I don't really like Superbad. (Don't close the article here, I'm making a point!)
For months, before Superbad was released, I had a friend who, literally every time I saw him, would preach to me about how incredible the movie was going to be. Maybe the funniest movie ever, he said. Transcendent, he called it.
Then I saw the movie. Sure, there's flashes of brilliance, but overall, it wasn't anything special for me.
When you go in expecting excellence, you are bound to be disappointed. It's human nature. Rare is the case in our time when something can live up to the hype machine. The weight of high expectations can often come crashing down on all of us.
How is this related to the 2014 NBA Draft in any possible way? Glad you asked. Oh, you didn't ask? Keep reading, you've made it this far.
"Jabari Parker can't score against athletic defenders."
"Julius Randle isn't really athletic."
"Andrew Wiggins doesn't have a killer instinct."
These are all things that are in the water supply when it comes to the top of the most loaded draft class in the last decade.
Whether or not these quick one sentence hits are true or not belays the larger issue. On the topic of these prospects, with the added attention to this class, comes added scrutiny. Everybody has an opinion on these prospects, regardless of mere trifles like watching them play.
Wiggins, Parker, and Randle will be 19 on draft day. They are currently facing the highest competition they've faced in their lives, and really, for the most part, it's the first time that they aren't just doing whatever they want at will against guys who are a foot shorter than them and can only get into a D-1 basketball game if they buy a ticket.
Now, that doesn't make any struggle they may have irrelevant. It's not the last time they're going to face adversity and run into players that may not be as talented as them, but are more experienced than them. I just think that the bigger thing to take note of is how these guys adjust with that adversity. Do they have the ability to tweak their game when somebody shuts down their best move? Do they get easily frustrated? What skills shine through even when they're being shut down offensively or scored upon relentlessly defensively? Is what they need to work on something that can be fixed with good coaching or better teammates?
It's foolish to think that because Jabari Parker struggles in a handful of games, that means he can't score against athletic defenders at all. Again, these guys are 18 and 19 years old. They are far from finished products. Some have a higher perceived upside than others, but they all have general upside. Derrick Rose averaged 14 points and 5 assists a game as a freshman in Conference USA. He was the #1 pick anyway and
had a great career before he was banned from basketball due to rampant gambling issues despite his injury issues, developed his game into an almost unstoppable package in a short time.
I don't think any single prospect is going to come into the NBA and immediately turn a team around. That's just unrealistic. The Cavs still missed the playoffs the year they picked Lebron. The Sonics won 20 games after picking Kevin Durant.
My argument here is that when you're told this class has "the next Lebron," you're bound to be disappointed. Lebron James is a true generational talent, not the type of generational talent Scott Boras hypes every time one of his big-money clients hits free agency. The odds of anybody drafted this year or any other year having a career like Lebron are so unfathomably slim that it's unfair to compare them, both to them and to you. If you expect Lebron, you will be disappointed. If you expect a player that could in time develop into a game-changing player in the NBA, that's a little more realistic.
Let me go back to a pop culture reference, because I too want to write for Grantland someday. There's a scene in The West Wing where the staff is preparing for a presidential debate. Their man, the President, is presented as an intellectual, a thinking man's president. (Basically, he's Sam Hinkie.) His opponent, the Republican governor of Florida is presented as being, well, kind of stupid. When it comes to their debate, however, they fear that expectations for the President have been set very high, whereas expectations for the opponent have been set comically low.
"If the whole thing is that one of them can't tie his shoelaces and it turns out he can, that's the ballgame," the staffer says.
That's Joel Embiid. Coming into the season, the expectation was set that Embiid would be a super raw project with little impact this season, to the point where most people felt that it would be a very logical move for him to stay in school a little longer. In various articles this off-season, my references to Embiid included misspelling and mispronouncing his name (you know what, I just plain didn't know his name) on multiple occasions, and basically described my abject terror in the idea of drafting him.
"NOBODY'S EVER GONE WRONG SPENDING A TOP FIVE PICK ON A RAW CENTER WHO'S STILL LEARNING HOW TO PLAY BASKETBALL," I screamed at anyone who would listen, including homeless people, Jehovah's witnesses and Greenpeace representatives. And yet, here we stand, just days after Chad Ford moved Embiid to the top of his Big Board and everyone marvels about the surprising polish in Embiid's game.
Now, again, please don't misunderstand my point. I LOVE Joel Embiid now. Love him. Do I want him on the Sixers? Absolutely. Good luck scoring on Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, everyone in the NBA. I will take all the blocks, please and thank you.
That being said, he has just as many holes in his game as the aforementioned prospects do. More, even. But when the standard is set at "he may know that a basketball is round and orange, but other than that, all bets are off," it's not hard to exceed expectations. Is Joel Embiid going to be the top pick? He very well could be. That kind of potential in a seven-footer is often hard to pass up. If you consider all things equal between a true center and a wing player, you pick the center pretty much every time. I don't think many people in Houston are overly upset they picked Hakeem Olajuwon over Michael Jordan. That's what gave us Greg Oden over Kevin Durant and I still don't kill Portland over that move. They got tremendously unlucky, but it's fundamentally the right play.
I don't pretend to know what flaws are real and what flaws are being blown up. My point is basically that when it comes to the fluctuation of the draft board, I'm Team Chill. I'm not going to start making blanket negative declarations on 19 year old prospects based on small sample sizes.
(That said, WIGGINS FOREVER. Until next time, when this column is EmbiidWatch.)