By Micheal Ives
Baseball scouts are always looking for the elusive “5-tool-player”. Prospects rarely attain this status in big-league play, but those who do become leaders, All-Stars, and Hall of Famers. Legends like Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey Jr. are the picture of a 5-tool-player. Current studs like Mike Trout, Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Braun fit the bill. Proven by the sands of time, scouts still search and dream of finding these gems in the crowd come draft time. So with the NBA Playoffs coming down to Conference Finals time, and the NBA draft looming…this basketball nerd has decided to look into the 5-tool-player in the NBA. The results are (not really) shocking, but may cause the casual hoops fan to cry foul.
First, what are the “tools”? Well, in baseball we are talking about the ability be impactful at:
- Hitting for Power
- Hitting for Average
- Fielding Ability (glove)
- Throwing Ability (power, accuracy)
- Baserunning (speed, steals, smarts)
So here is my basketball “5-tools” translation:
- Scoring Ability (can you put pressure on the opponents on offense?)
- Rebounding Ability (are you an asset on the boards at your position?)
- Defensive Ability (can you regularly check the opponent across from you?)
- Passing Ability (can you facilitate and make those around you better?)
- Will/Desire (do you have the guts, the passion, the confidence to be great?)
With the draft lottery right around the corner, and draft night coming up June 27th, it’s time for NBA scouts to be applying these very criteria to the crop of incoming 2013-14 NBA rookies. Your favorite NBA team’s future depends on it (trust me, I’m a Charlotte Bobcats fan…I have seen pain and cruel punishment).
Before we talk abut the youngsters, let us look at these current NBA Playoffs to see just how important the true 5-tool-player is to hopes of an NBA title. The easiest example of this type of player is reigning champion and MVP LeBron James. He has fit every category above (had to prove a couple!) and has the resume and awards to show for it. But even outside of a freak like King James, there is another Eastern Conference comparison currently on display. The Indiana Pacers up 3-1 in their series over the New York Knicks. Both teams feature All-Star small forwards in the Pacer’s Paul George and NYK’s Carmelo Anthony. George is a young and climbing player. He was the 10th pick in the 2010 draft and got his first All-Star nod this season. Carmelo Anthony has been widely regarded as a Top-10 or Top-5 player for almost a decade now after being chosen 3rd overall in the 2003 draft. Melo is the much more widely known and touted athlete, but I’m here to tell you that Paul George is the better player. His postseason success will be a testament versus the numerous and continued failures of Melo-led teams come crucial playoff time. Let’s look at the tools.
If you are scouting Paul George, you have 5 checked boxes. The young guy can score (led this team with Danny Granger out…17 ppg on 42% FG, 36% 3pt FG, and 81% FT). He can rebound amazingly for his position (7.6 rpg). He is a fantastic defender who creates havoc with his length and athleticism (1.7 spg, 0.6 bpg, All-NBA Defensive 2nd Team, led NBA with 6.3 defensive win shares). He passes unselfishly and within the system (4 apg). And he seems to have the fire to be great. George led his team in scoring and steals, was 2nd in assists, and 3rd in rebounds. He is the 2012-13 NBA Most Improved Player and went from being a young complimentary piece to being the leader of a team making a run for the NBA Finals.
Carmelo gets buckets. Heck yeah. He really does. When he is on fire, he is like no other. I could watch him play all day. Unless I was a Knicks fan….then I would end up jumping out of windows several times weekly. Let’s look back at the tools. Melo is a GREAT scorer. Top 2 in the game, in my mind, with one Kevin Durant. He led the NBA in scoring this season (28.7 ppg). His rebounding numbers are solid (6.9 rpg). His passing ability leaves a bit to be desired, not only in the stats (2.6 apg) but also to the eye test. He just doesn’t have a natural knack for facilitating. Even when he is drawing double and triple teams, he has struggled to find and correctly set up his open teammates. His defensive numbers show a shortcoming as well (0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg) that is also visually evident on the hardwood. He has the length and physicality to be a good defender, but just seems lost, disinterested, or tired when playing “the other half” of the court. Carmelo has a will and confidence..he is a great closer and there might be no one better in the game to take a last-shot…but there is something missing in that area too. He has not yet understood that no matter how great he is in one facet of the game, he must improve the others to be legendary (and win titles).
Melo isn’t the only guy designed that way. Not even close. The league is full of them. And like Melo, most are highly-contributing players on their teams. You can think of guys like JR Smith, Jamal Crawford, Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay, JR (Isaiah) Rider (you still out there buddy?!?) that fit the mold. But they rarely, if ever, are important cogs on championship teams. Yet players in the Paul George mold (King James, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Tayshaun Prince, etc.) and their squads soldier on into the Conference Finals.
So back to the draft. But first let’s look at the prior NBA draft. Did scouts and teams notice and go after 5-tool-players? Yessir! Picks #1 and #2 were both attempts at finding that guy. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were selected because of the their ceilings for 5-tool-domination. The Hornets/Pelicans and Bobcats selected young athletes with 4 of the 5 boxes checked. They were the same boxes for both…defense, rebounding, passing, and desire. Both had proven their will power in leading the Kentucky Wildcats to the NCAA title as 18-19 year old freshmen. The only slight question in their abilities was scoring the rock (more MKG than Davis). One think NBA staff have found is that it seems easier to coach a young player up to being a impactful offensive player, than it is to coach up the other ares (especially desire and defense). Even the the Wizards pick at #3 (Bradley Beal) has a chance to be a 5-tool-player. From there we saw “specialists” move in the draft. Players like Dion Waiters and Harrison Barnes went to the Cavaliers and Warriors, respectively. Barnes’ case is a good one to assess due to his current play on a huge stage vs. the Spurs in the Western Conference semi-final.
Harrison Barnes, a former #1 recruit out of High School, can get buckets. He is doing it on the biggest level. He led the Warriors in Game 4 with 26 points (9-26 from the field) and is a good rebounder at his position. But the other areas are suspect. He is not a good defender (stiff, mechanical, strong but slow laterally) and is a weakness there. He is also not a good passer (has been a lead scorer his entire hoops life). And after the kind of disappointing run he had at UNC, his will/desire can’t be checked yet either. So even though he is looking really good (and this not a knock on Barnes in actuality, he can be a really good player and I am a fan) you have to see the whole picture. Realize he is scoring because the Spurs are making him. They are leaving Tony Parker and Gary Neal on him defensive to lock up shooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. He is scoring, but doing it very inefficiently against the other teams weakest defender.
So with the 2013 draft approaching, get out your notebooks, watch some tape/games, and check off your 5-tool-player sheet. Some of the draft’s top talent appear to be legitimate shots at “tooly” players. Do you want your team moving into the future with an explosive, one-tooled player…or a youngster with the value-pack ready to be a two-way player and lead a team to the promised land? No love for regular season domination here…we want CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS! Here are my favorites for “5-tool” status and players I have questions about in the 2013 draft:
- Nerlens Noel– He’s projected #1 for a reason. Great defender and rebounder. Good passer and appears to have the desire. His offensive needs lots of growth, but he will not be a weakness there.
- Victor Oladipo– Top 10 pick. Tenacious defender (think Tony Allen). Has the desire by the pound. Good rebounder with his springs, strength, and IQ. Can slash/score, but will have to prove he can shoot in the NBA. Needs to improve his passing (which I believe he can) but has the smarts and skills to better his teammates.
- Otto Porter– Top 5 pick. Guy just has solid all-around game. Positive impact at every area. Question is just how high his ceiling is. Can he grow to be a superstar and dominant in areas, or will he always be solid. Good problem to have.
- Anthony Bennett– Top 10 pick. This is a guy I am very high on that others disagree with. I think he has the tools to be a 5-tool-player. He is a high-level scorer (and versatile scorer) for his position. He rebounds without trying and as he gets smarter can become a tough boards guy. He is not a weakness on defense now…and has the strength and athleticism to lock guys down in the future. And he seems driven to me (played through a torn rotator cuff) as a young player.
- Jamaal Franklin– Late 1st, Early 2nd round pick. My sleeper of the bunch. Franklin is tough as nails and has the desire and leadership aspects in tons. He is a tough, plus defender and rebounds at an almost elite level for his size/position. He is a moderate passer but not bad, and he can score well. He slashes and attacks, while shooting respectively. Franklin has the full package.
- Shabazz Muhammad– Top 10 pick. Here’s your Melo! Bazz has been a scorer and will be a scorer. He is a defensive weakness and has not shown a desire to be a rebounder or facilitator. He can get you buckets…but that will be his role.
- Cody Zeller– Top 10 pick. Has great post moves. Can shoot out to a decent range. Has the will/desire you love, great competitor. Good passer in the post, plus there. Struggled to defend in college, will be a weakness on an NBA court. Not a great rebounder for his size, will struggle even more with length and strength of NBA boarders.
- Ben McLemore– Top 3 pick. I like Mac so it’s hard to conclude this, but he is not a (nor do I think he will be a) 5-tool-player. He is a great shooter (gorgeous form, teach kids with it). Defensively he is ok and can be plus. He needs to improve his rebounding. But his passing and desire/will are what I think he lacks. He just does’t create anything or adapt to defensive pressure on himself like great players must do. he also seems to disappear from games (or have a cold night) and just phase out/ghost from the game. This is troubling to me. He can be a great scorer and complimentary player in the NBA, but I just don’t think he will be the 5-tool-player I think teams need for titles.