The Washington Wizards have won the Draft Lottery and the rights to the first pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Drafting the right player can drastically change a franchises future fortunes so making the most informed decision possible is critical to getting the best player for your team. What player attributes should teams be looking for in this years Draft?
A high basketball IQ is critical for a successful career in the NBA. No matter how athletic, big or quick a player may have been in college, they will be a boy among men when they first enter the League. A good head on their shoulders will help them to learn the large number of offensive plays, defensive rotations and sets which are in place or being implemented with the respective team which drafts them. Being able to read the defense and make the right cut or pass, knowing whether your man likes to take it strong to the cup or pull up for a floater or understanding your teammates tendencies such as where they like to catch the ball – these are just a couple of things which separate average players from the good players. A rookie will learn these things in time, though a high basketball IQ will ensure they pick them up quicker with minimal negative impact on the teams immediate play. Larry Bird is the perfect example of what to look for in a basketball mind. A slow, non-athletic player, he was so successful due the way he saw the court and understood the game. He read defenses perfectly, always making the right pass or play to get the most efficient and reliable shot possible, he saw the angles so he always made a good cut off a screen or throw lead passes to cutters and he knew where his teammates were going to be before they got there. Although athleticism has historically been highly sought after in players entering the Draft, teams would be wise to focus more on the mind than the body as their coaching staff will find it easier to sculpt and improve a player’s body than their mind.
In such a fiercely competitive league, full of scouts and coaches who break down and analyse your every move and tendency, being able to improve and refine your game is critical to success in the NBA. The best players add new dimensions to their game in the off-season to combat adjusting defenses, such as Kobe Bryant working on his post moves with Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon this past year or Michal Jordan improving his three-point shooting. There have also been countless players drafted who had limitless talent and physical gifts but who squandered those talents by not working hard, such as Derick Coleman or even recently in Michael Beasley. Even greats like Shaquille O’Neal have somewhat squandered their physical gifts by taking a lackadaisical approach to conditioning and practice. A work ethic is also critical during a singular game, not just the off-season, as this tends to translate in to hustle plays, defense, rebounding and other areas of the game which need nothing more than a little heart and desire. Like almost anything in life, to become successful on a consistent basis takes a lot of practice and hard work. A player who dedicates their spare time to the gym and improving their game is someone I would want on my team as I know their heart is in the right place by working hard to earn their living.
The reality is that most players drafted will not become the stars they dream of becoming, regardless of how hard they work, how smart they are or how skilled they may be. The majority will become role players, due to the high level of competition and elite status of the NBA, and their attitude will play a big part in dictating how successful they will be in this role. Players such as Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury had selfish, arrogant attitudes which contributed to them ending their careers prematurely as they couldn’t face being just a cog in a machine as opposed to being “The Man”. Players such as Jason Terry and Manu Ginobili have embraced their roles as bench players and have made major contributions towards their team’s success. A player with a good attitude is focused on winning and doing whatever is required of them to help their team win. Whether that is pushing the starters in practice, cheering on their team from the bench or being ready to knock down a shot when their number is called, these guys are good teammates who are critical to championship teams. A player I have always felt had a great attitude was Steve Kerr. He knew the limits of his abilities and played to his strength of spot up shooting. He worked hard in practice, was vocal from the sideline and supported his teammates. He delivered when his number was called and never felt the need to clamor for more minutes or media attention. If you take a look at every team which has ever won a championship, then you will see that their benches were full of these players with great team attitudes. If more rookies realized that they don’t need to be like Mike but just play to their strengths, be the best teammates possible and do whatever it takes to help their team win, then we would have a lot more teams fighting for the championship and a lot less players finishing their careers in the NBA prematurely.
Drafting the right player is an art, not a science, and history is full of examples of teams getting it wrong. If teams focussed their attention a little more on the above attributes as opposed to just athleticism and physical potential, than that success rate might get a little bit higher.