I chose to post this on a Spurs blog because of the nature of what follows. This is about diversity, and there is perhaps a no more diverse franchise in professional sports than the San Antonio Spurs.
The NBA Draft will take place in a couple of months, and as different kids across the country make their announcements to the world about entering the draft or staying in school, mock drafts flood the internet.
Most of the mock drafts I see are similar, with the same guys going as lottery picks to pretty much the same teams. They differ, like all mock drafts in any sport, as they go deeper.
Now, I understand that the NBA game is different than the college game. As such, certain college stars and their skills may not transfer to the NBA as well as others. You need size, speed and the ability to create your own shot to make it in the NBA. A lot of college guys who stand out in college are the product of the system they play in and usually lack one of those three important traits.
There are two guys who are both mentioned in pretty much every mock draft I read who possess incredibly similar styles and skills. Both of these guys, in my opinion, have the potential to have long and successful NBA careers. The issue I have is with the difference in their projected draft positions.
Let's look at a blind description of both players.
Player X is 6'8, 240 pound 20 year-old forward who just finished his freshman season. He averaged 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and one assist per game. He plays in one of the tougher "mid-major" conferences in the country and led his team to the NCAA Tournament where they lost in the round of 64. He has a solid post game and is an effective 3-point shooter (.375).
Player Y is a 6'8, 225 pound 21 year-old forward who just finished his junior season. He averaged 23.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. He plays in one of the tougher 'mid major" conferences in the country and led his team to the NCAA Tournament where they lost in the round of 32. He has a solid post game and is an effective 3-point shooter (.490).
These players are not exactly the same, but they are extremely similar according to their descriptions. Nonetheless, one of them appears as a lottery pick in nearly every mock draft I've seen, while the other is projected as a late first or early second round pick in most mocks.
How can this be? How can NBA scouts and analysts place nearly a full round worth of value on one of these two players over the other?
Well, this is the tough part, and you know it's coming.
Player X is UNLV's Anthony Bennett. Bennett is black. He has been compared to former UNLV great Larry Johnson and the mound of rebound, Sir Charles Barkley. He is the consensus lottery pick.
Anthony Bennett's game is nothing like Johnson or Barkley's. Doug McDermott's game is nothing like Fredette or Morrison's and certainly not like Bird's.
If anything, Bennett and McDermott's game resemble each others. Bennett is a bit more powerful underneath, while McDermott relies more on angles. Both can run the floor, pass the ball effectively, rebound with the best of them and shoot from anywhere.
Both are as complete as any player available in this year's draft.
Interestingly, we tend to shy away from comparing athletes to other athletes who are not the same skin color. You don't hear people compare Bennett to David Lee, a power forward who can run the floor and shoot a spot-up jumper. You don't hear people comparing McDermott to Carmello Anthony, a crafty small-forward with average speed and a knack for finding the rim in traffic or from outside.
You don't hear those things because we are afraid, for some reason, to make those comparisons. We've been trained to divide players into categories by skin color rather than skill.
The San Antonio Spurs are an example of a colorblind team. They are the "Moneyball" team of the NBA. The only thing that matters to them are results, regardless of what you look like doing it. They've built a dynasty by ignoring perception and focusing on production.
Until the rest of the basketball world follows suit, players will continue to walk away from the colorful world of college basketball and into a black and white NBA.