The inaugural NBA Rookie Film Festival

Oct 16, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley talks with Mavericks rookie forward Justin Anderson (1) during the first half of the game against the Atlanta Hawks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley talks with Mavericks rookie forward Justin Anderson (1) during the first half of the game against the Atlanta Hawks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

There are 1,230 NBA regular season games each year — and then the playoffs start. That’s a Marianas Trench-deep ocean of basketball that neither you nor I will ever get to the bottom of. Which means I certainly don’t have the time to watch more than one or two games each year of basketball played by slower, less explosive, more exploited amateurs for a gambling-crazed audience — a.k.a. the NCAA.

Sure, I’ll watch plenty of the immaculately produced DraftExpress scouting videoseach spring, but I’m no scout. I don’t reallyknow what I’m looking at, there. Only when a prospect is obviously very big or very small or very slow or very speedy or very dunk-tastic or comes from a very cool country (looking at you, Damien Inglis of the Milwaukee Bucks and Walter Tavares of the Atlanta Hawks) or is in some other way easily distinguishable; that’s when I actually become invested in a player’s ephemeral “draft stock.” For the most part, though, I’m just waiting until the rookie class is in an NBA uniform, and then figuring out their games then.

Wonderfully, there is a tool that easily helps us get acquainted with some of the dozens of players who have frenetically begun sinking or swimming in the greatest basketball league in the world: YouTube. The YouTube mini-documentary is the perfect format to follow the prospect in their flash-transformation from basketball boy to basketball man. The months between the end of the college season and Draft Night inherently carry enough mystery, drama, and sheer tonnage of work that a compelling plot basically builds itself.

This Inaugural NBA Rookie Film Festival will focus, specifically, on the mini-docs produced by indie channels. Although VICE Sports did a fantastic job following Karl-Anthony Towns’ monastic preparation, and even though Grantland (R.I.P.) did a fantastic job capturing Kristaps Porzingis’ impossibly flexible and optimistic attitude, these are basically alt-sports behemoths who dispatched whole content-producing crews. I’m looking for the real, raw indie stuff — stuff made on a shoestring budget by one or two dudes with handicams and, somehow, comprehensive access.

What have such indie mini-docs looked like in years past? They’ve looked like Will Barton shouting at his television as he was pushed down, by an uncontrollable invisible hand, into the second round. They’ve looked like Damian Lillard putting in work with “Ant,” who appears to operate out of an Oakland strip mall and is something like the most interesting trainer in the world.

When the subjects of this year’s Film Festival pop up in the waning minutes of an NBA game near you — perhaps looking deer-frozen underneath the bright lights — now we can better know the life-consuming, spirit-stretching process that is playing basketball at a world-class level. Going in reverse draft order:

Best Heart-Twisting Rookie Tragedy

Pierre Jackson / #42 / Philadelphia 76ers

For the most part, all of the best basketball players in the world are playing in the NBA today. But there are a few exceptions, players who continually draw the short stick when it comes to the fickle minutiae of the business of the game. Exhibit A is Jackson, who hardcore fans of the D-League will actually recognize as having been drafted a few seasons ago, in 2013. On Draft Night, Jackson was traded from the 76ers to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the epic Jrue Holiday/Nerlens Noel deal. After lighting up the D-League for the Idaho Stampede in 2013-14 — a monster 29.1 PPG — the Sixers reacquired Jackson in the summer of 2014, only to see him tear his Achilles in the team’s very first Summer League game a few days later, leading to his release. Then, this summer, the Sixers acquired Jackson for the thirdtime, only to cut him in a roster crunch just days before the start of the regular season.

These are neither the first nor the last hurdles to be overcome by Jackson, who went from Southern Idaho Community College to the draft in just two seasons. This documentary shows him hanging out with his mom and grandmother in the same humble Las Vegas apartments he grew up in, bringing his daughter along to make it four generations of Jacksons hanging out together. Jackson is no doubt in Vegas right now, refining his game daily while waiting for that phone to ring. His NBA debut will end up coming years later than it should have.

Best Rookie Travel Documentary

Rakeem Christmas / #36 / Indiana Pacers

Christmas has had an absolutely brutal itinerary for the year 2015: after finishing his senior season for Syracuse, this documentary catches Christmas after he has moved with his aunt to Las Vegas — across the country from where he grew up — to put in pre-draft work, with plenty of trips sprinkled in to work out for all sorts of NBA teams. On Draft Night, Christmas was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and then immediately traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Less than a week after Christmas finished playing for the Cleveland Summer League team — fortunately in Vegas — he was traded again, to the Indiana Pacers, where he had a few weeks to get adjusted to life in Indianapolis before training camp and then the preseason got underway. While basketball life is sweet for the free agents at the very top of the game, Christmas’ journey shows that the fringe player really has very little control over what he does or where he goes.

Best Rookie Mystery

Chris McCullough / #29 / Brooklyn Nets

While the prospects at the top of the Draft are surrounded/protected by so much protective P.R. machinery, McCullough’s year shows that some prospects enter into the league on a lonely, half-blind gamble. After tearing his ACL just 16 games into his collegiate career, McCullough decided to declare for the Draft anyhow, ending up with the sorrier of his two hometown teams, each looking for one to start redeeming the other. As generally sophisticated as the Draft projection process is, it’s also clear that no projection system could confidently handle the open-ended question that McCullough is wordlessly asking.

Most Charming Rookie Debut

Jarell Martin / #25 / Memphis Grizzlies

Again: no two paths to the Draft are paved with the same grade. With Martin, it’s important to remember that what we the audience might roll our eyes at as stilted athlete-speak can actually be just plain-ol’ shyness. Fortunately, by landing with the Grizzlies, it looks like Martin is in an ideal team scenario: he casts perfectly as the little brother to Zach Randolph’s wise veteran sage, ready to be delivered noogies and the inner secrets of power forward. After sustaining a broken foot before training camp, Martin’s debut has been pushed months down the line.

Co-Winner: Best “No I’m Just Cutting Onions In Here” Rookie Moment

Justin Anderson / #21 / Dallas Mavericks

Uh, no, youstarted crying when you watched this video in a public library. From afar, Draft Night can be a cynical circus of Woj-bombs and snarky post-mortem grades. This is beautiful proof that actually being in or even just near the process of the Draft is a euphoric celebration of a huge, epic, impossible dream turned into reality. Here’s somebody that will be more than easy to root for in what could turn out to be a very uneven rebuilding year in Dallas.

Co-Winner: Best “No I’m Just Cutting Onions In Here” Rookie Moment

Delon Wright / #20 / Toronto Raptors

Funny to think that you might have known that Delon Wright was a Raptor before he did: he watched the Draft without a phone — no Twitter to check, no phone call to field from the executive in the war room. He just got the news the old-fashioned way: straight from Adam Silver’s televised mouth. The Wright Brothers are already intimately familiar with the Association, with the elder Dorell having jumped straight from high school way back when such a thing was allowed (2004). But the familiarity does not breed contempt: that family and friends know the gloriousness of what Wright has entered into gives his drafting its own certain sweetness.