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Dispelling The Myth of an NBA Talent Shortage

Does the NBA really suffer from a talent shortage or are there other factors that are hiding the real cause behind this myth?

Edited by Tiffany Villigan

Mpu Dinani

"Seattle is a wonderful market. It would be very additive to the league to have a team there.  But we're not planning on expanding right now so it's not a function of price.  I, and the owners, will look at not only dilution of economic opportunities with one more partner to divide national and international money but also dilution of talent."

-NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
February, 2014

Is the NBA really subject to talent dilution? Is expansion part of this problem or are there other factors that come into play in this, what I shall call a myth?

The Rise of the Super Team

Up until the last half decade the only way you could get two alpha dog All-Star players on the same team was by drafting them or fleecing another team in a trade (see: Charles Barkley to the Phoenix Suns). Through the 80s into the late 90s, think about all the amazing duos we had in the NBA, most drafted together, most winning a championship together. That list would include Magic Johnson-James Worthy, Larry Bird-Kevin McHale, Gary Payton-Shawn Kemp, Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen, John Stockton-Karl Malone, Shaq-Kobe Bryant and Barkley-Kevin Johnson. There are others and I could definitely continue.

Now you have the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up in Miami, until LeBron decided to go back to Cleveland to team up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In two years another superstar is going to have a chance to bolt his current team and form a super team. Will Kevin Durant stay in OKC with a miserly owner or will he return home to partner up with John Wall and Bradley Beal? Or will he be wooed to Houston to team up with Dwight Howard and former teammate James Harden?

In a few years what will we be saying about Anthony Davis? What potential super team will he form when he leaves New Orleans?

Combining multiple top-15 players on a select amount of teams not only spreads the talent thinner, but it pulls stars out of smaller markets. How can a Minnesota, Sacramento, New Orleans or Indiana succeed in this current imbalance?

Horrible Front Office Decisions

In recent years we have seen a slew of inept general managers, presidents and owners. For some reason some of these gauche executives were allowed to keep their jobs years beyond when they should have been fired. The travesty upon that is most of the idiots (not named David Kahn) will ultimately get a second, third, fourth and even sometimes a fifth chance to run an NBA franchise into the ground.

Two great recent examples of this come back to Cleveland and Minnesota. If Danny Ferry had managed to put a competent supporting core around James in 2009-10, would he have left for Miami? Probably not. Instead James had to carry Mo Williams, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe, a past-his-prime Antawn Jamison and the corpse of Shaq.  That wasn't going to get the job done. Cleveland was bounced in the second round, LeBron bolted and Ferry was out of a job for two seasons.

Let's bring Kahn back up again. He took over the role as the Timberwolves GM in 2009, the year after Kevin Love was drafted. In his first draft Kahn selected Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson in the first round, passing on Stephen Curry twice. The next season he drafted Wesley Johnson for some reason, then no draft picks the next two years before rebounding with Shabazz Muhammad and overpaying both Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer.

Kahn was ousted, Love lost all faith in Minnesota being able to build a winner and levied an ultimatum which led to him being traded to Cleveland. For both Cleveland and Minnesota, the issue wasn't a shortage in the talent pool; it was not knowing how to pick from the talent pool.

Terrible Draft Talent Evaluation

Nikoloz Tskitishvili. Dajuan Wagner. Jarvis Hayes. Michael Sweetney. Darko Milicic. Rafael Araujo. Luke Jackson. Yaroslav Korolev. Patrick O'Bryant. Mouhamed Sene. Yi Jianlian. Joe Alexander. Hasheem Thabeet. Ekpe Udoh. Jan Vesely. Austin Rivers.

Here are a few things all these players have had in common: they were all lottery picks, they were actually all top-ten picks, they all had amazing individual team workouts, all showed amazing promise and upside, showed dominance in their amateur careers and only one GM double dipped (Ferry with Wagner and Jackson).

Half of these picks were made before the widely accepted use of advanced statistics; the other half were made when they were readily available. Over the last few years we have seen a rise in various statistics, charting players as far back as junior high, showing progressives on their shot charts from every spot on the floor with accompanying video if wanted.

Even before these types of stats on the youth players were available, there was still game film available on all these busted picks. Yet Yi was still drafted when he was only posting up chairs, and Luke Jackson didn't all of a sudden have concrete in his shoes when he joined the NBA.

Every year multiple players like this -- players that will be out of the league after their first contract, players that will never even sniff the line of being at replacement level, a player taking up one of the 450 coveted roster spots in the greatest sports league in the world -- are drafted.

You're telling me that Pierre Jackson (not in the NBA) couldn't perform better than Austin Rivers?

Equally Poor Player Development

Most players enter the league before they are of legal drinking age and are continuing to develop who they are not only as players, but as people as well. Having the correct leadership and guidance through this transition period for these newly minted millionaires is crucial.

The average male does not reach full mental maturity until his early 40s. More importantly, it isn't until the ages of 22-24 that a male reaches full cognitive maturity. Thus, most NBA players are still growing emotionally and intellectually when they are drafted. When a player is physically ready, but not emotionally ready, this will tend to hold a player back even more so than a coach having that same player run all day or drilling fundamentals until his fingers bleed.

That isn't to say that improving the physical side of the game isn't important. But you have a player such as a Michael Jordan who always came back from the summer off with a new move, a new skill and better than he was the previous season. He had the will and mental make-up to be better than everyone else and he would not be happy until he was.

As the world of sports science evolves, we see it is not only important to take care of the body, but also the mind. Maybe not every player naturally has the drive that Michael Jordan had to continue working just as hard in the offseason as during the playing season, but with the right player development staff, those still-maturing new millionaires can be convinced to keep working hard to improve themselves, strengthening the value of their talent.

The Future?

The 2000 and 2001 drafts are often considered some of the worst to have ever happened, with the recent 2013 draft being right up there as well. 2003 is widely regarded as the best with 2014 being one of the deepest. What does this have to do with the future?

The 2015 draft is not only deep, but extremely top-heavy talented, bringing the franchise center back into fashion with Jahlil Okafor and Karl Towns. The 2016 draft is going to be loaded with long, athletic wing players like Jaylen Brown. Then in 2017 you have Thon Maker, Michael Cage Jr. and others. That is even before we throw in Euro players like Tadas Sedekerskis (GOAT of his generation potential), Rodions Kurucs and Eric Martinez.

With the influx of highly talented youth that is about to invade the NBA from all over the world -- and with improved front offices and player development guidance -- you'll change your mind, Mr. Silver. Soon 32 teams won't be enough and putting teams in Sioux Falls, Omaha, Calgary and Boise won't sound like that bad of an idea. Oh yeah, the D-League will more than likely be a profitable organization as well.