Bill Simmons published an NBA mailbag yesterday. In one particular question he’s decided to (rhetorically) ask you, the reader (yeah you) some questions. Instead of all of us readers flooding his e-mail with the answers, I’ll just answer for all of us on this widely read weblog. Cool?
Q: Before Andrew Bynum got hurt, the biggest change with him was effort. He looked like he was out to prove himself every night. The interesting question is, without all the Mamba drama in the offseason, would Bynum be as good now? I really think the answer is no. While calling out Bynum that way was distasteful, it might be one of those clear moves Jordan would have made, deriding a young star until he responded or was reduced to a shell of his former self (Kwame Brown.) Am I giving Kobe too much credit?-- David, San Jose, Calif.
SG: Not at all. You can't overstate how much one slight can change the course of someone's career. Does Dwyane Wade play like a man possessed if he didn't slip to No. 5 in 2003? Do Paul Pierce and Caron Butler have the same careers if they didn't fall to 10 in their drafts? Would Chris Paul be the 2008 MVP at the two-thirds mark if three teams didn't pass on him in 2005? Does Chauncey Billups turn into such a killer if Rick Pitino hadn't given up on him after 50 games? Does Baron Davis turn his career around if New Orleans never gave up on him? You could call it the first cousin of the "Nobody believed in us!" factor with team sports, in which an aggrieved player goes to another level partially because he's trying to shove it in somebody's face.
Let’s go over the questions separately.
Does Dwyane Wade play like a man possessed if he didn't slip to No. 5 in 2003?
Dwyane Wade plays no differently than he did if he was drafted in a slightly different slot. I can see him now….hmmm…I was GOING to go all out this game/practice/workout, but since I was only drafted behind Lebron and Melo I’m going to take it easy.
Do Paul Pierce and Caron Butler have the same careers if they didn't fall to 10 in their drafts?
If those same teams had drafted them (but in different slots), then yes….careers are the same.
Would Chris Paul be the 2008 MVP at the two-thirds mark if three teams didn't pass on him in 2005?
Yes, he plays the same in 2008 regardless of where he was drafted in 2005. I don’t think Paul says “yeah, take that Atlanta!… for taking Marvin Williams ahead of me!”….after he sinks a jump shot.
Does Chauncey Billups turn into such a killer if Rick Pitino hadn't given up on him after 50 games?
Um…hmmm…..well…if you’re going to credit Pitino giving up on Billups as being the reason why he’s such a “killer”, then how do you explain the fact that his performance from the midpoint of the 1997-98 season, when he was traded, was virtually on par with his next 5 ½ years in the league? Billups didn’t really show his “killer”-ness until he got to Detroit. So I’m going to say that going to the right environment, with the right teammates and coaching, is what helped Billups go the next level.
Does Baron Davis turn his career around if New Orleans never gave up on him?
Is Davis that different now, or is he just playing with better players in a better system while not being hurt? The numbers would say he’s not (that) much different, but I honestly don’t watch much Baron Davis. He was pretty much at his worst when he was traded. Perhaps some of his improvement would be the result of maturity and not being injured all the time? No, it can’t be that. He’s still mad at New Orleans. Wouldn’t Davis feel good about his ultimate treatment in New Orleans, since they sent him to a better (at the time) franchise in his hometown at at time that he himself wanted to leave?
I’m sure there are certain select cases of a player’s career being slightly different based on the fact that they were drafted at a spot that they felt was too low in the draft, but to imply at all that Chris Paul is the player he is today because he was so insulted that he fell all the way to the number four slot in the 2005 draft is stupid. Imagine how good Lebron James would have been if Carmelo Anthony was taken in front of him! That’s silly. Lebron is as good as he can be, and a player’s performance and reputation on the court is the product of their talent, skills, effort, fitness level, teammates, coaching, and luck (injuries, foul calls, some big shots going in/out, etc.). Nowhere in that equation is “draft position”.
I’d also like to point these excerpts out:
David (San Jose): Am I giving Kobe too much credit?
Bill Simmons: Not at all.
Bill Simmons (2 paragraphs later): The funny thing is that it probably wasn't Kobe's intent at all; it just worked out that way.
So Kobe gets the credit for Bynum’s improvement (it obviously has nothing to do with the fact that he’s now in his third year and isn’t in his teens anymore and is a good player...he just wasn't trying before) even though Kobe’s intent was (probably) to just be an asshole and make fun of him, not to ridicule him into improving. The credit goes to....Kobe.