Tag: 2014 NBA Draft Preview

Shabazz Napier

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

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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.

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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.

Returning to school is costly financially, but money isn’t always the motivation

James Michael McAdoo
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James Michael McAdoo will find himself in an awkward position during Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

He’ll spend the night waiting for his phone to ring, hoping that he did enough over the course of his three years at North Carolina to convince an NBA team to use a second round pick on him.

That’s no guarantee, however. McAdoo is currently projected as the No. 50 pick in Chad Ford’s most recent mock draft. Draft Express has McAdoo going undrafted.

Two years ago, it would have been inconceivable to think that McAdoo could eventually end up as an undrafted free agent. As a freshman with the Tar Heels, McAdoo spent much of the season buried on the bench before an injury to John Henson late in the year opened up playing time for him. And while he wasn’t overly dominant — he averaged 10.6 points and 4.6 boards in seven postseason games as the Tar Heels were one Kendall Marshall injury away from being a real threat to win the 2012 national title — his athleticism and promising performance was enough to vault him into the lottery consideration.

Two years ago, had McAdoo gone pro, he very well could have spent the 2012 NBA Draft sitting in the Green Room.

That’s a long way to fall.

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

“Not at all,” McAdoo told NBCSports.com when asked whether or not he regrets his decision to return to school. “It’s something that people ask me all the time. At the end of the day, I enjoyed my time at UNC.”

A number of factors played a role in that decision: McAdoo wanted a chance to win a national title, and coming so close while having an injury to one player cost them that chance left a bitter taste in his mouth. He also wanted a chance to be a leader at the collegiate level, to play major minutes every night in front of a raucous Dean Dome crowd. He knew that his family wasn’t in dire need of the money that he would make, he knew that he needed to grow as a person and, frankly, he liked being a college kid.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the decision he made has already cost him millions. Let’s say that McAdoo would have ended up being the 14th pick in the 2012 draft. He would have been guaranteed $3.107 million over the first two years of that contract, and if the team that picked him would have exercised their option for years three and four, and he accepted a qualifying option for year five, that contract would have been worth a total of $10.628 million. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ there, I know, but that’s a lot of potential income that vanished.

“I’m not going to be able to change it,” McAdoo said. “Obviously, I could have came out and got picked high, but I know God’s got my back. I’m just going to do whatever it takes.

“I know the circumstances are a lot different than they would have been freshman year.”

McAdoo isn’t the only player that has cost themselves quite a bit of money in recent years by deciding to return to school. The most notable player in that group is probably Marcus Smart, the former Oklahoma State point guard. Smart could have ended up being the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft had he left school as a freshman, but he opted to return to Stillwater for a sophomore season that saw him fail to show an improvement in his jumper, struggle to control his emotions on the court and get suspended for three games for pushing a fan during a game at Texas Tech.

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Most importantly, Smart’s return made Oklahoma State a preseason top ten team and a favorite to win the Big 12. They lost seven straight leagues games and Smart left school without a single NCAA tournament win.

“Everything that happened this season, I wouldn’t change it for a thing,” Smart said in April at the NBA draft combine. “It helped me. It got me ready for the NBA and things that come in the NBA.”

“I never regretted coming back,” he said after the Pokes were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. “It was my decision, and it’s what I really wanted. So I’m very happy with the decision I made.”

Recent years have been littered with players who plummeted in the draft after returning to school. Michigan’s Mitch McGary was projected as a lottery pick as tearing up the 2013 NCAA tournament and leading the Wolverines to a national title game. A back injury ended his sophomore season and a positive test for marijuana forced him to turn pro this year, where he’s a borderline first round pick. Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger were all projected top five picks in the 2011 NBA Draft and returned to school. Sullinger went 21st in 2012. Jones went 28th.

But does that mean it was the wrong decision?

It depends on what that player values.

Returning to school will provide NBA front office types with more time to refine their scouting reports on a prospect. Instead of harping on potential, embracing the positives of what a player is able to do, they can nitpick at what he can’t do, what he wasn’t able to actually improve on in his extra year on campus. It creates the opportunity for injuries to ruin a season or for an off-the-court incident to tarnish an image, a brand. That extra year can expose a player’s faults, provide proof that he’s not as good as his reputation.

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

All of that is a risk to the amount of guaranteed money that can be made from a first contract, saying nothing about the fact that it’s one less year that a player will be able to receive a salary beyond a scholarship.

If money is your motivation, returning to school is rarely your best bet.

But not every athlete is simply motivated by the number of zeroes on his paycheck.

Some guys need that extra year in school to mature, to learn how to handle media criticism or manage their money or simply grow out of the mindset of being a college kid and into one of being a professional basketball player.

That’s why Smart returned to school. He wanted another year before basketball became his job. He wanted another year to spend time with his friends on the Oklahoma State team. He even admitted to knowing the financial implications of his decision, saying at the time “I am aware of how much money I am giving up.”

And that’s why McAdoo says he would never counsel a player to go pro simply because of the paycheck that he would stand to cash.

“I think that at the end of the day it just comes down to what your personal goals are,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys kill to get into the spot I’m in right. It’s not stressful for me.

“But it’s tough going up against other guys that are in a similar predicament where they are not guaranteed come June 26th that their name called.”

Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie went pro to get better treatment for torn ACL

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Colorado’s hot start was one of the best storylines of the early college basketball regular season. The Buffaloes had lost the Pac-12’s leading rebounder in forward Andre Roberson to the 2013 NBA Draft, but Tad Boyle’s bunch still started the season 14-2, including a statement win against Kansas.

But much of that momentum was derailed on January 12th, as star junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie was diagnosed with a torn ACL and was ruled out for the rest of the season. The Buffaloes still limped into the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but they slowed down to a 9-9 finish without Dinwiddie, as Colorado was blown out in the Round of 64 by Pitt.

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

With Dinwiddie going down with a season-ending injury, some expected the junior to come back for his senior season and try to help Colorado make one more run. But the 6-foot-6 guard made the decision to enter the 2014 NBA Draft despite not being able to fully work out for the NBA teams that would potentially draft him.

For Dinwiddie, the decision came down to the healing of his knee and the junior believed going pro allowed him the best chance to recover from his torn ACL.

“The deciding factor was that I get to pour all that I have into my knee,” Dinwiddie said to NBCSports.com about his NBA Draft decision. “I get to have professional-level rehab and attack it as hard as I want. There’s no summer school or anything else that’s taking away from that. Professional-level rehab, pour everything I have into it and let’s get ready [for the draft].”

Had Dinwiddie played the entire 2013-14 season, and remained healthy, there’s a realistic chance he could have been a first-round draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The California native can play both guard spots and had tremendous shooting splits (46% FG, 41% 3PT, 86% FT) during his junior year to go along with his strong natural leadership abilities.

Even though Colorado did everything Dinwiddie asked of them while he rehabbed his torn ACL, when speaking things over with his family, they came to the decision that rehabbing at the pro level would be more beneficial than staying in school. The Buffaloes helped Dinwiddie with new-age methods of attacking knee rehab like platelet-rich plasma injections and use of a hyperbaric chamber, but he still felt like professional rehab had more to offer.

“Within my family, my core unit, I [talked it over],” Dinwiddie said of his rehab. “I mean, it’s no secret: college has limitations that professional doesn’t. Just because of just the sheer dollars a pro team can spend. It’s not any knock on Colorado. They did everything possible that they could for me. They got me PRP injections at my request, they helped me get to a hyperbaric chamber when I asked, so they did everything they could. It’s just there’s a different level you can go to [with rehab].”

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

The pro-level rehab has helped Dinwiddie get back on track from the knee injury as he looks to get drafted on Thursday. Dinwiddie was initially limited in his workouts for pro teams, but he’s still confident about making a full comeback as he begins his professional career.

“I started running at 11 weeks. I started shooting shortly thereafter. I’ve been doing a lot. I’ve been in the gym working hard,” Dinwiddie said. “So I hit the agility drills, the ladder. Everything is controlled. Jumping up on boxes, controlling the landing, making sure everything is safe. Whatever the [physical trainer] asks me to do. The bounce is going to be real when I get back. I’m talking about 40 [inches].”

The rehabilitation was a crucial component of Dinwiddie’s decision, but he also had a very tough choice in leaving behind a Colorado team that still has a lot of talented pieces in place for next season. The Buffaloes currently sit at No. 5 in College Basketball Talk’s preseason Pac-12 rankings.

“That was the biggest consideration and this decision is always tough because part of the reason my school loves me is because I played an unselfish brand of basketball. And a lot of times [entering the draft] is considered a selfish decision,” Dinwiddie said. “But it is my life and I have to do what is best for me. And I understand that if I go back and I raise my stock a little bit, I can make a million dollars on the front-end but at the same time, if my career goes longer on the back-end I can make that million dollars back. So give-or-take that million or two million dollars — or whatever it is — I felt like this was best for the longevity of my career and really being able to focus on my body and knee and pour everything I have into it.”

Based on that response, it’s clear that Dinwiddie is focused on the long-term aspirations of his professional basketball career. After a solid sophomore season, he also toyed with entering the NBA Draft early, but he was dissuaded in part by his parents, who didn’t believe he was mature enough to make the leap to the pros.

“I felt like I was ready — and I got the co-sign from my parents — which is something I didn’t have last year,” Dinwiddie said. “My parents felt that I had more growth to do as a man. So when my parents say, ‘do whatever makes you happy,’ and [our communication is] really kind of open, and they said [in the past], ‘we feel like you need another year of maturation,’ then that kind of opened it up for me to go. And seeing that confidence in my knee and knowing I was going to be back before the season opened it up for me to go.”

Although Dinwiddie is leaving Colorado a year early, he was still very positive about Boyle’s guidance throughout his career and the guard had nothing but positive things to say about the Buffaloes.

“I think the biggest thing Coach Boyle instilled in me was how to be a more complete leader. Not just on the court but off the court — and that’s my biggest takeaway from Coach,” Dinwiddie said. “Other than that, they just gave me guidance on what I should improve. After my freshman year, they told me to work on my body; I did that. After my sophomore year, my shooting numbers dipped. They told me that wanted me to continue to push them back up to where they were my freshman year and I did that. They were great for guidance and it takes hard work but that’s the biggest thing that Coach Boyle did for me.”