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Ranking All of Adrian Wojnarowski’s Draft-Night Euphemisms

It turns out there are many other ways to indicate the players that teams will select, but some are more poetic than others

ESPN/Ringer illustration

On Thursday night, Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN’s NBA scoop machine, had himself a time on Twitter by employing all manner of phrasing to get around the Worldwide Leader’s reported proscription against announcing draft picks ahead of league commissioner Adam Silver. As the copy chief of this website, I think and talk about words just about every waking moment. So it seemed reasonable that I might power-rank Wojnarowski’s tweets. I tried to use the same criteria I use when copyediting a piece: Is it clear? Is it elegant? Is it concise? Away we go:

18. Source: The Sixers are enamored with Landry Shamut at the 26th pick.

I want to be fair, and I want to resist being an annoying copy editor. Wojnarowski was on live TV, he was sourcing info from across the Association, and he was engaging in wordplay all night. But if you’re going to commit to the bit of saying something without really saying it, at least say it right! The correct phrase is “enamored of,” not “enamored with.” (The misspelling on the name is also a bummer, but we’re not here to evaluate spelling.)

17. Source: Boston is tantalized by Robert Williams with the 27th pick.

Tantalized is a ten-dollar word, and his more successful spoilers below rely on simpler usages. But I should note that this was one of his final wink-wink tweets of the night, and he must have been running out of word gas.

16. Source: Portland has a laser on Anfernee Simons.

Here Wojnarowski knows that his joke has achieved escape velocity, so he begins to show off. I prefer the more natural-sounding or less showy entries you’ll see below. Lasers are cool, and laser is a fun word to say out loud, but I find this usage a bit too self-aware.

15. Source: Bulls are on Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison. He was shut down in workouts with Chicago promise.

Eh. I dislike using a preposition (“on”) like this. The phrase lands with a thud, and if you illustrate the image in your head, it seems quite painful for Hutchison. Bulls being on a person strikes me as unpleasant. But I do give Wojnarowski credit for not using “are in on,” the daily overuse of which is getting tiresome.

14. Sources: Sixers are targeting Villanova’s Mikal Bridges with No. 10.

In retrospect, “targeting” seems cruel. Bridges’s television appearance alongside his mother, who works for the 76ers, was heartwarming. After his trade to Phoenix, which Bridges reportedly didn’t know about as he continued to do media interviews, one might wonder: What was he being targeted for?

13. The Spurs are fixated on Lonnie Walker with the 18th pick, source tells ESPN.

This is a little creepy, no? A fixation is an unhealthy obsession, and while the phrase conforms to the boundaries of Wojnarowski’s exercise, it takes the reader to a weird place. Although maybe we should give the writer some credit and ask ourselves whether he’s hinting at something deeper: The Spurs have been in atypical upheaval lately, so maybe the front office betrayed some obsessive vibes in its leak to Wojnarowski.

12. Washington is locked on Troy Brown with the 15th pick, league source tells ESPN.

11. Memphis is locked in on selecting Jaren Jackson Jr., league sources tell ESPN.

These are less weird versions of the Spurs one. See the difference? If you’re “locked in on” someone, you just strongly want them on your team. You’re not lying awake at night replaying scouting video of them on a loop in your head.

10. Phoenix is determined to select Zhaire Smith with 16.

I wouldn’t like this one if I were the Suns. “Is determined to” makes me think that they want to pick Smith, but the team is somehow unable to do so. That said, determined is a strong verb despite its showiness; I instantly envision a plucky Sun, its mind set on the task at hand.

9. Sources: New York has been focused on Kentucky’s Kevin Knox with ninth pick.

8. Orlando is focused on selecting Texas center Mo Bamba with the sixth pick, league source tells ESPN.

Wojnarowski loses a few points for repetition, and the usage is a little mundane (it sounds like coach-speak), but I do enjoy its workmanlike tone when compared to some of the zanier tweets above. This bit works best when he almost fools you into thinking he’s just written a definitive scoop, rather than achieved a bit of syntactical sleight-of-hand.

7. Clippers selecting for the Hornets -- Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

I generally prefer the tweets that can pull off the stunt with a complete sentence, but this one has an avant-garde flair. There’s a disjointedness that communicates just enough clarity to have meaning, but is sufficiently weird to make a reader do a double take, which is an effective strategy for Twitter in particular.

6. Source: The Lakers are unlikely to resist Mo Wagner with the 25th pick.

This one is fun, playfully backing into the tweet with negative phrasing. And there’s a sweetness to the idea that Jeanie, Rob, and Magic (a Spartan of East Lansing!) just couldn’t resist the German kid out of Ann Arbor.

5. Source: Denver has cleared the way to choose Michael Porter Jr. with the 14h pick.

“Has cleared the way” has a nice rhythm to it that starts the line at a jaunty, natural pace. Wojnarowski stumbles immediately after this, though, with the extraneous “to choose.” Everyone understands what the Nuggets are clearing the way for; using “to choose” just sounds like he’s tiptoeing up to a definitive phrase like “will select.”

4. Source: Cleveland prefers Collin Sexton with the No. 8 pick.

Aw, this sounds nice. The verb itself has a pleasing politeness to it, and the construction (subject-verb-object) gets you in and out just like that.

3. Atlanta has zeroed in on Maryland’s Kevin Huerter with the 19 pick, source tells ESPN.

2. Chicago is zeroing in on Wendell Carter with the seventh overall pick, league sources tell ESPN.

I should ding him for repeating the verb, but words that begin with z are cool, and zero and its derivatives are fun to say aloud. I’d have preferred that he maintain some consistency with the tense, though. “Has zeroed in on” communicates finality; “is zeroing in on” comes off as breathless narration.

1. Source: Utah Jazz have no plans to pass on Grayson Allen with the 21st pick.

This is an elegant use of negative phrasing that, on first glance, doesn’t look like a stunt at all. Wojnarowski works in a sly pun (“pass on”) and avoids the fussy construction found in some of his other tweets to nail the landing.