BlazersEdge is a place where everyone has the right to post their opinion and have their opinion heard and considered by other fans. We as sports fans have taken advantage of the opportunity the Internet provided us to inhance our experience of rooting for our favorite teams. However, there are some opinions that are just wrong, and people need to stop spouting them. In that spirit, sammymohawk has started "BlazersEdge Court". In case one, he looked at the "Legend of the Missing Manimal", the myth that the Blazers choosing Nolan Smith over Kenneth Faried was part of the Andre-Miller-for-Raymond-"Voodoo"-Felton deal. In the second case of BlazersEdge Court, we look at "The Legend of the Power Conferences".
The Blazers on Saturday, in the course of evaluating prospects for next week's 2013 NBA Draft, hosted six more players for a pre-draft workout. In the comments section, BlazersEdge member Oldy_But_Goodie made the comment, in reference to Mike Muscala, a 6'11", 230 lb center from Bucknell:
He game [sic] looks nice against a bunch of nobodies (during this workouts especially), but he will get pushed around at the PF/C position and his height won't save him.
Analysis: Matt Bonner 2.0
At the end of the day, we agree on one thing about Muscala: he needs to add strength to be really effective in the NBA. While our conclusions are the same, our reasoning is entirely different. I think Muscala needs to add strength because, well, he just does. He's only a little over 230 lbs, and at that weight he just isn't going to have the strength to tangle with guys like Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Nikola Pekovic, etc. on the offensive or defensive ends. Oldy_But_Goodie seems to think he only looked good in college because he didn't play anyone.
Now, I don't mean to pick on Oldy_But_Goodie, because he isn't the only person on BlazersEdge to use the same line of reasoning. His comment was just the inspiration for this post. (And in his defense, he is correct, Muscala needs to add strength.) The problem is people, when evaluating prospects, tend to use this line of reasoning: Player X is from a "mid-major" school in a weak conference. Player X's level of competition in college wasn't strong. Therefore, Player X will struggle and/or fail in the NBA.
That line of thinking is wrong and needs to stop. Let me give you an example:
Player A: 2007 McDonald's All-American, starting guard his junior and senior years for a traditional ACC and national powerhouse program. His senior year put up per game averages of 34.0 min, 20.6 pts, 45.8 FG%, 35.0 3P%, 81.3 FG%, 5.1 rbd, 4.5, ast, 1.2 stl. His senior year was a unanimous First-Team All-ACC pick, and won ACC Player of the Year award. Won a National Championship his junior year.
Player B: Was a three-year starting guard for a Big Sky program. Was a two-time Big Sky player of the year, and three time First-Team All Big Sky selection. His senior year put up per game averages of 34.5 min, 24.5 pts, .467 FG%, .409 3P%, .887 FT%, 5.0 reb, 4.0 ast, 1.5 stl. Won one Big Sky regular season championship.
As you've probably guessed by now, Player B is Damian Lillard, and Player A is Nolan Smith. While Lillard has his shortcomings (defense), no one could argue with a straight face that Smith is a better player than Lillard. Obviously that's just one example, and we shouldn't draw conclusions based on just one example. But it is illustrative of my larger point: a player's level of college competition doesn't matter, talent does.
There are a number of examples of how individual schools are represented in the NBA, or how each conference has done in sending players to the NBA, and you can read those and they are illuminating. As you could probably imagine, the "Power Six" conferences (ACC, SEC, Big East, Big 12, Big 10, PAC 12) have the most players and schools represented in the NBA by far. I would highly recommend checking out the lists from RealGM on current and former NBA players from each conference. What you'll find is that each conference has its own successes and busts.
The same conference (Big 12) that produced LaMarcus Aldridge, Super Nintendo Chalmers, Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, Kirk Heinrich, and Nick Collison, also gave us DJ Augustine, Michael Beasley, Xavier Henry, Royal Ivey, and Quincy Acy. The ACC is about as schizophrenic as it gets. Tim Duncan, Carlos Boozer, JJ Redick, Luol Deng, Jerry Stackhouse, Kyrie Irving, Chris Bosh and Shane Battier are on the same list as Nolan Smith, Chris Duhon, Brendan Heywood, Kendall Marshall, Chris Singleton, Ish Smith, Brandan Wright and Tyler Zeller. Danny Green went to UNC and was cut several times from the Cavs and Spurs before emerging as a legit player in the last season or two.
There are also the players who never went to college, the ones who jumped straight to the NBA from high school. A number of them (LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, just to name a few) are going to end up in the Hall of Fame (well, the first three are; the jury is out on Howard). Others have been complete busts: Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, and Sebastian Telfair, for example.
Plenty of Hall of Famers have gone to schools in non-"power six" conferences. Bill Russell went to University of San Francisco. Dennis Rodman went to Southeastern Oklahoma State. Stephen Curry went to Davidson, and as we all know Damian Lillard went to Weber State. Derrick Rose went to Memphis. Kenneth Faried went to Morehead State. Larry Sanders went to VCU. Paul George went to Fresno State and his teammates George Hill and David West went to IUPUI and Xavier, respectively.
My point is this: any prospect can be a bust. We know this. Going to a school in a power conference doesn't guarantee NBA success any more than going to a "mid major" dooms a prospect to failure. What matters is talent, work ethic, and landing in the right situation. Having good coaching and training staffs, with the right teammates and offensive and defensive systems is just as important to the success of a prospect as his talent level and work ethic.
That is never more true than in a draft like this, with a lot of good-but-not-elite talent. There's no LeBron in this draft class. There's no Kobe. There's no Duncan. The best thing you can say about the class is that its best prospect, Ben McLemore, could be the next Ray Allen. And if he turns into the next Ray Allen, with his shooting and defensive potential and athleticism, then you've got a multiple time All-Star, but not necessarily a sure-fire Hall of Famer. That's a good haul. But then you remember that's the one player in this draft that has the best bet of making multiple All-Star games. The rest are all maybes. Their success or failure will depend on where they land and their work ethics.
If a guy needs to add strength he needs to add strength. Mike Muscala needs to add strength the same way Alex Len does. Len isn't going to be any more successful than Muscala just because he went to Maryland and Muscala went to Bucknell. CJ McCollum isn't going to be a worse shooter than Kentavious Cladwell-Pope because McCollum went to Lehigh and KCP went to Georgia.
These players have legitimate skills and flaws. Let's not write kids off based on where they went to college.