Hopkins said the biggest NBA draft stories were Michael Porter Jr. falling to No. 14 and DeAndre Ayton being taken No. 1 overall.
Anyone who tuned into Yahoo’s NBA draft coverage Thursday night discovered what Washington Huskies men’s basketball fans learned last season – coach Mike Hopkins is a bubbling personality with loads of charm, humor and insights about the college game.
Hopkins teamed with NBA reporter Chris Mannix, former Atlanta Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox and college basketball reporter Pete Thamel on set while NBA reporter Shams Charania provided updates on the selections and trades during the five-hour telecast.
It was the third year Yahoo provided streaming coverage of the draft. Hopkins replaced Tom Crean, who served as an analyst last year.
Hopkins displayed extensive knowledge about many of the 60 players who were selected in the draft, but the former Syracuse assistant shined brightest when the conversations steered toward Pac-12 and ACC players.
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During one playful exchange, Hopkins joked with former Arizona star center DeAndre Ayton, who was taken No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Suns.
“DeAndre you had one of the greatest blocks against us that led to an assist for a game winner,” Hopkins said, referring to a 78-75 UW win over then-No. 9 Arizona in which Ayton blocked a shot that sailed to Dominic Green who hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. “I want to thank you for the greatest block in Washington history.
“On a serious note, I’m a big fan. I think you’re a once-in-a-lifetime type of player. I think you’re going to make a huge impact in the NBA. Tell me, what do you think you’re biggest transition to the next level is going to be?”
Ayton’s response: “First of all, thank you very much. I really appreciate that coming from you. My biggest transition in the league will probably be the spacing on the floor and staying down low as much as possible and trying to be dominant down low. I’m not really trying to fall in love with the three-point shot, but have that as a weapon. But really try to establish myself down low and have an impact to kick it out to three-point shooters.”
Hopkins was also a big fan of Michael Porter Jr., the former Nathan Hale star who was bound for Washington. The 6-foot-10 forward was projected as a top-3 pick before a back injury allowed him to play in just three games last season at Missouri.
Porter fell to No. 14 in the first round and was taken by the Denver Nuggets.
“I was in the draft room with (former Syracuse star) Hakim Warrick who was supposed to go nine,” Hopkins said. “He was told he was going nine in the morning and dropped all the way to 19 to Memphis. Being in the room with everyone there, the light is shining on you. Everyone is off their chair taking picture in the back and you’re the only one in the room.
“It’s a humbling experience, but at the end of the day someone is going to get lucky if he gets on a good team. And at the end of the day, he’s going to prove them all wrong like Pete says will probably be one of the great draft stories in the last 10 years.”
Last year, the Pac-12 set a league record with 14 players selected in the NBA draft.
However, this year only seven Pac-12 players were taken, including Ayton, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday (Indiana – 23), Oregon’s Troy Brown (Washington – 15), USC’s De’Anthony Melton (Houston – 46), USC’s Chimezie Metzu (San Antonio – 49), UCLA’s Thomas Welsh (Denver – 58) and Colorado’s George King (Phoenix – 59).
Here are some Hopkins’ highlights:
(On Trae Young)
“The Steph Curry comparisons are going to keep going back and forth. But this kid, he’s the closest thing to it. He can shoot behind ball screens. He can create. He’s got great IQ and intelligence. But again it goes back to how are they going to play? I think the biggest reason why he doesn’t become the next Steph Curry is going to be the team. Do they play that style? Do they give him the freedom? Do they put other players around him with the same IQ? I think that’s going to be his biggest question mark, but I love him.
“The league doesn’t allow you to play physical like it used to. Have you seen him? He’s slight, but I don’t think he’s going to have a problem with that. But when you start hearing people say he’s gained 20 pounds. Does that give away your quickness and speed? What does that do for you? He not only can make shots with pick-n-rolls, but he can create his own shot and I think that’s what separates him.”
(On DeAndre Ayton)
“I’ve been fortunate to play against Alonzo (Mourning) and I’ve been around Shaq (O’Neal). A lot of the younger guys don’t understand and they never saw those guys, but when you walked in a gym and you saw Alonzo Mouring you were like omigosh. And that’s what you saw when you play against DeAndre Ayton. Now he’s not the shot-blocker that Alonzao was, but he plays with the same aggression and the same physicality and he has actually, I think, better skill. I just think he’s a can’t-miss prospect. I think he’s going to a great NBA player.
“Against us, his 15- to 17-foot jump shot was automatic. He has the ability to make shots. Like I said, the way he rim runs. The way he pick-n-rolls and dives and catch lobs. Pete mentioned the shot blocking, but the biggest thing is how he moves. He moves laterally. … He played against Utah and Justin Bibbins who is really a shifty point guard. They were switching late in the clock and he just stayed in front of him. Kept him in front. Slid his feet. When you have a big guy who can do that, switching will be huge and he can guard 1-5 in that situation.”
(On LiAngelo Ball)
“He doesn’t shoot great. He’s not a great athlete. He doesn’t have something that he does special like his older brother. I’m with Pete, bottom of the G-League.”
(On Jaren Jackson Jr.)
“I didn’t think he was a great rebounder, especially looking at the minutes he played. He’s an upside guy and those guys kind of scare me in this draft. But like Wes was saying earlier, sometimes those guys make it and sometimes they don’t.”
(On Michael Porter Jr.)
“I think he’s one of the best player in the draft if not the best and he’ll be an unbelievable NBA star. I just think the biggest reason why he might not make it is because of the mental makeup. Because at the end of the day, it’s almost like you’re talking yourself into this injury like how am I going to respond to this injury. I wasn’t Michael Porter when I came back to play in the NCAA. Now people are questioning me. It’s the first time he’s ever really hit some adversity. So I think he’s almost taking himself into it. That would be my biggest concern with this. But knowing the background, not knowing him great, but being around where he was going to the University of Washington and talking to people – great family. Great character. Loves to be in the gym. Great worker.
“And guys, he went out. Didn’t have to play and played at 60 or 70 percent to try to help his team win a national championship. Ninety-nine point nine-nine percent of every player in the last 10 years of the draft if they were in his position would have never played. Does that make him stupid? Or does that make him a great kid? If he doesn’t play, there’s no questions other than is he going to pass the medicals? But he went out and played.
“He played with Trae Young in AAU and it was like a show. You saw guys making great passes to him. He’s finishing at the highest level. He’s raising on his jump shot at 6-11. This guy, he rebounds. In the two games that he played, I think he averaged over 12 rebounds a game and when he played in high school he was averaging over 16 rebounds. To be able to be a wing and rebound at those types of numbers, that’s very, very elite.
“There must be a jagged edge in the MRI. He can shoot it. He rebounds at a high clip. He’s a high-character kid. Great in the locker room. There’s like a psyche to this draft. You start to see guys draft and you ask what do they know that I don’t know? Is there something worse? Then it becomes something that’s bigger than what it is.
“They should get arrested for stealing because the bottom line is they just got a top three pick at 14.
“There’s no question he’s an alpha dog. The bottom line is he was the best player in high school basketball a year ago. He’s 6-11. She shoots it. He’s a modern-day whatever. He can do it all. He can shoot the 3. He can post up. He can finish. He’s got a pull-up game. He’s a freak athlete. The guy blocks shots. Rebounds the ball for a wing. Listen this kid, again it goes back to his health. I haven’t seen the MRI, but from what I’ve seen before I think this is the story of the draft. I’m excited for general manager) Arturas Karnisovas and the Denver Nuggets because that’s heckuva pick at 14.”
(On Aaron Holiday)
“DNA. DNA. DNA. At the end of the day, he’s had the answers to the test for how many years now? He works the pick-n-roll as well as anybody. Reminds me a little bit because he’s really strong of Kyle Lowry. Gets in the lane. Strong finisher around the rim. He made shots, but he had to take a lot of shots for UCLA. I like him. He’s got great athleticism of getting in the lane. And that DNA. I don’t know if he’s going to be a backup or a starter, but he’s talented.
“I’m biased, I like him a lot. I think he’ll be a starter in the NBA. Obviously, the DNA piece. The strength piece and the athleticism. There were many games this year where he took over games. He took over our game and in the Pac-12 Tournament, which was one of the best games I thought in college basketball that wasn’t seen by a lot of people, which was Arizona versus UCLA in the semis. Aaron Holiday and DeAndre Ayton showed why they are two elite players play, after play after play. I think he’s a great pick. I think he has a great future and like I told you, he’s had the answers to the test for the last 10 years.”
(On Donte DiVincenzo)
“He’s not a McDonald’s All-American caliber player, but he kept working hard and getting better. Obviously, we know what he did in the NCAA tournament. An extremely good shooter. A catch-and-shoot guy. Reminds me Rex Chapman. Very good athlete and a guy who competes. You start talking about Villanova basketball and how are their guys going to be at the next level? You look at Josh Hart. Tough and competitive kids that go out, play a role and play defense. But this kid can really shoot the ball.
“I’ve watched him. I went to his state championship game when he played. I brought my two kids and he had 29, 12 and 9 and he just dominated the game. It was the first time I saw him. As you started to do your research on him, he was a big-time competitor. The kid has go that killer instinct. And then he kept growing. The kids is 6-7, playing point guard and he shoots the ball. … The competitive piece is there. When you’re competitive and you’re smart, you can play defense and you can run any offense. And most importantly, he just shot one from close to halfcourt. That’s shooting skills. So he’s a high-level player.”
(On Collin Sexton)
“Obviously, he’s an incredible athlete and great at taking the ball to the basket. But in this game and this day in age you got to be able to shoot the basketball. If not you’re like Marcus Smart. There’s value for guys like Marcus Smart. I just don’t know if he makes guys around him better. It’s all for himself. Now can they get him to do that? That’s going to be the big question. But I’m with Pete, I don’t know if he’s a starter in the NBA.
“The ball is got to be in LeBron James’ hand in Cleveland and he’s probably got to have the ball in his hands. He’s not a spot-up guy doing those types of things so that’s why this is a little bit of an odd pick. Now if he was a guy that could get in the lane and kick out and was a great finisher, but this is kind of a weird pick to me.”
(On DeVonte Graham)
“He gets by with strength. He’s got a very good IQ. He can shoot the ball. It’s going to be that athleticism piece, I think, in terms of making that next step.”
(On Grayson Allen)
“All of the things were we talking about what Steph Curry has, he fits (the Utah Jazz) perfectly. And like Pete, I think he has an advantage to be able to play right away. The way he shoots the ball, he can be a combination guard. He’s not a point guard, but when he started handling the ball more for Duke is when they really started playing well as a team. This kid has won for four years. He’s a competitor. I think he’s going to be a really, really good NBA player.”