One of the most difficult jobs in all of sports is predicting how a college, or amateur athlete, will perform at the professional level. This is an art, not a science. Sure, it didn't take an MIT physicist to figure out that LeBron James figured to have a bright future in basketball or that Bryce Harper's baseball prospects looked quite bright.
Scouts and talent evaluators earn their money by finding the diamonds in the rough and the players who can best combine talent, hard work and that je ne sais quoi or "it" factor that when you see it, you just know: "That guy is going to be great."
Here during the NBA summer, rookies are looking to make their first mark on the league, leading up to the 2012-13 season. There appear to be few players that stand out as locks for prolonged NBA success—and many question marks. Most experts seem to feel that Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick, and Bradley Beal, the No. 3 overall pick, will be high caliber players in the NBA.
Of course, many believed Greg Oden, Michael Olowokandi and Adam Morrison had promising careers ahead of them. The point is, these things are so hard to predict. Unless you're dealing with truly transcendent talents that are equipped with an excellent work ethic and attitude, it's really a big guessing game.
One of the reasons for that is that a particular player's fit on a team matters so much. Basketball is a rhythm game. How a player gels with his fellow teammates, no matter his talent level, helps to define his career in the NBA.
I put two players, each of whom excelled at the college level, under the microscope and analyzed their prospective chances in the pro game. Many are projecting former Syracuse guard Dion Waiters to have a promising NBA career. Former North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall is expected to compete for the starting job in Phoenix this season.
Each player had productive, brief college careers and each showed flashes of brilliance. Scouts believe both players have some weak spots but the consensus is that Waiters, more of a combo-guard at 6'4" 210 lbs, has a higher ceiling due to his physical frame and athleticism. The problem is that athleticism is not the only predictor of NBA success.
I feel it's a quite a big leap of faith to think Waiters is going to be a really good pro. In other words, I don't feel he's a guy that is capable of averaging more than 15 points per game for a winning team. Players like Monta Ellis can sure fill it up but seem to end up on mediocre squads.
Waiters has an average jump shot, he's incredibly streaky and he seemed from a distance to have a not-so-good attitude. Attitude matters so much more than most people think. The thing I'm amazed about is that Jerry West is a big fan of Waiters' game. Hard to argue with Jerry West, for sure.
Though, I just don't see Waiters' game translating well at the next level. For people that are optimistic that he's a Dwyane Wade type of player, I ask the question: Does everyone realize how unbelievably rare of a player Dwyane Wade is?
Undersized shooting guards (or combo guards) that take an absolute beating and remain among the top-10 best players in the league for 10 years or more are as rare as they come. As far as I'm concerned, that list over the past 20 years is Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. That's it.
Time will tell if another freakish athlete, Russell Westbrook, has enough durability to make that list.
Who will be the better pro?
Verdict: Waiters is a bench player that can score but doesn't quite fit in the league and lasts four years.
I believe Kendall Marshall is going to be one of the best players to come out of the 2012 NBA draft. My belief is he will be one of the top 10 point guards in the NBA within the next three to four seasons. I had the chance to see this gifted floor leader play a few times and review the tape on some of his big college games.
He's one of the better passing college point guards in recent memory. He's getting knocked since he's not as athletic as other point guards and isn't an amazing athlete like Derrick Rose or Westbrook. I do realize that he struggled on the defensive end while at UNC and he will undeniably need to work to improve his lateral quickness to adapt to the breakneck-pace of the pro game.
There's nothing that says you have to be an elite athlete to be a solid point guard. It certainly helps, yes, but excellent ball distributors don't always have to possess 42-inch verticals. Just ask two-time league MVP, Steve Nash. What Marshall lacks in quickness, he more than makes up for in court vision and a proficient understanding of court spacing and how/when to distribute the rock.
Marshall is the first player to come along in the past 20 years to remind me of Jason Kidd. From the first time I saw him play in college, I've felt he was going to be special.
During a game against Kentucky his freshmen season, in the NCAA tournament, he lobbed the ball about 50 feet in the air, perfectly placed into the arms of Tyler Zeller for a basket. A pass very few players can put right on the money.
Marshall has an amazingly high basketball IQ. He will start out as a back-up but look out—he's a pass-first guy that makes everyone around him better. And he's one of the best passing point guards I've ever seen at the college level.
The teams that passed up on Marshall did so at their own peril. He's ready to help the Phoenix Suns rise from the ashes this upcoming season.
Verdict: Perennial all-star who plays for winning teams.