Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why Are Freshman Playing Like Freshman This Season?

Who is the best freshman in the country? Last year, that conversation included guys like Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. All three of them were not only all-americans, but were also in the discussion for national player of the year at different points in the season.

This year, we are looking at guys like Greg Monroe and Samardo Samuels and Sylvan Landesberg. All excellent players with great careers ahead of them, but none of them look destined to even make first team all-conference.

College basketball fans have been spoiled the last two years. Freshman, by definition, are not supposed to carry a team. They could be the difference makers in the sense that you bring in a guy to fill a role you are missing. But freshman aren't supposed to be your team. Ohio State reached the finals in 2007 because they had freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook to carry them. Last year, Derrick Rose was the best player on a Memphis team that reached the finals and won an NCAA record 38 games. Beasley, OJ Mayo, Kevin Durant, Chase Budinger, Jerryd Bayless, Eric Gordon (I could go on). These guys came in and from day one, they were the go-to guys for NCAA tournament teams.

That isn't happening this year. So it begs the question - why?

More than anything, I think this is just one of those years where the freshman class isn't that good. It really is as simple as that. The last two years, the freshman coming in were essentially complete players, meaning that they had the athleticism and "high-ceiling" that make scouts salivate, but they also had advanced offensive games.

A guy like Demar Derozan is a perfect example. When you think about the physical tools you want out of a small forward, Derozan has it all. 6'7" and long. Ridiculous hops. Speed. Quickness. All of it. But he just doesn't have a feel for how to use his god-given talent. His jump shot needs work, his handle is suspect, and he just does not understand (yet) how to play the game or how to score.

But don't get to accustomed to freshman being role players thanks to the rule requiring high school kids to spend a year in college before heading to the league (or forcing them to pull a Brandon Jennings). Yes, the last two classes of freshman have been stacked, but take a look at 2004's class. Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, and Sebastian Telfair all were top 10 recruits that went straight to the NBA Draft. Tell me those guys would not have lit up scoreboards at the collegiate level.

2005 saw Gerald Green, Monta Ellis, Andray Blatche, Louis Williams, Andrew Bynum, and Martell Webster skip college. Again, another group that could have dominated the college level.

Lebron James 20.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 4.2 apg as a rookie in the NBA. Imagine the numbers he would have put up had he gone to college. I don't think saying he could have averaged 35 is even an exaggeration.

The bottom line is that as long as the best high schoolers in the country are going to be forced spend a year on campus, there are going to be season's where they come in and dominate. And there are also going to be season's where the freshman aren't ready to compete at this level. It just so happens that the last two years have been the two ends of the spectrum. It may be a while until you see a class as good as last year's, and it may also take some time until you see a class that has as few guys ready to dominate on this level.

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