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What Separates NBA Players from Non-NBA Players?

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What is the single most common attribute that fringe players lack that NBA players have?  Ben from Blazers Edge posed this very question yesterday afternoon, with varied responses.  Go over there and read all of the comments, but I've taken those that seem to make the most sense and broken them down here for you, loyal reader.

  • A niche is what everyone is told in the D-League - "Just concentrate on doing one thing well and you'll get a call-up."  Rod Benson averaged over 12 boards last season and hasn't seen an NBA contract yet.  Stephane Lasme was the Defensive Player of the Year last year, yet he's somewhere overseas this season.
  • Every basketball player has some sort of athletic ability.  Very few though, will be able to make an NBA career simply because they're more athletic than the other nine players on the court.  The majority of players in the NBA simply via their athleticism are drafted into the NBA, so they've got to work off that opportunity to round out their game in the big leagues.  There aren't very many 25 year old athletes that the NBA is looking at.
  • Basketball IQ is so hard to measure, so I'm not sure that alone can be used to separates players from the NBA and the non-NBA.  There are plenty of basketball players well aware of how to play basketball, but simply don't have the size,athleticsm, height, and opportunity.  I'd think a player like Walker Russell Jr., whose father (now a Knicks scout) and uncle (Campy Russell) both have lengthy experience in the NBA would mean that Russell has a high basketball IQ.  His 10.8 assists per game this season would seem to indicate I'm right, but regardless, no looks for WRJ.
  • Scoring ability is something I've argued over there in the comments about a bit already, so I won't get too in-depth here.  Scoring ability alone is not going to get anybody a look if they're trying to make the NBA.  Summing it up, here's a brief conversation between myself and BEdger TwoDeep:  TD: Ability to score! Against bonafide NBA players that is. Not D-Leaguers or summer leaguers. We’re not talking about just shooters here …. we’re talking about those with that innate ability to score. RS: So you have to play in the NBA to make an NBA team? Sounds easy enough.. TD:  "Ability" to score against NBA'ers.. RS: How do you show that? You’d have to be playing in the NBA to show that you have the ability score against NBA’ers if you’re discounting the D-League and Summer League…
  • Height: It's true that many players are drafted based simply on height.  This attribute, however, isn't going to get anyone into the NBA if they're not drafted.  If that was the case, Aristide Sawadogo should be in the NBA.
  • Work ethic: This would seem to make sense, but it doesn't.  I don't know how it's possible that players in the D-League, playing for $15,000 a season toa make it to the NBA can be considered to have a lesser work ethic than an NBA player that was handed millions of dollars straight out of college.
  • A wicked jump shot what was one of the options.  I thought wicked went out of style a long time ago, but keep it alive, Portland.  Anyway, Blake Ahearn has the best jumper in the D-League.  He probably has a better shot than 95% of the players in the NBA.  Yet he still ended up playing in the D-League this season.

The one thing that separates NBA players from non-NBA players is opportunity.  In the D-League, there are many players that have shown they can play well.  Players have all of the skills mentioned, but very few of them get a look in the NBA, at least during the regular season.  Some don't even get a look in the off-season.  Fact of the matter is, if a player isn't given the opportunity straight out college by getting drafted, he's facing a tough up-hill battle to make it to the NBA.

    I've highlighted a couple of players after the jump that simply haven't been given an opportunity, but do certainly deserve at least a look from the NBA.

For Othyus Jeffers, his coming out of an NAIA school (along with other things in his past) didn't get him noticed until the end of the D-League season.  Does this mean he wasn't talented enough to play in the NBA last season?  No, it just means that he wasn't invited to showcase his abilities coming of Robert Morris-Chicago.  He has athleticism, heart, speed, swagger, stick-to-it-iveness and length.  That's six different things that people mentioned that make non-NBA players NBA players.  Yet he's not (yet) an NBA player.

For Will Frisby, I have no idea what's keeping him out of the NBA.  It's simply opportunity.  At Miami, Frisby started 23 games for the Hurricanes in the ACC, with his best scoring game coming against Duke (18) and his best rebounding performance coming against a Luke Schenscher led Georgia Tech (13).  Surely this would get him a look, but it didn't.  Next, he played well overseas for a season, but this didn't get him a look.  The past two seasons, he's went rather unnoticed in Dakota, but he has been noticed by other teams.  He can score, but has been the fourth or fifth option on a good team his entire career.  He has a great work ethic, as he's consistently the first player on the court before games.  He knows the game.  He's a great guy.  Yet still, he hasn't even had an offer for a tryout with an NBA team this offseason.

For Lanny Smith, it simply comes down to injury problems.  After breaking his foot his original senior season, he just hasn't had the opportunity to play at the level he can play at since. "The doctors told me I would never be the same player and might not play again after I broke my foot. I like proving people wrong.... I still got a little ways to go til I'm back 2 being the player I was before the injury. but I'm definitely on my way. LBOOGIE is coming."  It's not easy to come back from what could have been a career-ending injury, but Smith is on his way.  As soon as he's completely healthy, it won't be surprising to see him on an NBA roster.

If he's given the opportunity.