Before the 2013-14 college basketball season even began, Andrew Wiggins joined the Kansas Jayhawks more hyped than The Shockmaster. Much like the failed WCW gimmick, Wiggins’ splash at the college level was immediately felt with a strange backlash. Because, you know, players who fail to live up to others’ expectations are surely going to feel the wrath of those who set them to begin with.
The word on the mean streets of recruiting websites always had Wiggins as a raw, but potential riddled, future NBA player. Through no fault of his own, Andrew Wiggins ended up being billed as the Canadian LeBron James. Which is not adding any pressure at all to a player whose offensive game clearly needed work.
That’s semantics at this point. Wiggins eventually found his footing at Kansas, wowed enough people, and found himself as one of the top-three prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft. That’s even though he never really fell out of the conversation to begin with.
Now here we are, in mid April, back to evaluation Wiggins as an NBA Draft prospect. Words that you will likely hear — to the point of nausea — until the draft are potential, upside, and athleticism. Which are all basically the same exact thing.
Those adjectives, mind you, are why some NBA executives will place him higher on their draft boards than Jabari Parker. Despite the fact that Parker is currently the more polished overall player. Which makes one ponder the question; Why do NBA front-offices put so much stock into potential?
Well, first we have to know what potential actually is. I mean we can’t exactly measure potential. It’s an intangible of sorts or, really, a fictional idea.
Potential usually boils down to a player’s youth as well as his perceived athleticism. The more athletic you are, at a young age specifically, the more supposed potential a player has.
After a player is deemed as having a ton of potential, experts will then talk about the player needing to just work on his jumper, basketball IQ, handle or anything else that actually relates to tangible on-the-court success.
That is where the idea of potential runs into some trouble. If it were just that easy to develop those aspects of a player’s game, the NBA Draft wouldn’t have a history filled with busts, blowouts and could-have-beens but never actually-weres.
Having an injury riddled career aside, most NBA Draft busts are born out of some NBA general managers’ obsession with potential. More specifically, a certain player’s potential. Much like brokers on Wall Street, front-offices would prefer to put more stock in a huge risk, albeit big reward, investment rather than play it safe and go for a more sure-fire thing.
Which isn’t exactly solely the fault of the people making draft choices. The NBA, by design, puts teams who are flailing in a
position where only the NBA Draft could save them. No one of consequence is going to go to certain teams as a free-agent. It leaves those franchises in the drafting for a home run predicament. Rebuilding, or even building from scratch, an NBA organization means you need to hit it big in the draft.
That’s why more sure-fire players, like a Parker, sometimes get passed for a player who has supposedly more potential. For some reason, mostly because he is already polished, Parker’s ceiling as a player is viewed as limited. So, in reality, he might be punished in the NBA Draft selection process for being a better overall player in the right now. Which makes zero sense.
If a player’s ceiling is an actual thing, so too is a player’s floor. Somehow, though, a player’s floor is never viewed as important as that same guy’s ceiling.
Since everyone assumes that Wiggins’ ceiling is much higher than Parker’s, why haven’t we acknowledged the fact that the latter’s floor is already set much, much higher?
Because it’s not as fancy. Oh, and because potential can give NBA general managers a scapegoat.
Potential, for whatever it really is or isn’t, is something that somehow becomes widely agreed upon. Nearly every expert will say that Andrew Wiggins has the most potential in the upcoming NBA Draft. So, if Wiggins is to be drafted because of his potential, but then does not work out, the organization’s front-office can blame their decision on the fact that they were placing their bets on his potential — something that everyone else said he had. Again, without having anything to base it off of other than the fact he is young and athletic.
Where does that leave Wiggins? In the same place he was entering the previous college basketball season. The realm of never being able to live up to another’s expectations because they are going to be set at otherworldly, mostly fictitious levels.
All of this is without mentioning the fact how we treat these draft classes. Before the season began, experts hyped the group of incoming freshmen as the best thing since slice-bread. That the 2014 NBA Draft would be deeper than any Chicago style pizza. Naturally, time went on and the rhetoric began to change. It went from the most talented and deepest class in the history of history, to just another good one.
See, as games are actually played, skills are showcased, and players are exposed for whatever they truly are, the expectation-makers adjust their fictional meters of a player’s success. It is also a way of every basketball analyst to safeguard themselves from down the road criticism.
Much like last year’s draft class was horrible until it was declared as a deep group, this year’s class was proclaimed as tank-worthy until now, while the draft is closer, and everyone needs to protect their jobs and credibility by downplaying the greatest draft in a billion years.
All of that brings us, in the most roundabout way as possible, back to potential. For whatever it is worth, which might not be much, potential can’t be measured. If we were to be honest, potential isn’t even really that real. I mean it is real in the same way a business plan can look great, but you have no actual idea if it will work until the plan is enacted.
Unlike business, though, a company’s ceiling isn’t solely based off of how young it is and how bad it is in certain areas. The tangibles of the business are very important. Much less stock is put in the intangibles.
If Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were stocks, Parker’s would be the much safer bet. However, the NBA has very rarely relied on playing it safe in the market known as the NBA Draft. With that being said, Wiggins is very much a boom or bust investment.
At the end of the day, though, whichever general manager selects Wiggins is linking their basketball reputation to his resume. If Wiggins is to become everything that people expect, living up to that potential, the GM will be considered a genius. Sadly, if Wiggins is to fail, never develop or just turn out to be a ho-hum NBA player, that same guy will be considered a dope.
It’s nearly time to place your bets. Potential, despite what you have been told, is not an even bet. Who you got?