I think this topic would be interesting alongside the tanking discussion in the other thread, and maybe interesting enough to merit a thread on its own.
I want to discuss the age-old nature vs nurture question. What makes a great player great? Is it something encoded in his DNA? Or is he shaped by his development environment?
David Thorpe likes to talk about royal jelly with regards to player development. What is royal jelly? It's basically food for baby bees, but what's remarkable about it is that if an otherwise normal baby bee is fed massive amounts of royal jelly, it turns into a queen bee instead of a normal worker.
Podcast here: http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/pos...y-david-thorpe
Thorpe's argument is that the vast majority of NBA players are virtually identical, like baby bees. There are exceptions of course, like the guys at the very top, and the guys at the very bottom, but for the vast majority, Thorpe thinks its all about "the right setting, the right coaching, the right inspiration and trust," which is the royal jelly for players. An otherwise normal player can become great if given the right royal jelly.
To illustrate with an example: In the 2011 draft, the Wizards drafted Jan Vesely with the 6th pick, while the Spurs drafted Kawhi Leonard with the 15th pick. Vesely is out of the league now, while Kawhi was just Finals MVP. Was it the Spurs just being lucky that the Wizards (and other teams) passed on Kawhi, did they see something in him that mysteriously none of the other teams did? Or did the Spurs' legendary player development unlock something in Kawhi that is actually present in many other players as well?
What if the Wizards had drafted Kawhi and the Spurs had drafted Vesely? What do you think their careers would look like now? Food for thought.
In the other thread, Sollozzo was counting the number of All-Star players drafted above #10, and concluded that there simply is 2x more talent in the 1-10 draft positions than it is in all other positions combined. That would seem to go against the royal jelly thesis... or does it really?
Here we have to look at the politics involved in alloting NBA playing time (via Henry Abbott):
So in other words, players drafted in the top 10 succeed more often, not because they are more talented, but because they are given more royal jelly (playing time, support, development).But the players Lowe wrote about -- those not drafted in the lottery -- have special playing time challenges because they're last in line for playing time, as determined by the political structure on a typical team. Owners spend millions per season for veterans. Coaches serve at the pleasure of owners. Coaches also make owners look stupid by benching the guys making the big bucks. And if there are any high draft picks around, it's inevitable that the front office will want them to play, too. Nobody is as easy to bench as the players Lowe is talking about.
In their new book "Stumbling on Wins," David Berri and Martin Schmidt report that players drafted in the lottery earn more minutes than their production suggests they should. And this is not just true when they're rookies, but for years after the draft. In short, those players get the royal jelly, and opportunities to learn on the job. Every minute a high-drafted player gets, however, is by definition a minute a low-drafted or un-drafted player watches from the sidelines. (Every player enters the NBA through one of those categories.)
I'm not saying that playing time is all it takes to make any bench player good. I am saying that if you have the goods to be really special, playing time is an essential ingredient in developing to elite status. (Oxygen isn't all you need to be an Olympic runner. But Usain Bolt can't win any medals without oxygen. It's one of many essential ingredients.)
As support of this theory, just look at this year's Pacers. All these "scrubs", it turns out they can play if given the opportunity.
With regards to inborn talent vs external development, I'm not saying that it's definitely one or the other - like a lot of things in life, it's probably a mix of both - but if you accept that player development is a big factor in the end product, well this has some strong implications against the tanking argument. Draft order really doesn't matter as much, unless you have a chance at drafting one of those generational talents who are great no matter what.
Every draft, it's been the custom of Bird or Walsh to say something to the effect of "whoever we draft, he's going to be a good player." Maybe their confidence stems from knowing that they can mold raw prospects into good players, rather than blindly hoping that they can pick out a diamond in the rough that other teams stupidly passed on.
One more set of questions to mull over. Would Granger have turned into a good scorer if he hadn't been forced into the role by the god awful roster we had that year? Would Paul George turn into a superstar if Granger hadn't been injured that year? Would Solo have lasted past his rookie contract if not for the opportunity that George's injury has given him?