Missed Opportunities

“He’s a draft bust! Waste of a pick! How could he have been 1st overall?!” These are some of the many comments typically said towards NBA players that just haven’t provided the skills or statistics to be an average NBA player. However, there are always two sides to every story, something I like to call missed opportunities.

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Starting with the cream of the crop are the 1st overall and lottery picks, which have been famously labelled busts following multiple years in the NBA. In my opinion, I believe the term ‘bust’ is a harsh label to give someone because there are multiple factors to weigh in before crucifixion. Firstly, one would have to look at the situation the player was brought into. For example, Darko Miličić, who is famously known as the guy who was picked before three potential future Hall of Famers (Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade). When looking at his first 3 years in the league with the Pistons one would most likely say he was the worst pick of all time! However, Darko was almost given little to no playing time with the Pistons due to their success the years before, boasting an average of 5.7 minutes. This ultimately led to an underwhelming stat line of 1.6 pts and 1.2 reb for the first 3 years of his career while the likes of Carmelo, Bosh and Wade were given 33+ mins of playing time along with the role of being a key contributor to each team. Now this is not to say Darko would have been an All-Star player but he would have been seen differently had he been thrust into the role as a franchise player.

Secondly, when a player is chosen 1st overall and doesn’t live up to the pressure of being a star, is it the players fault or the team that chose him? I believe that in some cases yes, the player doesn’t turn out to be this superstar but there are instances when a player was chosen first overall and shouldn’t have been. I turn to a more recent pick in Canadian forward Anthony Bennett. Now the 2013 draft class itself was very poor however Bennett was not the consensus number one overall pick in all the latest mock drafts. Bennett was not even considered top 3 because many knew he was not the next Blake Griffin or Chris Bosh. Many people including myself believed that the top pick would have been Nerlens Noel. This example shows how Cleveland swung for the fences and chose a player many believed wouldn’t live up to the hype of being first overall.

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To make matters worse Bennett had just completed surgery for his left shoulder taking him away from the game for about four months leading up to his rookie campaign. This ultimately led to his weight gain and inexperience on the court. Soon enough Bennett’s health issues and inexperience led him to play an average of about 12.8 minutes per game and eventually be traded to Minnesota the following year. Even with the Timberwolves and later with the Raptors, Bennett was not given a real chance to learn and grow as a player with time on the court. The same time that should have been given to him during his rookie campaign. After falling behind the team by team’s depth charts , Bennett was ultimately waived and Toronto Raptors President (and GM at the time), Masai Ujiri said, “I probably put him a tough situation. I feel he needs to be somewhere where he can play. Playing time was going to be tough. I take responsibility for that because it wasn’t the kid’s fault. People keep saying he’s talented and he’ll get a chance. It just has to be a team with opportunity to play.” Sometimes a player may not live up to the All-Star background a number one pick should have but when a team makes a bad decision drafting the player it is not the players fault! Bennett did not ask to be chosen 1st overall and I personally would blame Cleveland because Bennett never had the hype behind him and doesn’t deserve the criticism he receives today. Like Ujiri said he was put in a tough situation with no room for growth and all he needs is that opportunity to play. Let’s hope Bennett can earn some minutes this year with Brooklyn to finally show his worth in the NBA.

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Lastly, I turn to the potentials. These are the players like Darko who I would categorize as being an average NBA player but hasn’t been given the opportunity to play. With the minute restrictions, these players are often criticized for the stats they produce. When looking at players taken in the late first or second round there are players some would point out as being “steals” in the draft. These would be the likes of Manu Ginobili, Gilbert Arenas, and most recently Draymond Green. However if not chosen by the right team or given the minutes, each of their respective careers could have been considered below average. Some names of players today who I believe could make an impact on a team if given the chance would be the likes of K.J. McDaniels, Norman Powell, or Jarnell Stokes. Situations where a good player is placed on a team as the 3rd string it’s hard for one to get any minutes that are meaningful. I believe due to this factor one cannot be labelled as a below average player if not given a chance to prove themselves.

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With the likes of McDaniels and Powell flashes of potential were shown when given the opportunity. McDaniels had a good run with the 76ers producing averages of 9.2 pts 3.8 reb and 1.3 blks and asts per game in his rookie season. However, midway through the season McDaniels was traded to the Rockets and played a sparingly 3.3 minutes per game. This loss in production took away what could have been a successful career for McDaniels. Due to the DeMarre Carroll injuries, Powell was given a chance to prove his worth and even made his way to the starting lineup come opening day of the playoffs with a rookie average of 5.6 pts and 2.3 reb in 14.8 minutes of action. However, due to Carroll recovering from injury, Powell began to see minute restrictions and will eventually fall behind the depth chart this 2016/17 season. If not given this opportunity, it could have been a different story for Powell. With the limited minutes many players like Norman and KJ are missing the opportunity to make a name for themselves. With Jarnell Stokes I also believe he’s a player that just needs an opportunity. Like Powell and McDaniels, Stokes was barely used by the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat with career averages of 5.5 minutes per game and never got the chance to showcase his skill until given the opportunity in the D-League. Most recently Stokes  was named the NBADL MVP in the 2015/16 year providing averages of 20.6 pts 9.3 reb and 1.1 ast and 1.1 stl per game. I believe if given a chance Stokes could have a very successful NBA career. You can even see how a small opportunity can change a man’s entire life. The perfect example would be Hassan Whiteside who was also never given the chance for 4 years before finally breaking through.

Much can be said about an NBA player from fans to critics but I believe any average NBA fan should understand the circumstances a player is thrust into before given any labels or judgement. Players made it to the NBA for a reason, because they are some of the greatest at what they do. Really all it takes is an opportunity for one to showcase their skill and have success in the NBA. Of the hundreds of athletes that became Hall of Famers and All-Stars there are thousands of players who were never given the chance to learn and grow. These are the players with missed opportunities.

Piece by Chris Hu – Twitter: @OhYouKnowWho

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