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The Art of Prediction January 25, 2010

Posted by dczarum in Uncategorized.
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…There’s a man who sits and (plays with the control panel), and the guitar turns into a piano, or something. And you may say, ‘Why don’t you just use a piano?’. Because the piano sounds like a guitar”.

– Richard Starkey (aka. Ringo Starr)

In that slapstick, deadpan, Liverpool delivery, Ringo, of all people, managed to somehow put it into perspective: When it comes to the NBA, more often than not, nothing is as it seems. Despite every measurable means of analysis and prediction, there’s just no way to really know what will occur over the course of a game, season, or career. Players and teams alike defy conventional wisdom and find themselves in situations of surprising success (the 2010 Memphis Grizzlies) or abject failure (Adam Morrison). Certainly this wave of unpredictability seems to have transpired over the infancy of the career of Los Angeles Clippers’ rookie forward, Blake Griffin.

Last week it was announced that Griffin, the reigning 1st overall selection, would undergo arthroscopic knee surgery and, like Greg Oden before him, will not play a single game in his rookie year. History suggests that when Griffin returns, he will be a shadow of his college-self. This is devastating, considering that this is a player who, in a March ’09 piece, I referred to as a combination of “Kenyon Martin on the Nets and a young Charles Barkley, mixed with a Komodo dragon”. Having been anointed as the man who will bring relevancy to the Clips, Griffin’s future is now in limbo. That’s the problem with getting overly excited about NBA prospects: we don’t know what will happen. There are simply too many factors (injuries, poor coaching, drugs, etc.) that pre-draft scouting cannot account for.

If we’re being honest, the art of evaluating NBA prospects is little more than a crapshoot. Based on a relatively small sample size of often-misleading game tapes, scouting reports, and anecdotal evidence, we, as fans, are left to determine whether or not a certain player will be successful in the NBA. At some point during this process it becomes clear that a prospect is either going to be a solid contributor, a wildcard (that cute girl walking toward you on the street, only you’re not wearing your glasses, so you aren’t exactly sure that she’s as attractive as you think, and you won’t really know until she passes you…alright, maybe that just happens to me), or a complete dud. Last year, Blake Griffin superseded traditional scouting. He was a natural-born physical specimen with all of the skills and intangibles befitting of a sure-fire superstar. Now, we can’t be so sure. I acknowledge that Griffin is 20 years old (young, even by NBA standards) and that players like Amar’e Stoudemire have returned from similar injuries while maintaining their athleticism, yet I can’t help but be worried that NBA fans will always wonder ‘what could have been?’ But not to fret; I’ve been wrong before, and hopefully this is another in a long history of misreads and overreactions.