I don’t mind being wrong. In fact, I kind of like it. I think it is true that we learn from our mistakes, although I am not sure how much learning I am doing here. Nevertheless, this NBA season has brought some comeuppance in my theory about a player’s college team making a difference on their professional career. While I still think that coaches like Bill Self (and before him Bobby Knight) are able to wring the most out of their players and hide their weaknesses, there have been several players that look like they are upsetting the apple cart of my theory. Let’s take a look at these players and try to figure out what this means.
Prior to the season, it was easy to think Phoenix and Philadelphia were tanking. As I wrote before, I don’t think tanking is a good idea. Tanking makes even less sense when there isn’t a LeBron James or Tim Duncan in the offing and I don’t think there is a transcendent player in the 2014 draft (as I wrote here, then here). I reserve the right to change my mind about Joel Embiid. A pair of former Jayhawks are helping the Suns compete in their surprising season under coach Jeff Hornacek. Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have steadied the Phoenix bench and combined to supply 22 points and 10.5 rebounds. These aren’t terrific numbers for a pair of players, but they represent significant steps up for the Morii. I thought Marcus would be a good pro because he was the more offensively skilled of the duo, but Markieff has improved his shooting as well. Perhaps they just needed to be together like they were at Kansas. While Thomas Robinson continues to have a quiet career on his third team in two years and Ben McLemore is having the expected issues adjusting to the NBA, the Morii show that we have to remain patient. Maybe Andrew Wiggins won’t be tarnished by his year in Lawrence. The crazy hype surrounding him will die down eventually.
In my earlier article, I was also concerned about players coming from upper New York. The Orange of Syracuse had not produced a productive player since Carmelo Anthony and have two top five busts – Johnny Flynn and Wesley Johnson – on their ledger. Johnson has received a bit more playing time with the Lakers (who are terrible), but his numbers (8.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 42.5% from the field) do not befit a fourth overall pick. Perhaps it is not fair that Johnson and Flynn should have anything to do with Michael Carter-Williams, but I thought the tall point guard was too thin and could not shoot well enough to be a competent NBA player. To some extent, I was wrong. In fact, the famed Syracuse zone may have helped MCW learn how to play passing lanes. He is averaging an impressive 2.5 steals. His shooting percentages have dipped (he is making less than 20% of his 3-pointers since Dec. 1), but it doesn’t appear that he will bust.
The obvious lesson is that every basketball player, like a snowflake, is an individual. Most college coaches are primarily interested in winning games rather than developing talent (John Calipari and Rick Barnes may be exceptions). It may make some sense to look into a school’s history of developing talent that is ready for the NBA (UCLA and Florida seem to do this well), but it is more important to look at the player, watch his games, and don’t overrate measurables (or else you’ll end up with Mouhamed Sene and a wasted draft pick). Particularly since most pro prospects only spend a year in college, the effect of their school choice is likely limited.