What's in a draft bust?

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0302_baylor.jpgAmong the 2010 draft class, there will be stars. There will be successful role players with long, fruitful careers. There will be early risers, late bloomers, movers, shakers, and minimum salary makers. And of course, there will be the busts.

The bust is perhaps the oddest of all draft day phenomena. It’s essentially a product of user error; every available prospect is laid out in front of a GM — or owner, or coach, or whoever calls the shots for any particular team — and it’s their responsibility to make the right pick. It’s a damn near impossible task in some instances, but such is the nature of the draft and the biz. That’s fine. No one should expect any decision-maker to live a mistake-free existence, particularly when there are countless subjective criteria built into the process. GMs are going to make mistakes, regardless of their knowledge, talent, and savvy.

Still, the key word is responsibility. If everything goes to hell, managers and coaches are often the ones to start falling on their swords. It’s simply the cost of the power that they wield in team-building, and because there are 30 franchises out there vying for the exact same prize, the body count is unsurprisingly high.

The oddity isn’t that managers are held accountable for who they select (or don’t), but that too often the players themselves are. Expectations are rather high for players selected early in the lottery, so much so that the typical response to their failures is anger and ridicule. That pretty much ignores the fundamental problem: even though some drafted players fail by their own devices, the rest are only put in a position to do so by the managers that chose them. It’s not Darko Milicic’s fault that the Pistons made him the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft. It’s on Joe Dumars. Or maybe Chad Ford, I get a little fuzzy there.

Either way, there are clear instances in which a player was derailed due to their own destructive behavior or lack of technical improvement. Yet there are so many more where a GM simply failed to determine a player’s true talent or worth, and that has little to do with the player themselves. The 2010 Draft seems like it will be as good of an example as any, as some of the class’ decent complementary pieces were chosen way too early.

Wesley Johnson is a great place to start. He did well for himself at Syracuse, but is there anything in his repertoire that seriously suggests Johnson could be a game-changing force in the pros? He’s athletic, fairly efficient, and does more than score. I get that. Versatility is fun, and Johnson has a lot of the talents you’d love to see in a player. But that schtick doesn’t mean he’ll be able to thrive against NBA-caliber competition. There’s a lot to like about Johnson but not a lot to love, which doesn’t bode well for him as the No. 4 overall pick. Wesley is who he is and David Kahn blew it.

Ekpe Udoh’s selection by the Warriors at No. 6 is even worse. Udoh won a lot of people over in the NCAA tournament, but nationally televised success does not make one great. Neither does being a 23 year-old without particularly notable production, size, or athleticism. Ekpe would have made for a terrific mid or late first rounder, but instead he’ll be derided as a lottery guy who couldn’t cut it. It’s a shame for a player as endearing as Udoh, but he is who he is and Larry Riley blew it.

I’m sure that both Johnson and Udoh will go on to have moderately successful careers, but they’ll always bear the weight of this expectation. There will be a note on every player profile in every program, and on the back of every basketball card (they still make those, don’t they?), and it will have nothing to do with them. So thanks for that, Kahn, Riley. What could have been a celebration of two useful, talented players is instead a degradation of their worth and skills, all because of a few itchy trigger fingers.

Report: Jimmy Butler won’t ‘coddle’ Markelle Fultz

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Jimmy Butler showed little patience for Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns with the Timberwolves. To Butler, Wiggins didn’t work hard enough and Towns was too soft. Butler wasn’t afraid to admonish his teammates for their shortcomings, either. I believe Butler intended good, lighting fires under Wiggins and Towns that would drive them to greatness with the same intensity he used to rise. But Butler actually just alienated them.

Now, Butler joins the 76ers, who have another former No. 1 pick not meeting expectations – Markelle Fultz. Butler already praised Fultz’s work ethic and noted how much he respects that.

But how will Butler actually treat Fultz?

Undisputed:

If this is someone who knows how Butler treated Towns and Wiggins and is just assuming how Butler will treat Fultz, this is worthless. Anyone who knows even a little about Butler could make that guess.

But if this is someone who spoke to Butler about Fultz specifically, this would carry massive significance.

Fultz is unique. He shot well in college then had his form completely fall apart before his rookie year. He doesn’t need tough love. He needs someone to help him assess the underlying trauma beneath his problems. He needs to be built up and develop confidence.

That wasn’t at all Butler’s approach with other teammates. Maybe Butler will adjust to Fultz’s atypical circumstances. I hope he does.

But the possibility of Butler worsening Fultz’s issues can’t be overlooked.

Scouts’ take: Jimmy Butler will help Philadelphia most at end of games

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Jimmy Butler will be in the starting lineup for the Sixers Wednesday night in Orlando.

Butler is an elite two-way player, a top 10 NBA talent. Where will his game help the Sixers most? Defense is the first thing that comes to mind: Having Butler and Ben Simmons assigned to the two-best perimeter players of the opposition, with Joel Embiid backing them up, has the potential to be lock-down. Philadelphia already has a top-10 defense this season and this trade could make them exponentially better.

But scouts Brian Windhorst of ESPN spoke with had another interesting opinion: Butler helps Philly at the end of games because he wants the ball.

The 76ers have struggled to score late in close games at times, a function of their primary ball handler, Ben Simmons, being a suspect shooter. They were out-executed by the Boston Celtics in crunch time during the playoffs last season. Joel Embiid is off to a fantastic start to the season, but he’s shooting just 35 percent in clutch time this season because it can be hard for the big man to create a shot when the defense is set up to deny him.

Butler leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring this season and has a long history of shot-making in winning time.

“He brings something to Philly that they just don’t have, which is an experienced playmaker who can demand the ball and demand attention. That probably will make it easier on the rest of their guys,” one scout said. “JJ Redick can do that a bit, but he can’t create like Jimmy. It’s one of the rarest things in the NBA. From that standpoint, they hit a home run in this deal. There just aren’t many players like that available.”

That theory likely will not be put to the test by the Magic on Wednesday night.

It makes sense on paper, though. Embiid is not going to create his own shot without a play design to help out (and he’d be doubled quickly in the post), and with Simmons the defense is going to lay back and cut off driving lanes. Butler changes the late game dynamic.

It’s going to be interesting to watch this new big three in Philly meld, and to see if they’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to fulfill the potential of this roster.

Minnesota owner: “I think we saw Jimmy had an agenda and we had to work around that”

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Coach and team president Tom Thibodeau rightfully deserves a lot of the blame for how the Jimmy Butler situation played out — and dragged out — in Minnesota. Thibs believed he could win with this core, as they had done the season before, and that winning would cure a lot of ills. Instead, the Timberwolves are 4-9 to start the season.

However, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has to take some of the blame here, too. He didn’t come in and force Thibodeau to make a decision — when he could have had a better deal (in my opinion) with Miami for Josh Richardson, the Heat’s 2019 No. 1 pick and Dion Waiters as cap filler — but dragged it out and had to settle with the Sixers. After another few weeks of drama.

Taylor sat down with Chris Hine of the Star-Tribune to talk about how it all went down.

“It just appeared that they weren’t working together as a team or as a unit the way that they should’ve. I can’t exactly answer why,” Taylor said. “The only thing that was different that we had was Jimmy’s position of leaving the team. Maybe that was affecting guys more than they even knew themselves.”

Taylor was non-committal on Thibodeau’s status, saying he would be evaluated as things went along. Around the league, few believe Thibodeau will keep his job long after this season ends.

In the deep West, that 4-9 start is going to make getting into the playoffs difficult. One thing to watch for the rest of this season: with Butler gone does Karl-Anthony Towns get back to playing like an All-NBA player and take control of this team? They heed him to.

Jimmy Butler in starting lineup, Markelle Fultz out Wednesday for Philadelphia

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Already the presence of Jimmy Butler is shaking up the Sixers rotations.

The starting lineup for Philadelphia in Orlando Wednesday night was confirmed by coach Brett Brown at shootaround: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler, Joel Embiid.

The change bumps Markelle Fultz out of the starting lineup for the first time this season. And that’s a good thing. He’s looked better — or, at least, less bad — for stretches the ball in his hands creating off the pick-and-roll, but when starting with Simmons and Embiid he had to work off the ball a lot more. Leading a second unit is just a better fit for him, and he can attack downhill getting to the rim. It’s a fit as much as anything is a fit with Fultz right now.

The new starting five should be lock-down defensively (especially with the soft first game against Orlando, the third worst offense in the NBA this season). With two strong on-ball perimeter defenders in Simmons and Butler, with Embiid backing them up protecting the rim, the Sixers should be able to slow down any team’s wing/guard production (and in a playoff series that defense can be a matchup nightmare for opponents).

Offensively, the Sixers really need Chandler to step up and knock down threes and space the floor, because the Sixers do not have enough shooting. They also lack depth. General manager Elton Brand has some work to do to round out this roster, and he knows it.

There is a real excitement in the air around the Sixers now. And there should be.