However, if the history of the draft has taught us anything, its that the best laid plans go to waste once the tide of battle commences. For all the planning, posturing, and pontificating that goes on during the build up to June 28th, never has a career been made simply by being a lottery pick. Truly, if going number one or two overall was a guarantee for success, than the likes of Sam Bowie and Michael Olowokandi wouldnt invoke the type of thoughts going through your minds as you read this now.
There is no questioning that a prospects draft ranking does have some intrinsic value. For one, the spot holds a financial value that substantially changes as the picks fly off the board. Also, the draft order is still an educated process that entails careful attention to the most finite of physical details. Seasonal statistics and game analysis, workout performance, measurements, weight, drill times, the list goes on. These are all indicators of the latent potential of any athlete coming into the league, and many of them give a great deal of insight into what a player is capable of.
But, in all of this it is key to remember that the process truly is a testament to PROBABILITIES and POTENTIAL, it is not and never will be an exact science. There has never been a draft where hindsight hasnt altered the rankings and draft strategy of the minds that make the decisions. Despite all the resources and planning, there is no current measure for how the NBA environment will effect a players impact on the league, and so the Josh Howards, Manu Ginobillis and Steve Nashs of the world come to be.
So, what is the lesson in all of this? As the title above states, success is predicated on opportunity, and opportunity is afforded to those fortunate few who find the proper situational environment for them to excel in. There are players in this league who have had great talent, but lost their moment to shine because the opportunity never came to pass. Other players have gone unnoticed and underappreciated until the right situation sprung them from the depths of anonymity and into the spotlight.
Pro trainer David Thorpe describes this best with his use of the term Alligator Blood. Players with Alligator Blood are those that have the discipline and mental fortitude to remain focused and seize their opportunity when it arrives. Far too many players obsess over the chances they feel they are entitled to and when those opportunities dont manifest, the player will lose focus, and a part of the competitive spirit which once made him great may die off forever. But, for those that constantly prepare and bide their time with the hunger to succeed, when the chance comes they are ready.
Of course, there are varying degrees of patience and persistence when it comes to finding opportunity and realizing potential. Players such as Ryan Gomes this past season had only to deal with the initial disappointment of an extremely low draft position and a half-season wait to prove the pundits wrong. Gomes was a highly decorated player, earning first team All-American honors during his collegiate career. But, questions about his NBA position as well as a perceived lack of athleticism found this once highly thought of prospect plummeting down to pick 50 in the draft. But, injuries to Bostons main rotation players coupled with Gomes relentless approach to preparation finally paid dividends and Gomes went on to earn Second-Team All-Rookie honors despite being benched for months.
There is also the cases of Rashard Lewis and Brad Miller to consider. Who can forget the look of anguish and isolation on the face of a then 18 year old Lewis as pick after pick was made while the youngster sat in the Green Room in stunned silence. The heart felt tears of bitterness toward his home town Rockets, who supposedly promised to pick him with one of their 3 first rounders (hello Mirsad Turkcan) were a palpable reminder of the colder side of the draft process.
While Lewis had the misfortune of sliding out of the first round, Brad Miller slid out of the draft all together. Miller was a solid, if unspectacular player at Purdue and despite his size and mobility, was not considered a worthy pick as even a project player due to his age, making him a player with no upside.
But instead of letting adversity and negativity consume them, both players set out and showed just how trivial draft position can be. Lewis has a 50 point game and two All Star appearances on his NBA resume, while one time All Star Miller is considered to be one of the most versatile and skilled centers in the entire league. These two took what was given and laughed their way to the bank.
When looking at the mock drafts and seeing the mass speculation into player Xs ability versus Player Ys shortcomings, it is amazing how little these rankings may mean in the long run, yet how ardently they are scrutinized over. In 4 years time, when rookie contracts are expiring and the real money is being laid on the table, is it going to matter if Tyrus Thomas was projected at number 7 overall by DraftExpress.com on May 23rd , 2006? What if Bostons support structure and team chemistry are the key elements that allow a young and unpolished player like Thomas to come in and develop at the speed he needs? What if this environment is what allows him to maintain his confidence, his edge, his Alligator Blood, so when the bell rings and its time for him to take center stage he will be ready to be his best?
Its easy to assume that a player with great natural ability will automatically realize his potential in any situation given such basics as playing time and coaching. But, the game is so much more intricate than that, just as life is more complicated than simply waking up and driving to work in the morning. The interactions and relationships one has with coworkers, supervisors, teammates and coaches are going to be the foundation elements of happiness and productivity in the workplace.
Going off the logic that simple draft position and the talent that earned it was enough to determine success, what is the explanation for players such as Jermaine ONeal, and Boris Diaw, who realized little of their ability with their initial teams, only to blossom in different circumstances. Truly, Darko Milicic and Kwame Brown have just started to give a glimpse of similar metamorphoses as players after failing to live up to expectation and buckling under the weight of lofty draft position.
The bottom line is this: Success is predicated on variables far beyond anyones ability to measure with complete accuracy. No persons true worth in any sense of the word can be summed up by a number ranked 1 through 30. Rarely do players such as Tim Duncan and LeBron James come along. Most players rely on far more than physical talent to succeed, and even those such as James are special because of the so-called intangibles they possess. At the end of the day, players are remembered for what they accomplish after theyre drafted, and the number they got selected at holds little significance. Its the situation one gets drafted into that allows for all the rest to unfold and that is a measure yet unquantifiable.