When I speak to players and coaches at all levels I remind them that they should never be satisfied of where they are today. Just because you are in the elite class in your profession today, doesn’t guarantee you that the powers at be will name you obsolete 365 days from today. Basketball is a never ending life form in which it’s landscape is constantly changing. Players at all levels are ranked and touted by “experts” from the age of 8 to 38. What usually happens, especially from high school and college players is that they think that ranking is something that will stay the same for their whole careers.
There are hundreds if not thousands of cases of players that were celebrated coming out of high school and college,that never went on to any type of careers in basketball. What generally happens to players at those ages is one of two things. The most popular of the two is that nature takes its course and their game peaks too early and players in their age group as well as younger ones overtake them. It is very common for players to be bigger and more physical at an early age than their piers are. A player that’s 6’5 and plays nothing but the post as a 9th grade may never grow. In that time they never develop their wing skills just in case they never grow and by the time they try to change their game it is too late in the process.
The next reason for this is that the player is content with the present and never works on their game and gets overtaken. Adversity is a very dangerous thing that can destroy athletes and people in general. Basketball players need to treat adversity like a disease in which they need to build up their immune system against. It is something that must be faced early on in life. So many people struggle with adversity when they aren’t used to it. I think the most successful people in life first off can see adversity coming early as well as can battle through it. Adversity makes a basketball player stronger, but it also destroys many more than it saves.
The NBA Draft is something that you can’t evaluate until after the players finish their first contract in the NBA. By the time a player is done with their 5th year in the NBA they basically are who they are. It may take a player a year or two to adjust to the physicality of the league as well as travel, and the amount of games. Most players no matter where they are drafted go on to dominate right off the bat. It takes time for them to adjust and build their reputation as well as develop a skill that can get them into an NBA game.
There is a learning curve for an NBA player that can take from a month to 5 years to overcome. Also you need to look at what situation that a college player gets drafted into. What situation a player gets drafted into is like what environment a child grows up in. It can have a lasting effect on what kind of career that a player will become.
Here are some different types of environments that a player can get drafted into. I’ll list two players in which were successful in the environment and will list one that wasn’t
1.) The team has limited assets, not successful before their arrival, and gives the player the ultimate green light
Usually teams of this magnitude are looking to rebuild their organization and are looking for draft picks to really step in and stare their team in a positive direction. There have been many teams that have done this and were successful and others not so much. These teams that draft players early in the lottery for the most part expect these players to play big minutes early in their career to build confidence and experience. Sometimes veteran teams dump their rosters to acquire draft picks and young assets. This obviously is a sign of the organization rebuilding to move to the future. This opens up not only their spending flexibility, but also opportunity for young players to get plenty of minutes.
LeBron James LeBron James is a perfect example of this. in 2002-2003 the Cavaliers were going nowhere fast. Coming off a 17-65 record the team had basically a young Carlos Boozer and Ricky Davis who the team would trade the next season on its roster. It really had no prospects of moving out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference. Mike Brown was hired in his first ever head coaching jobs. LeBron being he first pick of the draft and the top prospect would get unlimited minutes to battle through mistakes and figure things out.
The organization itself was going in the right direction with James, Boozer and hiring Mike Brown at the time one of the league’s elite assistant coaches. LeBron had the ultimate green light which helped his game. With his development he helped double Cleveland’s win total from 17 to 35, elevating them to a playoff team in year 3 and a finals team by year four. The ultimate green light helped his game flourish and helped him carry a franchise, which is a very good thing for a young player.
Larry Bird There has never been a rookie in the NBA that had such a fast impact on a team winning than Larry Bird. Originally drafted in 1978 with the sixth pick overall, Bird was entering into a totally devastated organization at the time. They had some pieces, but were coming off a season of only 29 wins and no assets to be excited about. Three years prior to the 29 win debacle, the Celtics won the NBA finals. Their only assets was a young Cedric Maxwell that was coming into his own, but not even close to being a factor. They had two aging veterans on the downside of their careers in Dave Cowens and Tiny Archibald.
Bird was a first team All-NBA selection in his rookie year averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds a game. He jumpstarted the Celtics organization from 29 wins to 61 leading the team to an Eastern Conference Finals bid, which is unprecedented from where they were to where he took them in one season with the same players. Larry never looked guiding the Celtics to 3 NBA Championships as well as 3 MVP awards in the process. Getting those minutes early in his career was important to his development, although he was good enough to earn minutes anywhere in the league.
Kevin Durant Kevin was in the middle of an overhaul in Seattle when he got there in 2007. Coming off a 20 win campaign and an aging superstar in Ray Allen(21) and young asset Rashard Lewis (27) their new GM Sam Presti traded both away for draft picks and cap flexibility. When the smoke cleared the only assets that the team kept going forward were Durant, Jeff Green, and Nick Collison.
From day one Presti wanted to buid the team around Durant giving him all of the minutes and shots that he could get. This put Durant in a great position because not only did he get opportunity in the form of minutes and shots, but he also got great pieces to help his development in Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka.In his short 5 year career, Durant has won 3 scoring titles and has led his team to the Western Conference Finals as well as a finals appearance.
Bad Example: Michael Olowokandi Being the first pick of the NBA Draft there are a lot of expectations given to players, some are good and some are not so much. Everyone expected that Olowokandi could be the savior for the Clipper organization. The Clippers drafted the center coming off of a 17-65 campaign which was one of the worst in NBA history. Their only assets were wing player Lamond Murray and stretch 4 Rodney Rodgers. Olokandi was a breath of fresh air and something that the organization could hopefully count on to take them to greener pastures.
In his first season the NBA Players Association went on strike causing his first season to be shortened. He didn’t come out in good shape and as a result really slowed down his development as a player. His first season wasn’t a total disaster, but only managed to put up numbers of 8 points and 8 rebounds per game. He had all of the opportunity and minutes that a player could ask for. He actually was a decent rebounder in his days as a Clipper averaging over 9 in the 2002-2003. But that wasn’t enough to ever impact winning and his lack of consistency caused his demise as a player. Even though he was a first pick in the NBA draft it didn’t guarantee him success as a player even with the opportunity minutes as well as touch wise.
2.) The team is a playoff caliber team with plenty of talent on the roster. The player thrives and battles through the veteran stocked team to have a productive career.
This could be a team that acquired a pick in an earlier trade that resulted in the pick in the top 15. This is a perennial playoff or finals contending team. The team could have taken a dip one year just missed the playoffs and got lucky n the lottery. This is a very tough situation for a rookie to come into as there is already a winning standard in the organization. Most importantly there will be a very good chance that suggests the head coach isn’t a fan of rookies which will make it that much more difficult to get minutes and develop.
Kevin McHale Kevin McHale was drafted 3rd overall by the Boston Celtics in 1980. The team came off a 61 win season a year before losing 4-1 to the 76-ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The team was a piece or two away from making a push to the championship, which it did in Kevin’s rookie year. He would contribute 20 minutes a game backing up 25 year old Cedric Maxwell, a very good player and Boston’s 3rd leading scorer at 15.0 point per game. Kevin fit in perfectly, averaging 10 points and 4 rebounds a game that season as the Celtics went on to win an NBA championship.
McHale developed into one of the NBA’s all time best power forwards. It was a process in which he had to earn everything that he ever got. Kevin was named the sixth man of the year, was all defensive team 6 times, and was first team All-NBA in 1986-1987 finishing 4th in MVP voting while scoring 26 points per game and grabbing 9.9 rebounds. His game fit in perfectly in Boston as he could lean on other veterans to make the transition easier. Boston went on to big things as McHale was a tremendous key to the team’s success in the 1980’s helping them to 3 NBA Championships
Tim Duncan Tim was the missing piece of the Dynasty of the San Antonio Spurs. After losing David Robinson to a season ending injury, the Spurs only managed 20 wins in the 96-97 campaign. In 1997 the Spurs win the lottery literally and fugitively and selected him with the first pick of the 1997 NBA Draft. Now you are probably asking yourself how does a 20 win team constitute putting them in a contender spot. Well before Robinson broke his hand they were a 59 win team and were a legitimate contender. Losing one of the top big men in the league is tough for any team to rebound from.
Duncan was an instant success leading the Spurs in scoring in his first season averaging 21.6 points and averaging 10.6 rebounds. San Antonio touted the league’s top frontcourt plying Robinson and Duncan together. In this environment or any other he would have been dominant, but having solid veterans like Vinny Del Negro and Sean Elliot were big in his development to take the pressure off. Besides Larry Bird, Duncan could have the most effect on winning for a rookie in NBA history. He led the Spurs to 4 championships and back to back MVPs in 2002 and 2003. Playing in a solid organization with a plan helps the development of any player as you noticed in this case.
Derrick Rose It wasn’t a great year for the Chicago Bulls in 2006-2007 winning only 33 games and firing their coach Scott Skiles after 25 games. The good news was most of their assets at the time were still young and coming into their own as players. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Ben Gordon, and Tyrus Thomas were all under the age of 25 and even though they were going through a rough patch had a bright future ahead.
The Bulls won the NBA Draft lottery in 2008 and had the first pick of the draft. They selected Rose with their pick making him their starting point guard averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 assists a game as a rookie. Even though he did go through rough patches making decisions as well as with his shooting, Rose had plenty of good veterans around him to help him through the process in Kirk Hinrich and Lindsey Hunter. Having good players around him really helped Rose through the process and matured his development process. Derrick before his knee injury this past post season has become one of the league’s top point guards in the league winning the Rookie of the Year in 2009 and being honored as the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2011. I think you can contribute his development with the veteran pieces around him as well as having a very good coach in Vinny Del Negro.
Bad Example Darko Milicic In 1997 the Detroit Pistons traded the Vancouver Grizzlies Otis Thorpe in exchange for a 2003 first round draft pick. That draft pick ended up being the number two selection in the draft. The Pistons fresh off their Eastern Conference Finals loss to the New Jersey Nets had a new coach in Larry Brown and aspirations of winning a championship in the 2003-2004 campaign. The Pistons selected a 6’10 Milicic, touted Europe’s next big deal. With players like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on the board they selected the European big man. Detroit’s roster was already filled with big men in Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Mehmet Okur, and Corliss Williamson. With no D League in place at that time the way it is today, it was very difficult for the young big man to get any experience.
Detroit was just the wrong fir for Milicic as their head coach Larry Brown wasn’t a fan of young players and with the big men that were on their roster there was no immediate need to play him. It would be hard enough for a U.S. rookie to get any minutes there not to mention a European with no sense of culture in the country as well as the emotional drain not playing for a coach that is hard on you has. Darko appeared in 34 games starting 0 averaging 14 points and .9 rebounds. The Pistons traded him at the trading deadline in 2006 to the Orlando Magic. He’s played for three other teams since then and has struggled with any kind of consistency throughout his career.
3.) The player gets drafted and struggles early or gets traded to one or multiple teams and ends up being a very good to a franchise player.
Sometimes it is hard for both sides the player and organization once the player is drafted. For the player they are trying to get a feel for what NBA basketball is as well as the culture that surrounds it. The NBA is ten worlds away from college on and off the court so to try to grasp that early is more difficult than one would think. For the team as you saw from reading this article that they can be in different situations. If you are a veteran team that is in the playoffs or on the cusp of it the rookie only has a certain level of expectations to contribute. If you are a perennial cellar dweller then that player needs to contribute right away. The player you select in the draft not only is an asset to your team on the court in your uniform, but also is a tradable asset that can get you a player or picks down the line in trades. There may be a certain level of pressure put upon an organization to trade a pick early into their career or after their 3rd,4th, 5th year and that player can go on to a better situation and have a better career when the smoke clears.
Chauncey Billups Chauncey was the first draft pick for the Boston Celtics in the Rick Pitino era. They tanked their previous season to win the Tim Duncan sweepstakes having two chances to get the first pick, but instead got the 3rd and 5th selection. Billups was selected with their 3rd pick in the 1997 draft out of the University of Colorado. Billups was more of a scorer than a point guard, but he was one of those players that had all the physical gifts and ability to be able to run a team but it would take time and patience, two things that Rick Pitino didn’t have at the time.
Billlups had a decent first 50 games in Boston averaging 11.1 points and 4.3 assists. It was obvious that he would make it but just needed time. The Celtics dealt him at the trading deadline that year to Totronto. He only lasted for the rest of the season there until he was dealt to his hometown team, the Denver Nuggets. Again, as any young player would Billups played ok but didn’t develop as quickly as the organization wanted dealing him to his hometown team of the Denver Nuggets.
Billups would go on to play for the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves before finally settling in to the Detroit Pistons where he finally was given the green light from their organization and head coach Rick Carlisle. Chauncey went on to be a 5 time all-star in Detroit developing into one of the league’s top point guards. It just goes to show you some players need extra time to develop, but if given time and confidence some will eventually come out of their shell. In Chauncey’s case it took six teams and seven years.
Steve Nash Steve was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 15th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. He was drafted behind Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury in that draft. In his first couple of years Nash was productive but didn’t turn any heads playing behind future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. He was dealt to the Mavericks in 1998 where he would make his mark.
Nash developed into one of the league’s top point guards in Dallas taking them from a talented team to a championship contender. In 2004 Nash signed back with the Phoenix Suns where he won 2 MVPs and took the Suns to the next level team and a contender in the Western Conference
In closing you must take the draft for what it is. It is a beauty pageant to the highest degree. Right now everyone is an enigma with big reputations and big expectations put on them. Once teams get a close look at them and live with them every day they find out that there are more warts on the player than they thought of. So many players crash and burn in the NBA and it doesn’t matter if you are the 1st pick or the 60th no player is immune from it. That is why I wouldn’t be too excited until you see these players for a year or two because anything can happen.
Some players are so good that it doesn’t matter what type of situation they are drafted into they will develop into a great player. Some players need the right situation to maximize their potential, but if they aren’t developed and given opportunity they may wash away never to be heard from again. That beauty pageant that had so much potential at one time turns into an aging prom queen very fast. I wish your teams that you route for the best of luck in the draft tomorrow.