Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A bad moment for Bob Sturm

Generally, I have a ton of love for Bob Sturm.  I don't listen to his show most of the time, but that isn't his fault. At some point years ago they partnered him with Dan McDowell, a guy who is the equivalent of the plucky annoying comic relief sidekick.  I don't want to dwell on him too much, but I think I can sum him up using a familiar media comparison, McDowell is the sports radio equivalent of Jar Jar Binks --- not ever funny and everything that comes out of him is either self-referential and reflects a shocking lack of personal insight or a disturbingly poorly thought out sports point. 

He is kind of the voice of the loud mouth idiot sports fan.

I generally do not listen to their show for the same reason I haven't gone back to watch the Star Wars prequel --- it is mostly a train wreck needing some characters to be ruthlessly edited out.

But Sturm is generally on point in his analyses.

Yesterday, for a brief moment their show featured the most interesting subject of Dallas's three sports radio shows.  (One station was covering a baseball game and the other was doing their hijinks segment.)  I tuned in thinking, "Well at least Bob Sturm is there. And Donovan Lewis doesn't suck."

Wow. I have never been more disappointed in Bob Sturm.

The subject was the NBA having a one year limit set on incoming players.  This forces players coming out of high school to play a year of college (or something) before entering the draft.

Sturm joined McDowell on the poorly thought out side with such simplistic arguments as " doesn't do that."  Even when some of the more meaningful arguments came up (The NBA doesn't have a good farm system.  The NBA would have to invest heavily to make a farm system like the minor league.  College basketball is a free farm system.  High school knuckleheads will reveal themselves if they have to play college basketball...), they ideas were downplayed because they worked against Sturm and McDowell's internal baggage --- a fairly flag-waving American belief that 18 year olds shouldn't be prevented from making a living.

Finally, to top it all off, Sturm threw out that the NBA Players Association's new head is preparing for the next labor fight and will absolutely get rid of the 1 year rule, restoring the rights of high school players to jump to the NBA.

Oy.  Where to begin?

The NBA Players' Association protects the rights of players IN THE NBA.  Why do you think they sold out high school players last time?  Because every spot on the bench not occupied by an unprepared 18 year old will be filled by a veteran member of their association!

The reality is that there are no natural advocates of the straight to the NBA player.  NBA owners do not want to be forced to pay immature brats millions while they get no production from their draft slots and NBA vets do not want to give up a year or two on a roster.

When you apply Occum's Razor it seems MUCH, MUCH more likely that all the tough talk from the NBPA about restoring high school players' "rights"  "on principle" is a bunch of smoke designed to make surrendering those rights in the negotiations a valuable chip to throw in next time in getting something the Players' Association really wants ---like say a 3% increase in their share of the income.

One move makes the players in the NBAPA money; One doesn't.

A thought like this should be fairly apparent to a smart sports guy like Sturm.  National weekend guy Bill "Huge" Simonson --- another sports egghead, but this one focused on the business of sports --- caught the likely subtext on this and commented on it on his show weeks ago.

I am very disappointed that Sturm totally missed it.  This is the equivalent of listening to the Big Ten commissioner say they aren't expanding right before Rutgers and Maryland are offered slots.  Sometimes you have to look at the most likely motivations for something to be said.

And that is just the basic job of a sports commentator.  That is to say nothing of having a basic understanding of why and how players not going to college has wrecked the NBA product.

Where did the bigs go?

Remember the era of great centers in the 1980s?  Where are the great centers today?  Hell where are the average centers today?

In the 1980's a very common belief among NBA scouts was that unless you were picking a top 5 center like Mutumbo, Olajuwon, Sampson, Robinson, Ewing, etc. you were looking at drafting a center who it would take you about 4-5 years to develop into a center.

That is 4 years of fundamental work in college and another 4 years of work with NBA position coaches to be able to be a middle of the pack NBA center.

Once the college rules fell away, the freshman 7 footer became a mid to late lottery pick.  Very few NBA teams are willing to wait 8 years to develop a Tyson Chandler. 

Very few raw 7 footers have proven capable of developing with very limited playing time and minimal one-on-one development.  There are precious few moments where a raw big can enter an NBA game and dominate like they could in college.  Without these confidence building moments, a good chunk of those guys never develop.

You want to know why the NBA bigs have sucked for the last 20 years?  Because DeSagana Diop didn't spend 4 years developing his footwork and dominating at a school like Georgetown.  Because Robert Swift didn't spend 4 years destroying the Pac-10 and learning what he can and can't get away with on the court before staring his NBA career.  Because Hasheem Thabeet was able to come out in his junior year instead of staying in school, working on his offensive game, strength and footwork after being regularly destroyed by a moderate underclassman prospect in DeJaun Blair.  How much better would Kwame Brown have been with 4 years under a coach like Florida's Billy Donovan?  What if he developed a go to move in those 4 years?  How different would his NBA path have been?  If he didn't go in the draft he would have been slotted into a good starting lineup next to Udonis Haslem.

Darco Milicic was taken in the midst of some serious stars.  What if he had not been able to come over at 18?  What if he had spent another 4 years dominating oversees and developing his game and his body?  Milicic had an abundance of confidence and unique talents that could have amounted to a good high post 5 or even better a compliment to a low post destroyer at the 5 like a Shaq, but when you are undeveloped, coaches will use you where they damn well want to.  NBA coaches did a very poor job of recognizing what his skills were and utilizing him properly.

What if Stromile Swift spent 4 years in college developing his body and dominating the SEC before starting his NBA career?

What if Patrick O'Bryant had to return to Bradley and play two more years.  Would he have been a better pro?  Probably.  At worst the NBA would have had a clearer picture of who he is.

How much would a year more of development done to improve Andrea Bargnani?

How much more professional would Andrew Bynum have been after growing up with 4 years at UCONN?  He would probably still be one of the best centers in the league.

JaVale McGee had the potential to be a fairly good NBA 4 or 5, but left college after a marginally successful sophomore year.  How would has transition gone if he had developed into a top collegiate post first?

How much more confident would Spencer Haws be if he spent 4 years dominating the Pac-10 at Washington instead of just one?

Kosta Kofus only spent one year at Ohio State, but could have developed into a dominant player there.

How much better would Brook and Robin Lopez be if they stayed 4 years at Stanford instead of two?

Byron Mullens had a moment in the NBA.  Imagine if he had faced Kofus in practice every day in college for three years playing for a very good coach at Ohio State.  It is not hard to imagine him becoming a serviceable starting center with that background.

Imagine if Jordan Hill had come back for his senior year at Arizona playing in a conference against Spencer Haws and the Lopez brothers as upperclassmen.  How much better would he be today with another year of good coaching and productive experiences?

What if Derrick Favors played 4 years at Georgia Tech instead of just one moderately impressive one?  What if he actually developed his game instead of just giving scouts a taste of his potential.  I have to think he would be better than a solid starting 4 today.

Ekpe Udoh might have been an acceptable starting 4 if he had stayed at Baylor for his senior year.

Cole Aldrich left the great coaching at Kansas a year early.  One can't help but wonder if walking away from that coaching cost him the improvement in his offensive game that might make him a starting caliber NBA center.

Ed Davis is the same story.  He walked away from 2 years of good coaching at UNC and now finds his offensive game won't let him start in the NBA.

Tristan Thompson is a solid NBA defender and rebounder as a starting caliber 4, but one cannot help but wonder what he would be if he spent 4 years at Texas developing an offensive game rather than being a one and done.

Nikoloz Tskitishvili did nothing at all in the NBA but was the number two pick overall in his draft because he was a 7 footer who could shoot like Dirk.  If he spent 3 years dominating Europe instead of being glued to an NBA bench getting shot angry looks, maybe he plays to his talent level in the NBA.  At worst, NBA teams would have had a much clearer impression of who they were getting.

Yi Jianlian had a decent year in the NBA and showed some talent.  What if he had played a season or two in Europe before the NBA and had refined what his game was, giving NBA coaches a clear idea how to utilize him?

Even a guy like Greg Oden might have had a much better career with 4 years of college.  Perhaps with only 35 games a season for 4 years, Oden might have been able to develop a body more capable of lasting through an NBA season grind.  At worst if his collapse happened in college, Portland would have been able to turn their pick into some immediate help for their team.

What do almost all of these players have in common?  They weren't ready and they cost their NBA team someone who was.

Not good for the player or the team.

That is two generations of top NBA centers flushed down the toilet by this system.

For every Demarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, and DeAndre Jordan who blind luck places into a fairly good developmental position and they make it, there are 8-9 bigs who the early entrance option destroys their careers, costing them Millions upon Millions of dollars.

Why the hell would anyone who likes basketball support a system that encourages kids to flush their future earning potential down the toilet?

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