Q&A with NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock: Cavs, Jalen Suggs, Ron Artest and more

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

With the Cleveland Cavaliers trending towards missing the postseason for a third straight year, and/or at least looking to be a work in progress, as KJG’s John Suchan expressed, Cavaliers fans have largely shifted their focus to this summer’s NBA Draft. Sports talk radio, podcasts, and social media have already spent weeks debating the top prospects in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft. Names like Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, and others seemingly spend as much time on Twitter feeds as the Kardashians do on E!

Like Kim, Khole and Kourtney, each of the above-mentioned players (and other prospects) have star power, name recognition and a body of work to reference. For Cavs fans, this time of year is about projecting who would look best in Wine and Gold.

In Keeping Up with the Cavaliers and their upcoming draft outlook, I caught up with Matt Babcock to discuss potential fits. Matt is a basketball lifer with roots in scouting, coaching and the (NBA) agency business. He’s previously contributed draft content to Sports Illustrated and currently serves as the Lead NBA Draft Analyst for Basketballnews.com: a must follow for any hoops fan.

The Babcock family is as synonymous with the NBA as pre-game handshakes and post-game jersey swaps (in a non-COVID-19 time at least). Matt’s father, two uncles and two cousins have all worked in, or currently work in the NBA in a variety of roles from coaching to the front office.

Matt dished on Ron Artest, the Cavaliers’ Darius Garland-Collin Sexton backcourt, the best prospect in this year’s draft and more NBA topics.

Q) Before we jump into the Cavaliers, I wanted to ask about your time working for a sports agency. You first managed talent, then started your own agency. At one point you were a part of Ron Artest’s management team (who is now known as Metta Sandiford-Artest). Was he as fierce off the court as he was on it? Specifically, was he ultra-competitive, felt like people were out to get him, intense, etc.?

"A) “First of all, I wouldn’t say that I managed Ron. I worked for his agent David Bauman and his agency DB Hoops (which no longer exists), as a junior agent, agent-in-training or whatever terminology you’d like to use along those lines. It was a boutique agency and we represented around ten NBA players. For the most part, David and I did just about everything for the company. Regarding Ron specifically, I was responsible for initiating and managing his marketing opportunities, however, David was his day-to-day point person. I worked for David, DB Hoops, and Ron for a few years, pretty much right after his suspension following “The Malice at the Palace.”Of course, at that point his reputation had taken a major hit. Still, all of my interactions with Ron were positive. There’s no denying that he’s a big personality but I liked being around him; he’s just a nice, personable guy. I think he’s often misunderstood from that standpoint, especially back then. Anyway, once David secured his deal with the Lakers, Ron’s marketing really took off and we had to sort through all different types of offers and opportunities.In addition to the representation that we provided, Ron hired a publicist and business manager, Lou Taylor, who also worked with Britney Spears. We collaborated with Lou and I found it interesting, as I was able to get a small glimpse of the entertainment world. Overall, it was a great experience for me as a young guy working in sports. It gave me a lot of exposure and a lay of the land as to how business is conducted off the court for high profile athletes and celebrities, for that matter.”"

Q) As an NBA agent, in your experience, who was tougher to please: the team you were negotiating with or the player you were attempting to sign/keep?

"A) “Recruiting prospective clients is significantly more challenging than negotiating with teams. The agency business is so competitive and cutthroat. Many agents will do whatever it takes to sign good players and it makes recruiting feel impossible at times. Aside from my desires to get back to working more directly in basketball, the negative aspects of recruiting were key reasons that ultimately led me to decide to get out of the agent business.”"

Q) Did any of your players get a draft “promise” from any team(s), and did they fulfil the promise?

"A) “Yes, I did have some players that I had worked with that had received draft promises. Luckily, the teams that we dealt with in those particular cases kept their word. However, I do know that other agents have had those situations backfire on them.”"

Q) You spent some time working for a scouting service writing reports on college prospects. While scouting, who was the player(s) you scouted that surprised you the most and why?

"A) “Once I got out of the agent business, I volunteered to scout for Marty Blake & Associates for one season the 2017-2018 season, to be specific. The one player that surprised me the most from that year’s draft was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from Kentucky. I wouldn’t say I disliked him, but I wasn’t all on board either. In hindsight, what threw me off with Gilgeous-Alexander was that he was used as a point guard while at Kentucky, and I just didn’t see it. Although I do my best to try to always be right, sometimes players prove me wrong. I consider myself to be a “basketball lifer,” and I truly want what’s best for the game. When a player proves me wrong, I think it’s good for the game. With that said, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has certainly proven me wrong and I’m happy that he did.”"

Q) What can a scout see from watching a game live and in-person that they can’t see/evaluate from tv or game film?

"A) “I’m a big believer that in order to properly evaluate prospects you need a balance of both watching players in-person and on film. The main things for me that I feel I gain from watching a player in-person are getting a better grip of a player’s physical tools, body movements, instincts, personality, body language, and just all the little things, like how he warms up and interacts with teammates, coaches, and everyone else in the arena. My evaluations of prospects often dramatically change upon watching them in-person.”"

Q) Shifting our focus to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’re a young team with 4 current players on the roster who were drafted over the last 3 seasons (Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and Isaac Okoro). A 5th first round pick (Kevin Porter Jr.) was traded to the Houston Rockets earlier this season. Briefly assess what you’ve seen from each thus far.

"A) “Sexton and Garland have developed how I had hoped they would. I think the biggest thing for Sexton is that he’s become self-aware as to what he really is, and he’s being used the right way… he’s a scorer and not a true point guard. As for Garland, he only played in 5 games at Vanderbilt prior to a season-ending injury before he entered the NBA draft. Luckily for me, I was in Los Angeles for one of those games to see him play against Kevin Porter Jr. and USC. I walked away from that game thoroughly impressed with both players. Garland’s combination of outside shooting and overall craftiness were instantly apparent to be traits that would translate to the NBA well, and they have; I think he’s a good player.Kevin Porter Jr.’s situation was different. He has talent that is undeniable. Back then I thought he was a lottery pick talent and I don’t think anyone would have argued that. Nonetheless, there were some non-basketball related concerns with him, and it seems as if those were the main reason the Cavs ultimately moved on.I thought Dylan Windler was selected a little too high, but at the same time a player with positional size that can shoot the ball at a high level potentially has a lot of value in the NBA. His injury situation in what should have been his rookie season was unfortunate, and this year his performance has been a little underwhelming considering how high he was selected; however, I think we should give the guy a little more time before we make any conclusive judgments on him.”"

Q) Sexton, Garland, and Okoro were all top 10 picks. Which player of the three would you want to build around/with long-term and why?

"A) “I like all three, although they are very different. However, if I had to choose, I’d take Collin Sexton. I love his toughness, competitiveness, and his ability to put the ball in the hole. I remember watching him at Alabama a few years ago. During warmups his intensity could be felt throughout the whole arena. Although I had some concerns with his game, I remember thinking, “there’s no way this kid doesn’t figure it out on some level or another.” The level of focus and determination that he possessed at that stage in his career convinced me that he would be able to find success. In that particular evaluation, I was right.”"

Q) Both Garland, especially of late, and Sexton have had bright moments this season. Can this backcourt of two barely over six-foot guards work?

"A) “Yeah, I think so. The Cavs certainly could use some additional pieces and their younger players need to continue developing, but I like their core unit overall. Rebuilding is always a grueling process, but I don’t feel like the Cavs are at a dead-end by any means. I think Koby Altman has done a nice job.”"

Q) What are your thoughts on Isaac Okoro as we near the finish of his rookie season?

"A) “I think I had a good grip on Okoro going into last year’s draft. He’s a big-time athlete and defender. His offensive game is somewhat simple, but he has a good feel for how to play. His outside shooting, although not broken, is definitely his swing skill. All in all, I think long term we’ll look back and consider Okoro to be a good draft pick. Also, let’s not forget he’s only 20 years old.”"

Q) The Cavs appear likely to land another top 5 pick in this summer’s draft. If you’re Cleveland, which prospects fit best with their current roster?

"A) “Our big board at basketballnews.com has our top 5 players being Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green, and Jonathan Kuminga. Jalen Suggs is probably the only player that I see as a guy that wouldn’t be a great fit, as he’s an on ball, true point guard. The other players would all fit in my mind. However, Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley would absolutely be at the top of my wish list if I were the Cavs.”"

Q) Would the Garland/Sexton backcourt make you shy away from drafting another guard?

"A) “It depends. I like the idea of adding a versatile guard like Cade Cunningham who can be used in a multitude of roles, as he’s 6’8, 220 and can defend multiple positions and do a little bit of everything on offense. On the flip side, a true point guard like Jalen Suggs that’s probably only 6’3 or 6’4″ wouldn’t give you nearly as much lineup flexibility considering two of your best players are undersized guards.”"

Q) In your opinion, is any projected top 5 pick talented/mature enough to start on day 1 over any of the Cavs’ (regular) starting lineup of Jarrett Allen, Kevin Love, Okoro, Sexton and Garland?

"A) “I would expect Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley to be able to crack that lineup. The other players would have a fighting chance, but I wouldn’t necessarily bet on them being penciled into the starting lineup right off the bat.”"

Q) Who is your favorite player in this draft and why?

"A) “We currently have Cade Cunningham ranked #1 on our big board but I find myself constantly gravitating to Evan Mobley. He’s 7’0″ with a 7’4″ wingspan, runs like a deer, can shoot threes, passes like a guard, and is one of the best rim protectors I’ve ever seen at the college level. I don’t know if it would be appropriate to say that I have one favorite player in the draft, but I do feel comfortable in saying that I’m most intrigued by Evan Mobley.”"

The 2021 NBA Draft will be held July 29 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Draft Lottery is scheduled for June 22. The Cleveland Cavaliers hope to land a pick inside the top 3 after having drafted 5th overall in back-to-back drafts.

Next. Cleveland Cavaliers: 10 greatest guards in franchise history. dark

Should the Cavaliers land a top 3 pick, it’ll mark their first time drafting inside of the top 5 since 2014 when they selected now-Golden State Warriors wing Andrew Wiggins first overall.