The concept of "college late bloomers"

This has been an issue I've thought about for a while, and I'd like other opinions on this: what constitutes a college late bloomer? Normally, this applies to four-year college players who normally have been unhyped in their first several years of college and suddenly explode and make a big impact on the national college basketball scene. While this definition is definitely true, I've recently extended it to those who overachieve or fare much better in the NBA than in college (at least in my opinion of how they fared in college). And there's quite a few cases of this.

One thing I've found, charting drafts 2004 and beyond, and probably might be common knowledge already, is that the players who really succeed way better in the NBA tend to be high work ethic/high character types who 1) really work to enhance their skills for the next level, or 2) develop niche skills (as you'll see, that 3's-D attribute is in particular one of the more valuable ones for staying power). In fact, a perceived lotto pick with one or two years in college with a bad attitude fares much worse than a three or four year-guy with a tough work ethic. Just goes to show you how attitude is a NBA-talent killer and how work ethic can make one look better than they once were. Polar opposites.

The two "late blooming" stars that IMO have developed through rigorous work ethic and toughness are Brandon Roy and Deron Williams. Both were drafted as lottery picks, because scouts realized how special they were at the year of their draft, and many did an about-face regarding their NBA prospects. I remember when both were dubbed as late 1st rounders. Roy in particular was a victim of circumstance, coming off the bench for three years before having the reins handed over to him, so he might be an anomaly as a late bloomer. But still, his college game wasn't all that--in fact, I had him as a mid-2nd rounder (48) even after that breakout year, believe it or not. I still contend his work ethic, toughness, and underrated athleticism allowed him to develop into a 20-5-5 player at his peak.

It's somewhat similar for Deron (60): actually I've found that for whatever reason, strong 6'3" PGs who have a shifty slashing game and passing ability tend to succeed in the league--the forebearers of this technique, Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups, showed success at this in the NBA level. These players tend to stay in school for 3-4 years because of their atypical games, and they normally have questions concerning athleticism/range/whether this stuff will work in the NBA level that holds them back. But it does. Besides Deron, a new wave of PGs (our own Beno Udrih and Ramon Sessions, and maybe Darius Morris) have shown that this style works. I had all these guys ranked from 50-undrafted, believe it or not, but this prototype just tends to overachieve and perhaps with better teammates and more optimization of the court, just allows their slashing/passing to truly thrive. But still Deron was a late bloomer: he had to stay three years in college, wasn't all that hyped, and really struck when the iron was very hot after becoming a warrior in private workouts. And don't discount his work ethic: he really improved his three point shot, improved his body, enhanced his athleticism, and his toughness/competitiveness has always been latent. He's another example of a guy who's fared way better in the NBA than in college.

Undersized strong PF rebounders with good athleticism all fare uncannily well in the NBA. People always say that rebounding's the best attribute that translates to the NBA, and it couldn't be more true than Paul Millsap (30) and David Lee (56). Lee really didn't much in his four years at Florida, to be honest, and some thought he was an underachiever who didn't use his athleticism all that well. Then, the NBA came, and he enhanced his nasty rebounding streak and became more involved in the offense as a pick-and-roll diver or garbage man. While he underachieved this past year he's widely seen as a 15-10 threat, at the worst, now. That same perception also applies to Millsap: three years at Louisiana Tech cemented a perception of him as having magnets for hands, as he'd gobble everything around him. He was that same rebounding force right off the bat in the NBA and has now developed a way better offensive game. For Euros, Anderson Varejao (#51) could also be lumped here, as a rebounding guy who also plays elite defense, as is Chuck Hayes (#48).

So basically, Roy and Williams are the paragons of elite NBA-level success for 3 to 4 year college guards should aspire to be, and for bigs it's way better to be a 6'8-6'9" guy with a strong body and a great rebounding background, if you're a 3 to 4 year player. But of course, it's really heart/dedication that takes players over the top, particularly for the guards. Among drafted players this year, I've already said Darius Morris (#50) fits into that strong PG prototype, but also look at Jordan Williams (#29) who if developed correctly could be a Millsap clone, believe it or not. He has great rebounding ability and a strong body, and seems to be of that ilk. People wonder if Marshon Brooks (#44) is the next Roy, but I don't think he has the all-around game/discipline Roy does. So I'd really look at Morris and Jord.Williams here to see if they can develop into something.

The next set of late bloomers are swingmen who really found a niche as a 3's-D guy at the next level, but like Williams/Roy also had the basketball IQ/savvy/toughness to help with their adjustments as well. Arron Afflalo (#47) and Landry Fields (#51) are perhaps the finest examples of this. Afflalo used the UCLA overachiever stigma and workouts to catapult his stock upwards, but really his college career was quite mediocre in his three years at UCLA. Fields really improved the latter end of his four years but the overall picture was also nondescript. But both guys scratched and clawed their way into training camp, adjusted to the corner threes, played stout D with their toughness/IQ, and have found success as key role players. This is a bit of a stretch especially with the three point shooting, but from this year's draft, DeAndre Liggins (#45) could be of this ilk.

Undersized shooting/scoring PGs who stay four years in college also have a history of success. Toney Douglas (#36) and Aaron Brooks (#43) are prime examples of this, although both ended up as first round picks in their respective drafts. Brooks in particular proves that sub-6-foot speedy shooters/scorers do have a place in this league, while Douglas along with Roddy Beaubois (#51) proves that the 3's-D with more of a scoring slant can also apply to PGs as well. Might be acute fits here, but Andrew Goudelock (#47) and Nolan Smith (#59) could fit in here.

Elite defensive tweeners with length and/or athleticism also seem to find success, as shown by Wilson Chandler (#34) and Luc Mbah a Moute (undrafted). This is fairly obvious: most scouts draft for offense, so many of the D-first players get shoved into the 2nd round or beyond. Among drafted players, no one really fits in this year, but I thought Damian Saunders (#36) and Flight Wright (#57) should've been drafted--they look to be of this ilk.

The rest of the college late bloomers is just a hodgepodge of strong offensive minded scorers (Craig Smith, 55), scoring minded tweeners with athleticism (Hakim Warrick, undrafted), and a defense-first raw big (Javale McGee, 41). None of these players are particularly touted for their work ethic, particularly the latter two, but it has to be noted that McGee was only a sophomore when he entered, and has vastly improved since then. Have to wonder if Milan Macvan (#37) is of the Craig Smith-scoring mold.

In sum, the college late bloomer looks as follows: the ones with great toughness/great work ethics can even develop into the elite crust, especially if they work to enhance their athleticism (Roy). Shifty strong 6'3"+ PGs with passing ability also find success in the league (D-Will being the greatest example+work ethic, among others). Undersized strong rebounding bigs also seem to find very good success. As for role players, guys with savvy/work ethic and a 3's-D foundation fare well, undersized SG scorers with a 3's-D background also thrive, as well as elite defensive tweeners.

The reason I brought up the "late bloomer" concept is because the draftniks always mislabel them. They've given that label to Hilton Armstrong (#57), Acie Law (undrafted), Terrence Williams (#48), Mardy Collins (undrafted), Mo Ager (undrafted), among others. I think I've done a fair job at determining busts, as seen with those--with the exception of those I boxed in as "college late bloomers", I've also had success with others like Dajuan Wagner (#30), Rodney Carney (#30), Antoine Wright (#36), Spencer Hawes (#36), Adam Morrison (#36), Randy Foye (#44), Josh Boone (#54) an Joey Graham (#56), among many others. The late bloomer just seems to fit a very defined prototype of players--heart/savvy/toughness are all important, but also certain players with certain skillsets seem to thrive more than others.

If you're wondering how all this applies to future drafts, the 6'3"-slashing type could apply to Nemanja Nedovic (#48) who looks to be a Beno Udrih-type. The 3's-D swing type could apply to Hollis Thompson (#33),Terrence Ross (#38) and Orlando Johnson (#44). Thomas Robinson (#35) actually fits the undersized strong great rebounder I was referring to, as well as Quincy Acy (#53) in the Chuck Hayes style. I can see Darius Johnson-Odom's (#54) defense as well as Kyle Fogg's (#56) fitting in some undersized 3's-D scoring role in the league. I'm wondering whether Laurence Bowers (#59) could become an elite defensive tweener in the league as well.

Sorry for the tl;dr. But just read it if you find it quasi-interesting.
I think there are many different reasons for "late bloomers", and they often differ from HS to college. I think the most common reason for late bloomers is simply growth. There are many cases of guys who simply went through a big growth spurt in their senior yr of HS or after they got to college (Scotty Pippin is probably the best example of this, and our own JT would be a more recent example). Along the same lines, it takes some people a little time to adjust to their bodies after a growth spurt, while others never seem to be affected either way.

I think another reason for late bloomers "after college" is coaching. Think about how Gerald Wallace was used in college (PF & C) and what he was in the NBA. His college coach used him in such a way as to take away from all his strengths. Baja has mentioned how a lot of players coming out of UCLA (since Howland took over) have done much better in the pros than college (and I agree). It seems that he doesn't know how to use players on the offensive side of the floor very well. Another common way is simply having a lot of talent and a generous rotation. We have seen this at NC, Kansas, etc. for years. You can still see the talent, but often not to its full extent.

The last reason that jumps to mind for me is simply starting late. Many guys played other sports and got into basketball late in HS, which put them behind on the learning curve. I think this probably happens more often over seas where other sports are more prominant.
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Hall of Famer
Well I could go on as long as you on this subject, but in the world of short attention span, I'll try and restrain myself. There are a million different reasons for a player being a late bloomer. Slow realization of his own talents. coming to the game late, which happens quite often. Being in the wrong college system. Poor coaching in highschool, which doesn't happen as often today as it used to, with top talent being discovered sooner. Coming from a country where soccer is the sport of choice, and there's no basketball court at every school. Growing 7 or 8 inches in one year and going from a average guard to a good ballhandling athletic PF or Center.

After you take all those things into consideration, you get into work ethic, intelligence, physcial abilities, maturity, attitude etc. I could talk for hours on what separates one player from another. Oscar Robertson had tremendous peripheral vision to go along with his aquired skills. I think Spud Webb and Tiny Archibald proved long before Aaron Brooks that a small man could play in the league. But the odds are against you. Brandon Roy was someone I liked before his so called breakout year. I really liked Spence, but he was a disappointment to me. He lacks one of the things you mention, mental toughness. I truely think that anyone that watched Landry Fields play, knew he was a very talented player, that was somewhat restricted by the system he played in.

I remember watching Kevin Johnson at Cal. If you watched enough games, you would see flashes of what he was capable of. But he played for a coach that stiffled most of his talent. Matt Barnes spent four years playing center for Del Campo. Just how well did that prepare him for playing guard at UCLA. Name the last player, not named Love, that stared on offense, under Ben Howland. But once in the NBA, most of them blossomed to one extent or the other. Hopefully our own Honeycutt will follow suit.

I don't think the majority of late bloomers suddenly aquire a great work ethic, or the skills to play the game. I think the majority either come to the game late, and therefore start behind everyone else, or their skills are hidden in a system that restricts them. Of course similar systems can equally hide flaws. Schools like Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas are famous for producing NBA players that end up being great players. They're also famous for producing their share of busts, or only average at best players. Players like Sheldon Williams, who looked great within the system, but once in the NBA, all his warts were exposed. Nice guy though!

The worse kind of attitude is not having the determination to work to improve. Not putting in the effort and the extra time it takes. What they don't understand, is that if your playing next to a Michael Jordan, and he puts in 3 hours of practice everyday to maintain and still improve, then you have to put in 4, 5, or 6 hours a day, because your no Michael Jordan. Now that may be an exaggeration, but the concept is accurate. Just doing what a great player does, won't ever get you to where he is. Players like Chris Mullins knew that. Being immature and perhaps having a quick temper may make you a pain in the a$$, but it won't prevent you from becoming a good or great player. Rasheed Wallace could be a jerk at times, but no one denies that the dude can play the game. I not suggesting that you go looking for such players, but don't overlook them either.

I could go down the list of players that I picked out being successful, but then I'd have to list all the players I picked that didn't fare as well, or, that I thought would be good, but ended up being far better than I expected. I never thought that Kevin Durant would end up being as good as he is. But you know what, he corrected some of the flaws in his game, and when he did, his improvement was far greater than I would have thought. Its far from an exact science, and the hardest part to judge is between the ears. With all good players, there's a point where the light goes on. Its a point where they suddenly get it. With Steve Nash, it took close to five years in the NBA before he got it. Similar story with Chauncey Billups. And then, did the light suddenly go on for Ben Wallace, or did he just finally get into the right system? Or both?

Sadly, the light never goes on for some players. Hopefully Donte Greene isn't one of those. I think it may have finally gone on for JT. We'll soon know in this coming season. He certainly has the work ethic, and the physical abilities. By the way, I had Armstrong and Terrence Williams on my bust list for a variety of reasons I won't waste everyones time with. On some of the prospects you mentioned, I like Jordan Williams, but he's a different kind of player than Millsap. Not as athletic, but bigger. He did a good job of getting himself into top shape for the combine and workouts. I think the kid can play in the NBA if he stays in shape, and continue to improve his game. Darius Morris is a very unique player, that could surprise a lot of people. All up to him now, but I have high hopes for him. DeAndre Liggins can make it on defense alone if he works hard. I can see him having a Doug Christie type of career. And perhaps even being a better shooter than Christie. he can guard three positions, and that alone makes valuable. I'm a lot higher on Marshon Brooks. He's my sleeper in the draft that I can see becoming a star. No guarantee's, but I really like his game.

As far as good rebounding undersized bigs go. As I stated in another thread, just about everyone of them has an above average wingspan. Those that don't, like Carl Landry, don't fare as well in the rebounding dept. However, as you stated, rebounding is the one skill that always seem to translate from college to the NBA. Some guys just have a nose for the basketball.

I think judging talent is a constantly evolving skill as well. I'm far better at it now than I was 20 years ago, or 10 years ago. I made my share of mistakes, and I've gone back and reviewed why I made the judgement I made.. As a result, I've gotten better with fewer mistakes. I've changed the way I approach looking at players. I'm more forgiving in some areas, and more restrictive in others. I have a list of attributes, and the more of those the player has, the higher he goes on my list. For instance, when I appied my list to Hasheem Thabeet, he failed so miserably in so many areas, he had bust written all over him. I was literally stunned when he was drafted where he was.

Well so much for keeping it short. I think I'll leave it at that for now. Good subject though!
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