Saturday, January 1, 2011

Inexact Science?

Why The Draft Often Seems Like A Crapshoot

Whenever a basketball player turns out to be better or worse than expected, people immediately credit or blame the team's general manager.

It is rarely that simple.

The general manager, or other person with the same duties using a different title, of a basketball team isn't solely responsible for the decision to select a given player.

They receive input from their scouting departments and their coaching staffs to help make the best choice possible.

Without knowing the inner workings of each individual team, it is impossible to know exactly who had the most influence or who should receive the credit or blame for a particular draft pick.

So firing the general manager probably won't fix the drafting problem for a team whose scouts and coaches were the ones who gave him the bad advice which he followed.

And the decision to draft someone is only the first step of what will be a long process in determining the player's future.

While players like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan come in and set the league on fire from day one, most draft picks take time.

They have to be developed and taught the skills they need to succeed in the NBA.

And not all picks will be great in every situation.

Even some great players need the right system, the right coaching staff and the right teammates to reach their ultimate potential.

In determining the who and what of a player's career, there are many things to consider other than the general manager and his ability to evaluate talent.


NBA coaching staffs have directors of player development and other assistant coaches who work with players to develop their games.

Tracy McGrady credits Johnny Davis with helping him become one of the game's finest players when the two were together in Orlando, Davis as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers.

And it was Keith Askins who worked with Dorell Wright in Miami (3:27).

Assistant coaches work with players on a daily basis, practicing, sharing knowledge and giving insight into the game.

They are a huge part of draft-day success.

Getting the most out of a selection could be a matter of bringing in the right assistant coach to work with him and sharpen his skills and get him ready for battle in the NBA.


The coach gives a player confidence by showing he believes in him, puts in the right system for him based on what he does best and gives him the right role within that system to maximize his ability.

This is an extreme example, but what if Pat Riley had tried to use Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the point man on his fast break for the Showtime Lakers?

Needless to say, it wouldn't have worked. But you see teams do this all the time in much less-extreme cases.

Gary Payton is the best example of a great player who needed a coaching change to become the best he could be.

As the No. 2 pick in the 1990 draft, Payton struggled during his first two years in the league.

Then Seattle hired George Karl.

Under George Karl, Gary Payton became one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Payton describes what happened in his own words in this interview (:45).


The veterans on a team play a huge role in the success of a draft pick.

Charles Barkley often talks about how Moses Malone helped him early in his career in Philadelphia.

But not all veterans are as helpful as Malone was with Barkley.

Some may see the rookie as competition and not want to help at all, and others may try to help but may not have the insight to be very useful.

A team's veterans also show the draft pick what the league is all about.

And selfish teammates who don't work hard, party after losses and only talk about getting paid could definitely lead a young player in the wrong direction.

On top of that, for whatever reason some teammates just don't play well together, no matter how talented they are.

Trades may be required to bring in others who will play better with a young star to get him to reach his potential.


The determination to be great is the one thing which will carry a draft pick further than anything else.

But whether or not he will sustain that drive over the course of a long career is anybody's guess.

You can interview his parents and his high school and college coaches and do any amount of research you desire, but this will never be more than an educated guess.

Players with skills who work hard would seem to be the ones most likely to succeed in the NBA, and this may be where teams make the biggest mistakes, picking players who either have skills or work hard but not both.

And never underestimate basketball IQ.

Gilbert Arenas is one of the greatest examples ever of someone whose drive to be great (:45 and 4:25) carried him further than his status as a second-round pick.

Whenever you see a player performing at a high level, you can almost guarantee that he got there with an unmatched desire and will to be the best.


It has been mentioned many times before that the biggest wild card in all of this is what a person is going to do after he receives a check for $1 million.

Will he continue to be the first one to practice and the last one to leave? Or will he start making it rain on strippers at naked dance clubs?

It is a cliche in all of sports that players will play their best during the years that their contracts are set to expire and make them free agents.

This is yet another gigantic factor in a draft pick's success and another which is completely out of the hands of the general manager.

This too can only ever be an educated guess at best.

And all things considered, it makes you understand how difficult this entire drafting process can be.

Science can never be inexact. That is why it is called science.

In looking at the effort to have draft picks reach their maximum potential, it simply appears that not enough variables are being considered.

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