Leslie's fate not surprising
Posted June 28, 2013
This just in: scouts watch games.
In spite of an elite level of athleticism that two different NBA scouts raved to me about, C.J. Leslie went undrafted Thursday night. And although Leslie was signed as a free agent by the New York Knicks, there is no guaranteed money and no assurance that when the curtain goes up on Broadway for the start of the 2013-14 season that Leslie will be in a Knicks uniform.
How is this possible for a player of Leslie's size and athletic ability?
Scouts watch games.
Early in his freshman year, Leslie was listed among the most sought-after prospects by people who make their living ranking such things. At 6-foot-9 with the ability to run the floor and handle the ball in the open court, Leslie possessed almost everything that the NBA has traditionally found irresistible.
In fact, scouts have specifically placed him in the upper 1 percent of athletes in terms of prospects playing at the collegiate level. But, scouts watch games.
And a funny thing happened during Leslie's freshman season. As he coasted through the final year of the Sidney Lowe era, C.J.'s "stock" fell. Actually, plummeted is probably a better word. Sporadic effort, dubious decision-making and a work-ethic that was called into question became more than just a rumor. It became a label. And once you have that tattooed on your dossier, it takes a whole lot of Oxy to clean it up. Because…
Scouts watch games.
In Mark Gottfried's first year, C.J. became "Calvin" and, subsequently, there was an obvious attitude adjustment. Leslie's compete level seemed to rise, he appeared to avoid the valleys that were seemingly a part of his nature the previous season and scouts started to take notice. However, the inconsistency returned as a junior, and it was exacerbated by the fact that C.J. continued to show considerable on-court frustration with officials and occasionally teammates, that led teams to question whether or not a player with such enormous physical gifts would ever be committed enough to trust with guaranteed money.
Yes, I'm aware that it's beneficial to the player to not be drafted in the 2nd round as it gives you the power and freedom to choose your destination. And, you can argue that Leslie is in a better situation than his former teammate, Lorenzo Brown (drafted by Minnesota at number 52), or even Duke's Ryan Kelly (taken by the Lakers four slots earlier).
Wait, Ryan Kelly was drafted? But, I thought you said that scouts watched games? Did they only see one of them involving Kelly?
Ahhhhh, maybe you're on to something here. Yes, Ryan Kelly's career at Duke was marred by a series of foot injuries, and those don't always go away when you're talking about a player standing 7-feet tall. On top of that, Kelly is not exactly swift of foot, or particularly agile, or an elite athlete, so it's fair to wonder how a player with a long history of injuries combined with the lack of other NBA-caliber qualities could be more attractive than the potential of a player like Leslie.
First, in the case of Kelly, there is the fact that there just aren't many 7-footers who can shoot the ball from the perimeter like Ryan. And, in the NBA, there is no substitution for a player who can simply make shots. More importantly though, may be the reputation of the program – not to mention the coach – from which he emerged. Duke has stocked the NBA with talent over the last two decades, and while there aren't necessarily stars, there are solid contributing players with a strong foundation.
Mark Gottfried just endured a season in which the overwhelming majority of experts felt that the Wolfpack grossly underachieved. In fact, Jay Bilas and Jalen Rose specifically addressed that during ESPN's coverage of the draft last night. What impact that had on the interest-level of Leslie, Brown and Richard Howell (who also signed as an undrafted free agent, with Denver) is impossible to measure. However, it's fair to at least consider that the erratic performance of the team might have had some impact, no matter how slight.
Roughly 200 NBA scouts saw Duke games this season and it's fair to assume that a similar number were on hand to see the Wolfpack this year alone. The college season is nothing compared to the grind of the pro game. Teams will only play in the neighborhood of 35 games stretched over a five month period. At the highest level, those same players will be asked to compete against greater competition as many as 100 times in a little more than seven months. Coaching effort is not something they like to do in the NBA.
This doesn't mean Leslie can't make it. It just means that he's going to have to earn every second of playing time that comes his way. Something he hasn't always done to this point.
Scouts watch games, and while they do, they take notes – lots of notes. Safe to say that, in spite of Leslie's sexy, irresistible physical traits, gifts that the NBA normally finds too attractive to pass up, three seasons of games and piles upon piles of scouting reports allowed the league to suppress that appetite.
In the end, at least for one night, Leslie made himself highly resistible.