Each year, the global basketball community welcomes new recruits to both the NBA and NCAA because, let’s face it, we all love to see new players bring new creative contributions to the game of basketball.
A subplot, especially for NBA rookies, is whether or not certain players’ ratings are accurate, or whether we need to trash everything we thought we knew.
So I wanted to take a moment to share my own personal experience of both failing and succeeding when evaluating potential clients. What I’ve learned from my mistakes, what new concepts I bring with me and how mistakes can create incredibly instructive moments.
Let’s start with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, who I was incredibly wrong about. Oh boy, this one still stings. Because, looking back, I missed something so crucial to NBA success that, to be honest, I’m disappointed in myself.
The motor. The motor. the fire Whatever you want to call it, Maxey has it.
His energy level and sheer determination to make things easy on either side is one of his absolute greatest assets as a basketball player, and I’ve relentlessly focused on his crude shooting as the reason why I didn’t believe in it. I recognized the engine, I even appreciated the engine, but by no means to the extent that I should have.
Shooting is of course extremely important in today’s game. But with Maxey, I realized I was putting too much emphasis on him in my assessment, and it blinded me to the fact that even if he didn’t morph into Steph Curry, he would always be productive.
Sidebar: Three years into his NBA career, Maxey is sitting at 40.1% from range on 514 attempts. These mechanics just needed a little help and they were good to go.
When I was wrong about Maxey, I made the shooting much more forgiving. As long as a player has a solid foundation to build on in terms of shooting, I don’t worry too much about the results. Of course, if a player’s numbers are years behind and performing poorly, especially at high volumes, this needs to be considered as an area of improvement.
As for the engine, it now ranks higher on my scale of importance. That’s why I had the ever-energetic Tari Eason second on my big slate prior to the 2022 draft. We’ll see if I end up looking like an idiot for having him so high. If I do, I’ll get at least a few instructive moments out of it.
My biggest hit was Donovan Mitchell, who I had third on my big board in 2017.
yes i have proof And yes, this haircut will never happen again.
So what did I like about Mitchell, who looked like the type of guy who was most liked but who never had high lottery appeal?
Simply put, whenever I watched him play, I was convinced that college play was a major hindrance to his game. He had less margin than in the NBA, and teams often grabbed the paint against him as a direct result of Louisville being a poor three-point shooting team.
Mitchell’s raw athleticism could only do so much against defenses designed to stop him near the edge. And yet most of the time he still somehow found a way to get in there and challenge everyone. He was a man among boys, he just needed an NBA environment with pros by his side to excel.
Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mitchell’s developed physique played a big part in where I ended up on him. With such broad shoulders, such a strong core and elite athleticism? Even if he didn’t have much shooting ability, you’d buy him as a future 10-year veteran who could get his way on either end.
Which brings me to this rating point I took from Mitchell: Players who understand their own physical advantages and aren’t afraid to use them can never be a bad thing. This means they are aware of their role as players and have identified areas where they can be successful. You will not come into the NBA passively and without assertiveness.
Take Patrick Williams in Chicago, for example. Although he’s been playing better in recent weeks, we’re in his third year of his NBA career, and he’s still miles away from realizing that his powerful 6-foot-8, 235-pound frame literally put him in a All-Star can transform. It’s just a matter of using it and enforcing that will. Remember, Mitchell is 6-foot-1 on a good day, and we’ve seen even seven-foot bounce off him for years.
My biggest miss is one that I share with the Sacramento Kings.
Thomas Robinson, then from Kansas. In 2012 he finished fifth overall.
At the time, I thought he deserved to be picked right after Anthony Davis, so let’s get to the many areas where I got it wrong.
It starts with making assumptions.
Robinson was statically productive in Kansas, averaging 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. But he was never so versatile. His middle-class jumper was mediocre at best, and that’s from a college perspective. But since he’s had a few instances where he’s hit it, I assumed the shot would get by while largely ignoring that the NBA defense would be bigger, faster, and absolutely better at challenging them.
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In 313 NBA games, Robinson struggled mightily with every type of perimeter scenario. 12% of his offense came from long twos between 16 feet and the 3-point line, which he hit at just 30.7% throughout his career.
It didn’t get much better even as he got closer, hitting 22.9% of his attempts from 10′-16′ and just 31.4% from 3′-10′.
The only area where Robinson was even moderately efficient was around the rim, where he scored 60.1%, which in and of itself isn’t a high mark for an athletic 6-foot-10 power forward.
(Missing Robinson’s rating was one of the reasons I started paying special attention to shooting, which later affected my view of Maxey. As it turns out, moderation is key.)
But more than the shooting, I assumed he would get similar shots and a similar role. I didn’t take into account that he has to adapt to the players around him and not the other way around.
That brings us to the presence or absence of it.
In Kansas, Robinson had 173 turnovers for 101 assists and very rarely did he appear to move the ball comfortably, especially over long distances. I figured that was fine as he would simply be a play finisher instead of a play initiator.
Well, bad passing goes hand-in-hand with my previous problem of ignoring that he had to adjust to his teammates.
When you’re trying to become an asset to your teammates and the offense isn’t focused on you, there is a great need for the ability to pass the ball. Robinson couldn’t. 319 career changes to 190 assists.
The worst thing about the above review? We haven’t even talked about defense. That was just a preliminary.
Robinson was and remains an elite rebounder. He’s always been, and that’s an area where he’s respected. But that came at a price.
Defensively, Robinson was confused and routinely misinterpreted situations. He would take his eyes off his opponent who cut backdoor, and he would fall behind too far when guarding screen-and-roll actions. If he didn’t, he’d get burned dribbling.
He gets occasional blocks from sheer size and athleticism, but both his positional and team defense lacked understanding and execution.
Instead, Kansas center Jeff Withey covered up his mess. Withey was an elite shot blocker who rotated to challenge shots from players who got past Robinson on the first action, and business was good. 3.6 blocks in just 24.8 minutes.
Robinson is the player whose missed rating taught me the most.
1. When teammates have to represent you in some way, it means you have significant work to do in a specific area. When teammates have to represent you in a variety of ways, it might be time to ask yourself how well prepared you are for the NBA.
2. Production should always come second to observation. If you average 18/12 but regularly play a poor ground game riddled with mistakes and sacrifices for your teammates, the 18/12 doesn’t matter.
3. The situation around you matters. If your head coach tailored the system to minimize your mistakes and weaknesses, that’s a red flag. You have to be able to produce in several areas, even if you play in a system that doesn’t suit you perfectly.
4. Willingness to try new things is a skill. If you insist on playing a style that only benefits you and refrain from expanding your game for the benefit of the team around you, there is a set upper limit to your distance. Adaptability is key in basketball, and those players who are willing to try something new will always have an advantage.
5. The ability to create on the ball is still king and the most important skill in basketball. If you depend on others to be productive, that means you have to excel in a few other areas to justify your presence on the pitch. If you can’t create your own look and make it a bad defender and a bad playmaker, you’re borderline unplayable.
As I said at the beginning, these are of course my own personal observations. The evaluation of potential customers goes far beyond what a single post can justify. And as always, it’s a process.
Ratings change based on how the game changes. As the game becomes increasingly positionless, determining how players can switch roles is now one of the most important aspects. In 10 years it will be different.
What matters is how we adapt to these changing needs and what lessons we learn from them. In short: get ready to make a lot of mistakes. We are all.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via NBA.com, PPBStats, cleaning the glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information per Spotrac. All odds over FanDuel Sportsbook.
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