I ran through a gamut of emotions today as I watched the NBA draft, from disppointment at the Kyrie Irving pick, to dismay at the Tristan Thompson pick, to disbelief that Brandon Knight was available to the Bobcats, followed by abject horror when Bismack Biyombo was called with the 7th pick, proving that MJ clearly hasn't learned his lesson.
Now, I'm not saying Biyombo will definitely be a bust, but all the likely signs point to it. When was the last time a raw, outstanding physical specimen from outside the US tapped into that talent and dominated. Oh that's right, it's never really happened. The great Centers in the past have always had a great degree of skill coming into the NBA, not simply athletic capabilities. It made me wonder why - WHY - GMs and draft teams don't learn from their mistakes and look at whether the guy can actually play basketball. A week or so after Biyombo went "one-against-none and lost" he was the seventh pick in the draft. You'd think with the Thabeet fiasco in Memphis that people would be going off the idea of offensively limited big men, but no.
So there I was, thinking about it, and it hit me. It all comes down to arrogance. When GMs see a guy with great physical tools from the Congo or some other country who can't play basketball to save their life, they assume it's because they weren't coached the right way, that it was a matter of situation not talent which left them with very little skill outside of being tall with a great wingspan. NBA GMs and coaches need to rethink this approach; if a player is raw, it's because he doesn't love the game and didn't work on his skills. Look at Serge Ibaka, he played with cardboard in his shoes to save his feet from being burned; that's a player who's shown dedication to the game and was worthy of a first-round pick.
However, I see a guy like Biyombo, or Thabeet getting drafted so high and I think we forget sometimes that these guys are basketball players first, and athletes second. I think we should almost do away with the term potential, and simply replace it with athleticism, because if a player doesn't have basketball skills by age 19 or 20, he probably never will. Now, that isn't to say he can't learn, but I'm a 20 year old myself, and I've played basketball all my life, yet I'm nowhere near good enough to play in the NBA, I can't see why it should matter if I were taller or more athletic, given that those things don't change the core fact that I'm not skilled enough to be a professional basketballer. In this age of highlight-reel funks and the like, fundamentals simply aren't valued. Good post defense isn't as respected as weak-side shot-blocking.
The converse of this is that there are a number of great basketball players who have grown up in the US who while athletic and long and similar to a player like Biyombo in every way athletically, aren't given the same arrogant appraisal that "I could fix this player". Take for example Hassan Whiteside, he played college for Marshall, and had great measurables and shot-blocking ability but slipped out of the first round. He would likely outplay Biyombo straight up on both ends of the floor, and has better size, but the mystique of an "untapped talent" outweighs the proven capabilties of actual basketball players.
So players like Lighty, Hansborough, Greg Smith are left in the cold in favour of foreign prospects who have more "upside", except that all they really have is more work to do to lay the foundations of good fundamental basketball skills. I think Michael Jordan and the Bobcats made a big mistake taking Biyombo instead of Brandon Knight, and it's just because of the arrogant patriotic attidude of NBA coaches that they could do what any foreign coach can't in bringing out some never-before-seen stardom in a prospect that quite frankly, is terrible at basketball.
For the sake of these college players who suffer the label of being "maxed out" as a result of playing in actual systems and learning the game of basketball properly instead of taking short-cuts, I hope Biyombo is a bust, and GMs around the NBA learn to look at fundamental basketball skills before "upside".