Several years ago, I was met with vocal opposition as I railed against the NBA’s sudden explosion of drafting high school kids. My argument, which hasn't wavered since, was based on two core tenets:
- NBA scouts were drafting on hype, not actual ability
- Players need some experience in a top-down, coaching environment against solid competition
My number one example at the time was Darius Miles, who had just been drafted and was expected to be the next superstar phenom. I argued that even though Miles had tons of ability, I would prefer that he play at least a year in college or even the NBDL. While there, Miles could see how he actually plays against men his own size.
I’ll revisit a bit of that argument and then explain why this is relevant today.
When you are a teenager, you develop the body of an adult. You think you are an adult, but you aren’t.
Let’s take for example, outside of basketball and physical ability, adults who return to college later in life. In every single study, older students, even students just in their late 20s, do significantly better than younger students.
Sure, there are college age students who excel, but while the ratio for star pupil college students may be 10% or less, the ratio of older student who excel is probably 90%.
Why the substantial difference?
Despite youthful energy and exuberance, adults develop the ability to learn and combine it with an actual, experienced understanding of how hard a person must work to succeed. Adult students have experience forged in life, and life is a brutal teacher.
To be blunt, kids are naive. Adults aren’t.
Now, back to the pro basketball world. Consider that any player with even a year of college experience has had to endure a year of balancing classes, the media, harsh coaching criticisms from a man who controls your playing time, and hours of workouts and practices.
Then, there are the games for top level schools, which are broadcast on national television, against top level talent. A 6′9″ player at a Division I school will be expected handle all the previously mentioned responsibilities, and will have to face other players who have similar work ethics, size and coaching.
Now, let’s consider a player who's become familiar with the process in his three or four years of college. Of course, the average player is going to be significantly more focused, more experienced, more crafty, stronger and more patient.
But college isn’t even the best option in all cases.
Put the four year college player up against a player with one year of NBDL (or overseas) experience. A pro player must contend with bills, agents, playing time, personality conflicts and bad press.
Pro players don’t have to worry about class time. They should be working out and practicing as a full time job. Day in and day out, while the college player is in class or hanging out on campus, the pro player should have already been in the gym for hours; working out, studying and getting better.
In that regard, it's no different than any other profession.
A carpenter with twenty years of experience is better than a high school grad with a few shop classes under his belt and knack for woodwork. A lawyer with five years of experience is, on average, better at his job than a lawyer just out of college.
Sure, there are exceptions. But in reality, those exceptions are extremely rare. It takes time, experience and competition to master a skill.
So what does this have to do with today?
Last night, I witnessed Lebron James sulking around the court as his Cavs were soundly beaten by the Celtics. To be clear, James is injured. But his injury didn't prohibit his 38 point outburst only a few nights before.
Although star players can have off nights, Lebron James' new look is far more significant than just another loss.
James gave up on Tuesday. He got outplayed and out-manned, something that has started to happen with alarming frequency.
The display by Lebron is what you might expect from a player who got everything too easily, who hasn’t had to battle for his starting role or prove himself at any stage.
Lebron was spectacular in the regular season, but the season isn’t when NBA players come to play.
They get serious in the playoffs.
Sure, you might say that Lebron just had an off night. But the look on Lebron’s face, in his demeanor, isn’t one of someone struggling.
It’s the look of a kid who just realized he’s not invincible. He can be beaten. Badly.
Lebron is obviously injured. Yet, he vocally campaigned to guard Rajan Rondo, the Celtics emerging star point guard.
Rondo was barely even slowed. If Lebron really was so injured, he shouldn’t be putting himself on the Celtics hottest player. That’s a liability.
Lebron’s bravado is quickly giving way to another average playoff run and, unfortunately, Lebron demonstrates a big lesson. Potential is only a temporary quality.
Eventually, potential dissipates. And people stop giving you a pass.
This article originally appeared on BasketballElite.com.
Marcus Shockley also writes for ACCBasketballRecruiting.com, and you can follow his rants on Twitter, where he won't tell you what he had for breakfast but will spout about sports, basketball recruiting, technology and business with an unflinching tone.