A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Should Luke Babbitt scare teams about Doug McDermott?

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Creighton’s Doug McDermott is the likely player of the year winner in college, however despite his all-time great NCAA career, there are skeptics about whether he’ll make it in the NBA. Some see a starter, some see washout to a European league as his outcome.

One thing that’s scaring people, is McDermott’s similarities with Luke Babbitt. At about the same size and athleticism as McDermott, Babbitt’s perimeter shooting skills and high feel for the game were not enough to keep him in the league his first go around with Portland. He’s currently playing for the Pelicans after a stint overseas.

A first thing to consider is while Babbitt had a great shooting profile coming out of college, McDermott’s is a little better. While McDermott is no guarantee to be an even more deadly shooter than Babbitt in the NBA, at best he can be a Kyle Korver like savant hitting shots. At worst he could actually be worse than Babbitt at outside shooting.

Secondly, a crucial key with Babbitt is it’s not over for him. Babbitt has only played 1670 minutes in the NBA, 266 with the Pelicans. That would rank 5th in this year’s rookie class behind Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, Ben McLemore. He is still just 24. I tend to consider 6,000-8,000 minutes as a good benchmark for when a player starts entering “It’s time to start showing your talent” mode. Babbitt is not CLOSE to that point in minutes played. Inexperience made Babbitt a worse decision maker on offense and defense than he would be if a veteran with over 10,000 minutes played. Which pushed him from a player just good enough to contribute, to a player just bad enough to not contribute. Even if Babbitt got to 7,000 or 8,000 minutes and was struggling, it would be possible he’s an enigma not reaching his talent, due to mental flaws McDermott shouldn’t be expected to have.

Then consider how the Blazers were trying Babbitt as a small forward for the first 2 years of his career, accounting for about half his minutes so far. So his reps at power forward are especially small.

With that said, there is a reason why Babbitt played so little his first 3 seasons in Portland. When a player is struggling, how long a leash a player is given is likely connected to how much they believe in his upside, or the return on their investment. Nobody had any doubts that Babbitt had less than a star’s upside due to athletic limitations. If the Blazers developed him for 6,000+ minutes plus, they may have only had a player worth 5 or 6 million a year – easily replaceable in free agency. This still has value as a young, average player can become a trade chip (see Houston drafting Chase Budinger in the 2nd round and eventually trading him for a top 20 pick), but not every team may take this asset based approach.

Thus that is a major concern with Doug McDermott’s career. If his shooting goes the right direction (elite instead of good/great) he has the talent to be a very good bench lower level starter or standout 6th man. If his shooting is a little worse than elite and inexperience causes mistakes when he’s younger, he may fall out of a rotation and struggle to work his way back in, stuck on his team that doesn’t see the point in giving years of minutes to a player just to see him turn into a 6th or 7th man.. Most seem to feel McDermott has a limited upside. And although this fact tends to missed, as is the case with virtually all players who have a limited upside, that goes hand in hand with having a high bust potential as well for the team who takes him. Even if 27 year old McDermott is a good contributor, if he’s on his 3rd team by then, it didn’t work out for the team who took him. That would be partly on them for misevaluating his talent, but nevertheless. If McDermott has an OK upside and a high risk factor, it’s hard to justify taking him in the lottery.

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