Basketball IQ, Character and Defense are underrated in draft prospect evaluations

Ronald Martinez

Every year, some players end up drafted way too high or way too low. You'd think that teams would learn from their mistakes and such a situation should not happen again next year. And yet it does. Why?

Evaluating players is extremely difficult. So many things need to be taken into account and even if you consider them all, there's still no guarantees that the player pans out as predicted.

However, after analyzing previous years, I've come to a couple conclusions.

Player's IQ is often overlooked or, at least, not enough importance is attached to it.

Let me throw a number of names: 2008: Beasley, A. Randolph, J. McGee. 2009: Thabeet, Flynn, J. Hill, T. Williams, Hansbrough. 2010: Udoh, Aminu, Aldrich. 2011: Vesely, Biyombo. 2012: T. Robinson, M. Leonard, J. Lamb.

They all haven't lived up to the expectations and we can call most of them busts.

Sure, basketball is not rocket science, but it's also not a sport where you can be successful without thinking much.

No matter how talented you are, no matter how good numbers you put in college, you can't succeed in the nba if you don't know how to use your strengths to your advantage.

In college, you can often succeed because you're far more athletic than others, far bigger or far longer. In the NBA everyone's as long, strong and athletic as you, and you have to find a way to be successful. You need to be smart enough to understand the NBA game and play in the NBA.

However, there's been many high IQ guys who haven't succeeded, even if their athleticism wasn't an issue. Why?

Character is as important, if not more important than skills or athleticism.

Very few players come to the league "NBA ready". They need to work on their game to succeed. Work ethic cannot be overlooked and it rarely is nowadays. But sometimes teams seem so enamored with some prospects that they turn a blind eye to the player's work ethic or at least they downplay the issue.

Many players are intelligent, say the right things and ooze with talent, but you have to make sure they have enough motivation to continue improving their game. Young guys who become millionaires may be sucked out by the world of fame and spoiled by so much money. That's why it's so important to carry out a thorough background check before picking them.

You want players who play basketball because they love it, because they really like competing and winning, not because they're all about money and baskeball is just a means to an end.

Another thing that is often treated too lightly is defense.

Players who don't play defense in college rarely change their attitude in the NBA, and the only thing worse than being a bad defender due to lack of athleticism/size is the unwillingness to play defense.

Players who have athletic shortcomings but try to play defense often learn how to minimize that weakness over time.

Players who don't show defensive effort tend to have defensive lapses throughout the whole career, and unless your offense is great, like James Harden great, you won't succeed in the NBA.

Unfortunately, the NBA contributes to this tendency by promoting great scorers who suck at defense. Most young players now want to be a Kyrie Irving instead of a Kawhi Leonard. When you hear from a high pick like Enes Kanter, who focuses on offense and not defense, something along the lines that "putting numbers will get you paid" you know something is wrong with the league.

However, the teams are all slowly attaching more and more importance to the less sexy side of basketball. Nowadays, you can often hear people around the NBA talking about two-way players and that's a really good sign because offense wins games, but defense wins championships.

By analyzing various cases we may distinguish some player types that lead to steals and busts.

Young, low IQ athletes, especially those who don't play D, often become busts.

Teams fall in love with their size and athleticism and tend to forget that you need brains to effectively use it to your advantage in the pros. They also think that with age the attitude problems will disappear but, more often that not, they don't. Many of the players mentioned above fall into this category.

Young, bright, competitive but raw athletes who don't dominate college game often outperform their draft slot.

Teams often fail to properly project player's career in the pros by attaching too much importance to college success.

You have to carefully analyze the situation players were in.

Maybe their team sucked and their game suffered because of it.

Maybe they didn't put up great numbers because they are unselfish.

Maybe they didn't put up great numbers because they were not a good fit on the team.

Oftentimes, young athletic players are raw because they dominate in high school thanks to pure talent, but those who are fairly smart, hardworking, often eventually outperform their draft slot.

For me, the combination of character and athleticism is more important in young players than their current skill level. Of course, all relatively to their draft spot. The younger the player, the less importance I pay to the skill level.

You can improve your shooting, ball-handling, defense or strength but there's only so much you can do with your character and athleticism.

At the time of the draft, was O.J. Mayo more skilled than Russell Westbrook? Sure. Terrence Williams more skilled than Jrue Holiday? Yeah. Derrick Williams more skilled than Kawhi Leonard? Yes. Evan Turner more skilled than Paul George? Absolutely. And yet the results speak for themselves.

You can apply my thinking to the current draft class and check in the coming years If I was right.

Looking forward to your questions and comments,


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