Warning: the following may hit home about your favorite NBA team. Soft hearted basketball fans should avoid reading this and getting dampened spirits; those who continue from this point and have their egos bruised, well, I’m telling you up front, so toughen up, ya babies.
The NBA Draft Lottery, which somehow has been turned into its own tepid thirty minute show, has come and gone, with this year’s top pick falling into the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and with it, a real shot at combining a 2015 pick with their existing young stars Andrew Wiggins (another #1 pick) and Zack Levine to actually start winning again, something they haven’t done consistently since Kevin Garnett was on the roster. Will they actually do that? No idea, but if they do, it will buck the odds of most teams who get the top pick.
Of course, much hand-wringing always accompanies the draft lottery as well, this year from the fans of the downright awful New York Knicks, who fell to fourth in the draft order. I’ve got good news and bad news for Knicks fans; the good news is that the lottery doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that most people think. The bad news is that your team is still horribly mismanaged and that is the dominating reason why any sports franchise wins or loses over time. It won’t matter who is on the Knicks roster as long as Dolan still runs the team. Bad management trumps all. Sports teams are just companies, after all, and many companies are poorly run. Well run companies excel, and poorly run companies limp along trailing the competition. Pointing out that the Knicks are a poorly run company takes about as much diagnostic effort as finding the Sun in a cloudless sky.
I’ve seen some fans (and journalists like Stephen A. Smith) angrily denouncing the fact that the Knicks didn’t do a good enough a job of ‘tanking’ the season in order to increase their odds of getting the number one draft pick. Let’s unpack the absurdity of this a bit. And as a side note, don’t email me, yes, Stephen A. Smith might be ridiculously inaccurate but he is, or at least some of the time is, actually a journalist. He studied journalism at Winston-Salem State and worked at Greensboro’s News & Record as a staff reporter years ago. I remember reading his work but who knew he would go from covering local sports to screaming at Skip Bayless for money? But, still, he did work as an actual sports reporter. But, I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the draft and the misguided logic of tanking as a winning formula.
First, let’s just look at the strategy behind losing on purpose to get a higher draft pick. We would have to assume that getting the number one pick must be so valuable in ROI (return on investment) that losing the massive amounts of money on home games for the last half of the season would be worth it. Well, it could be, with television contracts. Maybe. But that would mean that you would have to land a star player that would mean filling the arena and selling jerseys within a year or two, and hopefully building around that player to get back into the playoffs and contend for a title.
Teams that lose too long fold or get sold. It has been true that in the past there has always been another buyer who is willing to pay an even higher price for teams despite the record, so team owners don’t always care so much about winning when their team’s value continues to rise regardless of the record. That’s not really a business model as much as it is an investment in some type of collectible. I’m not sure if a team owner who just buys a team without much intention of winning, just because they know they can sell it later at a profit is really good for sports in general. I’m looking your way, Robert L. Johnson.
But let’s not talk about billionaire hobbyists, let’s talk about team owners who genuinely want to own a valuable, winning franchise. They want their team to win titles, or at least make the playoffs and work towards being a real contender. They want the arena full of rabid local fans and they want those fans to embrace the team as hometown heroes. That’s certainly been the case with successful sports franchises such as the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
There is no legitimate reason the Knicks aren’t one of the best sports franchises in existence; they have the market size, they have prestige of location, they have history, they have grassroots support. To tank the season, it would need to be really worth it. But since 1985, the year the lottery was introduced, the teams who landed the number one pick and have gone on to win an NBA title is exactly one – the San Antonio Spurs. A few lottery picks have gone on to win titles – Shaquille O’Neal and Lebron James are the most notable examples – but none of them won their titles with the teams that drafted them. At best, they did make it to the NBA finals with O’Neal and James, as did Philly with Allen Iverson, so there is some success there. But the reality is that getting a number one pick has only led directly to a title for one team in thirty years. To be sure, this is just a cursory view of draft effectiveness, but digging into the draft deeper hammers home one defining principle: it matters far more how well you draft as a team than which position you are picking in.
So let’s go back again to the Knicks and their much-maligned fourth-place pick. Chris Paul was a number 4 pick, as an example, but it doesn’t even matter to go back and look at all of the specifically-picked-at-number-four selections. Just look through the list of players who were picked at 4 or lower to see how it matters more in correct evaluation of players as opposed to just landing a higher draft spot. Steph Curry, who just took home MVP honors for the season, was a number 7 pick. Paul George was a number 10 pick. Dirk Nowitszki was a number 9 pick. Tracy McGrady was a number 9 pick. Jason Terry was a number 10 pick in the same year that Rip Hamilton was a number 7 and Ron Artest was a number 16 pick.
Given that, as a NBA General Manager, you have a really good chance of landing a star player just because so many other teams are bad at picking, it would be almost ludicrous to tank your already dismal season just to get a couple of spots higher in the lottery. I would ask, as a team owner, what is the point of having a General Manager on your team who consistently makes bad picks? Why is it that so many teams who have held #1 or #2 picks basically end up with players who are just role players in the NBA?
If you have faith in your personnel and abilities as a GM, you wouldn’t worry too much about where you are picking, but if you didn’t have much confidence, then well, yes, in that case, I would think you might consider tanking an entire season, then pick up the newspaper and read whoever is listed that you are supposed to pick and draft them. Given how badly NBA teams generally draft, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they are just going with the common thinking on who they should pick.
Consider the fact that in the last 15 years, the Lakers and Spurs have reached the NBA Finals 13 times, winning 10 of them, with only once having a lottery pick, which the Lakers used on Andrew Bynum at #10 in 2005. In fact, multiple times during that stretch, the Lakers and Spurs didn’t even have a first round pick in the entire draft. There are number one players who have helped their teams win – John Wall is a recent notable example – but the overall numbers point much more to picking the right players over just getting lucky with the odds and taking the consensus top pick.
And, oh yeah, the Lakers landed back in the lottery this year (2015) – under new management, of course. Remember how I told you how it matters who owns the team?
So a really good GM with a good scouting team should be able to use the draft to their advantage regardless of position. We’ve established that a team which tanks a season just on the chance of moving up a spot or two in the draft wouldn’t be a team smart enough to build a contender regardless of how many number one picks they get. In fact, that’s actually the case for many franchises – while the Spurs and Lakers have stayed out of the lottery, some teams have pretty much lived there without making much noise even getting high picks year after year.
There has been some discussion over whether doing away with the lottery would be a good move – the concern has always been the idea that teams would lose on purpose, and stupid teams already do this, so it’s a valid concern. However, there has also been some discussion about not giving the worst teams the top picks simply because so many of those teams are always in the lottery hunt and aren’t doing much with their opportunities. I’ve wondered if the top pick shouldn’t go to the last team that missed the playoffs, because that would create real effort to win and get into that spot, but also I think this could mean teams who were on the cusp might actually lose on purpose, and in that case it could even make sense – a team that is on the playoff bubble really could be a number one pick away from a title. It’s possible that even though that would seem to be underhanded, it might actually be much better – teams who are on the fringes could shake things up pretty quickly at the top, unlike today where teams just languish in the pro basketball basement. There’s also the very palpable perception that the NBA uses the lottery for conspiratorial purposes – ensuring specific teams get specific picks every year. I have no idea if that’s true, but if so it may just be the worst-executed conspiracy in history, developing zero champions and sending dozens of potential money-making superstars to teams where no one will really see them play.
Probably the best snow job in all of sports is the teams that put in half-hearted efforts at building a real team and insult their fans by showing up in their finest suits to the draft, year after year, promising that starting with this draft, things will change. These are bad-boyfriend type of relationships and the fans who stick with them are…well, let’s drop that analogy. Let’s just say it’s not healthy and leave it at that.
Another option to help improve the draft process considerably would be to expand the NBA roster by one player and incorporate the D-league into the draft process, much as baseball does – more players drafted, more development, more chances to build your team with young talent, and more chances for young players to actually stick around and become NBA players. The current situation is that players who arrive in the NBA are pretty much expected to make an impact from the moment they step on the court, but that is rather unrealistic in most cases and goes directly against the developmental model that works in every single other sport. Sure, there are always players who come in, regardless of sport, and have an ability to play at the pro level quickly, but that is extremely rare. Almost all players need at least 2-3 seasons before they become serious contributors.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know the current system is broken, a combination of weakly managed teams with lackluster scouting efforts, and it’s possible that the current system just rewards poorly run teams with lottery picks. I don’t think tanking a season is even close to a viable strategy for teams that want to achieve long term, sustainable success and any team that employed this tactic has other, deep rooted issues that would also prevent them from winning. This isn’t a new thing, this draft lottery, we’ve got 30 years of history and data now to show the effects and implementation and it’s almost certainly time to try some new wrinkles.]]>
Title game from the 15U bracket at the 2015 Grassroots Tip Off Classic AAU basketball tournament, held in North Carolina during the April NCAA live recruiting period. This game features Team F.L.Y. (For Love of Youth) 15U versus Mid State Magic 15U.]]>
Game broadcast from the 2015 Grassroots Tip Off Classic AAU basketball tournament, held in Greensboro, NC, during the April NCAA live recruiting period. Today’s game features the CC Flight versus the New Light Desciples.]]>
Due to some last minuted scheduling conflicts (hey, life happens) I was only able to attend the final day of the Big Shots Winston-Salem AAU basketball tournament. Fortunately, as many of you who follow AAU know, the last day is Championship Day! So I still had a chance to catch several players in action, some of whom I’d seen previously and others I was watching for the first time.
On the day, I was impressed with FCF Ballers, who took the 17U title, as they showed excellent ball movement and a lot of athleticism on the wings. They defeated NC Spartans East in the semifinal and then Jeremy Harris and TTC Elite in the title game. I would suggest that college coaches looking for some athletic wings take a look at FCF.
Although my notes are far more limited than I’d hoped, here’s what I was able to jot down:
Joey Baker (G/F, 6’6″, 2019) Trinity Christian/Team Felton – has great size for the wing and squares up well for his shot, great high release and a really solid looking prospect all around. Makes good decisions in transition, passing and shot selection. Excellent free throw shooter. Definitely a Divison I prospect and has early interest from Ohio State, Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. Won the MVP of his team’s age bracket as they took home the title. I don’t say this lightly, Baker has a very high ceiling.
Skyler Mgee (G/F, 6’4, ’15) Ledford HS/NC Spartans East – great square up on shot, strong bodied wing. Holds offer from Pfeiffer, others. Has good awareness and strength and I really like his overall poise.
Montreal Jackson (F, 6’5, ’16) Nova Elite – Athletic wing, solid in transition, unselfish, plays hard, nice 3 strong, high IQ player.
Dondrea Tillman (SF, 6’5, ’16) Nova Elite- can shoot the 3, change directions with dribble, good rebounder, tough player quick with excellent second bounce.
Greg Gantt (F, 6’5, ’19) Team Felton – good length and slashing ability as true wing with collegiate size already. Good passer as well.
Savonte Chappell (PF, 6’4, ’16) Prince George HS (VA)/FCF Ballers great hands, strength in post. Undersized in the post but makes an impact with sound play. Interest from Va State, Va Wesleyan, others.
Kameron Wall (WF, 6’3, ’16) NC Spartans West Terrific catch and shoot from 3 player, high motor, good rebounder, defender
Jerick Haynes(G, ’15) Crest HS/Cherokee Flight bucket producer, strong guard who has physical approach that will translate to college game. Broke David Thompson’s scoring record in high school and stays with his game even under pressure.
Jaquan McCauley (F, 6’5, ’15) New Hope/TTC Elite – power face-the-basket finisher in the lane and always has been. Poured in 34 points in an OT win today against Cherokee Elite. McCauley is a guy I’ve mentioned before and I think colleges may be concerned about his size as a post player; however, he’s strong, plays through contact, and is one of those guys who seems to get stronger as the game progresses. Definitely the kind of player that colleges should be actively looking at because he adds depth at two spots – small forward and power forward. He’s more effective at the small forward spot but his strength and ability to face the basket make him a tougher matchup at the power forward spot.
Bryan Lennox (G, ’15) Cosby HS/FCF Ballers – showed a deep shot today and active length defender on perimeter. Unsigned senior.
Deonte Jones (SG, ’16) Hopewell HS/FCF Ballers – slashing scoring wing with quick defensive hands. Buckets in transition a given.
Corey Hill (PG, ’16) FCF Ballers – quick point guard – deadly going to his right, slashes, scores, kicks to teammates. Before you dismiss my ‘going to his right’ comment, I want to elaborate on why I mention that. Although he will need to continue to work on his off hand, he is extremely strong going to his dominant hand- not just with the dribble, but with the jab step, crossover, in and out, and dribble drive. He’s already a very quick, very effective guard; as he continues to add abilities with his off hand, he will be an extremely effective guard at the college level.]]>
There are lots of really good players who have played in professional basketball, but very few are so good, so transcendent, that they become legendary. Those players, like Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, all share qualities that only a few players have. Those qualities aren’t limited to the world of sports; in fact, these same qualities have been shown in research to be shared among many of the worlds most accomplished people in any field, from Bill Gates to Martha Stewart. Reading this should help provide a blueprint, in any walk of life, to understanding why some players go from ‘great’ to ‘legendary’ and how this applies to anyone regardless of their path in life. Not everyone has the abilities to become a legendary performer in their field, but those that do share all of these.
1. They are always thinking several moves ahead.
On the basketball court, they aren’t just focused on the current play, they are also thinking about the next play and the next period. In life, great ‘stars’ in any business do the same. They are always thinking about what they are going to do ‘next’.
2. They work hardest when the lights are off
Before the crowds would file in to watch the huge NBA match ups of the day, Michael Jordan would be in the gym, alone, shooting free throws, sometimes with his eyes closed. It’s not enough to be good some of the time; Legendary performers put in massive amounts of work that the world will never see.
3. They are focused on the important things
Legendary performers have a laser focus on specific things and see them through to completion. This is not to say that they ignore everything else in their life. But humans often spend cumulative years of their life on things that they feel are important but are just wasted time. Stars know how to strip away the fluff and pay attention to the thing that will get them closer to what they want.
4. They understand the game flow and keep a balance
Even though sports are emotionally charged and physical, legendary players are known for their composure under the most extreme competition. Even in a game 7 of a playoff game, seconds to go, playing on the road, with thousands of hostile fans screaming at them, they can look around at their teammates and tell a joke. They don’t get too high or too low during the game, regardless of the score.
5. They see the game mentally as well as physically
A legendary player understands that for every offensive attack, there is a defensive adjustment, and vice versa. It’s about more than just not going for ball fakes; it’s about getting into the other players head, and not just with trash talk. Legendary players understand that you can shoot an outside shot, which will make the defender play them closer, thus allowing for the drive by. They understand that using the same move every time down the floor will not work; they want the defense to be backpeddling, to be second guessing themselves.
6. They see themselves as their biggest competition
A lot of players over time have complained about not getting enough press or about rankings which have them lower on a list than other players. But legendary players – regardless of whether they were ‘nice guys’ or complete jerks – only really cared about their own standard of performance. They were their own biggest fan while also being their own harshest critic.
7. They never have to be reminded to pracice
Many players work hard. However, any professional trainer can rattle off dozens of players who routinely saunter into practice or don’t really put in much work other than what has been requested. But legendary playersnever need a schedule to be set out for them. They are self motivated and do not need anyone to babysit their efforts.
8. They understand the process of failure
No one is born with perfect ability, no matter how smart or athletically gifted. Albert Einstein wasn’t born knowing the theory of relativity; Michelangelo wasn’t born with the ability to paint the Sistine Chapel. To develop a skill or specialized knowledge comes with practice and time, and that means the first time – or maybe the first 1,000 times – are works in progress. This goes along with #3, where once a person has identified the important things to work on/focus on/accomplish, they also understand they will fail a lot before they achieve it and that is just part of the process. There will be mistakes, there will be adversity, there will be frustration, but at no point in history has anyone achieved greatness without those things along the way.]]>
Full broadcast from the 2015 Grassroots Tip Off Classic held in Greensboro, NC, during the April NCAA live recruiting period. This game is the Championship game for the 17U “Big East” Bracket, featuring Wake County Basketball Association (WCBA) Elite White squad versus the New Bern Storm 17U team.]]>
C/O 2016 Deshawn Patterson (5’9, Point Guard, River City Reign)- During this tournament Deshawn showed his ability to run a squad and get everybody else going. Even though he can knock down shots of he is own he looked to pass very often and made good reads to put his teammates in the position to score. His on court communication with his coach and players is something that you love to see from a player that plays his the P.G spot. Deshawn also is a very fierce competitor, he doesn’t back down from any challenge and brings an enthusiasm to the floor on both ends and throughout the entire game.
C/O 2016 Jay Huff (6’10, Forward, Carolina Flyers)- Jay has a very high amount of potential , he can step out and knock down the three point shot and even though he has a slender frame at this point, he battles inside with anybody hes matched up with. He has good hands especially for a player his size and passes the ball well from the high post area as well as making good reads to pass out of the post when he is double teamed. Jay is definitely a player that will continue to progress and will be getting plenty of offers before it’s all said and done.
C/O 2016 Jordan Sheppard (6′, Point Guard, Team Vision)- Jordan has a very good IQ for the game, he displayed his IQ especially in pick and roll situations. He knows when to : pass, shoot, split the defenders, etc . when coming off the screen, which causes issues for his opposition that attempts to guard him. He has nice length and a floater that he makes with consistency, as well a midrange shot that he knocked with consistency. He’s not the fastest player you will see but he is very smart and knows how to change speeds and direction to keep defenders off-balance.
C/O 2016 Kendrick Baird (6’4, Forward, East Coast All-Stars)- Kendrick has a lot of potential and raw talent, he gets after it on both ends of the floor and has very high motor. On the defensive end he blocks shots and rebounds the ball very well, he sometimes can be overlooked because he is constantly doing the small things for his team that get overlooked. Also has good athleticism which he uses on the offensive end to get rebounds and finish plays above the rim
C/O 2016 Justin King (6’1, Point Guard, Fayetteville Elite)- Justin had a very good showing at the tournament, he displayed the full package of his game and also showed why he was such a big factor in Terry Sanford winning the 3A State Championship. Justin shows good patience on the offensive end of the floor and did a great job of getting his team into their sets, when he’s open he knocks down the outside shot with consistency. He also got to the basket with ease, and displayed nice athleticism + strength which helped him finish through contact and above the rim.
C/O 2016 Davion Mintz (6’4, Point Guard, Charlotte Nets)- Davion had multiple high scoring games throughout the tournament, as a taller Point Guard he uses his height to his advantage by shooting over smaller defenders any time he wants. He also has good athleticism which was on full display as he threw down multiple dunks during the tournament. Even though Davion took on more of a scoring role for this event, he still looked to get his teammates involved and is not a selfish player at all. Numerous schools at the MM level have already offered and you can definitely tell why with the way he played at the event.
C/O 2019 Joey Baker (6,5, Wing, Team Felton)- Simply put, Joey Baker has star potential and is a young man that schools at the HM level should begin to track now, he knocks down shots from the outside at a high level but is not afraid to attack the rim at any time. His ball handling skills are advanced for his age and height, as well as his IQ for the game, Joey also protects the paint well by blocking and altering shots when guards come inside. He is somewhat slender at this point but that mostly due to his age and physically development so as the years go on he would more than likely add more muscle to his frame and has a chance to be a very special player.
C/O 2016 Raekwon Long (7’1, Center, PSB Select)- Raekwon displayed the full package of his game as well during this tournament, he did everything that you want from your center. He blocked shots, rebounded well, altered the shots that he didn’t block and finished plays inside when his guards got him the ball. Although he still has some raw areas of his game Raekwon played very well and was a huge part of the reason his squad performed so well through the tournament
C/O 2016 Ray Kowalski (6’3, Shooting Guard, PSB Select)- Ray can flat out shoot it, he has a very smooth shooting stroke and release his shot rather quickly so that defenders do not have much time to contest it. He also displayed a nice shot fake and a one dribble pull up jumper from mid-range that he knocked down with consistency throughout the event. He has as a solid frame and is would be classified as what I would call a physical defender as he makes his opponents work to get any type of free space .
C/O 2016 Eric Young (5’10, Point Guard , East Coast All-Stars)- Eric was productive for his team, especially in their game against the NC Blazers, he knocked down the trey ball with consistency and finished plays at the basket very well. He was just as impressive on the defensive end by applying constant pressure and coming up with numerous steals, Eric has good lateral quickness and quick hands that’s really makes things difficult for whoever he is guarding.
Full broadcast from the 2015 Grassroots Tip Off Classic AAU basketball tournament, held in Greensboro, NC, during the NCAA live recruiting period in April. This is the championship game from the 17U ‘ACC’ bracket, featuring PSB Select Elite versus the Charlotte Royals. Both teams have solid college prospects including Raekwon Long, Ray Kawolski, Nico Payne, Derek McKnight, Jacob Skidmore and others.]]>
Live game broadcast from the 2015 Grassroots Tip Off Classic held in Greensboro, NC, during the April NCAA live recruiting period. This AAU basketball tournament match up features Prep United versus the Charlotte Nets Gold.]]>
Full game broadcast, on demand, from the 2015 Grassroots Tip Off Classic AAU basketball tournament, held in Greensboro, NC, during the April NCAA live recruiting period. This game features one of the Boo Williams Summer League AAU teams versus the New Bern Storm 17U.]]>