NBA Scouts Can't Read Too Much into March Madness
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Scouts and talent evaluators would be wise not to put too much stock into what happens over the next few weeks. Let the past serve as prologue: The stars of March don't always shine brightly on the next level.
After a strong showing for Bradley University in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, 7-foot center Patrick O'Bryant was selected by the Golden State Warriors with the ninth overall pick. Due to both injuries as well as a poor work ethic, Bryant played a grand total of 90 games in his NBA career, and was never thought of as anything more than a long-term project.
O'Bryant is just one of a number of players who were able to parlay a decent tournament run into a lucrative NBA contract. But with the one-and-done nature of the NCAA postseason and the rampant parity that rules college basketball, it isn't all that difficult for a borderline NBA talent to put on an impressive showing over a two or three-game span.
The quick turnaround time between games leaves very little time for scouting, and a player who may be an average talent in his own conference can look completely different against a team who is unfamiliar with his tendencies. And when someone who originally may have been thought of as slow, undersized or unathletic is able to dominate a couple of games on national television, it may be tempting to move that player quite a few notches up the draft board.
Even players who are stars in power conferences can provide a incomplete picture of their abilities. Trajan Langdon capped off an impressive college career by helping the Duke Blue Devils to the 1999 title game, leading Cleveland to select him with the No. 11 overall pick the following June. The Cavaliers soon realized that Langdon was unable to create his own shot at the professional level, and he only lasted three seasons in the NBA before heading overseas.
Conversely, those players who have already established themselves as lottery picks shouldn't be completely discounted after a poor showing in the Big Dance. Most of the prospects projected to go in the top 10 have already made their way back to campus: If scouts were to grade these players solely on a single performance, then talents like Marcus Smart, Otto Porter and Shabazz Muhammad could find themselves in the back end of the lottery.
Both Georgetown and Marquette were upset in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, yet the two stars on those teams—Greg Monroe and Jimmy Butler, respectively—were still first-round draft picks that summer, and both have blossomed into very skilled NBA players.
This phenomenon isn't limited to the NBA: Every year, there's a player or two at the NFL combine or at a particular school's pro day that gets general managers and personnel directors overly excited. Some of these talent evaluators are so enthralled by what they see in a controlled environment that they'll put more stock into what the player did in a T-shirt and shorts as opposed to what they saw on film for the past three or four seasons.
That, obviously, is a mistake. And while it's clear that the best way to evaluate potential draftees in any sport is by reviewing their entire body of work, it's difficult for human nature not to take over.
But by the time the calendar turns to March, the book has already been written on most players. Dwyane Wade was a superstar talent long before he led Marquette to an improbable run to the Final Four in 2003. And it was clear that Stephen Curry's shooting stroke was pure enough to land him in the league even if he didn't lead Davidson to the Elite Eight in 2008.
That's not to say that March Madness shouldn't count for anything. Dozens of NBA general managers either have made or will be making trips to tournament sites all across the country, and with good reason. There is no bigger stage in college basketball than the NCAA tournament, so it's a fine barometer to see how a player reacts in a pressure-filled environment.
That said, years of scouting and number-crunching shouldn't be dismissed on the basis of one good (or bad) postseason run. From Adam Morrison to Bryce Drew to Tyrus Thomas, we've seen plenty of general managers make this error in recent years—there's no reason to continue the trend.
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