For most NBA draft prospects, the pre-draft process is all about living up to preconceived expectations.
A player who is viewed as an intelligent shooter from outside (think Doug McDermott) is expected to shoot lights out from the field and wow in the interview room. Athletic marvels who need some refining offensively (think Victor Oladipo) are expected to dominate defensively and throw down a few jaw-dropping dunks.
It's all about playing to type. Anything else you flash—a nice dribble-drive game for a shooter, an "improving" outside shot for an athlete—can only help. But if you play against type, a typical draft prospect could see his stock come into question.
Norvel Pelle is not most NBA draft prospects. He'll head into the pre-draft workouts looking to play against his type—a prima donna who was so uncommitted to getting better off the floor that it killed his on-the-floor potential.
A 4-star recruit and the 36th best player in the nation, per 247 Sports, Pelle was one of the rising stars of the high school class of 2011. He had always been a promising prospect, but had never quite put it together during high school. An ascendant talent on the defensive end with shot-blocking ability and toughness, Pelle was considered a lock to land at a top-tier program—only controversy derailed his hopes.
The controversy, the one that would end his collegiate career before it began, was his utter disregard for the classroom. Pelle's grades were reportedly terrible through his first two years in high school, putting him in a bind by the time he reached Los Angeles Price High School as a junior and senior.
Those grade woes followed him on the recruiting trail, as top programs began falling like flies. What Pelle was left with was a choice between St. John's and Washington. He chose the former, but he never played a minute for Steve Lavin.
By the time September 2011 hit, Pelle was ruled ineligible by the NCAA along with Jakarr Sampson and Amir Garrett. While Sampson decided to stay through his year-long suspension and Garrett missed just 10 games, Pelle's career at St. John's was over. He announced that he was decommitting from the program that November.
Left without a program, Pelle honed his game in prep school and prepared to become a pseudo-free agent for schools looking to hit a home run. Spurning major-conference programs like DePaul and Auburn, Pelle chose to attend Iona and was expected to make the Gaels a force in 2012-13.
“It feels like it’s my time to really showcase and put what I’ve been working hard this whole summer to show the world what type of player and what type of person I am," said Pelle of attending Iona (per Adam Zagoria). "I am excited to show the world a little something.”
Little did Pelle know just how little he'd show the world. He never actually arrived at Iona, again floating his way through another college basketball season out of sight and out of mind. With his eligibility questions all but answered, Pelle had little choice but to enter his name in the draft, which he did on March 25 (per Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears):
LA City Prep's 6-10 center Norvel Pelle, No. 1 ranked center by Rivals in '11 class,plans to enter the NBA Draft,source tells Yahoo! Sports.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) March 25, 2013
Declaring for the draft isn't hard—literally anyone can do it as long as you're 19 years of age. What will be difficult for Pelle is proving that he's worthy of being selected, that two years off haven't caused his skill set—which was extremely raw when he left high school, mind you—to atrophy.
The only way he'll be able to do that is in pre-draft workouts—those things that usually carry minimal importance. Pelle will hold workouts for 10 teams in early May and will then participate in the NBA Draft Combine on May 15-19. Pelle spoke of his desire to prove himself with Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Eisenberg:
I've never wanted something this much. Most of the guys I'll be going against already have game film. I don't. So these workouts that I'm going to are definitely going to be important to me to showcase what I've been working on the past couple years. I'm willing to go up against anyone to prove myself.
Pelle certainly isn't wrong about being behind the eightball. Even the one-and-done freshmen entering the draft this year have 30-plus games (barring injury) of Division I basketball under their belt. As recent draft history has shown, that game tape is paramount. Teams have drafted better (though still not great) since the one-and-done rule was implemented, thanks mostly to the ability to see players against high-level talent.
Pelle is essentially on the same playing field as a high school player or Euro who played very, very low-level ball. Teams don't send scouts to prep school games for the most part, meaning the best idea of who Pelle is as a player will be determined at workouts and in Chicago.
Per Eisenberg, Pelle still believes his potential is worthy of being drafted in the first round. Even though the 2013 class is arguably the worst since 2000—where Michael Redd, Kenyon Martin and Jamaal Magloire make up the three best players—there is almost zero chance Pelle is drafted within the first 30 selections.
Each NBA first-round pick comes with a contract that is guaranteed for no fewer than two seasons. And barring some form of wretchedly horrible play, those first-round prospects get a guaranteed third year based on potential alone.
As an NBA scout pointed out to Eisenberg, the risk of a guaranteed contract makes Pelle's dream a little farfetched to say the least.
"In the second round, there's no financial commitment and you're not being criticized if he doesn't pan out, whereas a first rounder, if you take him and he's a bust, you can expect some criticism," the scout said.
But for Pelle to even get consideration as a second-round pick, he's going to have to flash potential—and a ton of it. Teams have become increasingly cognizant of the values available in the second round and have become better than ever at finding diamonds in the rough. Chandler Parsons of the Houston Rockets, Jae Crowder of the Dallas Mavericks and Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings are just the latest examples of teams taking full advantage of second-round talents.
What's key, though, is that those guys had track records—not intangible potential. They all had translatable skills: shooting for Parsons and Thomas, defensive tenacity and athleticism for Crowder.
Pelle may have all the potential in the world. But until he proves he has NBA skills in workouts, he remains an enigma carrying more baggage than anything else.