What Does #1 Mean, Anyway?

By Marcus Shockley

Charlotte Bobcats left Kwame Brown (L) talks with referee Brian Forte during an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks in Charlotte, North Carolina March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

I get some grief now and then for assessments of players; this is not unique to any scout or writer. Whenever you try to evaluate a player, there is room for error and there are so many intangibles; how much the player is going to work, how much you’ve actually seen a player, and so on. The reality is, even if you are almost always right, you are going to make mistakes. You are going to be wrong sometimes. That’s one of the reasons I put out the Right-Wrong Awards at the end of the year sometimes to showcase that yes, we did get many things right but we own up to things we got wrong as well.

But I also don’t like the ‘adjusting’ of assessments and rankings that happens based on what’s going on with a recruit. Many people have complained over the years that if UNC, Duke, Kentucky or Kansas offer a player, suddenly that player gets bumped up in the rankings. But I would also point out that the opposite is true, which no one wants to hear.

Just because someone has offered a player, it should not change the assessment of that player.

Let’s say that a player is evaluated as a low-major DI prospect by several scouts. Then suddenly, a high major pops up and offers him. Now, there are only two scenarios here. Either the player has proven something to the high major that the scouts overlooked or the player really is a low major prospect but the college recruiter’s evaluation is off.

Just because a player was offered by a high major does not automatically make him a high major prospect. It means that ONE college thought he was a high major prospect and is acting on it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t change the player – if the college has guessed wrong, they have guessed wrong. It happens all of the time.

It is possible that the player is better than the scouts think. But there are a lot of players every year who go to play college basketball and soon run into problems. I don’t want to paint with a broad brush, but college coaches make mistakes, too. Even Duke and UNC have had players who were offered scholarships and ended up not being able to compete at the elite level once they arrived on campus. So, let’s take a step back here. If players are sometimes incorrectly evaluated by UNC, Duke or Kentucky, doesn’t it make sense that other players can be incorrectly evaluated at hundreds of other colleges as well? If you were to ask any college coach with several years of experience, it would be rare that one would claim all of their recruits worked out as well as they had hoped.

It also explains how you have high major programs in major conferences who only have one or two elite players, but that’s an aside for another day.

The reality is that evaluating players at any level involves some risk of being wrong and a large amount of subjective work. This doesn’t end at the high school level. Even NBA teams get it wrong a lot. We all can name off bad first round picks over the years, players who someone on an NBA team thought was a big time prospect but ended up out of the league or being a bench player before long. So why would high school be any different?

When I saw Kwame Brown in high school, I thought he was a really good prospect, but was a couple of years removed from the pros at best. I thought he would be good in college, work on his game, and then probably be a first round pick. I was stunned when he was taken as the #1 pick out of high school – I did not even think he was ready to make the move to the NBA at that point. And I wasn’t alone in this – there were a lot of scouts who thought the same thing. Did Kwame Brown getting drafted at #1 suddenly make him better than we thought? I don’t like to slam Kwame, who was never a bad player, but he wasn’t a #1 lottery pick either, and Michael Jordan’s gamble on taking him was a huge, public mistake.

But in the world of college recruiting, that’s the equivalent of a lower evaluated player getting a suddenly high offer, and then his ratings go up. I’m not going to change my assessment based on recruitment. Of course, watching a player multiple times over the course of their careers is the best way to assess his talent. When Harrison Barnes arrived at UNC, he was considered the top player in the nation. But he struggled early on in his freshman year, and many fans starting calling him a bust. But they hadn’t seen enough – flash forward to today, where he’s absolutely one of the best college players and a big time pro prospect. If fans had only had the first 10 games of his freshman season to evaluate him, it wouldn’t give the whole picture.

The point is that a player is at a certain level, regardless of who has offered or not. We all know players who should have gotten DI offers but ended up playing DII, and there are DII players who ended up playing DIII and there are even DI prospects who ended up playing nowhere. So if colleges can be wrong about players who should get offers, of course they can be wrong the other way as well, offering players that won’t pan out. This isn’t news to them; they know they are taking a risk by offering any player, no matter how much of a sure thing they seem to be. Kwame Brown