The NBA Draft is always a bit of a crapshoot.
Talent got Michael Beasley drafted second overall in 2008. A lack of desire has led to him being just one more rough season away from possibly being out of the league a half-dozen years later, whereas players selected after him are well into outstanding careers.
Truth is, no matter how much time and money is spent on researching and learning all one can about a player, no one really knows how a player is going to turn out. All the interviews, workouts, film study and analyzing can only teach a franchise so much, and at the end of the day it will be up to the individual player to determine just how good he is going to be.
So it should come as no surprise that “drive” is an important thing to look at when deciding whether or not a player is worth a selection. Does this player want to be great? Is this player willing to do whatever it takes to be one of the best players in the game? Will he make the requisite sacrifices to get the most out of his natural ability?
These questions, or others like them, seem to be following Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore around in the days leading up to the 2013 Draft. Once looked at as a possibility at No. 1, some believe he’s not even the top shooting guard available.
The hope here is that allows the Jayhawk to slip to the Suns at number five.
The 6-foot-5 guard could be everything the Suns need. A dead-eye shooter with a 42-inch vertical leap who starred on one of the nation’s best teams as a freshman, McLemore has the potential to develop into the go-to scorer the team badly needs, which is not something that can be said for many of this draft’s top players.
The one thing McLemore lacks? A killer instinct. That may drop him down some boards, but I’ll take my chances.
Plenty of players have entered the league with talent but without supreme confidence, and watching them play without it can be rather maddening, because few things are as frustrating as watching someone who could be so much better if only they believed in their abilities.
But when analyzing someone like McLemore it’s important to note the difference between someone who lacks confidence and someone who lacks motivation.
By all accounts, McLemore is not short on motivation, as he worked his way into becoming one of college basketball’s best players.
But that lack of a killer instinct appears to be part of the reason why he might be slipping, which means some team may get a steal. After all, confidence can be instilled, and once a player is confident he tends to become more aggressive on the court. And once that happens, a team generally has itself quite a player.
Suns fans have seen it before.
Remember Joe Johnson? Before he abandoned the Suns when they were on the cusp of greatness, he was mostly an underachieving NBA player. Complete with size and picture-perfect shooting form, Johnson was reluctant to try and take over. He took fewer than 10 shots per game in his first three seasons in the league.
“The maddening problem is his frequent in-game Houdini act. If you’ve ever wondered what Joe Barry Carroll would have looked like as a shooting guard, here’s your guinea pig. Johnson vanished into passive funks for long stretches last season, and the Suns have to figure out how to get some aggression into his game,” wrote then-CNNSI writer and now Memphis Grizzlies general manager John Hollinger in 2002. Johnson was 21 going into that season.
“If he misses his first shot, he may shy away from shooting,” Penny Hardaway said in 2003. Johnson was 23.
For comparison’s sake, McLemore is 20.
Anyway, Johnson’s passiveness was a bad thing, and it prevented him from being the player everyone thought he would be. In fact, it was not until the Suns gutted their roster in 2004 that he started to emerge, and from that point on he was one of the best players in the league.
McLemore will not be the next Joe Johnson; he doesn’t have the size or same skill set. What he could be, however, is just another in a long list of players who matured and found ‘it’, and at the young age of 20 there is still plenty of time for him to do just that.
If McLemore had a reputation for being a bad teammate or lazy, the Suns would be wise to pass on him regardless of the talent level. But by all accounts, that does not apply to the future lottery pick.
Sure, McLemore has some red flags in his past, but according to ESPN NBA Draft insider Chad Ford, he is a good kid who just happens to be a bit naïve. The player will certainly have some growing up to do, but the same can be said for most 20-year-olds.
Really, going into Thursday it appears the biggest knock on McLemore is that he does not yet understand how to be a great basketball player. But in time, he may.
The Suns would be lucky to have him do it in the orange and black.