Looking to the Future: Minimizing Risk

Published: May 10, 2012

Chicks dig the long ball, but most GM’s just want to get on base.

For those of you who got to hear Dell Demps on Jim Rome this week, you might have noticed that Demps seemed fairly conservative with his thoughts on the draft process. He talked about minimizing risk and evaluating whether a player’s talent is bigger than his problems. Personally, I agree with these philosophies for the most part- happy with the double in most cases, as opposed to going for the home run, but risking the strikeout. Fans like to talk about gambling on the ‘Boom or Bust’ guy, but their livelihoods aren’t at stake. It is fun to imagine what the Nikoloz Tskitishvili’s might become if they “put it all together”, but drafting a known entity like Caron Butler just seems to make more sense to me.

In 2002, Kiki Vandeweghe liked the “upside” more however, and he has since been fired as GM of the Nuggets and the Nets- where he drafted a high upside shooting guard named Terrance Williams over more proven commodities like Tyler Hansborough, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, and Taj Gibson. Williams will be on his 4th NBA team next year, most likely on a minimum contract, while the other four are key contributors on playoff teams.

This post is not meant to be an indictment of Kiki Vandeweghe, but rather an example of what can happen when the Boom or Bust guy goes bust. But what if they go boom? Well, that happens just enough to keep the trend going, obviously. If the boom or bust guys always busted, the league would have caught on and there would be no point in having this debate. In fact, in that same 2002 draft, the Nuggets choose a little known player from Brazil name Nene Hilario over guys like Melvin Ely and Marcus Haislip who were very productive in college.

It’s called ‘Boom or Bust’ for a reason- not ‘Bust or Bust’- and sometimes it is necessary to take a risk in order to get more value than expected from your draft position. There is no right answer every single time, in every single circumstance, but for the purpose of this week’s edition, let’s take a look at the guys who are the least risky prospects in the 2012 draft.

1. Anthony Davis

How he fails: Injuries or a drastic shift to the rules on the NBA game.

Admittedly, I would have had Greg Oden as a low risk prospect in 2007, but injuries have derailed his career and there is always a chance that chronic injuries can strike the Unibrow. But aside from that, the only way Anthony Davis completely busts is if Stern decides to use his last years as commisioner to make the NBA more like Baseketball. Psyche outs, no true defense allowed, and inappropriate cheerleading could all minimize his impact on the game.

Outside of those two drastic events happening, there is just no way Davis can fail. His floor is Marcus Camby, and even that is hard to imagine. He already is a better ball handler, a better shooter, better in the low post on offense, and fouls less than Camby ever did. Athletically, Davis and young Camby are on par and Camby is a better high post passer, but Davis gets the check mark almost everywhere else.

Injuries or Rule changes.

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

How he fails: Injuries or Mati taking his ring back.

Again, we can’t predict injuries, and MKG could be an injury prone player throughout his career for the same reasons Dwayne Wade has gotten banged up several times. He just plays so hard on every play and attacks the rim so feriousisly, that he could get undercut, flipped, etc. at any time. Aside from that, the only way he fails is if he somehow loses his greatest skill- his heart (hence, the Mati Captain Planet reference).

Most players love the game and most players give it their all from night to night, but every couple of years someone special comes along that just shows another level of will, heart, and passion. Kidd-Gilchrist is that guy in this draft. A born leader who also loves to be coached, MKG just won’t allow himself to fail and will find a way to impact the game, even if he never fixes his jump shot. If you measure a guy like MKG by PPG or some other out of date statistic, you are missing the point. Instead, think of a more talented version of a guy like Nick Collison, who year after year finishes in the top 10 in categories like plus/minus.

And that’s his floor.

3. Kendall Marshall

How he fails: Miscast

When a guy has an A+ skill set, he rarely (if ever) fails in the NBA. While a guy like that might not become a franchise changer, he gives you a guy on your roster that is a known quantity with a role and most coaches/GM’s will take that. The JJ Reddick’s of the world are limited, but they will always have value in this league, as evidenced by the fact that multiple teams were offering 6-7 million dollar (per year) contracts, which Orlando quickly matched.

Marshall’s court vision and leadership are both A+, and at worst you are looking at a backup point guard who makes the guys on the second unit appear to be far better players than they actually are. Think rookie version Jamaal Tinsley, who averaged 9 points and 8 assists per game, but more likely he becomes Mark Jackson with a ceiling of Ricky Rubio on offense (and still Mark Jackson on defense). He only fails if he is put on a team like the Heat, where he has two other guys dominating the ball, leaving him as a spot up shooter.

4. Austin Rivers

How he fails: Goes to a perenial laughing stock.

Rivers is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but I have racked my brain trying to imagine how he fails and I just can’t do it. He wasn’t a great fit at Duke and therefore didn’t meet expectations, but I saw the same thing happen to Russell Westbrook at UCLA and he turned out alright. I am not comparing the two guys as players, I am just saying that they were both bad fits for their programs because they were volume scorers forced to play for rather conservative coaches. In the wide open NBA game, Westbrook has thrived and so should Rivers.

Rivers is a cerbral player, the son of a great coach, he can get his own shot almost at will, and has enough athletisicm to make plays in the paint- but not too much where it will keep him from working on other aspects of his game. The only way he fails is if he goes to a horrible team that forces him to become the go to guy instead of a role player, much like Kemba Walker has been asked to do for the Bobcats. Outside of that unfortunate situation, I just can’t imagine a scenario in which Rivers isn’t, at the very least, a Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams type off the bench for the next 10-12 years.

5. Jared Sullinger

How he fails: Injuries or unrealistic expectations

It seems to happen every year. We have a talented first or second team All-American come into the draft that has never been anything but productive on the court. The player also displays exemplarary character and leadership, yet he still plummets down draft boards. Why? Because of his measurables. They are undersized or slightly overweight, or can’t jump as high as fellow prospects, and they earn the dreaded label- “below the rim scorer.” Well, what is the last word in that label? SCORER! Who cares how they do it?

In 2003, David West was one of the top three players in college basketball, yet he went 18th behind guys like Reece Gaines and Marcus Banks who had sensational numbers at their workouts. West measured just over 6 foot 9 inches, which was an inch less than ideal for the position. An inch! And his no step vertical was a rather pedestrian 28.5 inches (almost a foot less than Marcus Banks). Yet, West has gone on to have a terrific career, despite the fact that he doesn’t posterize people. Two points is two points.

We saw the same thing happen with DeJuan Blair, Paul Milsap, Carl Landry, and Carlos Boozer. They all fell to the second round because of their size, as guys with better measureables but less production were called up first by the commissioner. And mark my word, it is going to happen again this year, as GM’s will fall in love with Andre Drummond, Perry Jones, and Arnett Moutrie. It is possible that all of those guys will be selected ahead of Sullinger, but Sullinger will get the last laugh when it comes time to sign their second and third contracts.

Of all the bigs expected to go in the top 20, only Anthony Davis had a better PER and only Thomas Robinson had a higher rebound rate- two stats that usually translate well from college to the pros. The fact is that quality players come in all shapes and sizes, and it really doesn’t matter how a player produces, just that he does produce. While Sullinger might never be the perrenial All-Star that people envisioned he could become after his fabulous freshman season, he won’t bust either.

Honorable Mention (and how they fail):

Royce White (fear of flying, immaturity)

Doron Lamb (asked to do too much on bad team)

Andrew Nicholson (can’t learn to defend 3 or 4)

Kevin Jones (doesn’t get regular PT)

Quick Note

– We will have David Thorpe on the podcast tomorrow, so put your question(s) in the comments below. We will focus on:

– Hornets Young Pups and what they need to work on

– Philosophies on why certain players do or don’t develop

– Pros and Cons of prospects in 2012 draft class

Looking to the Future is a weekly column that you can find only on Hornets247.com. For past articles, click here.



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