The Doctor is In
Just as knowing is half the battle, being an NBA ready talent is only half of what makes or breaks an NBA career. The D-League, Euroleagues, and cashier lines are littered with former NBA fodder; soon to-be-stars for whom prodigious athletic skill wasn't quite enough to keep their proverbial cup of coffee warm. Some are injury-riddled, some are befuddled by glaring holes in their game, most just never came to the realization that being a superior athlete often just isn't enough.
To have a longstanding NBA career, a player must recognize what he brings to the table. More importantly - and often more critically - he must realize what he doesn't bring, and subsequently work to mitigate the conspicuous nature of these shortcomings. This self-awareness is what keeps guys like Jeff Hornaceck in the league forever, while we're left to wonder what happened to players like Stephon Marbury. Athletic hubris may be what ails most NBA washouts, but perhaps there is a cure if each player is willing to take their medicine. The following players' NBA careers seem to be infirmed, for some they are even in critical condition. Here's a breakdown of what ails each player, and how they may be able to nurse themselves back to healthy NBA careers:
Kendall Marshall - After leading the ACC in assists in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Marshall entered the draft with much anticipation as general managers thought the leftie had the potential to play as a larger version of veteran stalwart Mark Jackson. Now, a little over a year into his career, Marshall finds himself without a team to call his own.
Diagnosis - Marshall's inability to keep teams honest from the perimeter (he shot a little over 31% from the three-point line last year) exacerbates his lack of premium level athleticism. In a league where guards are now lighting quick, Marshall looks lost and athletically overwhelmed.
Treatment - Marshall's career may already be at an end, as he still has yet to latch onto a team despite prolific injuries throughout the league at the guard postilion. If Marshall hopes to hit the reset button on his career, he'll have to do so as a backup for a team that needs a larger guard who can steady a secondary offense. Marshall has value as a playmaker (he averaged 7.3 assists per 36 mins.) and could be a reasonable bench performer for a team in need of backup guard play (Raptors or Kings). But to stick on a roster, Marshall will have to show that he can be more than just an above average passer.
Austin Rivers - Rivers came into the league with a wealth of promise and pedigree. Unfortunately for the former Blue Devil neither has helped him develop into the player most projected the former number 10 pick to be.
Diagnosis - Rivers' case is actually far more troubling than it may seem. While Rivers has a superior first step and NBA-ready athleticism, he lacks the ability to finish in the paint; a malady that mitigates his explosiveness, allowing defenders to feel safe in overplaying Rivers to shoot. Adding to his difficulties is Rivers abhorrent shooting from both the field (37%) and worst, the line (55%).
Treatment - Sadly Rivers' career seems to be close to flat-lining. Rivers lacks the requisite play-making instinct to be a natural point guard, and is far too poor of a shooter to be a scoring guard off the bench. If Doc's progeny hopes to find a niche, he better discover his inner defender, otherwise all that athleticism will be better suited for Tel Aviv or Dancing With the Stars.
Thomas Robinson - The former Jayhhawk star tantalized GM's with his work ethic and NBA-ready body. But, shortly into his career, the former number five pick has earned journeyman status while playing for three teams in little over a season.
Diagnosis- Entering the league, teams felt sure that Robinson's high effort level would yield productivity in spite of some questions about his lack of fluidity and polish. Unfortunately, Robinson's effort has been as unsteady as his address. Robinson lacks the offensive skill to allow him to take plays off from an effort standpoint but he still has a tendency to look complacent at times, drifting for too many mid-range jump shots and not battling as hard on the block as need be.
Treatment- Robinson has looked better in Portland, as an effort guy off the bench seems to be his niche going forward. While Robinson may never be as productive as you would hope from such a high pick, he has value as a big who can be efficient in spurts. Limited minutes should allow Robinson to run his motor on high in brief segments, and Portland's wealth of bigs should allow him to play without the pressure of having to live up to his once lofty expectations.
Meyers Leonard - The former Illini big man has been sidelined with gastroenteritis as of late, but prior to that Leonard had been sidelined by Portland's coach Terry Stotts demotion to third on the depth chart at center for the upstart Blazers.
Diagnosis - Leonard is an above average athlete for a center and runs the floor quite well for his size (7'1”). That said, he has a tendency to look mechanical and his offensive game is inorganic.
Treatment - Leonard looks uncomfortable at almost any spot on the floor and would benefit greatly from developing a secondary move on the block (Leonard shoots a respectable right hand jump hook). The athletic big man's value should be as an above-the-rim rebounder and shot blocker (a la The Bridman) as he'll never be true a force on the offensive end.
Royce White - The former Iowa State Cyclone looked like he had the potential to be a rich man's Brian Cardinal; a "do-it-all" big man who made teammates better by both skill and guile.
Diagnosis- Aviaphobia (fear of flying)
Treatment-A matter-transporter or flux capacitor
Tyler Zeller - Coming out of North Carolina, the former Tar Heel seemed to match an enticing combination of size, mobility, and touch. Now over a year into his career, it seems that he only brought a third of that triumvirate to the NBA level.
Diagnosis - While Zeller's size is inarguable (7'0"), his other skills have not seemed to transfer. Zeller is shooting an abysmal 44% from the field for his career and averaged just a meager 5.7 rebounds per game as the primary center for the Cavs last year. Zeller's inability to play as a stretch five exposed his lack of toughness. Zeller also has a set of hands that would make Ruberto Duran jealous, as his inability to catch in traffic, or out of it for that matter, makes him a liability in a pick-and-roll offense.
Treatment - Size can't be taught, so Zeller's ability to be large should keep him on NBA benches for years to come. The Cavs seem to have already accepted the folly of their drafting Zeller with the 17th overall pick. He has already been relegated to a paltry 7.3 mins. per game this season (down from 26.4 per last season) despite starting an inexplicable 55 games last year. Zeller could be a decent big in a rotation of bodies, though the fact that the struggling Cavs don't seem to have minutes for him does not bode well for the overwhelmed center.
Leonard lost his spot in the rotation because of his awful defense, not his offense. He's slow laterally, lacks agility and has poor awareness on defense. Offensively he's fine. He can shoot (he actually has really good range), pass, set wide screens, is a big target on rolls/oops and has very good touch around the rim.
His issue is defense.
And Zeller lost his spot mostly because they signed Bynum, Varejao is healthy (while he missed many games last year) and they drafted Bennett who takes away some minutes at the 4, not because of how he's playing.
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