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Floor to Ceiling: Wall, Rubio and Griffin

A look at how the career paths of young NBA stars could go.


Three young NBA stars (John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Blake Griffin) have clear-cut similarities with many players from recent history – some flattering, some not so flattering. The oldest of the three is Griffin, who turns 23 next week. There’s so much basketball left to be played for them, which got me thinking – what comparable players represent the worst each of them could do, and what ones are their ceilings? The future will likely yield results somewhere in the middle of the two, but for now, it’s fun to speculate where they might end up.

John Wall

Floor: Steve Francis

Technically, Francis was a shooting guard, and Wall is a point guard. And technically, Francis was much more of a head case than Wall has demonstrated himself to be – Francis famously refused to play for the Vancouver Grizzlies (the team who drafted him second overall) citing geography (British Columbia was too far from his home in Maryland), a lack of endorsement opportunities, and God’s will. Wall’s appeared in every game he’s been asked to for the hapless Wizards and never made much of a public stink about it. He does have a chip on his shoulder, evidenced by his displeasure over being picked 12th overall for the BBVA Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend.

What really concerns me about Wall is the environment he is in. The Wizards are a team of me-first scorers allergic to passing the ball. Such bad experiences in the formative years of NBA players can be extremely unhealthy – just imagine if, say, DeMarcus Cousins had a veteran presence he would listen to. Kendrick Perkins was on the way to becoming another washout before benefitting greatly from the tutelage of Kevin Garnett in Boston.  Hopefully, Wall is more strong-willed than normal and can find a way to get the most from his talent without having the benefit of a strong mentor, but he’s definitely an at-risk player.

Francis was a very good player while he lasted in the NBA, but his bad attitude and poor conditioning got him exiled to China by the tender age of 30. ‘Stevie Franchise’ didn’t the most from his skill set – that much is certain. It would be an even greater shame to see Wall’s freakish athleticism wasted due to poor development and inferior teammates.

Ceiling: Derrick Rose

Rose is the perfect blend of jaw-dropping athleticism and smarts. Wall’s game is reliant upon him beating guys to spots and driving to the rim; Rose adds new wrinkles to his game every offseason. It’s a bit strange to compare Wall to someone who is just two years older than him as his “ceiling”, but Wall could be about as good as Rose if he ever puts it together.

Luck is definitely a factor here – Rose was the chance lottery pick of what was already a pretty good young team which came together all at the right time. But as Kevin Love is showing in Minnesota – being part of a perennial loser doesn’t have to sullen your mood for good. Eventually, all that losing means high draft picks, which means more talent on your roster. The question is, will John Wall be ready to lead once the time comes, or will he be another guy that gets run out of town?


Ricky Rubio

Floor: Jason Williams

Not the one who shot his limo driver (that was Jayson Williams), and not the one who was a top-three draft pick and had his career ended after deciding to do some wheelies on a motorcycle (that was Jay Williams). I am talking, of course, about White Chocolate, Jason Williams, formerly of the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies. And before you ask, this isn’t just a light-skinned thing; to defend this comparison, here are some numbers for you, the rookie statistics for each player:

Jason Williams, 1998: 12.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.9 Steals/Gm, 37.4% FG, 31.0% 3P, 2.9 turnovers

Ricky Rubio, 2011:  10.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.3 APG, 2.3 Steals/Gm. 35.5% FG, 33.0% 3P, 3.2 turnovers

Each had a buzz about them as young players, though Rubio’s been a much bigger story than Jason Williams ever was. Looking at the numbers alone tells an important story – both were mediocre (at best) shooters as rookies who were good passers and stole the ball quite a bit. Beyond the numbers, each earned a name for themselves with double take-inducing passes.

It might be a bit of a stretch to mention Williams as Rubio’s worst case scenario – I’d argue that Rubio’s already better than Williams ever was – but it’s possible that Rubio could get seduced by the same vixen Jason Williams did; that is, flashy passing without developing the rest of his game. By the time Williams became close to a 40% 3-point shooter, he was 34 years old and more or less washed up. The Timberwolves have to hope Rubio’s shot, as well as the rest of his game, comes along much quicker than that.

Ceiling: Jason Kidd

Funny thing about numbers – you can make them say whatever you want them to, if you torture them long enough. Earlier, I used rookie statistics to draw a comparison between Rubio and Jason Williams. Now I’ll do the same thing between Rubio and a surefire Hall of Fame point guard – Jason Kidd.

Jason Kidd, 1994: 11.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.9 Steals/Gm, 38.5% FG, 27.2% 3P, 3.2 Turnovers

Ricky Rubio, 2011:  10.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.3 APG, 2.3 Steals/Gm. 35.5% FG, 33.0% 3P, 3.2 turnovers

Those numbers resemble each other far more than Rubio/Williams did, and should give Timberwolves fans a whole lot of hope. Kidd’s outside shooting kept improving, hovering around the mid-30s for much of his career and peaking at 43% in 2009. Rubio doesn’t have to reach those heights to elevate his game in a major way; he just needs to be consistent enough to make the defense respect his outside shooting.

Both entered the league at age 21 and both are listed at 6’4; Kidd’s listed playing weight is now around 205, and Rubio is at 180, so he needs to bulk up somewhat to hold his own on a nightly basis. But Rubio still passes the eye test – watching him run an offense, and watching teammates respond to him, he seems like a guy who will be a very good point guard for a long time.


Blake Griffin

Floor: Shawn Kemp

Let me state this up front: Shawn Kemp is not a bad floor for a ballplayer. Kemp was a six-time All Star who could jump out of the gym. He was one of the most exciting players in the NBA during the 90s on one of the decade’s best teams (the Seattle Supersonics). He made over $90 million in his career. Shawn Kemp was far from a failure.

That being said, it’s still fair to wonder what might have been if Kemp had developed the mental game to match the physical tools he possessed. Which makes one ponder Blake’s future – already, some people consider him to be the best Power Forward in the league. (The people who say that are wrong – but at least he’s in the conversation.) He’s doing that mostly on sheer talent, hard work and athleticism. Few players are as cavalier with their bodies and as ferocious as Blake around the basket.

But what happens when the rigors of an 82 game schedule catch up with you? Kemp’s career took a precipitous dive after he turned 30 years old. In the middle of a contract which paid more than $11 million annually, all of the sudden, poof – the athleticism was gone, and his productivity fell off the table. While that may have had to do with some off the court issues for Kemp, the concern has to be the same for Blake – will he develop the jump shot, the free throw line productivity and the cerebral parts of the game to make him more than ‘just’ a phenomenal athlete?

Ceiling: Karl Malone

According to just about every story I can find on the subject, Blake Griffin is a workaholic, consumed by one thing – to be the best basketball player he can be. Though his endorsement deals and side show antics (the Slam Dunk contest, the Funny-or-Die internship during the lockout) have garnered him a lot of attention, he continues to get better.

Last season, it was dunk-or-bust for him. This season, his confidence in his jump shot from around 15 feet is growing, and he’s even started to shoot some threes. While the poor free-throw shooting is a glaring hole in his game, it’s not a fatal flaw, and is something that can be addressed. What made Malone great was his wide array of offensive moves from 15 feet and in. If Blake keeps working – like his reputation says he does – it’s not hard to envision him as Malone 2.0.

Did this post change your life? Or was it wildly incorrect? Somewhere in the middle? E-mail me your thoughts: BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com

*Credit for Top photo goes to nba.adamreisinger.com*

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