ESPN Article: NBA Draft - Why Some Guys Are Better in the League
This article appears in the June 28 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Daniel Orton averaged 3.4 points as a freshman for Kentucky last season, but that hasn't stopped some GMs from thinking the 19-year-old center might be worth a lottery slot in the upcoming draft. His stats and status may seem incompatible, but a team builder's job is to project what a player will do, not grade what he has already done. Anyone can see POY candidates like Kevin Durant or John Wall will do fine in the NBA. Tabbing a guy who turns out to be a way better pro than his college career would have led you to believe is the real draft-night coup.
Russell Westbrook averaged only 12.7 ppg as a UCLA sophomore shooting guard. Check him out now. As an NBA rookie in 2008-09, he averaged 15.3 ppg -- in fewer minutes -- at the point for the Thunder. By Year 2, he was among the league's top young guards.
Rajon Rondo was a pariah at Kentucky, scoring 9.6 ppg in his two-year career there, and he was mocked in some circles after leaving early to enter the 2006 draft. Who looks foolish now? These days he's the Celtics' linchpin and a triple-double waiting to happen. "Some players are great in college and only average in the NBA," says Pistons president Joe Dumars. "Some are average in college but great in the pros. It's because the pro game is so different. It lets guys like Rondo exploit their talents more."
And yet on draft night 20 players were chosen before Rondo. You'd think some of those teams had to have been in the market for an All-Star point guard. The fact is most of the GMs just didn't see Rondo coming. And so we ask: What does a player who will blossom at the next level look like?
Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor offers a useful starting point. "I always say scouts spend too much time telling me what a player can't do," he says. "I'd like to know what a guy can do at the next level. It's a harder question to answer."
Every prospect has warts -- and warts are hard to ignore. If you saw Steve Nash at Santa Clara, it was clear he lacked blow-by quickness. At Arizona, Gilbert Arenas looked like a classic tweener: a 2-guard trapped in a 1's body. Turns out, neither shortcoming mattered because each player has other attributes that override it. Nash is -- and was -- a lights-out shooter with a basketball IQ to match. Arenas' range and ability to attack off the bounce make him an unstoppable scoring force, wherever he plays. Scouts say it takes one elite tool to make it in the NBA. In the cases of Nash and Arenas, some of them missed the obvious because they were blinded by the negative.
A scout's view can also be blurred by the nature of the college game. Just as some systems inflate a player's value (see: Adam Morrison at Gonzaga), others prevent players from showcasing their skills. UCLA seems to specialize in hiding NBA talent. Over the past two NBA seasons, Westbrook, Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday all significantly exceeded expectations set by their so-so college stats. Ben Howland's grind-it-out game plan is largely to blame. Those three natural point guards are all blessed with great speed and attacking instincts, but Howland dialed them back to a plodding pace. He also mostly played Westbrook and Holiday off the ball (alongside Collison), which obscured their playmaking skills. Safely in the pros, the ex-Bruins benefited further from the NBA's tight hand-checking rules. "The college game can make the court feel really small," says Dumars. "In the NBA, the court is more spread out, and the rules encourage more individual play."
Those guys were hardly the only prospects whose college years were a system failure. Now that Deron Williams is an All-Star, it's easy to forget how much heat the Jazz took for snatching him third in 2005, ahead of Chris Paul, after he scored 12.5 ppg as an Illinois junior. He did that, though, as part of a three-guard, equal-opportunity lineup that cofeatured Dee Brown and Luther Head. With an offense all to his own he has thrived in a way few could have predicted.
Rondo's experience, though, speaks loudest in favor of not judging a book by its college cover. His clunky jumper and discomfort in the halfcourt clashed with Tubby Smith's style at Kentucky, leading scouts not only to knock his skills but also to label him "uncoachable." Turns out, he just needed a change of scenery.
"IT'S SO TOUGH TO BE GREAT IF YOU AREN'T A GREAT ATHLETE."
I witnessed that firsthand. Rondo was in Chicago prepping for the draft and not impressing anyone with his individual workouts. But when he walked across the court to play five-on-five with some other prospects, his whole future was transformed. He pushed the ball at a breakneck pace, changed direction on a dime and got to the basket at will. His huge hands gave him unusual ball control; three times, he dropped dimes that drew audible "ooohs" from spectators. A Celtics scout was in the gym that day, and a few weeks later they dealt for him on draft night after the Suns picked him 21st.
This year, Texas guard Avery Bradley, Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe and Georgetown forward/center Greg Monroe may well follow in the footsteps of Westbrook, Williams and Rondo. Bradley's freshman impact and role was limited on a deep and talented Texas team. So he never got to show the stuff that persuaded ESPNU to rank him first in the prep class of 2009, ahead of Wall. Speaking of Wall, Bledsoe ran alongside him in Lexington, which means he didn't get to handle or create much. And Monroe played in a Princeton-style offense that highlights fundamentals, not one-on-one skills. Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert didn't put up big stats as Hoyas either, but they're already successful pros.
And then there's Orton. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson hogged much of UK's inside game, leaving little room for Orton, a highly regarded prospect who was coming off knee surgery. Fact is, he has tremendous size and strength that should pay off in a league in which so many bigs float to the perimeter. And that highlights one final factor: Physical profiles, in particular elite athleticism, matter.
"It's so tough to be a great player if you aren't a great athlete," Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard says. "You can hide it in college because teams pack it in on defense and make you beat them on the perimeter. But in the NBA, teams primarily play man-to-man, and speed and quickness rise to the top."
There are countless examples of athletic players who didn't stay long enough in college to develop, only to thrive eventually in the NBA. Trevor Ariza comes to mind. Even guys who stick around awhile may not thrive until they hit the league. Richard Jefferson was a role player in three years at Arizona, but the NBA has been a better fit. Added space and a tighter whistle made his quickness and hops more valuable at both ends of the floor.
Through this lens, Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu and UConn's Stanley Robinson look better and better. Neither forward lived up to his potential in college, but both possess first-tier skills.
When they -- and Orton too -- hear their names on draft night, they'll also hear a chorus of skepticism. What do they see in him?
The smarter question is: What are the critics missing?
This is a great article and speaks to why Derrick Favors should be the second pick in the draft. With his elite athleticism and length he is gonna be an absolute terror in the NBA sooner rather then later because he is already strong. Unlike Brandon Wright who was frail and brittle coming into the league.
no matter where he goes...
Derrick Favors should not be the 2nd pick in the draft. Over Evan Turner? DeMarcus Cousins? HELL no.
Send them to Philly...I'll take the chance on 2 prospects like that...add the 23rd for a guy to defend the basket and thats a good draft...NJ should draft Cousins...And I bet they do...Favors fall to 4 and Minny tries to ship him and those other pick to Philly for Turner....
"A scout's view can also be blurred by the nature of the college game. Just as some systems inflate a player's value (see: Adam Morrison at Gonzaga)..."
I think Luke Babbitt falls into this category.
He's got the size, strength and skills to succeed, He'll be a poor mans Nocioni at best...Strong Combo Forward that can hit the 3 and rebound...He's not the defender Noci is but...he can grow into a 6th man role for any team in the L....I don't think he should be a top 10 pick...but not far from it...
@Jnixon i was commenting based on the article plus mostly everybody will agree that Favors has a higher ceiling. Favors played in a slow grind it out system at GA Tech along with guards who had zero court vision otherwize they would of noticed the 6'10 mammoth downlow more often. Despite that fact he still averaged 12, 8, n 2 in 27 mins. The NBA game being more wide open and playing with a real point guard will allow Favors to blossom. Favors is also super athletic he runs the court faster then Turner and jumps higher. And Favors will have no trouble playing center in the league not with a 9'5 standing reach. For another reason why Favors should go second check out these situational statistics courtesy of Synergy sports.http://www.draftexpress.com/article/Situational-Statistics-This-Yearas-Power-Forward-Crop-3505/
You can love Favors attributes all you want. Sure, he could be the #2 pick, but he could also be the next Tyrus Thomas or Stromile Swift. I hope he turns out better and is able to use his tools to his advantage, but he is raw and could go either way.
This article makes sense because all of the above guys they mentioned were not top 5 picks (aside from Deron and that only comes up because up until this season, Paul really outshined him).
I no longer support this idea sc215. George will not be at 16 and there is no one else I would want there who would justify giving up Turner.
Is it just me or does Daniel Ortom look very similiar to Russell Westbrook?
This means that if your a true basketball player such as scheyer, babbit, or other white players with true fundemantels of the game. the nba is not for the because they cant jump high enough
In a lot of cases, what you said is dead on. I am sick of being PC and saying "it's not cuz he's white" when a lot of times it is!
Only the white guys in this draft draft are "true basketball players," thats funny..... BTW whats a "true basketball player???
Someone one who plays the game of basketball, shoots well, passes well, has a good iq....how many black players cant shoot for &$#%#&@! and they have the"trumendous potential" lable on them because they can jump high and run fast. NBA has no fundamentals at all and its just a bunch of "athletic players" aka black people who dont know what the hell basketball truly is....And cut the crap on the lable of every white player as just smart with a lack of athletisim and no potential. Thats a bunch of racist fu.cks. p.s how about duke not being athletic enough :)
wow a little bitter are we? let me guess you were cut from you high school team huh?
You just completely contradicted yourself. You claim it's racist to say white players lack athleticism (which in general, happens to be a fact), but then claim that the NBA the best bball in the world, is nothing but black guys with no fundamentals. Are you familiar with a guy named Kobe Bryant, who as a guard has prolly the best post moves in the league, or Ray Allen perhaps one of the best shooters of all time, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Durant (ur right can't shoot at all, only 90% from the ft line), Melo, Lebron the triple double machine sucks too, yep no basketball fundamentals for these guys at all.
Also in all seriousness, if there is a mod looking at this, Will you please ban this idiot? We shouldn't have to put up with racism on this site.
The article makes a lot of valid points, both black and white there are a lot of very effective basketball players that use their smarts and fundamentals to carve out very productive careers.
Dejuan Blair, Taj Gibson, A.J Price, Jon Brockman, and Austin Daye all put together solid rookie seasons and look to be in the league for years to come.
Kevin Durant, although he has great length is a very limited athlete as far as jumping, strength and lateral quickness goes and he is one of the best young players in the league.
Shhhhhh.... Avery Bradley being a STEAL is a secret...
"Someone one who plays the game of basketball, shoots well, passes well, has a good iq....how many black players cant shoot for &$#%#&@! and they have the"trumendous potential" lable on them because they can jump high and run fast."
How many black players have superior fundamentals??? Well plenty just look at the FINALS Kobe (superior footwork, handles, jumper), Ray Allen (One of the sweetest strokes ever), Paul Pierce (nice footwork plus hes got that old man game), KG (footwork, high bball IQ on O and D), D. Fisher (solid D and a watery jumper), Bynum (footwork and very sound handling the ball in the post)... Really its NOT about race when it comes to fundamentals... There are plenty of black players that are fundamentally sound in the NBA and in the upcoming draft... "Athletic players" aka black players??? Well I think the there a plenty of athletic white players all around the country on all levels of basketball (high school, college, NBA, rec. league basketball etc)... This is PRO basketball the players are sooo athletic that their athleticism sometimes overrides fundamentals.. Blame the scouts that drool over potential... I think you are too wrapped up in RACE, cant handle the black guys in the gym??? You DO sound bitter lol...