Shabazz Napier

Potential or production? It all depends on the prospect in question

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source: Getty Images
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The NBA Draft process is one where questions remain even after teams make their selections, because even in the case of the best players available there’s no such thing as a sure thing. One dilemma franchises have to address during the pre-draft process is how much they value “upside” as opposed to actual production at the college level. Optimally a player will have both aspects working to his advantage, having been a productive player at his position while also displaying the traits needed to become an even better player once in the NBA.

However that isn’t always the case, and as a result the process of projecting what a player could potentially be as a pro gets tougher. One issue that can lead to this struggle is the player not seeing as much time at the position in question as a collegian, and one example of this could be former UCLA guard Zach LaVine.

The 6-foot-6 LaVine had plenty of chances to serve as his team’s primary ball-handler at the high school level, but that wasn’t the case in his lone season at UCLA. The Bruins had one of the 2014 NBA Draft’s most intriguing prospects in 6-foot-9 Kyle Anderson to rely on for that job, with fellow freshman Bryce Alford joining LaVine as a valuable perimeter reserve. LaVine put together a solid freshman campaign, posting averages of 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, but the question of where he’ll best fit as a professional remains.

While LaVine has the size and athleticism needed to be a factor at shooting guard, there’s also the desire to spend time as primary ball-handler. When it was first reported by the LA Daily News that LaVine would be leaving school, one reason cited was the lack of time spent at the point. So with that being the case, the question to be asked is how NBA teams go about evaluating a player looking to play a position different from the one he played at the college level.

MORE: Underrated Prospects | Overrated Prospects | Top Ten Players in Five Years | Busts?

“I guess it’s something we had to do with Victor Oladipo last year. It’s not as much taking the position away as it is taking whatever skills he has at one [position] and seeing how they translate at another,” Ed Isaacson of NBA Draft Blog told NBC Sports. “For just about every player you can end up with multiple possibilities, so you try to include as much [information] as possible when evaluating the player.”

While it can be difficult to evaluate a player at one position when he played another in college, it isn’t an “impossible” thing to do. With film study and individual/group pre-draft workouts, teams have the tools needed to get a better feel (by their standards) of where a prospect can be most successful. However the intangibles are just as important as the tangible, especially for a point guard, and getting an accurate read on those can be tougher when dealing with a prospect who hasn’t spent a lot of time at the position.

source: Getty Images
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Those factors can make the difference between winning and losing, and as noted by many involved with the draft process, can do wonders for a player’s status as a draft prospect. A prime example of this is former UConn point guard Shabazz Napier, who over the course of four years has improved greatly as a leader and won two national titles.

A number of factors, from his skill set to those improved leadership abilities, have combined to make Napier a respected prospect whose name is expected to be called during the first round of Thursday’s draft.

“I think it’s a combination of the whole package,” Jonathan Givony of Draft Express told NBC Sports. “The fact that he’s won as much as he did will certainly be taken into consideration. You’re not going to see too many guys drafted in the first round who played for bad college programs. It just doesn’t bode well for them, because everyone in the NBA’s trying to win, too.

“Every year you see guys who were in the tournament and played well rise in the draft, because people value winning.”

RELATED: Elfrid Payton, the Draft’s biggest sleeper | Balancing potential, running a program

Team success can be one of the biggest selling points for a point guard prospect and it only makes sense, as one of the main responsibilities of the position is to put his teammates in the best possible position for success. Napier had four years to play the position and hone his craft, making significant strides throughout the course of his career in regards to his stats and his maturity. Most importantly he learned how to lead, a valuable lesson that resulted in his school winning its fourth national title in April.

That particular lesson can be invaluable to a prospect, and it can be argued that LaVine didn’t have the opportunity of making similar progress due to the amount of time spent in college and the role he played while there. But with LaVine being projected to be a first-round selection, who can blame him for leaving school after just one season?

The draft process will be a difficult one regardless of the experience level of the player in question, meaning that the debate of “potential vs. production” will continue to rage on. Is there a right answer? Probably not, even with the argument being made by some pundits that more time in college automatically results in a better player. If anything more time in college gives NBA franchises more opportunities to observe the player in question, and that can prove beneficial to the decision-makers entrusted with the task of building a championship contender.

But the question of “potential vs. production” is one best answered on a case-by-case basis. The only difference is that in the instance of a player being valued more for what he could do than what he has, there’s more of the “unknown” to deal with.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.