Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hansborough's Skill Set Won't Cut it in the NBA

When it comes to professional sports, athleticism reigns supreme. Dominant players in the upper ranks ultimately have success because they can jump high, hit hard, or run fast (among other abilities). Take a guy like Lebron James...he simply overpowers his opponents because is athletically superior. It's not the other guy's fault; it's just that he is hard to stop because of some of the things he can do on the court. In the end, that is the million dollar question: Can you stand up to the athleticism of the pros?

The reason why I'm bringing this up is because of an argument that I've heard many people having lately. As Thursday's NBA Draft approaches, there has been extensive media coverage of many of the league's potential newcomers. Blake Griffin, who will be chosen by the Clippers with the #1 overall pick, doesn't have any doubters regarding his athleticism. But others in the draft, and I'm going to go ahead and really go after Tyler Hansborough, may not be able to measure up to the league's premier athletes. Sure, Hansborough was the quintessential college basketball player...huge heart, maximum effort, mental and physical toughness, good student of the game. But he has never showed me the sheer atheltic ability and body size needed to succeed in the NBA.

Hansborough nearly reached legendary status at University of North Carolina with effort and passion as his driving forces. Those attributes made him a relentless player both mentally and physically and ultimately were the reasons that he was able to achieve so many great accolades. But outside of a handful of authoritative dunks, Hansborough never really showed above average athleticism. I'd even say that half the time he shot the ball, it looked like he was merely throwing it towards the basket, hoping for it to go in. Let's just say that "grace" should not be his middle name. Don't get me wrong, the guy made a hell of a name for himself doing everything it took to win...and he was rewarded for it. He was one of the centerpieces on two NCAA championship-winning teams under Roy Williams, so he is a proven winner. But none of that gets you anywhere at the next level. It's great that he loves the game of basketball and tries his ass off every minute he is on the floor, but the NBA is about physicality, size, and athleticism. You don't get an A for effort anymore.

While his effort may not be rewarded at the next level, his height will give him an advantage, right? Well let's see here...Hansborough is listed at 6' 10" in his NBA draft profile, but I've seen him listed several times at 6' 8" including his UNC player profile. I sure don't think he looks 6' 10", but let's just say he is. In the college game, a player is immediately considered to be at least a mild threat if he has that kind of size. In the professional game, it's more like "Okay, it's great that you're tall, but what else can you do?" Nearly everybody that plays the 3, 4, or 5 positions in the NBA is going to be pretty damn tall.

So if you now take Hansborough's height and throw it to the wayside, what else is he honestly going to do for an NBA team? He doesn't have a consistent shot, especially anything outside a mid-range jumper. He won't be able to make a living in the paint because he'll be guarded by players that are bigger and stronger. He's also not going to blow by anybody off the dribble because his ball-handling skills and speed are below average. Listen, I know I'm ragging on the kid, but there are too many people out there that truly believe Hansborough is going to be a household name in the NBA. I realize that if he works hard like he typically does, he will be able to improve under the tutelage of the nation's best basketball minds. But, in my opinion, you are sorely mistaken if you think Tyler Hansborough is going to burst on the NBA scene and make a splash. I think it will be a ripple at best if we're going to stick with the metaphor.

I understand the desire for your favorite college basketball players to succeed in the pros. I love following my favorite athletes from the college level, especially basketball. But sometimes your hopes for them are unrealistic. You also have to understand that the college game and pro game are very different. In college, effort, courage, enthusiasm, and passion go a long way, but in the pros the question solely becomes "are you athletic enough to compete?" Now I'm not saying any of those intangible attributes don't help you as a professional, but in the end, you need to be able to compete physically.

Hansborough is just another example of a player whose college game may not translate well to the professional game. It happens every year in sports. So as I look at this year's NBA draft field, I see guys like Hansborough, who did everything well in college, but may not succeed as a pro. On the other end of the spectrum, you take a guy like B.J. Mullens (Ohio St.) that looked like nothing more than a dead oak tree on the court last year. Mullens is expected to be a mid-first round pick because of his 7' 1" size. To be an elite player in the NBA, you have to have a specific set of skills and attributes...and unfortunately for guys like Hansborough, they may not have what it takes.

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