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You don't need to warn me about the perils of drafting based on potential—what it seems like a player might be able to do one day. I have both been seduced by, and gotten endless mileage out of, this rotting cliche of NBA scouting. There's a distinction to be made, which I've done several times and don't feel like doing again, between "might be able to do" and "could be the kind of player who might be able to do." But while the latter is more immediately compelling, it's not like the former is more empirically sound, just not so utterly Romantic or suspended in a dream-like state not unlike religious conversion.

So it is with great trepidation that I seek to advance a serious scouting theory based on a hypothetical. However, since seeing that Brandon Jennings Euromix, I've been thinking about a line I've heard, and read, in several places: roughly, "there's just no one else in the draft who can do the things he can." The legend of Ricky Rubio aside, Jennings's slippery, high-speed trickery with the ball is an asset that just can't be ignored. Jennings is accused of showboating, streetball, next Marbury, and all the usual. But as a passer and facilitator, Jenning's game isn't bullshit, it's the kind of Nash/Paul skill that could pull together an entire offense in this PG-friendly (or -centric, you choose) era. And Jennings doesn't merely have great vision. When it comes to this one, rarefied aspect of the game, he can hang with anyone in the league.

If you don't believe me, ask Stephen Curry, speaking to Chris over at The Baseline:

CL: Tell me what you thought of Jennings. Everywhere he's going, he seems to be leaving a trail of fire, one way or another, like what he said about Rubio for example. Tell me what he was like as a player and what he was like as a person.

SC: As a player, he's very quick. You don't know exactly what he's going to do. He's got an unconventional style about him where you think he's going one way and he'll throw back between the legs and go another way. He's tough to guard because he keeps his dribble active and looks for open spots on the floor. He definitely is a solid point guard. I think his season in Italy really helped him develop going against physical guys.

CL: Did Jennings remind you of that you've seen?

SC: No, he plays different than anyone I've seen before.

CL: What makes him unique?

SC: His creativity with the ball. He's always moving. Even without the ball, he's just always active on the floor. When we were doing 3-on-3 drills he'd do the Steve Nash dribble from one side of the court, underneath the basket, to the other and do a turn around. He's a great passer, so you've got to stay in front of him

I know I shouldn't take the word of a player I'm not so high on. And as Henry noted, Jennings still has major holes. However, this is exactly the point I'm after here. Jennings isn't a gaseous cloud of could-be, nor a good young player whose past offers a template for future success. He's both more and less than each of these. In some ways, he's the best PG in the draft; in others, one of the shakiest, a project needing not only technical tutelage, but some basic help getting in tune with the pro game. The level of competition in Europe may be higher in the NCAA, and it helped Jennings grow up; at the same time, is there any question this kid's recent history leaves him with a lot to work through on the court?

But again, that brilliance with the ball, the total unpredictability and idiosyncracy Curry refers to. Yes, it could lead him to self-destruct. As of now, though, it's an enormous asset, at least one facet of what it takes to be a first-tier PG. I want to compare it to drafting Thabeet on the basis of his shot-blocking, and yet this isn't about a specialist. It's about a player with a gift, one that, if a team's ready to look past or committ to sanding down the rough edges, could be the basis of not just an All-Star, but a dynamic team. This is exactly why point guards can be the new franchise these days.

I like Evans, and he's ready right now. But he's not precocious, ahead of and behind himself, like Jennings. Rubio, who knows. At this point, it's impossible to separate his actual ability from the rhetoric (no, not "hype"), a lot of which is glib and contradictory. I don't blame him for not working out, but that's keeping us from getting the same measure of how he stacks up against other prospects. Please, discuss the Olympics below. However, regardles of what Rubio is or isn't, people seem either sold or not sold on him. Everyone agrees on Jennings. The question is whether you take a player on the assumption that from one great thing, other good things will inevitably follow.

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At 6/21/2009 4:04 PM, Blogger Jamøn Serrano said...

The best part about this piece is that it never brings Johnny Flynn in to the discussion.

Much like jorge luis borges' 'the garden of bifurcating paths', the star-crossed warriors Jennings and Rubio will have their careers inextricably linked by both the draft and for their unique potential.

Olympics is the justification for not just Rubio's ascent, but Patty Mills as well.

At 6/21/2009 5:10 PM, Blogger maxooo said...

Heh, I was going to say the same thing as Alexander J.


He's the best point guard in this draft, 5'11 or not.

At 6/21/2009 5:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I am bored with Rubio. I like Flynn a lot. And then there's Jennings.

At 6/21/2009 5:41 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Along the lines of the dualities discussed in this post, my general sense of Jennings is that he's going to be better than his critics would like but worse than his admirers hope. And that's not to diss either group, or those in between. I'd suspect that sanding down the rough edges will make him far more effective than people who want to see him fail would like. But that sanding down may also diminish the creative flair that makes him stand out, leaving him perhaps effective, but ultimately subjecting him to traditional criteria used when assessing success. That may not capture all which he does, and that gap in perception could ultimately hurt him as people make decisions around him. Chris Paul does enough traditional things well in traditional ways to carve out his own lane. Will Jennings?

Also, if it lends this comment any more efficacy, please feel free to pretend that it was posted by "Scottie PimpHim," "Oliver Wendell Homeless," "Hashemi Rafsanjani," or whatever else you need.

wv: redso--drew bledsoe's communist handle.

At 6/21/2009 8:10 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

This is not supposed to be a snarky question, but is rather asked because I genuinely don't understand the thinking.

Why is Flynn better than Lawson? They seem so similar, but with Lawson, to my eye, being a little better at everything.

It's frankly shocking to me that a player as good as Lawson is projected so late, especially because he favorably compares to, well, everyone on paper. I know there's the height thing, but that's where Flynn confuses me.

I love Jennings. I love Rubio. I even like Curry. I just don't get how Lawson is slipping from the mix.

At 6/21/2009 8:41 PM, Blogger j said...

we're all assuming then that jennings will at least answer better the street v. safe debate than the two-headed monster of Rafer/Skip (skipfer?) has, yeah? he has to, right?

At 6/21/2009 8:57 PM, Blogger Josh R. said...

Why is Flynn better than Lawson? They seem so similar, but with Lawson, to my eye, being a little better at everything.

Well, not a scout, but a few things I've seen:

1.) Lawson and Flynn are about the same size, but:

1a. There might be some injury stink on Lawson, where small doesn't just equal quick but also injury prone (for Lawson).

1b. Flynn has tested better athletically.

1c. Flynn has perhaps outperformed him during select workouts; or at least has performed at a very high level.

2. This is something that was really put well by Chad Ford on a recent NBA today podcast vis a vis Flynn and the Kings: one reason they really like him is his personality. He's a very confident, upbeat, fun type of guy, someone who immediately takes charge and who could provide outspoken leadership. I remember seeing one workout review which featured Flynn and two of the other top PGs (maybe Jennings and Evans? Holliday and Jennings?) where the other point guards played well but deferred to Flynn a lot. That type of potential leadership, especially from the PG position, tends to get noticed.

At 6/21/2009 10:49 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I thought Flynn would be a sleeper too, but he's moved up so much that it's irrelevant. I agree that Lawson is falling a little too far. You gotta remember he was everything to that UNC team, much the same as Flynn was to the Cuse, and that Lawson was the better outside shooter this year. It must be the workouts that are providing the distinction between the two. Maybe they feel the shooting evens out when you move to the pro three. Things might have been different if he had gone with Tywon his whole career, instead of just Ty.

The thing that intrigues me most with the PGs is the rise of Steph Curry. I've been a fan, but a slightly doubtful one. Nobody is talking about his performance in these workouts, but then you hear people say he won't slip any lower than the Knicks.

At 6/22/2009 12:47 AM, Blogger Andrew Hart said...

Given this site's leanings, I'm surprised no one is talking about Jennings to the Warriors. Seven seems about the right range where Jennings will be in the mix. Can you imagine Monta and him in the backcourt, especially with the long and versatile finishers they have? There wouldn't be a lot of pieces that fit together on that team, but there sure would be a lot of pieces.

At 6/22/2009 12:51 PM, Blogger Deckfight said...

must read on earl clark---talk about apositionality.

At 6/22/2009 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clark is not the only one getting run over at truehoops. Jennings just got a very diplomatic nod over Rubio from his teamate Jaaber. Cool premise for an article, but not a ton to go on. Wouldn't you go teamtate unless the guy was a complete dick?

Shoals, fun predraft stuff over at Baseline.
well done.

At 6/22/2009 3:51 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Given the way he's consistently embraced players with skill sets that belie their bodies (Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Clark, TWill), players with skill sets that belie their skin color (Jeff Shephard), guard roles that belie traditional definitions (Tony Delk, Taquan Dean), and strategy that challenges general convention (the mid-90's bomb-or-die, the regular reliance on whole-court pressure, shouldn't Rick Pitino be getting more burn over here? He's not an NBA guy, but he's always demonstrated an affinity for new ideas. Just saying.

At 6/22/2009 8:49 PM, Blogger ohkeedoke said...

This year's draft is so boring. I can't get into it.

Please. Never quote Chad Ford, the first thing he gets right will be the first.

At 6/23/2009 6:16 AM, Blogger grillo said...

Rubio is obviously going to Gryffindor, no question.

At 6/23/2009 10:35 AM, Blogger Jamøn Serrano said...


At 6/23/2009 10:35 AM, Blogger Kellen said...

I guess that means Jennings is pretty much destined for Slytherin then. Ambitious dudes, but I always felt their style was maybe a little to played out for Jennings.

At 6/23/2009 10:23 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

In keeping with their brief but historically awful draft-day choices, the Bobcats will select Gerald, "i can't shoot" Henderson. He dunks sometimes, and seems to hold his arms out on D, so he must be good. I am personally praying for the Kurt Thomas of this draft, Earl Clark, to fall into our hands.

At 6/24/2009 5:49 AM, Blogger Jamøn Serrano said...

Amir is a buck!

Songaila is a T-Wolf?

Randy Foye will forever be linked to Bunny Lebowski in future blog posts when discussing the log-jam at his position on the wiz (it used to be that nobody, and I mean nobody, beats the Wiz®, times change).


acitis-a highly uncommon disease that causes one to remain celibate during a successful nba career.

At 6/24/2009 1:34 PM, Blogger The Hoops Manifesto said...

So does this mean that the Free Amir movement is dead?!? Or does he still need to be freed from the shackles of potential?


At 6/24/2009 3:26 PM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

Marc Stein: "Slender rookie Anthony Randolph, also known as the closest thing to an untouchable on the Warriors' payroll, has gained 20 pounds and grown an inch to nearly 7 feet since the end of this past season."

Damn, I'm boggled.

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