It’s been repeated so often as to be cliched: talent rules the NBA. Maybe it does. LeBron James, the most lauded prospect in recent memory, has been a dominant force in the NBA since his fourth season. Kevin Durant, a consensus first overall pick, has also been a dominant force. In both these cases, we can see in their body types and athleticism why they’ve dominated.
They’ve also developed into exceptionally skilled basketball players. Their respective skill levels are as high if not higher than any other player’s in the NBA.
In the draft, there are way more hits than misses. Recognizing body type and athleticism is easy; knowing the type of person and whether the individual will develop that talent to an NBA level is incredibly hard.
Detroit Pistons: Talent matters, but so does culture
The Detroit Pistons and Pistons fans recently lost the draft lottery, and Victor Wembanyama, the most lauded draft pick since James, will play for at least four years in San Antonio. While I hope Wembanyama enjoys a successful career in the NBA, I know that his future is uncertain, as the futures of all draft picks are uncertain.
As I watch GM after GM trade away their entire future for a talented player, I continuously think the NBA overvalues talent.
My sense is that the future in Phoenix isn’t as bright as it was a couple of years ago. The Lakers will be hampered by Anthony Davis’ extension, and teams like Dallas, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn will continue to be haunted by the choices they’ve made to try to put talent around a single star or the sacrifices they’ve made to create a top-heavy team.
Teams win basketball, and the teams that build a culture and develop their players compete every year. Miami, Boston, and San Antonio (whose star has dipped in recent years) have all shown this archetype to great effect. Golden State and Milwaukee recently won championships using this model for success.
Yes, they had exceptional talent, but they built through the draft and developed that talent within their culture.
While the Pistons missed out on Victor Wembanyama, I think it’ll be good for the league for him to go to a team with a well-defined culture and identity. I also think the Pistons have an exceptional player in Ausar Thompson who fits exceptionally well with the team.
The Detroit Pistons have an identity: The Good Guys. They’re a group of high-character, hardworking, disciplined, and intelligent ball players.
Talent comes with a million questions. Player development and how an organization responds to the inevitable adversity they face will define the future of a franchise.
The Pistons are no exception.