Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Difference Between Could And Will

Jabari Bird will be an NBA player.

When you're looking at whether NCAA players can play at the next level, you want to see if they have the physical tools to defend an NBA position and the skill-set to play a role on an NBA team. Jabari Bird, a freshman SG at Cal, checks both those boxes. At 6'6 190, he has NBA-caliber size and athleticism at the SG position and he already has a professional-looking three-point stroke.

Bird has had a fairly limited role for Cal this season - mainly spotting up in the corner and running off screens to hoist 3's. At his size, it's almost impossible to contest his shot on the perimeter. The numbers aren't there yet - Bird is averaging 8 points a game on 41% shooting - but the skill-set is. His stats will go up as he develops a better feel for the game in terms of shot selection and he plays a bigger role in Cal's offense.

Bird should look at the career path of Allen Crabbe, another Cal SG who was a second-round draft pick of the Trail Blazers this season. Crabbe came into college as a 6'6 shooter and slowly developed an all-around game, with the ability to put he ball on the floor as well as make plays for his teammates. With Justin Cobbs set to graduate, there should be plenty of opportunities for Bird to expand his game next season.

Cobbs, Cal's senior PG, could be an NBA player.

At 6'3 190, he has good size for an NBA PG, although he doesn't have the type of world-class athleticism you see at the position at the next level. Cobbs compensates by being a very head player, with the ability to run the offense, control tempo and create plays for his teammates. He's also capable of calling his own number, averaging 15 points on 46% shooting this season.

While he's unlikely to hold down a starting job in the NBA, Cobbs is certainly capable of playing 10-15 minutes a night and running a second unit. There are definitely NBA players he is better than - Gal Mekel of the Dallas Mavericks is one that comes immediately to mind. The problem is there are NBDL players who are better than him too - the competition for PG jobs in the NBA is intense.

Cobbs is currently ranked as the #36 senior on DraftExpress. He's not in their Top 100 and he's unlikely to be drafted. There's no guarantee Cobbs even gets a shot at the next level. He will likely need a stellar performance at Summer League to get into a camp and a lot of NBA teams already have 15+ guaranteed contracts on their roster before camp even begins.

Bird may never become as well-rounded a college player as Cobbs, but even as a freshman, the road to the NBA looks a lot more clear for a 6'6 SG than for a 6'3 PG. Cobbs is one of a dozen NCAA PG's who are competing for 1-2 roster spots as a 3rd PG this season. If he doesn't get a job next year, there will be a dozen more behind him.

When projecting guys to the NBA, 3 inches can be the difference between could and will.

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