Monday, June 26, 2006

Flash and Sizzle

Dr. Dave wrote over the weekend:

>>I'm probably slow but an interesting thought occurred to me: something that should and probably does influence a GM's decision on draft day is a player's potential marketability (endorsements, publicity, image, etc.) This could have an enormous residual effect on the drafting franchise, could it not? Without a clearcut "STAR" this year, who would you say could bring the most pizzazz to the table?<<

Not slow at all, my friend. In fact you're very timely. You just reminded me of a couple of reasons not to draft someone...reasons appropriate to this draft in particular precisely because of the characteristics you mentioned.

If there were a Lebron or Shaq in this draft the star power pick would be a no-brainer. (Assuming we had the #1.) But notice that the fame follows the talent in those cases, not the other way around. I mention this because almost every year there's a popular guy out there who seems like a potential star, either because of personality or occasional brilliance on the court. We fans salivate at the idea of grabbing him with a low to mid-round pick. But those guys almost never pan out. My theory is that if the media can make a star out of you, they will, because that's what they look for...marketable players. I'm comfortable with bona fide superstars. I'm comfortable with guys who are unknown either because the media hasn't found them yet or because their game is just solid and you know what you're going to get out of them (but it's not superstardom). I'm uncomfortable with guys the media has tried to hype but for whatever reason didn't turn out to be anything more than tantalizing. Usually something is wrong there.

Long-time Blazer fans might remember Florida center Dwayne Schintzius. He came out of college in 1990 and was originally expected to be a high selection. Because he left his college team mid-season after a battle with the coach his stock dropped in NBA circles, but the media was still all over the guy. In fact the attention was intensified because people knew that this high-profile player wouldn't go early and was going to be a lottery-like steal for somebody later. Though they talked about him from Pick #1 and our fans were getting progressively more excited as he slipped pick after pick towards our 25th spot. He ended up going to the Spurs at #24 amidst a host of Portland groans. All the hype led to a 2.7 career scoring average.

Some people argue that Sebastian Telfair was more of a popularity/hype pick than an honest assessment of talent. The jury's still out on that one.

A rough analogy from football is the Heisman trophy winner each year. Sometimes there's an obvious Reggie Bush (assuming he pans out). But often times the Heisman winner, while arguably the highest profile player, is far from the best for the NFL game.

In short, considering popularity is fine if the talent is there, but that usually means you're picking 1 or 2. Otherwise you're safer ignoring popular sentiment and going with the guy you think will help most even if nobody has heard of him. Indeed, a lot of really good players drafted after the top three were completely unknown coming out of college. Scottie Pippen is one of the most famous examples, but Porter and Kersey are examples from our own history. Even Clyde Drexler was largely under the radar when he was drafted. And last year you could hear the hoots and catcalls resounding from the rafters when the Raptors selected Charlie Villanueva. Most of the media "experts" panned them for the unsexy pick. He actually turned out to be one of the better rookies, producing far more than Martell did, for instance.

I don't think good GMs draft for popularity, and bad GMs don't keep their jobs long. I think this is appropriate, as I'd be really upset if I thought my team was drafting players to get me to buy a ticket (or worse, to help somebody else sell me a shoe) without also being sure that those players were actually the best available.

To answer your original question, The Stache is obviously generating the most national buzz at this point. He's far and away the biggest media figure of all the draftees and would get the most interview/endorsement attention initially and keep the Blazers in the public eye. But over the long haul the player who will sell the most tickets and generate the most attention locally is the player who turns out to be the best on the court and helps produce wins. That's the spark that will keep people coming. If I'm a Morrison fan I might buy a ticket to see him on opening night and maybe go to another game or two later in the season to check up on him, but unless he produces numbers and/or the team wins, that's it. I'm certainly not going to buy season tickets unless one of those two things happens, no matter how great his personality or facile his conversation.

Unless a GM is relatively sure Morrison is the best prospect to generate numbers and/or wins, it would be a huge mistake to draft him. (And hold off Stache fans...he may very well be just that. I'm not making a judgment one way or another. I don't know. I'm just praying Pritchard and Patterson do.) Without those things every player on the team will fall flat in the public eye, making the residual benefit of drafting him almost nil.

Personally I've already decided in my own mind that I'm going to love whoever we draft until he proves me wrong, even if I've never heard of him before. I hope most Blazer fans will do the same even if we don't end up riding their favorite, or the most well-known, horse.

--Dave (


Anonymous fatty said...

here we go again, blind loyalty
hah dave, i'm going to say this
1 last time i'll be playing golf
or riding horses wednsday night
you can root for a piece that's
fine and good bottom line, if
they get the #1 or #2 pick in
335 days from right now, i'll be
at msg with either my g.oden or
h.noah jersey on and i'll have a
sign for all the people of portland and blazers fans around
the world to read and it'll say
"team glory" is back baby
rip city usa is back !!!!!!
ps- every blazer fan should go
to eric's blog a great interview
with m.thompson is on podcast
and everything i've said in
this blog the past 3 weeks
about how pathetic this team
is to fatbo being jettisoned
out of town will be qouted by
thompson see yah dave !!!!
blog for the past 3 weeks

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Dave said...

Unfortunately for sports purists (I'm borderline), professional basketball is a business. The premise of my question came from that angle. Certainly the priority in selecting a player would be his potential on the court. But the more I think about it the more I believe a player's public image has to be considered. Using Morrison as an example, think of the positive message which could be conveyed to those who strive for excellence in spite of diabetes. Another example: long after Jordan left Chicago I'd bet the most popular hat or jersey still selling has BULLS emblazoned across it. True, Dave, there is no substitute for performance in getting us back on the winning track but Lord knows, the Blazer image could use a little spit and polish.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I hope we get both. I'm sure the temptation is there, especially in a small market, to put extra emphasis on popular sentiment...for business reasons just as you said. But I hope it's resisted. I don't think people respond to charismatic stars as much unless there's a lot of talent (and usually winning) to back it up.

And really, what have we ever asked of our players other than they play hard and not be complete dunderheads off the court? (The fact that some guys haven't managed either is a shame.) I suspect the community would rally around a really good player even if he doesn't qualify as commercial endorsement material.

It was a great question Dr. Dave! Thanks!


5:11 PM  

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