Oct 23, 2013 5:41 PM EDT
When a player is drafted, he becomes linked with those taken before and after him. However, early in an NBA career, the more relevant comparisons are players from their high school class. The top prospects in an individual class have been rated against each other since they were 12. They played together in All-Star tournaments and were recruited by the same colleges. They have a lot more in common than a 20-year old and a 23-year old taken in consecutive picks.
Once players leave AAU basketball and enter college, their careers diverge quickly, even those with similar amounts of talent. Some declare too early, others too late. A lot depends on the strength of their respective draft and how many who play their position are taken. None of that, of course, has much to do with what type of player they end up being. These things take a few years to shake out. At 25, it is pretty obvious who the best players in each class are.
At 22, the jury is still out. This year’s group of 21 and 22 years old, the high school class of 2010, have already been picked clean by NBA teams. Seven were drafted in 2011, 13 in 2012 and 12 in 2013. A few stragglers will be taken in 2014, but for the most part, the NBA knows who it wants from the class of 2010. However, where those players rank within that group is more fluid than you might think. Victor Oladipo and Jeremy Lamb are a good example of that.
Surprisingly enough, while Lamb and Oladipo became lottery picks, neither was rated all that highly in high school. Lamb was a 4-star who just missed the Top 75 and Oladipo was a 3-star who snuck into the Top 150. Jeremy wasn’t even the highest-rated Lamb in the class, checking in behind Doron (Kentucky) and Tyler (UCLA). Both wound up at elite college programs, but that was no guarantee they would ever play in the NBA.
As a freshman, Lamb walked into a huge role at UConn. He was the only player besides Kemba Walker in double digits. The Huskies, who started three freshmen and a sophomore next to Walker, struggled with inexperience but caught fire in March. Lamb emerged as a legitimate second option, averaging 16 points a game in the NCAA Tournament. UConn won a national title and Walker left for the pros, leaving a huge void for Lamb to fill as a sophomore.
At Indiana, Oladipo was part of a recruiting class that helped turned the program around. As freshmen, though, they mostly struggled. The Hoosiers went 12-20, including a dreadful 3-15 mark in Big 10 play. Oladipo established himself as a legitimate player but was far from a star, averaging seven points and four rebounds a game. Most of the optimism in Bloomington centered around Cody Zeller, the highly-touted local big man a year behind Oladipo.
As sophomores, Lamb and Oladipo grew into bigger roles. Lamb was the primary option at UConn, averaging 18 points, five rebounds and two assists per game on 48 percent shooting. Oladipo moved into the starting lineup, becoming a key two-way player for Indiana. He was still only the third or fourth option, averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds a game, but the athleticism was there. The big concern was his jumper, since he shot 21 percent from three in 2012.
At the same time, the fortunes of Indiana and UConn switched. A perfect storm of off-the-court issues hit the Huskies program, forcing Jim Calhoun out at the end of the season. Lamb, as well as freshman center Andre Drummond, took a lot of blame for things that were out of their control. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, made a dramatic emergence on the national stage, stunning Kentucky in the regular season before losing to them in the Sweet 16.
At the end of the season, Lamb declared for the NBA. He didn’t have much left to prove at the college level and UConn was ineligible for the postseason in 2013, resulting in an exodus out of Storrs. Lamb wound up being taken at No. 12, behind three SG’s - Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters and Terrence Ross -- in what was a loaded draft. Oladipo, if he had declared, would have been a second round prospect with a chance of sneaking into the late first.
Everyone knows the story from there. Lamb became the key piece in one of the most controversial trades in recent history, a lightning rod for those who blamed Oklahoma City for dealing James Harden. He was a rookie on the bench of a 60-win team, shuttling back and forth to the D-League and never getting a chance to get consistent minutes. Back in college, Oladipo emerged as a two-way star, electrifying fans with aerial displays and an improved all-around game.
In what was regarded as a weak draft, Oladipo shot all the way up to No. 2. Orlando had been linked to Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, but his surprising decision to stay in school opened up a spot on their board. Kelly Olynyk, the only other junior taken in the lottery, was also a notable late-bloomer. No one is expecting the other juniors taken in the first round -- Tony Snell, Gorgui Dieng, Reggie Bullock and Andre Roberson -- to become stars.
What would have happened if Lamb had stayed for his junior season and been in the 2013 NBA Draft? Against older and more experienced competition in the D-League, he averaged 21 points, five rebounds and three assists on 49 percent shooting. Translate those stats over to the Big East and you’re looking at a Wooden Award candidate scoring nearly 25 points a night. The SG crop was weaker too; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and CJ McCollum would not have been Top 10 picks in 2012.
When you look at the totality of their basketball careers, it’s hard to say Oladipo is more talented than Lamb, despite the difference in where they were drafted. Lamb isn’t as versatile, but he is the better shooter and ball-handler. And while Oladipo was more efficient in college, he benefitted from being a secondary option. Even last season, Indiana’s offense ran through Zeller and Yogi Ferrell. The jump to being a point guard in the NBA will not be easy for him.
This season, both will be the first guard off the bench in the NBA. Oladipo will have a longer leash on a rebuilding team, but he’s hardly in a better position to succeed, at least initially. Lamb has a year’s worth of experience at the next level under his belt, even if it comes mainly from practice, where he went up against Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin and Russell Westbrook. At this time last year, Oladipo was hounding future dentists like Aaron Craft around the floor.
According to #NBARank, Oladipo is the 114th best player in the league while Lamb is all the way down at 263. That could be right; after all, neither has proven anything at the highest level. If it’s wrong, though, don’t be too surprised. Projecting young basketball players isn’t easy. Who knows? Maybe Will Barton ends up being the best of all of them. Three years ago, he was the No. 11 player in the class of 2010, a five-star guard rated far above Lamb and Oladipo.
Aug 07, 2013 12:20 AM EDT
For Ronnie Fields, the thunderous dunks and scoring binges went far beyond the gym inside Farragut Academy, extending past the scare he set into opposing high school coaches. Between his career in Chicago, 1992 to 1996, Fields had spent summer after summer training against NBA players who came home, who came for the competition the city provided.
He was a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, but Fields had been assured his athleticism and scoring, experience and prestigious high school career left him a first round draft pick into the NBA. “No doubt at all,” Fields says. “I was going against pros every summer, so I had the confidence to play against them in the league.”
Yet, fate put its own scare into Fields, a twisting spiral as one of the best guards in the country 17 years ago to a professional career that never reached the level for which he’d been destined. Kevin Garnett and Ron Eskridge, his old teammate and coach, always told Fields he would grace the NBA one day. It never happened: a fractured neck derailed his senior season and kept him out of critical games, there was a supposed fallout of his personality, and no opportunity came.
“I really wasn’t that surprised I didn’t get a shot in the NBA,” Fields told RealGM in a phone interview. “I really wasn’t. I look at the circumstances of what people assumed and the timing and the position playing at the time – I was a two-guard, a scorer, but it was a big guard era. It’s more about what I learned: life is bigger than basketball.”
The relationship that Fields cultivated with Garnett will forever be grander than basketball, but that’s where it began. Eskridge coached Garnett in a camp with Nike in 1994, and Fields doesn’t remember bonding so soon with the lanky big man, but the competitive spirit he brought out of the scrimmage games where they played on separate teams. In the end, Garnett was Fields’ stiffest supporter and played a major role in his insightful, powerful documentary, “Bounce Back: The Story of Ronnie Fields.”
They first saw each other at the Nike camp, but it wasn’t until later in the summer that Fields and Garnett could form a bond. This time, they traveled to Portland for a Nike tournament called Fab 40 – gathering the 10 best players in each high school class. Fields knew Garnett might transfer out of his school in South Carolina, but he insisted there was no recruitment to get Garnett onto Farragut.
“The crazy part about it is I really never even said nothing to him about coming to Chicago,” Fields says. “A lot of us guys got in trouble because we took gifts you aren’t supposed to in Portland. But the camp ended up with Kevin being my roommate and we would talk every night – him asking me how Chicago is and I would explain to him as we were falling asleep.
“Fast forward, the summer rolls around, and he’s in Chicago. From that point, we just built a bond and were able to do things that weren’t seen at the high school level.”
Ultimately, Garnett left for Chicago before his senior season and joined Fields, and they led Farragut to the state championship game. In their minds, the NBA had been a forgone conclusion for both. It wasn’t about whether they would make the NBA, but when it would happen.
“We never even talked about playing in the NBA at all, and that’s what was so remarkable,” Fields says. “We were just young kids enjoying the time and what we were doing, enjoying the places we were playing. It was like we were already in the NBA.”
Nevertheless, Fields understood he had to prove his ability to lead Farragut when Garnett was drafted No. 5 in 1995. So, Fields put together one of the most dominant seasons in the country in 1995-96, but he was in a neck brace a week before the city’s playoffs, fearing his basketball life.
His accident coincided with his old friend’s Minnesota Timberwolves in town to play the Bulls, and Garnett had come to the hospital to meet Fields on an off day with a message: Get strong, get healthy, and I’ll see you back on the court soon.
“It was so surreal, because Kevin was taking it harder than me,” Fields says. “I’m in the situation, so to have that support from him was amazing. Just positive, positive energy.”
When Fields looks toward Garnett’s NBA career, he marvels over his longevity and persistence. Next season will be Garnett’s 19th, and Fields believes the best thing that has happened to his former teammate was the trade to the Brooklyn Nets.
“As we get older and you got to find that burn deep inside, an opportunity to win a championship with that talent, Kevin is going to bring it all,” Fields says. “The [Nets] are a mixture of young and older veterans, which they needed. They’re going to feed off Kevin, and he won’t have to play as much because he has pieces there that can spare him consistently. I like their chances.”
Fields eventually recovered from his neck injury, but he never was able to fulfill his commitment to DePaul University and had setbacks with off-court issues. He went from team to team – from country to country – but didn’t find a franchise in the NBA ready to take a chance on him. In his documentary, Fields released he nearly landed comeback opportunities with the then-New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns.
Still, Fields admits his body took longer than expected to adapt after his neck injury. Mostly it was his mind saying one thing, his body prepared to handle another. There were other teams interested in bringing him in as late as the 2000s, but he’s at peace now about why his shot never came.
“It was more mental than physical,” Fields says. “I never really had any rehab. I just had to take my halo off and had to let the balance in my head get back in order. Getting the balance back, getting off the neck brace, the confidence took a while.”
“There were NBA teams interested, but it can be a bunch of different circumstances that arrive, the timing. How I looked at was just competing, enjoying playing, and that kept me going. After a while, I was like: You know you’re good enough. When the opportunity comes, you never know. To do things at a high level, the only level I didn’t do that at was the NBA level.”
Apr 15, 2013 12:22 AM EDT
Integrity and Credibility
Almost all forms of entertainment have their casual fans and their hardcore fans. Often, particularly in the music industry, hardcore enthusiasts will start to dislike a musician when that musician becomes popular. Hardcore fans love bands when they are regional, talented, and under-appreciated. But the moment a band has a pop hit and starts to sell records nationally, they’ve sold out.
Somehow over the weekend the Masters managed to make a decision that irritated both hardcore and casual golf fans. Hardcore golf enthusiasts were disappointed that Tiger Woods was not disqualified for signing the incorrect scorecard on Friday. Woods admitted that he made a mistake with his drop, and in the eyes of golf insiders, that admitted rules violation should have led to the end of his participation. The age-old adage in golf is that “being unaware of the rules is not an excuse”.
But casual fans were not happy with the 2-stroke penalty Tiger received either. Casual fans of sports want to see the athletes that are playing the best be rewarded. They hate to see capricious, random, or bizarre rules prevent the better athlete from succeeding. This is why basketball fans hate flopping so much. You can argue that flopping is part of the game, that acting is part of practicing great defense. But fans don’t watch basketball to see the best actors. They pay to see players with incredible body control do amazing things.
Similarly in golf, no casual fan tunes in to see a bunch of players win or lose based on minor rule minutiae. And yet golf continues to insist that minor unknown rules should have a major impact on its championships. In 2010, it was Dustin Johnson, playing the best golf in the PGA championship, who was disqualified for not knowing about some course-specific rule. And on Friday, it was Tiger Woods who took a 2-stroke penalty for not knowing the proper way to drop the ball. But Tiger wasn’t the only one. When I heard about the violation, I still had the event on my DVR and re-watched the call of the action on the 15th. Before Tiger dropped, David Feherty noted that what Tiger should do is drop the ball “about two yards back from the original spot he hit it from”. In other words, Feherty’s instinct was to do exactly what Tiger did. Meanwhile, Feherty tried to read through several pieces of paper on whether it was a red or yellow drop, and still couldn’t figure it out in real time. Yes, giving Tiger Woods a two-stroke penalty protected the integrity of the game. But to the casual fan, it continues to destroy the credibility of the game. It shows that golf is more about knowing rules, than about rewarding the player making the best shots and putts.
This isn’t to say that college basketball doesn’t have its own credibility problem. Last year the NCAA added a rule that an unintentional elbow is an automatic flagrant foul. This is exactly the same type of rule that destroys the NCAA’s credibility and turns off casual fans. It rewards acting over basketball, and it must be changed.
Of course we’ve now reached the point of the year where the casual basketball fans have moved on to the NBA. The folks who started caring about college basketball the day the NCAA tournament bracket was released are now long gone. By the time we get to the Jordan Brand Classic, the only people who are trying to read the tea leaves for next season are true high school and college basketball enthusiasts. Even the McDonald’s All-American game attracts some casual fans. But if you are watching the Jordan Brand Classic on a Saturday night in April, you’ve earned some street cred.
2013 Jordan Brand Classic
1) Let me start by praising a player who should NOT have NBA scouts salivating, the player with a 4.0 GPA who considered going to Harvard and playing for Tommy Amaker. As Paul Biancardi put it, Nigel Williams-Goss doesn’t have the athleticism of some of the other top recruits. And to the extent he has a more polished game, that is because he has needed it. Williams-Goss had a pair of beautiful floaters in this game, the kind of shots that players like Andrew Harrison haven’t had to work on yet, because Williams-Goss can’t depend on beating his man and getting to the basket.
But what sets Williams-Goss apart is that he is a leader and a consummate winner. And with the Jordan Brand Classic tied with 35 seconds left and the ball in the other team’s hands, Williams-Goss proved it. He stole the ball, drove to the hoop, and his bucket and one clinched the victory for the West team.
Somehow despite making the game-winning play and leading the victorious West team in scoring, Nigel Williams-Goss was not one of the co-MVPs. But that is so perfect for his game. Williams-Goss was not nearly the most exciting player on the floor on Saturday night. But he is the kind of player that as Jimmy Dykes put it, “when he subs out of the game, your team gets substantially worse.” And for fans of the college game, the Washington Huskies might have hit the recruiting jackpot. Like Ohio St.’s Aaron Craft, Williams-Goss is the kind of player that will do whatever it takes to win, and who will probably be around for more than one year too.
I need to stop raving about him, but I also loved Jimmy Dykes other story about Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss was not a great three point shooter in high school. But when he heard he was going to be participating in a high school three point shooting contest, he spent a month shooting basketballs off a rack. He won the three point contest. We haven’t even reached November yet, and this kid is my favorite freshman in the country.
2) One of my big questions for Arizona next season is how it is going to work out to have so many forwards on the team. But Biancardi and Dykes hit the nail on the head with their description of Arizona recruit Rondae Jefferson. He may be 6’7”, but he’s a versatile defender, capable of defending any position from 1-5. And in this game, he spent some time defending Florida’s super-PG Kasey Hill just to prove his quickness. Next year that versatility may make him the most valuable player on an Arizona roster full of talented front-court players.
3) With 11:10 to go in the first half, Memphis recruit Kuran Iverson had the ball on a 3-on-1 break. Despite having two open teammates to pass the ball to, he kept it himself and converted the lay-up. It seemed like bad ball-hawking etiquette, even in an all-star game. But as the announcers noted, Kuran is Allen Iverson’s cousin. Sometimes, you just can’t make this stuff up.
4) Paul Biancardi did a nice job contrasting Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. In his eyes, Parker is the polished player who can impact the college game immediately, while Wiggins is rated so high because of his potential. I think this is an important fact to remember next year. Wiggins is bound to be a bit of a disappointment no matter where he goes. We’ve seen it before with players like Harrison Barnes who are small forwards but who don’t have a developed outside shot yet. While the NBA scouts will be drooling at the height he gets on his second offensive rebound attempt, college fans will be left scratching their head why such a prized recruit isn’t a more efficient scorer.
5) It is really hard to learn much from the action in these all-star games because of the lack of defense. Jabari Parker looked much better than he did in the McDonald’s All-American game and Julius Randle was a force. So if you are a fan of Duke or Kentucky, maybe you want to watch the replay on ESPN3.com. But, I’m not sure if either of them made a legitimate post move all game. Yes, we saw lots of scrappy scoring around tall defenders. But Florida’s Chris Walker was the only guy who I saw catch the ball in the paint and make a legitimate back-to-the-basket move.
6) Three players missing in the McDonald’s All-American game did stand out some though. First, Syracuse recruit Tyler Ennis played like he had a chip on his shoulder at the earlier snub. He knocked down a three, had some great drives to the basket, had a nice steal on standard ball-pressure, and he even dove on the floor for a loose ball. Syracuse vitally needs him to play well next year given the lack of depth on the perimeter, and nothing in this game suggested he won’t be an instant impact recruit.
Meanwhile, Kansas recruit Joel Embiid was everything Paul Biancardi promised. According to Biancardi, Embiid is the senior center with the most potential, but his game isn’t polished enough yet. And Embiid showed his potential with an athletic early block of Julius Randle. But shooting 1-6 on the day, Embiid needs a couple years of seasoning before he can dominate at the college level. He’ll be a nice defensive player off the bench for Kansas next year, but he isn’t ready to play more than 15 minutes per night his freshman year.
Finally, I am now very intrigued to see forward Kennedy Meeks next year for North Carolina. According to Biancardi he has the best hands of anyone in his class, but the question will be his conditioning. He could be North Carolina’s version of Davante Gardner or Josh Smith. If he can get in shape and run the floor with North Carolina, his finishing ability will be spectacular. And he is apparently particularly good at outlet passes. But it should be fun to see whether he can get in shape enough to dominate for the Tar Heels.
Apr 04, 2013
Arizona's latest commit Aaron Gordon stole all the headlines, but I was more impressed with a less-heralded name headed to Washington.
Apr 02, 2013
With a few exceptions (Anthony Bennett, Marcus Smart) last year’s class didn’t quite live up to typical McDonald’s All-American game standards. But with Andrew Wiggins headling, we are confident that this year’s class will be different.
Apr 16, 2012
Anthony Davis wanted to wear Michael Jordan’s number in this game last year. This year no one chose to wear #23. Maybe people are right when they say this year’s class of high school seniors is missing a larger than life star.
Mar 27, 2012
Without the top-ranked recruit Nerlens Noel participating, the MVP of the 2012 McDonald's All-American Game could come down between Shabazz Muhammad and Gary Harris.
Feb 07, 2012
The Ryan Boatright situation proves once again that the only third party allowed to profit off college basketball players is the NCAA itself and they’ll fight to the bitter end to ensure it stays that way.
Aug 10, 2011
In terms of pure NBA potential, here is how we see the field ranking currently with the past weekend impacting heavily. The earliest some of these players will be draft eligible is 2013.
Apr 16, 2011
For players not selected to the McDonald's All-American game, there was something to prove. For players playing in a 3rd straight all-star game, it was time to break out the 360 dunk.
Apr 11, 2011
Unlike the McDonald's All-American Game which includes some good but not great high school players, the Nike Hoops summit showcases only the absolute top recruits.
Mar 31, 2011
The most exciting player in the game may have been on the losing team.
Mar 29, 2011
Assuming your team is not in the Final Four or headed to the NBA Playoffs, it doesn't get much better than the McDonald's All-American Game.
Jan 10, 2011
Kawhi Leonard is the first Mr. Basketball of California to not end up in a major conference or the NBA.
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