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Draft Process Reflects Cheryl Ford’s NBA Criticisms

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Cheryl Ford said in an ESPN the Magazine video that the men’s game is about who can jump the highest. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to disagree with her.

I don’t necessarily believe that the WNBA is a more "pure" form of basketball (what does that mean anyway?), but as Ford alludes to, it does seem that there is more of an emphasis on the fundamentals of team basketball.

The fact is that the NBA is a league dominated by athleticism, length, and power. Basketball skill and basketball IQ come in 4th and 5th place respectively. So every June, NBA decision makers risk the future of their respective franchises to draft a player that measures out well. In doing so, they only perpetuate the problems with the game.

Take this statement from USA Today about Texas A&M freshman center Deandre Jordan, who is still pegged by some to be a lottery pick in this year’s draft:
DeAndre Jordan, 7-0, 255, Texas A&M: A freak athlete like Dwight Howard, but he is not as strong or skilled as Howard and relies almost exclusively on his athleticism on both ends of the floor. He also has a reputation for not being a hard worker and seemed to wear down as the season progresses. As a result, his stock has fallen significantly. Despite those concerns, he has the size, and his upside is enormous.

I know this is a bit of a strawman argument, but if that is really what the NBA is looking for then there is something wrong. The GMs who decide not to dismiss "those concerns" and pass on Jordan will do so in fear of missing the next dominant star.

The Upside of Pam McGee’s "Big Secret"

When University of Nevada sophomore center Javale McGee is selected somewhere in the first round of the NBA draft, it is guaranteed that he will make history the first time he steps on the court. As the son of Pam McGee, who played and coached in the WNBA, they will be the first mother-son WNBA/NBA combination. However, if he wants to make an impact in the NBA on his own merits, he’ll have to put in the work necessary to realize his potential. From the same USA Today article:
Grueling workouts with his agent, former NFL player Roosevelt Barnes, have helped, but many question McGee's conditioning and think he is still raw. However, his physical attributes and flashes of playmaking skills will likely be enough to get him drafted in the mid to late first round.

However, the problem is that the way this whole draft process works, if he goes back to college and those "flashes of playmaking skills" fail to develop into the scouts’ exaggerated expectations of him, he’ll lose value:
"I think he could have been in the top-10 next year without question," Bilas said. "If the potential that we're talking about went unrealized for a year, then maybe not. But I think the world of Mark Fox and he's done a wonderful job of developing players. I think Mark is among the best coaches in the game. Another year under Mark would have done wonders for JaVale.
"He's still going to be a first-round pick, and it's really hard to criticize somebody for leaving early when they are a first-round pick. It would go against a culture for a kid like JaVale to go back to school, and it's asking a lot for an 18- or 19-year-old to go against the culture."

Is it this process that creates the image of the NBA game presented by Ford? I don’t think it’s fair to say that – to actually succeed in the NBA players have to develop skill. To become a winner takes a rare combination of skill, athleticism, and the right mentality. The problem is that GMs have gotten to a point where they are grasping at straws to find the "freak athlete" that can make a big splash…some day.
"Obviously this has become a draft of potential," Hall of Fame analyst Dick Vitale said. "Everything is based on potential, potential, potential. There's no question that potential is what will get you drafted. You're trying to think three, four years down the road when you draft a kid."

But this trend of taking players who are a) unproven, b) unskilled, or c) unmotivated certainly doesn’t help the NBA’s image. It’s what makes WNBA rookies like Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins so refreshing – they had every reason to come in as prima donas after their outstanding college careers, but both play as though they actually love to play the game of basketball. Go figure.

Of course, this is nothing new – if we can take off our hindsight glasses for a moment, it was perfectly reasonable for the Blazers to select Sam Bowie (7-foot center) over Michael Jordan (a 6’6" guard who wins championships) in 1984. In a game where the goal is 10 feet high, you need players who can get the ball there most easily and help prevent opponents from doing so.

And perhaps it is all the analysis, potential, and uncertainty that makes the NBA draft season the most wonderful time of the year.

Transition Points:

  • "Toronto newspapers reported there were other factors regarding his no-show, including a claim that Pam McGee would not allow her son to work out with teams picking lower than 12th in the draft...JaVale McGee said he had not heard that report, and the only reason he couldn't make the workout was, "I don't have a passport."
    Full article
  • Returning to the issue of the use of web 2.0 tools in the WNBA, it would be great if there was as much information about the WNBA draft as there is about the NBA draft: countless mock drafts, YouTube clips of prospects, the ability to watch college games online, and even see workout footage with the teams. Get it done WNBA!
  • An article about the draft posted at