It’s A League Of Give And Take.
Preface – Jordan White at Hardwood Paroxysm wrote about potential and getting to the point where we need to give up on it. His piece fueled the fire for me writing this.
In scientific fields, even the best at their crafts don’t breakthrough into new ground on skill alone. Divine intervention always seems to be a part of the formula in the latest development, without discrediting the work of very smart men. In the scientific field of basketball scouting and drafting, I would never want to discredit the amount of hard work organizations put into the process. However, this form of serendipity also comes into focus when a young NBA player seemingly pulls untapped potential out of thin air.
Potential sometimes plays the role of a haunting spirit, leaving fan bases to get lost in their thoughts. What if a player never got hurt or actually played how they could? Or potential can be the apparition resting over a players shoulders, making them wonder why they aren’t living up to other expectations. Potential’s light can also be existent, counteracting the dark, leading to a player becoming an asset some could never imagine.
When the draft marches on after the first couple picks, the talent in the waters become less visible due to cloudy delusion. Andrew Bynum type players can emerge from a 10th pick to be an All-Star player. Meanwhile, players such as Ike Diogu seemingly always get picked in front of him. Regardless of Bynum’s antics this year, the argument that Diogu would go in front of him again in a redraft is certainly irrational.
Paul George fits this classic mold, being the 10th pick out of Fresno State. George was noted for having high defensive potential due to great size and athleticism. There was upside to Paul, but am not sure too many felt he would be a 22 year old All-Star. A draft profile even said “I would take Xavier Henry every day of the week before George” and that George would have to adjust to being a “third or fourth option on a team.” His rookie season definitely indicated that the second one was true, highlighting George’s inability to create for himself and 29% mark from three. He flashed the ability of being good, especially on defense, but being ranked the 28th player in the league was certainly a delusion of grandeur.
He came into camp the next year with rumors of a 2-inch growth spurt, and hard work on his jumper. Since then, he’s been involved in the All-Star game, the Dunk Contest, and the 3 Point Contest. He’s become a second-tier wing defender, just below defensive artists such as Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen. Most importantly, he’s become one of the best three players (I don’t know how you rank West, Hibbert, or George) on the team with the third-best record in the East.
The shadow of Kwame Brown is cast over every young center. The name is whispered like an urban legend whenever a young big man displays motor-issues. Sometimes it results in more smokescreen than fire, and a big man breaks through becoming an athletic mismatch for some of their more stoically-moving counterparts.
Enter Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, two physically dominant centers in today’s game. Both were given the poison “motor-issue” label as young prospects, leading to Kwame comparisons and a drop in draft stock (especially DeAndre, who somehow went 35th). Now both are cornerstone players, and leading the wave of the new NBA Center mold. Since modern day offenses no longer rely on the classic post up as much, it requires a center who can set a heavy screen and finish the roll with ferocity. They also are violent rim protectors, who can get the kind of block only a few can.
The 20′s are a place where organizations love to take calculated risk. Throwing out picks to international players who may never come to the league, or taking a young prospect who may never be good enough to play. Donte Green’s potential made him a solid risk, and Petteri Koponen felt like he could be an impact player if he ever made the flight. However, neither happened, leading to teams all taking different perspectives on how to approach this part of the draft.
Sometimes that player gets on the flight, making the contending team who risked a low pick on them even better. These cunning picks lead to Serge Ibaka becoming the Thunder’s third best player and Nicolas Batum being a key to the Blazers’ upcoming future. For every Daniel Orton there are multiple Kyle Lowrys, Kenneth Farieds and Ryan Andersons, who become great values for the pick. The interesting thing to note here is, normally freshman aren’t the American-born players that succeed in the 20′s. The higher up in class the player seems to be, the more-likely the success.
The final type of player that seems to find a level of production that could definitely not be seen, is the second round pick. Not all teams value the second round pick – the Kings sold their latest second rounder to the Pacers for only a minimal fee. That picked turned into Orlando Johnson, who has already played more NBA minutes than the Pacers’ first round selection Miles Plumlee, not bad for someone who was just sold off.
Paul Millsap is a great example of this, going from undersized rebounder to someone who is consistently in the 20′s for PER. Chandler Parsons has become the best non-max deal in the league, getting paid under $1 million dollars while being an integral part of the Rocket’s playoff run. Lastly, Isaiah Thomas somehow became one of the best finishers in the league while being only 5’9″. Thomas shoots a hard-to-imagine 64.86% at the rim, which is even harder to imagine when you realize that Thomas is a point guard who was selected with the very last selection in the draft.
Unrealized potential may sometimes take away from what the league’s players could be, but sometimes potential angelically gives a player that which makes us believe. When I see a player like George or Drummond become everything I could imagine – and then even more – I revel in the elation of seeing what could be come to life. The circle of NBA life may give us the sad ends to Darko or Kwame, but it also gives us stories to root for in all of the ones that overcome the hardships to make a name for themselves.