Letter to the Editor: Evaluating Draft Talent


We love comments at the Wages of Wins. We tend to prefer shorter ones. As editor it can be tough to deal with comments on the verbose side. However, a fun technique old Newspapers used was to allow long letters from readers just get printed. I like this technique. So if you leave a thoughtful and semi-polite comment, it could end up on the “front page” of Wages of Wins. What follows is a post by longtime reader Julien Rodger (@ASFW_jrodgeron the recent podcast with Eric Weiss on evaluating NBA talent.

Nice pod, but I disagree big time with the idea that talent evaluation at draft time is defendable or ‘correct’, then busts happen because of development. No reason to trust NBA teams are evaluating talent correctly in my opinion.

Their mistake to me is very easy to spot, in fact. The NBA Draft boards work on the concept that talent is what can’t be taught or learned. This is true, but the mistake they make is thus assuming physical tools are innate talent, while skill and playing intelligently – which can be taught – are a matter of development. When players like Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk come out who are much more polished than a Nerlens Noel or Derrick Favors, Zeller and Olynyk’s skill level is credited as development and that they are “farther ahead”. Players like Noel and Favors supposedly have the highest upside, because imagine if they develop the skill game and polish a Zeller has, but in their bodies? Now development is seen as a roll of the dice. Favors hasn’t become a high octane offensive player, so the odds simply came up on the wrong end for Utah.

I believe this is a big misconception. The key is that the NBA is a freak’s league. It is the highest level, where you don’t stand out in an area – physical, skill, IQ/instincts – unless you are top 99.99 percentile. This favors only the most talented players in an area, in skill as well as physically. Furthermore, the players who stand out among their age group in college in skill and IQ, overwhelmingly tend to do so in the NBA. They progress in unison. This is because in college and high school IMO, they are showing their raw tools more than they ever will. Their natural talent. This can be expressed through skill and IQ as much as physically, in my opinion. Skill and IQ/instincts are very, very much talent based in my opinion. Players don’t go from way behind their peers groups in skill to ahead of it. Maybe they go from bad to average, or from average to decent. But I would presume average to great doesn’t happen, nor does bad to above average.

Finally, a big reason why talent at the NBA Draft stage is evaluated incorrectly, is that they put in other factors beside talent, for good or bad. Any player who’s not producing highly in college gets dinged for it badly, gets called an enigma and “risky”, etc. Even more shadily, players drop hard on the draft board when their TEAMS are bad. This is quite silly, but it happens. The players who miss the tournament get dinged and called losers. Likewise the teams on great teams get called “winners”. UConn’s performance is one of the main reasons why Drummond fell, along with Lamb out of the top 10. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress started this year ranked top 5/top 10 on mocks because of their perfect physical tools for a SG or SF, then as soon as UK started losing the air went out of the balloon. There are many cases where a player who’s less talented than a peer, goes ahead of him. For example every single person last year thought Andre Drummond was more talented than Thomas Robinson and Robinson was ahead of everyone’s big board. Likewise I don’t think there’s anyone who believes Terrence Ross has more talent than Jeremy Lamb but he went ahead.

My gut tells me most players end up in the vicinity of their talent level. Put it this way, development and situation is the difference between Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant, between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant and between Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett. But Carter, Melo, Durant still played at levels where their talent was obvious. Development isn’t going to turn Evan Turner into Brandon Roy, Tyreke Evans into Gary Payton, or Jordan Hill into Chris Bosh. When the gap is that big I don’t see talent as an excuse.


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