When looking at a player and trying to determine what their potential is, and, more importantly, whether or not they’ll be able to achieve that potential, I feel the need to consider what I am asking them to change. If I “thin slice” my reaction (stealing ignorantly from Malcolm Gladwell), is the focus on:
A. Skills – What a player can or can’t do. Does he need a better handle? a more consistent jumper? to learn to go to his left? better defensive rotations?
B. Attributes – Who a player is or isn’t?. Does he need to overcome a lack of size or quickness? Does he need to get stronger? Does he need to become more mature? more focused? more consistent? more confident? less timid? get better judgment (on or off the court)? become less selfish? become less passive? better deal with adversity? The infamous – “if he can only get his head on straight”?
It seems to me that if my thoughts go immediately to A – Skills, then it’s someone I can reasonably expect to be able to “coach up” towards their potential. They may not achieve it entirely, but the progress should be there.
If I immediately focus on B, then I’m much less optimistic. Consider the following:
Does the player appear to have trouble behaving properly both inside and outside of the framework of the team?
Is he horribly inconsistent, but that inconsistency doesn’t come from a mechanical problem within his game?
When you describe needed areas of improvement, does it disproportionately trend towards traits inherent to his personality?
When I ask someone to address issues in category A, I’m asking them to become better basketball players. They can get in a gym with a coach, have practical approaches and drills, and see a clear path towards a goal with measurable benchmarks.
When I need someone to change aspects in category B, then – in effect – I’m asking them to become different people. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people, or that they need to become better people. It just means that their limitations on the basketball court are driven by who they are far more than what they can or can’t do.
The former creates both expectations and hope for the team and those players. The latter breeds only doubt.
As we enter the summer and look at current Pacer players expected to return, potential trade targets, free agents, and rookies, take a little time to think about what they bring to the table. Then, when considering what’s missing, ask yourself whether you need them to become a better basketball player, or a different person.