2.06.2008

Me and RJR Still Got Unresolved Issues

I never grew up as any kind of college basketball fan. I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco, hardly a college town. My dad went to a tiny school in New Hampshire, and my mom went to a small school in Pennsylvania that, when she went there, did not have a men's basketball team or, for that matter, men.

Now I actually go to college, and care deeply about the fortunes of my USC Trojans, although in going from the Golden State Warriors to USC basketball, all the advantages the college game is supposed to have over the pro game-the energy in the building, the sense of kinship with the players, and the feeling that the game is not some pre-packaged industry but a genuine competition in which the players give all that they have out of a desire for glory or pure love for the sport-feel noticeably absent.













Anyways, whereas college basketball was once only an opportunity to evaluate the merits and flaws of future pro players, I now genuinely care about not only the performance of players destined for the NBA, but the play of the actual team, from the future lottery picks to role players, and how they work together as a team in order to win games.

Unfortunately for me, the emphasis on college basketball has shifted in recent years to an extended pre-draft camp, especially since the "one-and-done" rule allowed players who in years previous would have jumped straight to the pros shrouded in mystery to show their skills for a year in the national spotlight, especially when they sign with programs not seen as traditional college basketball powerhouses.

Anybody who watches college basketball now knows of what I speak; about two weeks ago, I watched Georgetown get upset by Pittsburgh, although I only knew that from the score; the broadcast itself taught me about how good of an athlete Roy Hibbert is, how good of a passer he is from the high post, how he can finish with either hand around the basket, and how (I am not making this up) he puts "perfect rotation on his free throws," which is much more important to hear during a pair of big free throws than something like how often he actually makes free throws. (An un-perfect 63.4% on the year, by the way.) I am not exaggerating when I say that when another Georgetown player hit a tough three coming off a Hibbert screen, the broadcasters chose to talk about the screen instead of the shot.














Naturally, what sent me over the edge was when my beloved USC's upset over hated rival UCLA became a five-on-five workout for Kevin Love. While DaVon Jefferson quietly took the Bruins apart, I got to hear gushing monologues about Love's rebounding, post play, outside shooting ability, choice of number (again, I am not making this up-the broadcasters pointed to Love's choice to wear Connie Hawkins' number as evidence of his respect for the game), and especially his outlet passes, which have ignited UCLA's pace of play to 254th in the country.

The best-known example of the player being more important than the game has to be last year's championship game, when the broadcast team raved about Greg Oden for 40 minutes while Florida quietly won its second consecutive national championship.

The emergence of singularly talented players taking over programs and dominating college basketball as freshmen, made directly possible by Carmelo, made possible in theory by Amare, LeBron, and Dwight Howard showing just how much game an 18-year old can have in them, and made real by Durant and Oden, is odd for college basketball, because it has always been a platform where the program is paramount to the individual-like the old saying goes, the only man who could hold Michael Jordan to under 20 points a game was Dean Smith.
























For one year or more, top prospects must now show the strengths and limitations of their game, where in the short-lived era of the draft dominance of high school players, we had convinced ourselves that the draft's best players should not have limitations.

Take Derrick Rose. When he was a high-school senior who almost no casual fan had ever seen play a full game, all we knew about Rose was that he had a Baron Davis-like point guard build, and was capable of shocking dunks and bowel-emptying crossovers set to new-wave Europop; that, combined with reports that he was a "true" point guard with surpassing court vision, allowed us to see Rose as a one-man point guard revolution, combining Jason Kidd's size and passing ability with Devin Harris' speed and young Steve Francis' finishing ability.

However, he came to John Calipari's big-time Memphis program, and instead of being allowed to handle the ball on every play or run the pick-and-roll, he's been relegated to being one in a bevy of slashers in Memphis' equal-opportunity speed attack, finishing on fast breaks, making passes when needed, and playing quality defense, doing his job for an undefeated team, and in doing so has become less compelling in the eyes of the draft than Michael Beasley, doing it all for the significantly worse Kansas State Wildcats.

Whereas before college players were seen in varying degrees of good, and teams looked at which one would be most effective in helping their team, with the crown jewel of a draft being a player like Duncan or Iverson or K-Mart, players who had proven themselves to be effective for their teams through countless battles, the phenomena of LeBron James and the rest of the high schoolers and the prophetic choice of Dwight Howard's freakish potential over Emeka Okafor's established game have turned high school superstars with the spotlight of the "one-and-done" year shining on them into team saviors who will all be franchise players.

When those players hint at the possibilities of their game without needing to show the whole thing, like Oden or Marvin Williams, they are free to remain superstars in our imagination and we rejoice. When they dominate with the spotlight on them, like Michael Beasley this year or Kevin Durant last year, the filter of our dreams for them when they were shrouded in mystery and talent makes us see them being radically different from those that supposedly dominated the college game through savvy and skill like Adam Morrison, Shane Battier, or Jameer Nelson, but rather as having possessed so much natural talent that the college game itself bent to their indominable will.

















Going back to the UCLA game/Kevin Love-fest 2008, the broadcasters briefly stopped fawning over a Love outlet pass that almost started a fast break to issue my boy O.J. Mayo the ultimate put-down of the "one-and-done" era: "O.J. Mayo is a good player, but he's not a great player." While one-and-done players who appear to follow the paths we forge for them in our imaginations turn from valuable players to gods worthy of clearing out an entire franchise so that their gifts may be better accommodated, those who show a ceiling during their showcase year are punished with a lower spot in the draft and a much lower place in our imaginations.

After Florida's first championship, Joakim Noah was a tremendously athletic big man who could pass, run the floor, play defense, and rebound like a man possessed; in the imagination of the draft, he would one day become a player who would add to those skills 20 pounds of muscle, an outside shot, and post moves, and he was projected as a top-three pick. He chose to stay, and played nearly the exact same role for Florida that he had in the previous year, and the result stayed the same as well; Florida won the national championship. Instead of being rewarded for proving himself as a player who would be an extremely valuable member of any team, Noah ended up going behind not only the sure-thing foursome of Oden, Durant, Horford, and Conley, but Jeff Green, Corey Brewer, Yi Jianlian, and Brandan Wright as well, players who all seemed more attractive than Noah because they had not yet allowed the world to see that their games came with limitations.

While many of those picked ahead of him are crumbling under the weight of what their NBA teams expected of them, Joakim has quietly posted the second-highest PER of any rookie and leads the Bulls in +/- rating. Likewise, O.J. was expected to be an Arenas-like Deus ex Machina of a guard capable of scoring 40 points with a flick of his jump shot and elevating the otherwise offensively-challenged Trojans to greatness through the sheer virtue of his game; instead, he has accepted his role on a grind-it-out Tim Floyd team that is a top-5 defensive team in the country, and instead of freewheeling on drives and fast breaks patiently runs off screens looking for a jumper or bucket off a curl, gradually settling into his role as an efficient scoring option. Like Noah, O.J.'s performance in college strongly suggests that he will contribute rather than dominate, and as this fails to jibe with what he was expected to be given his status as a phenom since he was a freshman in high school, he has dropped out of most imaginations, and hence has dropped out of many top 5s.




























By definition, greatness cannot be so common as to present itself in three or four players every year, but in an era where we have become spoiled because of the influx of incredible young players in recent years, the mystery-shrouded scraps of wonder we get from fawning scouting reports and fleeting YouTube clips about the one-and-done wunderkids lead us to believe just that, and hence we trip over ourselves to anoint those who appear to fufill the destinies we have laid out for them as the next Michael Jordan, as well as condemn those who prove themselves merely human, but if NBA teams learn to temper their expectations for the men in the spotlight and see one-and-done phenoms as players capable of being a part of the answer rather than the answer itself, they may find the sublime in the simply good.

UPDATE: I'm just as devastated as the rest of you by the Shaq news. I've never believed in Stern conspiracy stories, but this does make Wade relevant again, puts a big, fat marquee name on one of the young and exciting teams that the league believes should merit more attention, and the chances of a Shaq-Kobe playoff series just went from "completely impossible" to "fairly likely." I'm fucking stoked for this-I see it as either going down like Ray Allen destroying his dad at the end of He Got Game or Darth Vader finally killing Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Kobe punctuating a 40-point game with a vicious dunk over Shaq as Shaq walks to the bench with a serene grin on his face when Boris Diaw replaces him and the Suns go on to win the series. I just don't see a lot of explanations for this-could Marion's attitude really have been worse than Scottie Pippen's, who was at open war with the Bulls organization but was ultimately able to man up and win a championship? Steve Kerr was on that team. And the idea that this was done to protect against the threat of Bynum feels like when the military resorted to activating SkyNet to control the giant computer virus in Terminator 3, which led to the immediate immolation of most of humanity. I'm with those of you hoping that the best outcome of this is that the whole thing goes down in horrible flames and a revolution springs anew from the ashes.

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24 Comments:

At 2/06/2008 8:16 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

I Love what you've done here: a real Rubio.

 
At 2/06/2008 8:21 PM, Blogger bobby said...

Fight on! What year are you at usc? I graduated in May 07.

 
At 2/06/2008 8:35 PM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

That was good.

 
At 2/06/2008 10:06 PM, Blogger rebar said...

damn fine work.

the kobe-shaq series would be glorious. no way the suns win though, kobe will slice through raja bell (he'll just think about shaq's face) like young skywalker through sand people.

 
At 2/06/2008 10:27 PM, Blogger Krolik1157 said...

Class of '11.

 
At 2/07/2008 12:03 AM, Blogger Hoyasaxa77 said...

Friend, your debilitating ignorance of the college basketball landscape is nothing less than paralyzing. You open an otherwise innocuous, if pedestrian, invective against the contemporary trend of "one-and-done" freshman like Michael Beasley and Kevin Love by choosing to focus on... Roy Hibbert? Seriously? Do you know anything about college basketball? At all?

Roy Hibbert was a 7'2 oaf coming out of high school. He wasn't recruited by any other major Division I program; dubbing him a "project" would have been a compliment. Not only does he defy the archetypal first-year, straight-outta-high-school superstar whom you decry in your post, but he paradigmatically epitomizes the very opposite of your loathed Love/Beasley/Carmelo/Oden/Conley figures.

Not only is he a senior who forsook a guaranteed lottery contract following a Final Four run, he's playing in an offensive schema (the modified Princeton offense that preserves Carrill's original principles while incorporating important innovations), that precisely prevents any one player from being a superstar. No one player on Georgetown averages over 15 points a game. In a given night, it's rare to see someone hit 20. The offense--and the rebounding, passing, and defense--is distributed evenly among all five starters.

The only reason the TV commentators focus so very much on Hibbert is that they have a previously typed set of notes that they intend to read, regardless of the progression of the actual game. The same goes for every team.

The depths of your unfamiliarity with college basketball are only affirmed when later, you rail about the fact that Joakim Noah--who was a junior--was snubbed in favor of such players as Jeff Green, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer, each of whom you claim was picked ahead of Noah "because they had not yet allowed the world to see their games came with limitations."

Dude. Green, Horford, and Brewer were all juniors... that is, the same class as Noah.

Since it's clear you don't have these facts at your fingertips, at least pause momentarily to look a few things up before you start spewing asinine drivel about players with whom you appear to be wholly unacquainted.

Your overarching point (i.e. that individualistic high school phenoms turned one and done college players has altered the game substantially) is a good one (if staggeringly over-done), but your arguments are wholly eviscerated of their validity by the fact that half of the names you cite actually run counter to your actual purpose.

Step back and watch the game a bit more. Then rant.

 
At 2/07/2008 12:16 AM, Blogger SeanBS said...

If I may...

He used the Hibbert example to show how one-and-done players have turned college ball into "an extended pre-draft camp". Nowhere did he say that Hibbert was one of those players responsible for the transformation, just that the way people view him has been affected by it.

Just because Green, Horford, and Brewer were also juniors doesn't mean that their games received the same scrutiny as Noah's.

 
At 2/07/2008 12:55 AM, Blogger Hoyasaxa77 said...

Standout players have always received proportionately more attention during broadcasts than have their teammates. One need only watch classic games featuring Ralph Sampson, Patrick Ewing, or David Thompson... or read magazine articles about Larry Bird, Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, etc.... to know that's the case.

The progression of the piece is such that it seems to indict Hibbert on the charge that he is a part of this problem ("Anybody who watches college basketball knows of what I speak;" which immediately follows the paragraph about "one-and-done" players showcasing their skills in an "extended pre-draft camp")

As for the maybe Brewer/Horford/Green didn't receive as much scrutiny as did Noah suggestion, well I'd argue that's simply not accurate, especially given the spotlight on the returning National Champs and Green , the Big East Player of the Year.

It's one thing to contrast the Emeka Okafor/Shane Battier/Jameer Nelson types with the Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Durant/Michael Beasley figures, but many of the specific players cited in this article simply don't support the premise of the piece. (Especially when someone like Iverson, who played only two years of college ball, is said to have "proved himself... through countless battles" is held up as an ideal (alongside Duncan, who more appropriately fits the point), in contradistinction to someone like Jeff Green who played a year longer at the collegiate level.

 
At 2/07/2008 3:50 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

I've always thought that announcers' relentless pimping of individual players had more to do with trying to establish some form of a star system in the NCAA. I say that because it's not always tied to the NBA; Dookie V and Patrick were talking about Hansbrough as a great college player the whole game tonight, but not so much as an NBA prospect. For other examples, see Drew Neitzel at Michigan St (last year, at least; I haven't watched them much this year).

I also think it's way too early to make any judgments on the NBA careers of the guys who were drafted ahead of Noah. And I do think people see their limitations; they're just willing to put them aside for the moment because their potentials are so high.

I (shamefully, given my background) like USC's team this year, and it has almost nothing to do with Mayo. Davon Jefferson is like the NCAA version of the younger Josh Smith.

 
At 2/07/2008 5:13 AM, Blogger Krolik1157 said...

Hoyas-

I know Roy Hibbert is a senior, and am aware of his slow progression, and am aware that the team's best players have always been the spotlight of broadcasts: what struck me about the content of the broadcast notes was how it sounded more like a scouting report than a standard gushing monologue, with them praising technical aspects of his game like the rotation on his shot or where he kept the ball in the post as opposed to enjoying his exploits on a more pure level, expressing the draft-centric aspect of college basketball, which I believe is a fairly recent development; when Alcindor played, they talked about the pure fluidity of his game, not if they thought the skyhook would be useful when he would be allowed to dunk. And Noah vs. the second four has nothing to do with their physical age, but the "age" of their games and much scrutiny he was under-for whatever reason, Noah had carved himself out a solid niche by the time he was draft-eligible, while Green and Brewer, as lengthy swingmen with developing jumper who seemingly had the ability to grow into any number of possibilites or combine them to do everything, which is a byproduct of teams expecting rookie phenoms to do everything for them instead of play a defined role, as Noah does for the Bulls, instead of having to carry a huge load for a decimated franchise like the ones that chose Brewer and Green (likewise with Iverson, who had only played two years in college, but because of his size and playing style had defined his role as an undersized scoring guard through a 20 and 25 ppg season-he extremely good at what he did, but couldn't inspire the imagination like Brewer and Green's multi-faceted glory could-the only thing he could have developed was some sort of "true" point game.) The effect of high-school stars achieving high-profile success in the NBA and the subsequent one-and-done rule to put these newly empowered high school stars in the national spotlight had effects which reverberated through college basketball as a whole, namely that a college basketball game is commonly looked at as a 5-on-5 workout because of our desire to these formerly mysterious franchise-savers up close multiple times a year and getting to break them down and scrutinize them-Hibbert is a victim, not a cause, of this effect, and actually doesn't, and was not meant to, support the second part of the theory, which is that while College Players were once the Defined Quantities while high school/European players were seen as mysteries with lower floors and higher ceilings capable of doing everything or nothing, the effect of putting high school stars with the label of possible future saviors has distorted the view of what college basketball players are supposed to be capable of, with players like Beasley and Durant elevated to the status of demigods, players like M. Williams, Green, and Brewer are liked because of their vast array of possibilities, while proven quantities like Noah suffer because teams don't see them as being sufficiently do-it-all-y to be the exciting savior they had been dreaming about. Sorry if that wasn't clear at first, or isn't now- I assume my audience doesn't think I'm a complete idiot so I don't have to skip mentioning obvious details in order to streamline the discussion to the meaning behind the rote facts, but then I'm reminded I've done nothing to prove otherwise in their eyes.

 
At 2/07/2008 5:50 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

If the point here is that we need to look more at college as its own deal, then I'm all for it. I think completely worthwhile and exciting players often get undiscussed because they're not stars or NBA prospects, which is a damn shame. Carter and I talked for a while about making Plissken a version of College FD (you know, back when we actually wrote on there), and I think that would have filled a pretty wide gap in NCAA coverage.

That said, I really don't see why it's bad to evaluate certain college players in terms of their pro prospects. It's a necessary issue for any star, and it should be discussed because our minds can't help but wander there. But I think Krolik's right that this topic gets discussed too much during the actual games. It has its place, but it shouldn't dominate coverage.

If we're talking about proven commidities, though, I submit that Brewer was just as important a piece on those Florida teams as Noah was, if not more important. I'm also not sure anyone saw Brewer or Green as a savior, and I doubt Minnesota and Seattle are crying because they picked those guys. Maybe they will if they don't get better in a few years.

Also, Krolik, I've heard the Galen Center is somewhat sterile. Is that accurate?

 
At 2/07/2008 10:44 AM, Blogger Dan said...

i don't like it, but the shaq vs. kobe as he got game/star wars comparison really got me excited.

 
At 2/07/2008 11:54 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I can threadjack because it's my site:

Hope from Suns.

Really, you should be checking for my Sporting News stuff. There's almost not difference between it and short posts and do here.

 
At 2/07/2008 12:04 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

The Shaq/Kobe comparison to both He Got Game and Vader/Obi Wan is interesting, but flawed. It's as flawed as comparing Kobe to Marlo and Shaq to Prop Joe. Shaq was in no way a mentor to Kobe. He never saw Kobe as his protégé, he saw him as his competition (even though they were teammates). He saw Kobe as someone who threatened to steal the spotlight and the glory from him. In the court of public opinion Kobe lost that battle long ago, and will probably forever be seen as the villain in that relationship; but the smart money says that if Kobe's Lakers and Shaq's Suns meet in the playoffs, Kobe will finally get his victory over Shaq on the court that really counts.

 
At 2/07/2008 1:18 PM, Blogger Leonardson Saratoga said...

regarding the Noah example:

I think Noah went exactly where he should have in the draft (ok, well Brandan Wright was as shitty of a pick as he was a prospect). Look, no one is out there having an orgasm over Noah's PER rating, just like no one was going crazy over those skills in college. With Noah you know exactly what you are getting, and that is a career 8/8/5/4/2 guy (pts/rebs/asts/blks/stls). While this is certainly extremely useful on a team, is it really going to take you from lottery to playoffs in a few years?

I see your view that this is better than taking a wild-card Chinese dude, but no one can deny that Yi has the potential to be a consistent 22/9/5 guy over his career, who shoots 47% from three. And honestly, if I'm the Bucks GM? What does Noah really give me? Do Noah/Redd suddenly make a playoff surge (actually, in the East, maybe, but thats a story for another time).

The point is, are guys with a ceiling really being "punished?" Monetarily, yes, but otherwise, if anything they are rewarded. They go to a better team (theoretically) and have less expectation.

The question of draft order is a difficult one in both ways. Should Adam Morrison really be expected of more because some idiot took him at the 3 spot? no. Should O.J. Mayo be seen as "overlooked" when someone inevitably takes him 5 spots too late in the draft? probably not.

 
At 2/07/2008 10:11 PM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

I will reveal my name and bet ANY sucker who think Yi will avg. 22/9/5. 22/9, ok, MAYBE he could aproach Dirk-stats, but 5? 5 What? Turnovers? Because it will NOT be assists. And certainly NOT blocks or steals. Get real.

 
At 2/07/2008 10:54 PM, Blogger Jason said...

This video informs the discussion a little.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=yzNiFbZ3-Jw

Try commenting on the play of these guys without using superlative descriptions of the individual over EVERYTHING else that could be going on. Now extend the resulting logic to college play. If the skill of one player is clearly above and beyond the talent of all others, the natural discussion is ceilings.

As for certain players without superlative ability who get the Love, well I can't argue.

 
At 2/08/2008 12:41 AM, Blogger Brotools said...

The only way the Lakers lose a series vs. the Suns is if the invisible hand of Stern pulls a Heat vs. Mavs fix job.

They probably won't even matchup. The Spurs or the Mavs will mop the floor with them. What I'd really like to see is the Warriors run the formerly running Suns out of the gym.

Please NBA gods, make it so.

 
At 2/08/2008 1:52 AM, Blogger rebar said...

a warriors over suns victory would be satisfying, but nowhere near the glory of a a four win, zero loss lakers series.

 
At 2/08/2008 2:16 AM, Blogger Krolik1157 said...

Ty-

Yep, the Galen Center's sterile. Maybe it's because I go to pro games at the Oracle, but the place seems completely dead-the only time the crowd really comes alive is when the student section starts chants that really make you question your decency, not during big runs. The 'SC football crowd is as big as they come, probably because SC has been LA's big-time football team for some time; meanwhile, the Lakers are right down the street from the Galen Center and 'SC ball hasn't really been relevant until extremely recently, so the only really big-time fans there are the students, and even we aren't great. I have convoluted theories for everything.

 
At 2/13/2008 11:07 AM, Blogger Rob Dauster said...

Regarding Noah - He was successful in college because he was 6'10, athletic, and out worked everyone. He had no jump shot, no post moves, and was not built like an NBA four. There were two reasons he was rated so high in '06 - people were in love with him after the Tourney run, and the '06 draft was a weak draft (Tyrus Thomas the number 4 pick? Please). NBA GM's knew what he was both years, but it would have been less of a risk taking him over Patrick O'Bryant or Saer Sene than it was to take him over Jeff Green, Brandan Wright, or Yi Jianlian simply because those three have more upside potential.

And about Roy Hibbert - he is not that good. The system that Georgetown runs is perfect for him, in that since they don't isolate him that much and there is so much movement, he is able to get good position on the block before the defense can set up. He is not strong enough or quick enough to be an effective NBA center, offensively or defensively. When was the last time a lumbering 7 footer did anything in the league. I'll give you Shaq now, but he was a ridiculous athlete in his heyday.

 
At 2/13/2008 11:14 AM, Blogger Rob Dauster said...

And one other thing - in response to your point that guys with higher ceilings get drafted over guys like Noah - it's not that difficult to find a hustle guy like Noah. There are plenty of players out there who are glue guys. But if you have a chance to draft the next superstar, and pass up on it for a guy like Noah, then you come off looking like the guy who drafted Sam Bowie. With NBA teams running as business's trying to make money as opposed to teams trying to win a title, you are always going to run into this problem. Who do you think has brought more revenue (via jerseys, ticket sales, etc.) to their respective teams - Noah or Durant? (May be a bad example because Durant is in Seattle, but you see my point).

 
At 4/13/2009 3:26 AM, Blogger 平平 said...

^^Thanks!!

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At 6/14/2013 7:03 PM, Blogger Jim Philips said...

A little darker for a Inspector Gadget fanart. but I bet that people at Host PPH community will like it.

 

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