I don't know if any of you have read Adrian Wojnarowski's story on Lance Stephenson, the mercurial Indiana Pacers guard that had one of the best games of his career in last night's Game 6 victory over the Knicks. The piece focuses on Stephenson's close relationship with former Pacers general manager Larry Bird. Here's one of the many lines that caught me:
Bird used to bring Stephenson into his office, or sit down with him post-practice and talk to him. "Learn everything, learn, learn, learn,' Larry used to say to me," Stephenson told Y! Sports. " 'Watch the games,' he would tell me. 'Don't just sit and take these games for granted. I listened to him. I watched the other players that were in front of me, and I took what they did and tried to put in my swag."
Rather than tossing out a player with maturity concerns, the Pacers constantly stayed in his ear, monitored him in a hands-on way and supplemented that with a coaching philosophy that made him earn his keep. The end result? Stephenson went from being a second-round pick to a major asset for an Eastern Conference Finals team.
The success of Stephenson is multi-pronged. A scout had to be right that a player has significant talent. A general manager had to delegate resources (or do it himself) to keeping tabs on that player in a way that helps rather than demeans. A coach needs to keep the player focused and make him work for whatever he gets. An organization needs to develop a culture of professionalism so the player can learn from good role models rather than develop losing habits from bad ones. (This was the true masterstroke of the David West signing).
The Wizards have never employed Lance Stephenson, obviously, but they have struggled to develop players with different maturity issues of their own. Why Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Jordan Crawford and others failed is difficult to ascertain, but there's always more the organization could do to find roles for those players. Ultimately, their issues are both on the player and the team. Somewhere along the line, one of those steps that paid off in Stephenson's success fell apart.
This is why the same teams generally draft and develop players well. Their scouts know how to locate the right kind of raw talent. Their front office ensures that there are enough resources and upkeep to direct the player on the right kind of path. The coach has enough of a set style of play to channel the player into the right kind of role. The organization finds good role models and operates on a philosophy that is more than just throwing something against the wall and seeing what sticks. Proper commitment to all four steps is how Lance Stephensons happen.
It's a firm reminder as we move forward into draft coverage. The Wizards' success in this draft will come down to much more than finding the player we think is best.
Development is a part of drafting well. With a stronger commitment to that process, maybe the Wizards find their Lance Stephenson.