In the first of our two-part series, the HQ looks at the upper side of the NBA Draft, being a top 3 pick...
The NBA Draft is truly a roll of the dice.
For every Wes Matthews there's a Gerald Green, and for every Shane Battier there's a Mateen Cleaves.
Continuing our NBA Draft coverage, we decided to take a look at the draft from two very different perspectives; the draft lottery, and the second round. However instead of a lottery success story and a second-round vanishing act, we've flipped the script and talked to a lottery pick who struggled in his first year, as opposed to a second-rounder who's suddenly looking like a very nice prospect down the road.
In today's piece we talk to that lottery draftee, Hasheem Thabeet.
I had a chance to talk to Thabeet after a late winter match that pitted his Grizzlies against the Raptors. He was a very thoughtful and well-spoken individual, and you could see that despite the on-court performance issues, this was a young man chomping at the bit to improve and show folks just what type of player he could become.
To that end, we talked about the differences between UCONN and the NBA, his season, and the draft process itself...
RHQ: Let's start off with your UCONN Huskies. They're struggling a bit right now (back in February), do you think they could use you?
Hasheem Thabeet: (Laughs.) Yeah, they miss me for sure but they'll be ok.
RHQ: What about you, do you miss being around them?
HT: Oh definitely. I miss the guys, the coaches, the school, everything. But you know, this is the situation I put myself in and wanted so that's that.
RHQ: So in that light, talk a little about your transition from the college game to the NBA game. You were thinking of coming out the year before this, are you happy with the decision you made considering your lack of playing time?
HT: Yeah, I mean, I'm a rookie and sometimes you need to adapt. I'm not going to say it's been easy, but I'm happy with my decision.
RHQ: So how do you feel your play has been so far this year?
HT: I think good you know. This has been my first year so yeah, I think it's gone well even if some don't agree.
RHQ: How do you respond to folks who say you've been a bust as such a high pick?
HT: I don't think you can really judge me based on this one season, especially because I haven't played a ton. It takes a while to start to get up to speed with this league.
RHQ: Is it frustrating to go from being such a heralded player in college to someone who's spent time a lot of time on the bench?
HT: A bit, but you can't get down about it, you need to keep improving and working hard.
RHQ: Talk a little about the mindset though and how that changed from the previous draft to this past one that you did enter.
HT: It was definitely a crazy experience. I kept telling myself that if I had come out the year before I would have been in an even tougher position and less prepared. But I took this on as a challenge to myself; I'm going to go out there and work harder and keep improving. It has been tough though you know, coming from being a starter to not knowing when I'll be playing, but I don't mind as long as the team keeps winning. And the guys in front of me, you know, they've been starters for a while most of them and have more experience than me. So it's a learning process for sure but I'm taking in everything I can from Mike (Conley), Z-Bo (Zach Randolph), all the guys...Jamal (Tinsley) helped me and worked with me, really it's a good group.
RHQ: Would Jamal be your biggest mentor then on the team? Who's really taken you under their wing?
HT: All the guys really. They talk to me all the game. Sometimes I'll be down and not doing what I want to do out there, and they'll all come and talk to me. So you know, I'm in good hands and really looking forward to improving.
RHQ: How big of an adjustment was it to make the jump from college to the league?
HT: It was very big. I don't think people realize just how much faster, stronger and more athletic these guys are.
RHQ: What would you say the biggest adjustment has been?
HT: I don't know...just the the size of players, the types of plays, those things I mentioned; all were very big. You really have to be ready all the time but I think I'm doing a good job so far.
RHQ: Would you say there's any one element to the game that's come more naturally?
HT: I don't know, I don't think you can take anything for granted.
RHQ: What about shot-blocking or rebounding? Those were areas you always excelled in at UCONN.
HT: It's not easy man, all the guys are good so even those things that maybe came a bit easy to you before, now there are so many guys that can do those things too. I'm still working hard to get where I want to be but I know I have a lot of work to do.
RHQ: I guess what I'm wondering is if from your experience, there are things that players do well in college that they can do at this level too.
HT: Oh for sure. I think good rebounders or defenders certainly. I don't know about scoring though - this is just a different level of competition.
RHQ: Do you think your former teammate Jeff Adrien is an example of this? He was a dominant college and high school player but isn't in the NBA right now.
HT: Yeah, it's tough because I think some guys get labeled as too short or slow or whatever, but a lot of them find roles in the league and work hard to make it.
RHQ: If you're a GM, do you take a chance on a proven college player from a big name school like UCONN over an unknown kid who maybe went to a much smaller school?
HT: I think that depends on the situation.
RHQ: But would you say playing in a system like that of Coach Calhoun's does more for your draft stock than say playing at a school in the MAC?
HT: I think it might help at first because of the recognition...but once you get into the draft process and all of that, then they see who can do what no matter what school you went to.
RHQ: So what about your draft process, did you feel it left you suitably prepared?
HT: Definitely. I had great people around me for support and advice and I thought I they knew how to emphasize my strengths and improve on my weaknesses.
RHQ: Last question then, what advice would you give big men getting ready for the draft based on what you went through?
HT: (Laughs.) It's tough. You block shots in college, you rebound in college, you score baskets in college, but it's just different up here and you have to be ready to work even harder than before. So I'd say that, you put in the work and then you get the results of your work - you can't just assume things will be easy.
One of the more interesting things from this chat for me, was just how often Thabeet reiterated how much work is involved at the "next level." All the size, athleticism and skills in the world won't do you much good in the long run if you don't work on your game...just ask Derrick Coleman.
As well, I thought this discussion was extremely applicable to the Toronto Raptors this year, who may indeed be going "big" in the draft. Yes, Thabeet had "project" written all over him from day one, but most big men take a while to round into the players they'll eventually become, and with the exception of maybe a Cole Aldrich or Patrick Patterson, most other big men in this draft are extremely raw, and won't likely have much of an immediate impact on whichever team they end up playing for.
That's not to say I'm solely advocating drafting a wing or a guard.
I'm just saying that most of this draft's big men will probably need a few years before we can determine if they're the next Antonio Davis or Rafael Araujo.