Great articles by Stephen Danley in the NY Times

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» Thu Jun 28, 2007 10:24 am
I have discovered that Stephen Danley, Ivy league player of the year this past year, has written a couple of excellent pieces for the NY Times.

I will print them here and give links in the main section... ... ref=slogin

The New York Times
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June 28, 2007
On Basketball
A Gifted Player Comes Up Short in the Draft

Alando Tucker was the Big Ten player of the year. He is an All-American. And some draft analysts project him to go to the Blazers. But not with the first pick, as an old school fan might guess. He’s projected to go to the Blazers in the second round, with the 42nd pick. The rap on him is that he’s a little small to play on the perimeter, and doesn’t shoot well. Thus, one of the top five players in college basketball slips to the second round of the National Basketball Association draft.

Turn the clock back four years. Josh Howard was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and a first team All-American. The knock on him was he didn’t have any one specialty. He wasn’t a great shooter, wasn’t a great rebounder, and didn’t have the size or athleticism to stand out in the league. Instead of being taken in the lottery he slid to the 29th pick,, where he was taken by the Mavericks. Now he’s Dirk Nowitzki's sidekick and coming off his first all-star appearance.

Funny enough, Howard did it all while proving the scouting reports correct. He still isn’t a drop-dead shooter. He doesn’t have the vertical jump of a guy like Jason Richardson or Desmond Mason. He isn’t a dominating one-on-one player like Tracy McGrady or Kobe Bryant. He made a name for himself by doing exactly what he did in college; making basketball plays. He’s good in the open court, uses his length to defend, and has improved each year since he got into the league.

Alando Tucker may be an inch or two shorter than Howard, but their skills and resumes look remarkably similar. When we played Wisconsin, our scouting report on Tucker said he could do a little bit of everything. In that Wisconsin system he posted up, he scored from the perimeter and he hit the boards. But he doesn’t have that one elite skill that N.B.A. teams are looking for. So while Sean Williams, who was kicked off his college team and can’t do anything except block shots, is moving up draft boards, Tucker, who did everything for a Big Ten school for four years, seems to be constantly slipping. Is there any good reason to think that a guy who was able to perform at an elite level with one of the best college basketball teams in the country can’t help an N.B.A. team win?

It’s part of a trend in the N.B.A. College performance isn’t valued like it used to be. With all the workouts, the measurements, the guys coming from overseas, it’s easy to lose sight of how a guy played basketball in college. Take a look at Corey Brewer. He’s not as extreme a case as Tucker but consider his college resume. He started for two N.C.A.A. championship teams. He’s a 6-foot-8 athlete who can defend three positions. He has excellent athleticism and can shoot the ball. Better yet he has fantastic court sense and understands how to win. I can’t see how a guy like Brewer could slip out of the top five, just as I don’t see why someone wouldn’t take Tucker in the middle of the first round.

If anything, teams should be fighting for guys like Brewer and Tucker. Remember, not everyone can have the ball at one time. These guys can be slotted next to a star, like Howard is to Nowitzki, and they can do all the little things a team needs to succeed. It’s no coincidence that Houston had an excellent regular season this year after acquiring a glue guy in Shane Battier. Or that Memphis struggled (even after Pau Gasol returned), despite the addition of the superbly talented Rudy Gay. So while every team at the front of the draft continues to look for the next LeBron James or Dwight Howard, keep your eye on the tail end of the draft.

The Spurs didn’t win their latest championship because they picked Duncan first. Every team in the N.B.A. would make that pick. They won the title by picking Tony Parker late in the first round and Manu Ginobili late in the second. The Mavs found Nowitzki's running mate late in the first round. Don’t be surprised to see Alando Tucker get picked up by a good team late in the draft. He can do a little bit of everything for anybody.

Imagine for an instant that your team just won the lottery and has the No. 1 pick in the N.B.A. draft. Who do you want making that pick, an expert like a general manager, or a quorum of fans? Or maybe what you want is for the expert to hire the fans, and to take into account their suggestion?

The N.B.A. is starting to realize that the fans are qualified to run the team. Now, if you come from Philadelphia or Atlanta, this has been painfully obvious for years. Not too many fans wanted to take Marvin Williams over Chris Paul, or sign Samuel Dalembert to a contract the size of Robert (Tractor) Traylor.

Fans Gain Voice in Draft

Predictive markets have become the next investment fad, and the side effect is that fans are more involved than ever in their team’s future.

Take Inkling Markets. The company opened a user-driven website that allows people to set up their own markets online. The chief executive officer, Adam Siegel, pointed to a market off the site as an example of the power of casual fans.

The market was on whether Lebron James would score 40 points in the finals. While the media was embracing LeBron for his 48-point outburst against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals, fans on the site were betting against him having a repeat performance. Siegel pointed to this market as an example of a time when the average fan, and consequently the market, was out in front of the news cycle.

Protrade takes the practice even further. For the National Football League, Protrade created an entire mock draft. Each team was represented by an individual from that city (taking advantage of their status as fan).

It’s a novel concept. Instead of one person trying to predict what each general manager will do, these groups assume a fan would act in the best interest of the team. The co-founder of Protrade, Jeff Ma, indicated that they had plans to launch a similar project for the N.B.A.

If fans can perform better than general managers, why not let the fans run the team? It seems like at least one general manager has already had the same thought. His team contacted Protrade about putting together a market for the N.B.A. draft.

So now teams hire general managers, who hire companies who ask fans who to draft.

Protrade already has one client in the N.B.A., the Portland Trailblazers. For now the work is all quantitative, based on statistics and vitals. Ma expects work in upcoming drafts to be fan driven.

He says what’s exciting is the thought that in predictive markets “fans have a voice” and that has “proven to be successful.”

So look forward to the days when workouts will be open to the public and the line between general manager and fan is blurred; when thousands of fans prevent a general manager from making a bad pick and see their team become visibly better as a result. Imagine replacing Billy Knight and Kevin McHale with Protrade, Inkling and you.

Already Inkling has a user market selling shares in the first pick in the draft. More than 90 percent of the fans believe Oden will be the pick. The fans have already made their choice. Are you listening Kevin Pritchard?

In a league where fans can’t help but play general manager, crazy scenarios get tossed around everyday. For every rumored Kevin Garnett trade or crazy draft day deal, there are the classic hypotheticals. Could the ’96 Bulls have beaten the ’03 Lakers? How would Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardawayhave worked out?

Or how about this one: Could a team of this year’s draft picks win the Eastern Conference next season?

Could a Rookie Team Win East?

Obviously, getting Kevin Durant and Greg Oden is a coup for the future. But next season? The rookies would have a starting five of Mike Conley., Corey Brewer, Durant, Al Horford and Oden. Acie Law, Nick Young, Jeff Green/Julian Wright, Joakim Noah and maybe a wild card like Yi Jianlian coming off the bench.

The squad would be extremely talented, although perhaps a little thin in the backcourt. It would have a first-rate scorer (Durant), a polished post-up player (Horford), a game-changing shot blocker (Oden) and a lockdown perimeter defender (Brewer). Acie Law and Al Thorton would provide offense off the bench and Joakim Noah would be an energy guy. But how would they fare against the East?

Cleveland won the East this year, and this team matches up extremely well with Cleveland. Brewer is as equipped as anyone to guard Lebron. If that failed there are a number of bodies they could throw at him off the bench, guys like Julian Wright.

Even more important than the defender actually guarding Lebron is the players he’d have to face at the rim. Oden is already as good a shot-blocker as you can find in the league, and Noah isn’t going to let anyone get to the basket for an easy bucket either.

Outside of Lebron there aren’t a whole lot of matchups that would go in Cleveland’s favor. Gibson is younger and less talented than Conley. I’d take Oden over Zydrunas Ilgauskus. Drew Gooden and Al Horford may be a wash, but only until Horford gets his feet under him. Brewer is certainly an upgrade over Sasha Pavlovic. Durant isn’t a slouch either, and the rookies would certainly have some depth.

Detroit, with its experience, would probably be a tougher match-up. But imagine Detroit’s team if Chauncy Billups walks. Maybe they pick up someone at the point with their midlevel exception. So now you have a no better than average point, a maligned center position with either a hobbled Chris Webber or a half-retired Antonio McDyess. Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are still at the two and three, but is that enough to beat the rookies? Remember, they have athletes at every position, lockdown defenders and six or seven legitimate scoring options.

The toughest match-up is probably Rasheed Wallace because he can draw an inexperienced big away from the basket. Prince will make life miserable for Durant as well. I think the deciding factor here would be depth. The rookies can just throw too much talent at the Pistons, whose own bench has been sacrificed as they’ve inked all their starters to extensions.

You could make a case for Lebron carrying the Cavs, but that’s more difficult to do when there is a legitimate shot-blocker in the paint. Similarly, you could make a case that if Detroit keeps Billups, it matches up better, and has too much experience. But after watching Oden rise up for that dunk against Georgetown, or Florida run through the N.C.A.A.s like it was a backyard tournament, do you really think this team would be beat? They’d have their growing pains but I sure wouldn’t bet against them.

Maybe the better question isn’t could they win it next year, but could they have won it this past year? But that’s just water cooler talk.

Stephen Danley, who played forward at Penn before graduating this spring, provides his insights into the top players in the N.B.A. draft, which will be conducted Thursday.

The New York Times
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June 26, 2007
On Basketball
On Draft Day, It’s Pick Wisely or Go Home

General managers give personality tests. They hold individual workouts and measure players. But there is no comparison between watching a player and competing against him.

There are skills that are nearly impossible to evaluate from the stands. How does a player react when you shade him to the left? Will he overreach and make a bad play after a missed shot?

Out on the perimeter, I’ve played with guys who would grab your wrist, pull you in one direction, and cut backdoor for a layup while you were off balance. In the post, I would often bump a guy going through the middle, then anticipate his countermove to the baseline. When I beat him to that spot, he would either travel or take an off-balance shot. Those are the types of plays that are difficult to evaluate because certain subtleties aren’t visible from the stands.

When I started evaluating players for the N.B.A. draft, which will be conducted Thursday, I realized I was separating them into the guys I’d want on my team and the guys I’d hate to play with.

Go to any gym in the country and one rule is the same: win and stay on. So being picked up for games becomes a rite of passage.

I remember a summer night at DeMatha every bit as clearly as I remember my first collegiate game. Jerry Stackhouse picked me first over two big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference. I knew he picked me only because I wasn’t going to take the shots he wanted, but I was still so excited I spent the game running around like Anderson Varejão with a buzz cut and a Red Bull.

In that spirit, these are the guys I’d pick first if the gym were packed and there were an hour wait to play again if we lost.

ACIE LAW IV, GUARD, TEXAS A&M When we were preparing to play Texas A&M in the N.C.A.A. tournament, the scouting report pointed out an amazing statistic: In the last two minutes of close basketball games, Law outscored the entire opposing team. But it wasn’t until we played him that I understood what that statistic meant. For most of the game, Law was content to set up his teammates, trying to get everyone involved. Coming down the stretch in the second half, he went for the jugular and ran off a couple of quick baskets to put us away. Say what you want about his skills or his quickness; if you have to win a game, you want this kid on the court.

GLEN DAVIS, FORWARD, LOUISIANA STATE I can’t understand how Davis, below, has dropped so far down most draft boards. He has unbelievable feet and is a polished offensive player. What’s more, he is an engaging personality from a marketing standpoint and a teammate’s perspective. He’ll be a fan favorite. I would be completely fine with my favorite team, the Wizards, taking him with the 16th choice in the draft. Of course, front-office executives are worried about his weight, so he may fall to the second round. I’d be even happier if the Wizards could grab him there.

JEFF GREEN, FORWARD, GEORGETOWN In the mold of Scottie Pippen or Lamar Odom, Jeff Green can do it all. Almost. In the Georgetown summer league this past year, I found myself facing Jeff in a tip to start the game. Knowing he would almost certainly win a fair jump, I leaned against his hip with my left forearm on the way up. The result was that he flailed at the ball, and I calmly tipped it back to my point guard. The game later went to overtime. As we stepped up for the second tip, Jeff looked at the referee and said, “Watch Steve, he cheats on the tip.” The referee looked at him incredulously and I said, “Maybe I’m just more athletic than you, Jeff.” I won that tip, too.

A player with his passing ability should be fine as long as he has some talent around him, and this past year at Georgetown, he showed signs of turning into a player who wanted to take big shots down the stretch. If he turns into that guy, watch out. Either way, he makes you better with his versatility.

DEMETRIS NICHOLS, FORWARD, SYRACUSE Demetris is a perfect example of a guy being overlooked because executives try to assemble talent, not a basketball team. The officials who run Team USA now realize they can’t just toss out a group of All-Stars and win overseas. Good N.B.A. teams are built the same way. In a game where there are five players and one ball, role players are at a premium. Just because Nichols is not adept at creating his own shot doesn’t mean he won’t be a valuable basketball player. He uses screens superbly, just like Richard Hamilton or Reggie Miller, and isn’t afraid to take (and make) big shots.

Shooters are at a premium in the league. Teams are stockpiling shooters; look at Houston’s pickup of Steve Novak. The difference between Nichols and Novak? Novak can’t guard driftwood (we played together on a team the National Invitation Tournament sent to Europe). Nichols is a long 6-foot-8 player capable of guarding a power forward or a shooting forward.

As a player who has always had a little more desire than talent, I take pride in playing basketball the right way. There’s nothing worse than playing pickup games with a talented point guard who insists on taking off-balance 3-pointers, or a physical specimen in the post who just isn’t hungry for rebounds. In that spirit, the following players will either be out of the league in five years, or be signed by the Knicks to franchise-debilitating contracts.

JOSH MCROBERTS, FORWARD, DUKE One of my favorite tests of a player’s mental makeup is to give him an open shot in a pressure situation. Acie Law or Kevin Durant will stick a dagger in the opposition. Most players will take the open shot, make or miss, without thinking too hard about it. McRoberts, above, is one of those guys who lets the situation get into his head and hesitates. You can almost see him thinking, Why are they leaving me open? BRANDAN WRIGHT, FORWARD, NORTH CAROLINA Forecasting Wright’s career is a tough call. He has the talent to be good. When I guarded him in a game in Chapel Hill, he displayed great touch around the basket and an effective spin move, and he dropped in hook shots like a kid tossing pennies in a wishing well.

Here’s the catch. People are rating him the third-best player in the draft. But when we played North Carolina, we considered him the third-biggest threat on the team. We were more worried about Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough. Wright is an awful shooter and ball handler. We didn’t bother to chase him outside eight feet, allowing his defender to play off him and sag into the lane.

It’s not that I don’t think he’ll be a contributor down the road for somebody. It’s just that in this draft, a top-five pick has to be better than a complementary player.

SEAN WILLIAMS, CENTER, BOSTON COLLEGE Three years ago when we played Boston College, our game plan was not to guard Sean Williams. We wanted to use his defender to help against Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. The Eagles finally made an adjustment and started cutting him toward the basket, and he made a dunk coming down the lane. But I don’t care how many shots a guy can block. If he doesn’t need to be guarded outside two feet, under no conditions would I spend a first-round pick on him.

DARRYL WATKINS, CENTER, SYRACUSE He seems to be a workout wonder, moving up on many draft boards. Watkins certainly passes the eyeball test, but I can’t see him as a productive player. Since when do a handful of good workouts outweigh four years of underachieving? I thought he played lackadaisically at Syracuse and didn’t have an offensive game. Frankly, I’d rather see my team draft another European that no one has heard of.

Well, there it is. There are some guys who play the right way, and some who are talented enigmas. Pick at your own peril — and, while you’re at it, Stackhouse wouldn’t be a bad free-agent signing, either.
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» Thu Jun 28, 2007 10:55 am
Nice article. The writer seems to be a guy that do not really cares much about potential and goes more for the sure thing. Can't really say it's a bad approach, but you may miss on big stars that way.

The most glaring example is Brandan Wright, who is in the same position Marvin Williams was a few years ago. Lots of talent. Obviously, he has a chance to be the third best player of the draft, but he has several parts of his game that he'll have to improve for that to happen. What to do with a guy like him?. I'd pass if I had a top 10 pick, the write would pass, too... but I doubt every GM will do so.

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