Chris Paul, Dante Exum, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, Nik Stauskas, Richard Sherman, Spencer Dinwiddie, Tyler Ennis
Recently Richard Sherman has garnered much attention, as he frightened Erin Andrews when he angrily declared himsef the best corner in the game and called Michael Crabtree a “sorry receiver” after Sherman’s Seahawks defeated Crabtree’s 49ers in the NFC championship game.
As a casual NFL fan, this was my first exposure to Sherman. While people had varying reactions to his postgame mini-rant, I had an inkling that he was one of the more awesome human beings on this planet and did some digging. Last year he went on ESPN’s First Take and told Skip Bayless “I’m better at life than you,” which is painfully true. He also demonstrated commendable word choice when he called Bayless an “ignorant, pompous, egotistical cretin.”
But Richard Sherman is more than just an elite troll. After his 2nd NFL season, he was voted by the AP to the NFL All-Pro 1st team. Now in his 3rd NFL season, he is widely considered a top 2 NFL cornerback. He’s on the fast track to become an all-time great, yet in the 2011 NFL Draft he was chosen in the 5th round, 154th overall. His draft stock was deflated because he started off his college career as a wide receiver, and only had two years experience as a cornerback entering the draft. He was considered raw, which was something that Sherman himself acknowledged. But he has good tools and is insanely smart and driven to succeed, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he achieved the heights that he did. Check out how cerebral his approach to the game is:
And much like Paul George, he had his sights set on extreme goals. Per an SB Nation interview:
“Doesn’t matter where I play I just want to be a great player. I don’t want to be a guy that’s in the league a few years, makes a ton of money and has nothing else. I want to go down as one of the best.I want to prove other NFL Draft websites wrong that say I am the 52nd ranked CB prospect in their eyes.”
The fact that there was a player with the tools to be great and had such an intelligent and dedicated approach to the game yet was passing up multiple times by every team is amazing to me. Richard Sherman is the archetype of player that both NFL and NBA GM’s should be pursuing, and the fact that he slipped to the 154th overall shows the inefficiencies of the NFL Draft that I believe remain present in the NBA Draft as well.
The NBA player who stands out as the most Richard Sherman like personality is Chris Paul. He went 4th overall, as he was a polished NCAA superstar, but he neverthless made the GM’s who drafted Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, and Deron Williams ahead of him look foolish. He thrives off of his otherworldly basketball IQ, and there was concern that he was too competitive as he punched Julius Hodge in the crotch during an ACC game. I feel that he was one of the all-time underrated draft prospects in spite of going at a high slot, as his lack of an extra inch of height got too much attention and his intelligence received far too little.
Players like Richard Sherman and Chris Paul are one of a kind, and most draft classes will not have anybody who compares. But these personality types are so underrated, part of the prospect evaluation process should be to identify players who show similar characteristics. It is built from thin slices from afar, but here’s my early list of players to monitor who have shown signs of possible elite drive, confidence, and intelligence.
6) Joel Embiid- His personality is slippery to assess, as he is still learning the English language and the game of basketball which makes it difficult to fully convey his intelligence. On the other hand it also makes it difficult to grasp for his mental limitations since there’s an excuse for most of his mistakes. But his massive overperformance when he wasn’t expected to make an impact, and also his demonstration of a basic ability to learn are positive signs early. Also noteworthy with Embiid is that he seems to have a fiery passion to his game as he already has 3 technical fouls on the season. Some may view this as a negative, but prefer it to his teammate Andrew Wiggins’s passive approach by a comfortable margin.
5) Tyler Ennis- He has an insanely low turnover rate for a freshman PG, and he has been at his best against good competition as some of his worst games have come against the dregs of Syracuse’s schedule. Further, his stats in the final 5 minutes of games are better than sooner.
4) Dante Exum- he’s outwardly quiet but reputed to be confident and an extremely hard worker. Derrick Rose is his role model and they seem to have similar deameanors. He won me over a little bit with an incredibly sharp assessment regarding the pressure of being a high draft pick:
“Being told that you’re going to be a franchise player doesn’t mean anything, honestly they can say what they’d like and it’s just an opinion and it doesn’t mean it’s going to come true…Dealing with I guess that pressure, it doesn’t really matter to me because I know I’m just going to do what I can to get to that.”
That’s an impressive perception for an 18 year old kid, and it should inch NBA teams toward taking the mystery box over the boat.
3) Spencer Dinwiddie- He may not declare for the draft after his ACL tear, but he is an obviously intelligent person in interviews. In a DX interivew, he cited that he wanted to improve his efficiency last offseason, and demonstrated a solid vocabulary when touched on his capacity to be an “auxiliary scorer.” He also expressed an inclination to be a franchise point guard but accepted the possibility of a supporting role. To me, he reminisces of Shane Battier with PG skills.
2) Marcus Smart- he occasionally makes a bad decision on the floor as he is prone to force bad shots, which may be a sign that he does not have elite intelligence. But overall he demonstrates good feel for the game, especially defensively. And from watching interviews he seems to back up his name with above average intelligence. Moreover he demonstrates uniquely good intangibles and leadership skills as I noted in my Embiid breakdown. He recently had a mini-meltdown where he outwardly demonstrated frustration during a poor game, and had a good apology afterward where he expressed desire to avoid similar behavior in the future. Willingness to accept feedback and learn from mistakes is how people grow, so it’s encouraging to see the reaction from him even though the meltdown wasn’t particularly bad.
1) Nik Stauskas- He strikes me as the complete package in terms of intangibles. He is a highly intelligent player, and his work ethic must be incredible given the offseason work he put in on both his body and his skills. He has a confident demeanor as he does things like blow kisses to the Michigan State crowd after a crucial road win. His coach also acknowledged that Stauskas showed leadership by holding him back from the refs after a missed call. His physical limitations place a ceiling on his upside, but that ceiling might be higher than common wisdom would suggest.
Note that the list is not comprehensive, and I hope to identify other attractive personalities as the season progresses. My analysis of on court performance and statistics certainly carries more weight, but personalities can’t be excluded from prospect assessment altogether so this is a subject I will touch on sporadically. Consider the assessment of the personality underlying each player to be a skill that I am developing as a side project. In the interim, I will be rooting for Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks to win that football game that is apparently happening tonight.