by Jack Maidment
It is up there with all of the other clichés, but it is oh so very true: you can’t teach tall.
Of all the world’s popular games, basketball more than any other (except perhaps sumo wrestling) is best suited to those people with a very specific body type.
That is not to say that a tall player is guaranteed to be a good basketball player and similarly a vertically challenged player is not guaranteed to be ineffective. You only have to look at the success that many players have had despite measuring up at less than 6 feet: Allen Iversen. No elaboration needed.
However, one thing that is assured is that an extremely tall person with very little skill or experience is more likely to be picked up than a shorter player with above average skills: they may not be able to make a jump shot, but their mere physical presence on the court is enough to warrant a roster spot.
This may be the case at pick up games, high school and even college, but height is not enough to assure success at the professional level.
The importance of a physically imposing post presence to success in the NBA has made the drafting of 7 footers a troublesome and unpredictable business. The search for the next Shaq or Duncan or Wilt and the Championships that would surely follow has caused the demise of many an aspiring GM, consumed by the possibility of unearthing that monster of a man who also possesses the craft to do more than just get in the way and occupy space.
The fact that very, very few players come out of college and into the Draft as the finished product leads those in charge to place huge amounts of emphasis on a player’s potential. ‘He is 7-3, imagine what he COULD be!’.
Alas, most don’t work out that way and that is by no means their fault. The pressure placed on a player drafted high to grow as the GM promised he would is simply a case of misguided expectations.
It is with this in mind that Hasheem Thabeet’s rookie campaign will garner much attention and criticism. You cannot go second overall and not expect media attention, but when you were taken ahead of a number of other exceptional players who apparently could contribute more immediately seemingly because you were simply much taller than them is a sure fire way to attract detractors.
Regardless of the alleged politics surrounding the Memphis Grizzlies #2 pick i.e. Ricky Rubio not wanting to play their, Thabeet has much to do to repay the faith placed in him by the franchise. They believe that he will grow and mature into a player capable of dominating the floor, the anchor to their team.
The major positive for the Tanzanian is that he has got to where he is now despite only taking up the game at the age of 15. That would certainly suggest that he has much to learn and that what he has learnt he has done so in a very short space of time. Given a few years to develop and who knows how good he can be.
The expectations of most people, outside of the Grizzlies hierarchy, are that #2 was just too high for a player who brings relatively little to the table at the moment. So few genuine Big Men have gone on to fulfil the promise that their height has the potential to allow that the bar will be low set for Thabeet: nobody expects him to really excel, nobody will have him pegged as a Rookie of the Year candidate despite having gone second overall.
Perhaps that is unfair, but historically the vast majority of NBA giants have failed to ignite the game as those that drafted them may have wished.
No player taken this year will have a harder task than Thabeet in trying to finish where they started. Ranked the #2 rookie at the end of the season?
A tall order indeed.