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Tuesday
Nov262013

The business of needing star players

The problem with trying to find stars for your basketball team is that you often end up focusing on superficial things.

When I think of the low hanging, shiny fruit that tempts basketball executives, height, bulk, leaping ability and even appearance come to mind.

Okay sure, sometimes height is everything. And a decent leap might be preferable. 

But not always.

We can pretend that pure skill and hustle will always win out - as they do in films like Hoosiers when haircuts were humble and coaches didn't mince their words - but we all know there's an appeal to players who fit the checklists of idealistic scouts. For one, the suits are happy because stated needs have been met; and secondly, fans are appeased because through the media stories of such acquisitions, they are led to believe said players will deliver on an array of promises.

In short, a powerful upper body trumps a slim build, dunking ability tops lay-ups and hook shots, while speed outranks guile, and having an irrational level of confidence is actually something you can base a career on. Bill Simmons will vouch for this.

Consider that some NBA teams are happy to give up players because of their size, despite their instinctive skills. Even the most PR conscious basketball executive must scratch his head on occasion and think, wouldn't the high IQ be better for my team? Goran Dragic, for instance, is a superbly gifted guard for the Phoenix Suns with strong dribbling and passing skills and a good balance around the hoop.

But how appealing is Dragic to the average NBA scout?

If you or I had a chance at recruiting the six-foot-three Slovenian for a pick-up game at the local gym we might be champing at the bit. But the fact is he's a skinny white guy from Eastern Europe who isn't quite a point guard or a two. That's why he's bounced around the NBA, from San Antonio to Phoenix, to Houston and ultimately back to Phoenix with a European stopover in between. He was so inexplicably unwanted despite being a damn fine player, which he is showing this season.

Similarly, the Sydney Kings of the Australian NBL gave up its point guard Jesse Sanders last week in order to scoop up former NBA man, Sam Young. On the surface of things it was a no-brainer - a six-six guard with defensive skills, toughness and most importantly for the Kings, NBA experience.

How could Sanders compete with this? For all his court vision and tenacity, Sanders is shorter, less muscular and far less imposing. He also happens to be a nice guy, which can unfortunately work against you when tough decisions need to be made.

The other side of the coin is that some clubs need to entertain more than win. And in both the Suns and Kings we have two organizations - albeit in different hemispheres - both needing to entertain for different reasons.

The Suns, if popular media opinion is to be believed, are tanking in order to finish among next year's draft lottery group. This is delicate undertaking that requires a club to lose a certain amount of games but still keep fans happy with a competitive and somewhat attractive product. The right level of overmanned talent will help keep ticketholders coming back for more. Dragic is certainly entertaining. It's also obvious that he might be a hell of a lot better than the Suns expected, or hoped for.

Conversely, in Sydney, the mission is to increase the volume of ticketholders in the same way Jackie Moon did for the Flint Tropics - by whatever means necessary. So, as you might expect, Young is being touted as the best player to step onto an Australian basketball court by some local journalists, which is not only a stretch but quite alarming if it's true.

Those of us who remember Andrew Gaze and Dwayne McClain will certainly argue the point. But these are the times we are in. Where face value is overstated, or understated as the case may be, to address bullets on a powerpoint slide.

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Reader Comments (1)

Measurables are pretty important in the modern NBA. All the players are athletes first and players second, with the hope that the athlete will become a ball player, too. It's just too hard to develop a player that can't defend because they lack size and speed.

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBob

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