Inevitably, there will be some who make smarter decisions than others. Every year there are underclassmen that get caught up in their own hype (or hype coming from unaccountable and/or misinformed sources), and foolishly burn their draft card a year too early. These are too often freshman or sophomores who are just beginning to figure things out as far as their long-term potential is concerned, and rather than continuing to add polish to enter the league ready to compete for minutes, they decide to try and cash in way too early. At best, these players get drafted somewhere in the first round and then have their career defined by the opportunities they may or may not receive and the work ethic needed to get better on the job.
At worst, players who decide to strike while the iron is cold end up forcing themselves into a serious bind after returning the following year with no draft card in hand, ala Richard Roby this year. What then happens is that once they are truly emerging as legitimate NBA prospects, they are then faced with a life-altering decision and no possibility of turning back if they make the wrong move. The real problem is, there is such a huge gap between the end of the college season and the actual draft that no one in their right mind can accurately predict whether any player--beyond a handful of select prospects--will definitely be selected in the first round. There are just too many variables involved that cannot be controlled by one player on his own.
This year more than ever, considering the sheer depth of this year's draft class; it's crucial for prospects to gather the right type of information from as many well-informed sources as possible. Players who would have been solid first round picks last year can easily slide into the second round this year considering the type of talent we're seeing in the freshman, junior and senior classes. And players who normally would have been second round picks in a "normal" year can easily go undrafted due to concerns over roster spots that can have NBA teams reaching for international players that they can stash overseas. In the interest of social responsibility, DraftExpress will attempt to temper some of the enthusiasm in regards to some of the younger prospects we're evaluating, and is encouraging everyone not to make hasty decisions regarding entering the draft and giving up NCAA eligibility by hiring agents. The NBA draft is a volatile beast, and it needs to be approached with caution.
With that said, we are kicking off a series discussing players that we're hearing strong rumors about potentially declaring for the draft or leaving college altogether, and who may want to think twice before they make a career-defining move. Making long-term predictions on the fate of 18-21 year old athletes who are still coming into their own usually isnt a smart thing, which is why none of these observations should be considered final conclusions, but its important for the other side of the picture to come out as well the anti-hype if you will.
Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3, Freshman, Center, UConn
Compared to Tyrus Thomas, and billed as "an athletic Mutombo" by a preseason article written by Andy Katz, Thabeet has been blocking shots at a nice rate, but everything else about him so far has been a massive disappointment. He's cracked double-digits in the scoring column just five times this season thus far--against Fairfield, Albany, Pepperdine, Coppin State and St. John's--and has used his massive 7-3 frame to pull down 10 rebounds just four times, again against the weakest competition UConn has faced. Defensively, beyond his shot-blocking, Thabeet has been lit up by every (even marginal) NBA prospect he's gone up against, whether its giving up 13 points and 10 rebounds to an equally raw freshman in Omar Samham (St. Mary's); 19 points, 11 rebounds to Herbert Hill (Providence); 19 points, 11 rebounds to David Padgett (Louisville); 21 points to DJ White (Indiana); or 22 points, 19 rebounds to Aaron Gray (Pitt).
Offensively, we've seen little to no progress since the beginning of the season. Thabeet still shoots the ball from the back of his hand, still doesn't understand how to properly bend his knees and go up for a simple dunk, is not able to palm the ball despite having very big hands, and is almost incapable of catching a post-entry pass due to his poor hands and non-existent reaction time. At this point, considering the way he looks, it's safe to say that hes light years away from being able to contribute anything on this end of the floor.
Most people would tell you that's fine, because Thabeet is 7-3, has a very good frame, and moves better than 98% of the 7-footers we've evaluated...meaning he has a very good upside. Saer Sene was drafted 10th! they say, not realizing the difference between last years draft class and this one, while also failing to take into consideration the stark differences between the two players as far as their work ethic and attitudes are concerned.
The fact that he has a huge upside is probably true, but at the same time, we have to consider just what the likelihood is of Thabeet ever actually reaching his ceiling and achieving that upside, which is just as important a part of the equation, particularly if hes to rot on an NBA bench for the next four years. That probability of reaching said upside takes a significant nose dive when you actually watch him play, look at the way he carries himself on the floor, and talk to people who have spent time watching him practice.
Thabeet seems to have little to no interest in using his size and strength to help his team as a rebounder, not playing with much energy, refusing to get dirty and go after loose balls, and displaying a very low basketball IQ in everything to do with his anticipation skills. In practice, people who have watched him have come away with the impression that Thabeet is not a hard worker at all. He makes faces when asked to do extra work, and generally acts like he's being punished by being required to do crucial drills for his development that other players don't participate in. This lack of a high-energy motor and work ethic is usually the kiss of death for a player who is as raw as he is. He will need years of individual work before anything can be expected from him at the NBA level. Once teams find out what we're learning, if they haven't already, it can be more than enough to drop a player like him into the second round. Contrary to popular opinion, the NBA is not nearly as interested in developing raw talent from scratch as many would lead you to believe, as the coaching staff just doesnt have time to teach the fundamentals of the game during a grueling 82 game season.
Usually we would not go out of our way to blast a freshman who clearly came into college with the billing of a project, having only played basketball for a few years. The thing is: we feel that considering the unaccountable hype around him--currently projected as the #6 pick in the 2007 draft by nbadraft.net and the 16th best prospect by ESPN's Chad Fordthere needs to be another side out there to put things in proper perspective. Players, families, AAU coaches and agents process all this information and often act on it without being able to find anyone thats able to give them a second opinion (NBA people are generally not interested in taking part in this process), but when disaster strikes, the player will have to pick the pieces up by himself while outlets like ours move onto the next batch of prospects. Chris Taft was rated similarly by the same exact people at this point in the season two years ago (ourselves included). He ended up going in the mid-second round and is currently out of the NBA.
Whats sad is that Thabeet is actually contemplating making a selfless decision that has just as much to do with his family situation as it does with himself. His mother and siblings are still in Tanzania, and his father passed away just a few years ago. Its a difficult decision indeed for a teenager to make, especially with the lure of so much money looking so close. The question is: how much in long-term earnings will he be losing by leaving so early? No one can say that for sure, and plenty depends on Thabeets internal motivation.
We don't doubt the fact that Thabeet could very well end up figuring things out and reach his massive potential in a couple of years, but his chances of doing so while sitting on an NBA bench significantly lessen in our opinion, as compared with opting to stay in college and learning from his very well respected coach, Jim Calhoun. UConn has developed players like Emeka Okafor and Hilton Armstrong into lottery picks despite starting off with much less to work with in terms of pure physical attributes, but it took them three and four years in college respectively. For the final word on this topic, we'll defer to Louisville Head Coach and former NBA head coach and General Manger Rick Pitino, who has sent quite a few players to the league in his own right:
"A guy like Thabeet, who we recruited, three years from now will be one of the best players in college basketball Or, if people put the notion in his head because he's 7-foot-3, he'll sit [on] the bench [in the NBA], he'll never make a second contract, and never make any money in his life. So, hopefully, the right people get hold of him and be intelligent."