The NBA draft is a crapshoot, we’re all told. If you’re lucky, you might win the number one pick in a year when a surefire player – not star – emerges.
The New Orleans have that pleasure in this year’s draft with Anthony Davis and the Charlotte Bobcats have one in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The feeling with Davis is that he need never improve and would still be a valuable player in the NBA due to his size, athleticism, defense and skill set, while there is no doubt Kidd-Gilchrist’s prodigious work ethic will fill the serious holes in his game.From there, so the feeling goes, is that every other player could go one-way or the other. In reality, that needn’t be the case.
Davis was lucky that as a sophomore in high school he was just 6 foot 3 inches. By his first year at Kentucky he had grown to 6 foot 10 inches. Most big men lack genuine skill and drive because those around them forced them to take up the game because their height demanded it.
Davis carries the skills and work ethic honed when the player thought he would have a career as a guard rather than a forward or center.
In fact, Davis received more luck when the New Orleans Hornets won the draft lottery despite having the fourth worst record in the league.
For the same reason, Kidd-Gilchrist should be very worried.
The Hornets are a legitimate franchise with a track record of player development and a superb coach in Monty Williams.
It is easy to forget now, but Chris Paul was no sure thing coming out of the draft – he was picked fourth behind Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams. He was superbly nurtured by the Hornets who ensured he reached his vast potential.
Under Monty Williams, Paul became perhaps the best defensive point guard in the league as well as its greatest offensive threat. Williams’ defense-first mentality allied with the work of his coaching staff mean a surefire player is now a surefire star. The same could not have been said if the Bobcats had won the draft.
Charlotte already has a set-in-stone reputation as one of the three worst franchises of all time with no track record of player development, and a horrible history of picking promising players in the draft before squandering their vast talents due to a lack of proper infrastructure, vision, philosophy and consistency.
In fact, it is those very traits that Kidd-Gilchrist was drafted to abolish. In a draft loaded with high character players, he stands apart as the biggest personality.
A player with a frightening work ethic, exceptional leadership skills, a winning attitude and lockdown defensive skills, Kidd-Gilchrist has been brought in to change the mentality of the Bobcats.
The only problem is, unless there are major changes behind the scenes, he will be fighting against the grain to fulfill his vast potential with the Bobcats.
And it is with the franchises that the luck element can be taken out of the draft. ESPN’s excellent TrueHoop blog has a phrase to describe the phenomenon: “Royal Jelly.”
The idea is that a good franchise – say the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, Chicago Bulls, OKC – residually improves players simply by the quality of their infrastructure and decision-making.
For example, players at the Oklahoma City Thunder arrive at the club only to see every player on the roster coming into the gym early to work on their game. The player has no option but to fit in at his new franchise and attend extra practices run by equally dedicated coaches.
In San Antonio, the front office selects players that can fit seamlessly into their strategy. So many players are lost to history because they were stuck on teams who played a style of play that they couldn’t adapt to.
Every year the Spurs are credited for unearthing another gem on the cheap, when really they are just finding players with a specific skill set that falls exactly into line with their system.
Derrick Rose and John Wall have had different career paths since coming into the league – one was MVP in his third year, the other is struggling to add 1 percent to his game – despite being almost the same player at college.
This might have something to do with the fact that the Bulls have a cast iron system that allows Rose to improve, while Wall is stuck at a franchise (Wizards) that fails to bring the best out of players.
Davis may be close to a sure thing, but it is his affiliation with the Hornets that will ensure it.