Jump to NBA a heavy burden for many teenagers
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It was nine years after his freshman year in college before the NBA player regarded as the best ever, Michael Jordan, played on a championship team. It similarly was nine years for the player regarded as the best so-called small man ever, Isiah Thomas. It was six years for Larry Bird. Not very long for Magic Johnson, though he went to play with one of the top five players of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
I recall talking to the longtime Pacers executive Donnie Walsh after the NBA began drafting fourth-year high school players and then one-year college players. Walsh agreed there’d be great stars, like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have become. But he speculated that for the great majority they’ll probably always be back a step: The players who might have become Hall of Famers will be NBA All-Stars, which isn’t bad; the players who might have become All-Stars will be very good veterans just short of All-Star, like Jamal Crawford. His point was that coming into the NBA as a teenager, for the most part, stunts your development because you have not had as much chance to develop as a player and have your body develop to play against men.
Perhaps it’s one reason so many recent No. 1 overall picks have had constant injury issues, like, of course, Derrick Rose, but also Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Greg Oden and John Wall. All have missed substantial playing time.
It thus was interesting to consider the comments last week of longtime Syracuse University and USA Basketball assistant Jim Boeheim to SNY-TV.
“There’s no player that’s out there on the horizon that’s a Tim Duncan or a LeBron James,” said Boeheim. “I’ve seen all these guys play. I think they’re very talented players. They’re not that kind of player. They’re not transcendent players that are gonna make your franchise into a 10-12-15-year winning franchise. I don’t see that.”
I believe Boeheim is correct, even if it’s hardly going to discourage any NBA teams. This draft has been hyped perhaps out of proportion thanks to the relentless social media of this era. So no matter the talent level, fans are excited and that sells tickets. Building requires patience, right?
Boeheim was obviously referring to the top three players, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. None is a really considered a James or Duncan, around whom you could build teams. Rarely is anyone, to be fair. Though Wiggins came into the season promoted as No. 1, you now hear more such talk about Parker as the top pick. I’ve heard him compared mostly with Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom obviously had difficulty for years being the leader of winning teams. Anthony still is while Pierce was bailed out in his 30’s by Garnett and Ray Allen. Of course, you’d want any of them on your team.
But more significantly, it’s an extraordinary amount to ask of a teenager without much playing experience or having a more mature body to come into the NBA and with that schedule make a significant difference on a consistent basis very quickly. Parker, Wiggins and Randle, if they were to enter the NBA draft and no one is yet saying they will, would all come into the NBA as 19-year-olds. And they are the best, in theory.
Then very often you see players taken in the lottery or just below taking several years and teams to develop, a prime example being Chauncey Billups, whom the Celtics got in the lottery when they effectively “tanked” the season for a shot at Duncan but didn’t get the No. 1 pick despite the odds in their favor. You see players finally beginning to fit in like Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson with the Lakers this season. Many need to be traded first like Thomas Robinson and Derrick Williams, top five picks.
Go back a few years and see the order of the top 10 picks. Sure, you’ll get some good players in the top 10. But you also may not:
2009: Griffin, Thabeet, Harden, Evans, Rubio, Flynn, Curry, Hill, DeRozan, Jennings. Griffin, Harden and Curry have made All-Star or all-league teams: 30 percent. None has been in a conference finals except Harden.
2010: Wall, Turner, Favors, Johnson, Cousins, Udoh, Monroe, Aminu, Hayward, George. One All-Star and conference finalist, who is the 10th pick, George.
2011: Irving, Williams, Kanter, Thompson, Valunciunas, Vesely, Biyombo, Knight, Walker, Fredette. One All-Star, no one in a playoff game.
2012: Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, Waiters, Robinson, Lillard, Barnes, Ross, Drummond, Rivers. No All-Stars, no one in the playoffs.
Two of the best were Nos. 6 and 10 picks. And these are the best young players to come into the NBA in the last almost five years. It isn’t to say the draft isn’t a strong way to go in building a team. It also isn’t to say you cannot eventually get to a title that way. But there are many more misses than hits, a lot of luck and good fortune involved, especially because so many players are coming into the NBA these days at such a young age and so undeveloped in their bodies and minds.
Caveat emptor, to paraphrase J.R. Smith.
Knicks’ Smith in apparent shooting boycott
-- Smith, by the way, appears to be in a shooting boycott, zero of one in 26 minutes against Boston. He did go one of eight in 24 minutes in the win over Atlanta Saturday. Smith not shooting, given he’s 33 percent overall this season, isn’t that bad. Though the New York Daily News wrote he was upset coach Mike Woodson yelled at him after the Bulls game last week and is striking back by refusing to shoot. Though Smith told reporters: “I was going into the game trying to make opportunities for my teammates to excel. We need playmakers more than just scorers.” Imagine that this isn’t working. Who’d have guessed? Woodson finally benched Smith for rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. in the second half Saturday ... The further interesting part is the Knicks are said to be one of several teams pursuing Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. Though Lowry is a tough point guard who can score, it seems every time he leaves a team they are said to breathe a sigh of relief. It’s never quite clear why ... In a comment not generally expected this season, Woodson said before the Knicks played in Boston last week: “We need a perfect game to come out of here with a win tonight,” They didn’t have one. ... John Salmons had a good effort against the Bulls Saturday — yes, who didn’t? — with the Toronto Raptors after seven years ago backing out of a sign and trade deal to Toronto. Salmons at the time said his faith directed him elsewhere. He’ll likely be elsewhere again with a $1 million buyout after this season as the Raptors also are believed to be trying to trade him before the deadline. It’s another reason they wanted to make the deal with the Kings early ... Having 60 days before the February trading deadline, which limits when players can be traded again, has become vogue now as the Rockets say they will trade Omer Asik this week for the same reason. The Rockets are said lately to covet Atlanta’s Paul Millsap. Other possibilities mentioned include Boston, Philadelphia, Sacramento, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Orlando. They are not likely with Asik sitting out lately with an alleged injury they’ll get that much. The Rockets losing in Sacramento Sunday, the sense among the Rockets is said to be they need another scorer to successfully compete in the Western Conference. They’ve been trying to get draft picks to parlay them into a better deal in February when the belief is more players could be available as teams fall out of contention.
Pacers and Heat meet again in Miami
-- The Pacers are in Miami Wednesday for the game of the week after the Heat lost in Indianapolis last week. The LeBron James-Paul George matchup was rare of top stars also defending one another. James shut down George early and George was scoreless in the half. But rarely seen was James tired after halftime and not having a big impact afterward. It will be interesting to see if James remains on George. Though the humor in the game was hearing the Heat complain so much afterward that the officials allowed Roy Hibbert to get away with so much contact without being called. Yes, true, those guys. ... Danny Granger is expected to return Friday at home against Houston, only seemingly even moreso leaving the Heat and Pacers to face off to go the NBA Finals. ... The rumor is the Heat is hoping to begin to have Greg Oden play some after the All-Star break. ... The Heat now seem to be on a schedule to play Dwyane Wade every third to fifth day to rest him for the playoffs. Wade had 24 points in the win over Cleveland Saturday and has played well with the long rest periods. The Heat’s view is there are no back to backs in the playoffs and with the new 2-2-1-1-1 Finals an extra rest day in the Finals. So the preparation of Wade is toward that. But it’s a heck of a package to explain to LeBron James to persuade him to remain in Miami after this season. Though James is expected to opt out so he can sign a new, longer deal, he could always elect to opt in for another season or two and then perhaps plan to land somewhere else when someone like Kevin Durant can become a free agent in 2016 or Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015. It’s become clear enough that two great players together in this era is enough to win a title. And wouldn’t James have a better chance with someone like that instead of riding with Wade or trying Kyrie Irving in Cleveland?
NBA news and notes
-- Losing is difficult no matter how much you are building as players rarely understand. The Magic is in the United Center Monday and the Orlando Sentinel reported it’s a locker room with players trying to hold it all in with changing rotations as coach Jacque Vaughn experiments with his young roster. Glen Davis, Maurice Harkless and Victor Oladipo were all supposedly confused about sitting out the end of their Saturday loss to Cleveland. Vaughn said he is monitoring minutes for rookie Oladipo, who is averaging 31 minutes. Though they were back in the fourth quarter Sunday as they barely fell short of upsetting the Thunder, whom the Bulls play on TNT Thursday. One problem with young teams is having too many young players, but the Magic is becoming very competitive. ... Changing coaches from Lionel Hollins is getting more attention with the Grizzlies below .500, though Marc Gasol and Tony Allen have been out with injuries. Hollins is a very good coach who’ll help someone. But a larger issue which has been rumored since the summer is the organization looking to clear more salary and trade Zach Randolph. It’s become more prominent and last week Randolph told NBA.com: “It goes to show you that there ain’t no loyalty in this game. It seems like you only get loyalty in certain organizations. You see it in winning organizations like the Spurs, the Lakers, the Heat.” Though with an ongoing feud between coach Mike D’Antoni and Pau Gasol, the Lakers supposedly would like to move Gasol and his expiring deal to get something. Gasol and D’Antoni went at it again last week to the Los Angeles Times, much obscured by the seemingly way-too-soon return of Kobe Bryant. "The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness," Gasol said. "When I'm not getting the ball where I want to, where I'm most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity." Doesn’t sound too good for a player: I don’t play hard because I don’t get the ball? Gasol has been hearing a lot of boos in L.A. "Pau is a great guy, a great player, but the focus has gone away from him a little bit in the last few years," D'Antoni said. Added Gasol: “[A trade] is a possibility. The problem is Gasol’s trade kicker, worth about $20 million and thus making Gasol tough to move. I suggested earlier this season Randolph for Gasol as the salaries are close. Randolph with one season left after this would probably be better than any free agent the Lakers could get this summer and a space holder for future, better potential free agents like Love and Aldridge. ... It will be pretty impressive to see, and you can believe it with the hard working Malcolm Thomas. The former Bull signed with the Spurs after going to the D-League, where he has developed a shot. Previously strictly an inside player, Thomas made 13 of 20 threes for the D-League affiliates for the Lakers and Spurs while averaging about 23 and 12. “The early indications are that he’s expanded his skill set and was really shooting the three ball well,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told the San Antonio Express. “That has always been a valuable commodity in our system.”
-- Kevin Love’s not getting MVP votes with a .500 team. But he is putting up historic numbers and added another 30 points in Sunday’s win over Memphis with four three pointers. The big man is tied for third in scoring, leading the league in rebounding and shooting almost 40 percent on threes and averaging more than four assists. Plus, he’s leading the league in 25-point, 15-rebound and five-assist games with five of them. ... Getting MVP talk has been Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a career year with the impressive Trail Blazers. Aldridge had a dominating 31 points and 25 rebounds in a win over Houston last week and assistant Kelvin Sampson marveled: “I don’t think I can remember seeing someone who takes so many hard, contested, foul-away jump shots and consistently makes them. Aldridge added 27 and 12 in their fourth quarter comeback overtime win in Detroit Sunday won at the buzzer by Damian Lillard. It’s become a fast playing, high scoring, aggressive team that’s surprised many after Aldridge was suggesting after last season the team was uncompetitive and he might want to leave. But they made two unheralded but crucial moves with shooter Mo Williams and big man Robin Lopez, the latter to defend the best opposing big man and take pressure off Aldridge. Lopez with 12 points and 13 rebounds Sunday has double/doubles in seven of the last 10 games and already more than last season with New Orleans. "He's been invaluable," Aldridge told the Oregonian. "He does all the dirty work. He doesn't demand touches and he does everything that you ask."…It’s not clear what they have, but with all the moves and Rudy Gay and with Nate Robinson-like Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt, the Kings are going to score. Gay is averaging 25 points on 18 of 32 shooting in the two games since the trade.
-- One of the biggest surprise teams this season is the Suns, who knocked off Golden State Sunday for their fifth straight win. A team most projected to win 25 games is 14-9 and already with two wins over first place Portland. They are back playing a fast pace, playing competitively with young players, but not rookies or teenagers. They have young veterans like Goran Dragic and Channing Frye along with young players with two to four years of experience or who stayed long in college whom they have begun to develop or picked up in trade. They have eight players averaging at least 9.5 per game. You want to start building with draft picks in this era? Get ready in most occasions to endure four or five tough years. It’s one reason why the Suns with four firsts as they began accumulating draft picks for deals like Houston did have now been reported to be willing to move some of those 2014 picks. They’re not lottery picks and are likely trying to trick someone out of an elite player like Love or Aldridge given the talk about the 2014 draft. Good luck with that. … On the other end as an early disappointment at 13-12 is the Warriors, who instead appear ready to change conferences. “You look at the other side and any team in the playoff hunt in the West would be the third best team in the East right now," moaned Stephen Curry. The Warriors are having a tough time with David Lee, always known to ignore defense. But Lee is at a career low in shooting and his second poorest scoring season in the last five years. He’s been another player mentioned in trade talk, but unlikely to be dealt with his contract owed more than $30 million for through 2015-16. Sounds like the coach is panicking a bit as well. Said Mark Jackson after the loss in Phoenix: "I'm finding that the guys in suits and ties want it more than the guys in uniform." That was a heck of a run, though. Window closed already?
-- The Bobcats picked up Chris Douglas-Roberts out of the D-League, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist told the Charlotte Observer he couldn’t have been happier as he said Douglas-Roberts was his idol and that he wears his No. 14 because it was Douglas-Roberts’ number. I heard their favorite philosopher is Jean-Paul Sarte and Wilfrid Hyde-White their favorite actor. … Derrick Rose said the Bulls and Pacers were no rivalry and the Pacers got mad. Now James is saying not only is Heat and Pacers no rivalry, but there cannot be any NBA rivalries. Said James after the loss to Miami: "A rivalry is Celtics-Lakers. They met like four out of five years. Bulls-Pistons [in the Jordan era]. Those are rivalries. We've played these guys two years in the playoffs and guys automatically make it a rivalry. There's no real rivalry in the NBA these days. You don't see the competition enough. These teams are really, really good teams striving to win a championship. But rivalries, man? There are no more rivalries. I've thought about that. Cowboys-Redskins is a rivalry. Ohio State and Michigan is a rivalry. Duke and North Carolina is a rivalry. We're two teams that have the same aspirations, and if we happen to meet again, then possibly. But everyone wants to classify it as a rivalry. It's not." Wade then yelled to James, “Bears-Packers.” James accepted that one and agreed.