on the air -- Jones has to ask Biyombo how old he is. Scott reading a quote from Biyombo on the subject following Biyombo's interview is a major copout. The guy is right there.
• During a long broadcast, on-air people are going to miss names. It happens. Scott said the "Toronto Trail Blazers" were on the clock at No. 21 while Cox mistook Carl Landry for Landry Fields and was bailed out by Spike Lee, who did not harp on it.
• The San Diego Tribune's Jay Posner sent me a tweet during the draft that Jones started his interview with Kawhi Leonard saying that he was the highest-drafted player in San Diego State University history. Michael Cage went at No. 14 to the L.A. Clippers in 1984.
• As the Bulls were picking at No. 28, Scott made a spectacularly odd Michael Jordan reference. "No chance then that the Bulls use this pick and select a certain NBA owner who owns a team in Charlotte, right? That can't happen? We don't think Michael Jordan is coming back?" The reaction of Scott's colleagues (Barry and Van Gundy) was bewilderment. Same with the audience, no doubt.
• Memo to ESPN: No one cares what Jon Gruden thinks of Derrick Williams or that Gruden thinks he can play tight end in the NFL. Cross-promotion nonsense.
• Where was "capologist," Tom Penn in the first round? Viewers finally heard from him right before the start of the second round. In the future, it will probably be better to keep Penn in the studio so the crowd does not drown out what he's saying.
• Oddly, Scott asked, "Why is this team [Miami Heat] getting so much hatred?" That question is seriously out-of-date, especially for a network with its own "Heat Index."
• People on Twitter complained all night that ESPN was well behind Yahoo! Sports and others when reporting trades. (Tweeted NFL.com's Michael Lombardi: "Twitter has more info on trades then ESPN coverage. Wonder why we all follow Twitter? These trades are not getting out fast enough on TV.")
• "First of all, Stu, he has great taste in women."-- Fraschilla, on Jan Vesely's girlfriend
• "He is a freak athlete and I do believe he is going to win a dunk contest." -- Fraschilla, continuing his love affair with Vesely
• "The problem is he cannot score. You cannot run any plays for him."-- Fraschilla, on Biyombo
• "I think he has every quality to be a great coach in this league."-- Van Gundy, on Mark Jackson
• "He is the best shooting big man in this draft."-- Bilas, on Magic power forward Justin Harper, selected with the No. 32 overall pick
• From Ben Grossman, editor-in-chief, Broadcasting & Cable Magazine:
"ESPN should have a Twitter feed of top NBA journos scrolling on bottom. Lots of scoops there in real-time. Would super-serve TV viewers."
• From sports journalist Richard Proctor:
"I'm not sure why they didn't have Chad Ford on the set for Jon Barry. They also aren't using [Ric] Bucher enough."