Why is it that certain players pan out at the professional level while others flame out??
The NBA Draft is approaching rapidly and franchises are scrutinizing game film, interviewing, and working out prospects in preparation for a million dollar decision.
Does this kid have the right work ethic? Can he play a lick of defense? What is his ceiling? Is he mentally tough? Is he a leader? Does he make the right decisions OFF the court? There are an infinite number of questions and only a limited amount of time to pursue the answers.
The main reason college stars succeed or fail at the next level rests internally. Those who watch a lot of basketball or have been around a lot of professional athletes know that there are guys who play the game because it’s all they know (think about guys born with the talent or height, but never developed a passion for the game)…some who play for notoriety and fame…and others who play for the thrill of competition. The best GM’s pursue players who fit the latter description…
I recall talking to ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski a year ago and we were talking about the difference between good and great players. He told me that there are a lot of players who “say they want to be the best,” but there are only a handful of players who are willing to “put in the WORK to be the best.”
Good players love games…Great players also love practice.
Is X player a self-motivator? Does he show up to training camp in shape? Is he putting in extra shots before and after practice? This type of attitude can’t be present without an intense passion for the game and competition.
Franchises have to be leery of guys who play ball simply because “…everyone told me to after I grew six inches in middle school.” If the passion isn’t there, then how do you expect such a player to react when the team that drafts them struggles? Many either shut down or develop an “I don’t care” kind of attitude that’s hard to snap out of. Players who have a passion for the game don’t get discouraged over growing pains; they take it as a learning experience and use failure as fuel to improve. If you’re not mentally tough, you’re not going to make it at the next level.
The other side of the success/failure scenario is location, location, location.
Some players may take fans by surprise at the NBA level because they may have been a part of a college system that didn’t compliment their skillset. Russell Westbrook is a classic example. He averaged 12.7 points as a sophomore before declaring for the NBA Draft. He was widely considered a late lottery pick, but wowed NBA GM’s with his play during pre-draft workouts. The system at UCLA didn’t hinder him entirely, but teams were shocked by what they saw during the offseason scrimmages. As a result he rocketed up draft boards and was taken 4th overall. The rest…is history.
On the flip-side, there are players whose shortcomings are hidden by the college game, but exposed at the next level. Raise your hand if you thought Mateen Cleaves, Adam Morrison, or Ed O’Bannon would be solid players in the NBA? Didn’t happen… (Jury is still out on my boy Jimmer… It’s been ONE YEAR y’all!)
Lastly, some players have their potential soiled by bad experiences with poorly run franchises…usually with bad seeds/teammates already on the roster. Bad coaches, no leaders, “me-first teammates”, the list goes on. Remember, there’s a reason dysfunctional teams have lottery picks every year. Even the most positive athletes turn sour amidst a group of negative/selfish teammates and condescending coaches (No…that’s not an indirect shot at Jim O’Brien).
There are other franchises that get the most out of every single player on their roster. San Antonio seems to have that effect on rooks. They have the perfect mix of talent, veteran leadership, and great coaching. DeJuan Blair was medically red-flagged a few years ago, but has succeeded. George Hill thrived with Popovich…as did last year’s newcomer Kawai Leonard.
Would Blair have had the same impact with the Nets? What if Hill was drafted by the Wizards? Would Leonard have excelled with the Bobcats?
All that said, the 2012 NBA Draft is an interesting one to say the least. Anthony Davis is undoubtedly the top pick, but after that you have a bunch of guys who could easily thrive or fail based on the reasons mentioned above.
While the Pacers are flirting with trade offers, they currently have only one pick on Thursday: the 26th selection in the first round.
My top three choices (subject to change after the next scheduled pre-draft workout) are Draymond Green (Michigan State), Royce White (Iowa State), and Fab Melo (Syracuse).
Green is considered a late first/early second round pick, but he has a winner’s pedigree after spending four years with Tom Izzo. He’s played in big games and is arguably the best leader of the 2012 draft class. His game has improved each and every year and would have a smooth transition toward becoming a professional and dealing with the grind of an 82 game schedule.
White is a wild card. He has a LeBron James-type frame (6-8, 261), he can handle the rock and distribute the ball. He’s a classic point-forward with very few weaknesses (outside of a streaky jump shot). In fact, his most glaring weakness is off the court. White takes medication for an anxiety disorder that comes from a fear of flying. The disorder has led to him being dropped on most draft boards, but the team that takes a chance on him will get a heck-of-a talent.
Melo had a horrific end to his college career. Syracuse was one of the top-seeds in the NCAA Tournament this past March…but he wasn’t able to participate due to being academically ineligible. He’s trying to put the experience behind him and actually had a solid pre-draft workout with the Pacers on the 19th. He’s a 7-footer whose game is very raw right now. He doesn’t have a mid-range game, but finishes well at the rim and is an active defender. He’s a project, but depth at the center position is an undeniable need for the Blue and Gold. If they don’t pursue a veteran back-up for Hibbert, then I expect a player like Melo to be in the mix.
Finally, IF the Pacers move up I wouldn’t be surprised to see Austin Rivers, Marquis Teague, Kendall Marshall, or Tyler Zeller on their radar.
Enjoy a week full of rumors leading up to Thursday’s draft.
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