If you were to graph the speed of Malachi Richardson’s NBA draft hype train, the curve would look exponential — the buzz surrounding the former Syracuse standout is increasing at an increasing rate.
On Tuesday, after Richardson was one of many players represented by ASM Sports to participate in the agency’s pro day, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer tweeted that a league scout thinks the Trenton native will be drafted in the top 10.
(Side note: check out Richardson’s feet in this video. They’re perpendicular to each other, which doesn’t seem natural. He drilled 13 of 15 triples, though, so I guess this is a classic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”)
That’s a jaw-dropping development, considering where Richardson’s stock stood as recently as April. Throughout the draft process, media outlets have pegged him anywhere from the late first round to outside the top 150 prospects. Now, Richardson appears to be a lock for the first round, with a strong chance to hear his name called in the lottery — a stunning rise that required roughly two months.
In each of the past three NBA drafts, a player has skyrocketed up big boards in a similar fashion.
In 2013, Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams pulled a Malachi and ditched his ACC school after a solid freshman season. One week after he declared for the draft on April 2, Bleacher Report ranked him 30th on its big board, saying the seven-footer would “need some time in the D-League.” A couple months later, the Thunder selected the New Zealander at No. 12, and now, he’s a building block for Oklahoma City.
A year later, Zach LaVine announced his eligibility for the draft after one season at UCLA. Bleacher Report slotted him at No. 26 in its early-April prospect rankings; the Timberwolves cut that number in half when they took him 13th. Aside from capturing the national spotlight in the 2015 Dunk Contest, the über-athletic LaVine floundered as a rookie, posting the league’s worst rating among point guards in ESPN’s real plus-minus. But the 21-year-old improved mightily in his second NBA season, when he played more at his natural position of shooting guard.
Finally, in 2015, Cameron Payne left Murray State after excelling as a sophomore, and USA Today projected him as a second-rounder in an April mock draft. The floor general flew up big boards and snuck into the lottery when the Thunder (which has established itself as the NBA’s best drafting team) grabbed him at No. 14. Though he struggled to find playing time behind Russell Westbrook, Payne flashed signs of starting-caliber potential as a rookie.
A three-player sample size isn’t exactly a sturdy foundation upon which to build a theory, but Oklahoma City and Minnesota must be happy with their initial returns on those investments. When it comes to the NBA draft, perhaps it’s smart to hop on the hype train when you hear it coming.