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Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Planning for the NBA always risky

By Eamonn Brennan

On Sunday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that rising UNLV sophomore Katin Reinhardt would leave the Rebels in favor of a transfer, possibly to play for USC.

Katin Reinhardt
Katin Reinhardt surely isn't leaving UNLV because of a lack of playing time last season.
This decision drew an immediate wave of criticism. It didn't help that Reinhardt recorded and published a funny, shirtless, chipmunk-voice-altered video refuting transfer rumors just two months ago. Nor did it help that the video was just the latest denial Reinhardt had made, both publicly and privately; coach Dave Rice told the (Las Vegas) Review-Journal that every time a rumor surfaced during the season, "[Reinhardt] always told me he planned to stay at UNLV." The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg rightly wrote it was "remarkable" Reinhardt decided to jet, "considering the freedom he received as a freshman." CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb wrote Tuesday that Reinhardt "played too much too soon, and a year off will be good for his game and likely his soul." By Monday, there was already a backlash to the backlash.

Few transfer decisions in recent seasons seem to have spurned a more incredulous response. And why not? After all, Reinhardt, a freshman on a talented UNLV team, played 72.7 percent of his team's available minutes, shot 185 3s and attempted more field goals than any Rebel not named Anthony Bennett, who will be an NBA lottery pick this summer. Considering Reinhardt was given the green light despite not being a particularly efficient offensive player -- he finished with a 98.8 offensive rating, and shot 36.7 percent from 2 and 35.1 percent from 3 -- it's hard to understand why a player with that kind of leeway would want to sit out a season just to play somewhere else.

Actually, the reason wasn't all that mysterious. As Andy noted this morning, Rice told the Review-Journal Reinhardt's transfer was due to his dissatisfaction with his role, namely his belief that he should play point guard as a collegian to better enhance his future NBA draft profile:
“Katin told me why he was leaving. He said that he feels his best opportunity to play in the NBA is to play more minutes at the point guard position,” Rice said. “Katin would have had an opportunity to compete for minutes at the point, but I’ve never guaranteed anyone that they will start or play a certain number of minutes."

Forget the decision itself. Lots of players transfer for lots of different reasons. It happens. Oh well. What's truly worth a skeptical glance here is not that Reinhardt decided to leave, but why. For one thing, were Reinhardt capable of playing point guard, he probably could have done so for UNLV; the Rebels' 20.3 percent turnover rate was the highest in the Mountain West, and UNLV's major offensive flaw all season. Were Reinhardt capable of handling the point guard load, Rice surely would have been incentivized to allow him to do just that. But he turned the ball over on 19.2 percent of his own possessions. He wasn't a point guard last season. It just wasn't how he was built. Can he get there? Maybe. But that maybe is an awfully big leap of faith when the skin in the game is a year spent idle on the bench.

Even more questionable than all of that, though, is the entire notion of trying to position oneself for the NBA draft this early in college. CBS' Gary Parrish is dead on here:
Now I suppose it's fair for Reinhardt to assume his best shot at making the NBA is to play point guard considering he does, at 6-foot-5, have great size for that position. But you want to know the best way to make the NBA? Be awesome. Which is why I'll never understand why prospects don't just focus on being an awesome college basketball player and letting the NBA stuff come as it comes.

Exactly. How many times in the past have we seen prospects try to change themselves to better fit what the NBA wants, only for it to not work out? Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes tried to impress scouts by stepping away from the rim last season; he and the Vols were ineffective until he agreed to ditch that notion and start bullying people on the block again. Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger cited as among his reasons for staying two summers ago his desire to prove to the NBA that he could be a legitimate face-up power forward. He slimmed down in the offseason only to return to his dominant low-post role -- and gain much of his bruising weight back -- when it was clear that's what the Buckeyes needed most. In the end, Sullinger's position didn't have much to do with draft stock at all; the one-time top-five pick fell out of the lottery because teams were worried about potential injury issues. Stokes, meanwhile, is still in Knoxville.

There are times when this works out -- Stephen Curry deliberately played point guard at Davidson in 2008-09 to prove to NBA teams he could handle and pass as well as score -- but those examples seem fewer and much farther between. (That's literally the only one I could think of off the top of my head, and that was almost five years ago.)

It's not that players who do this are dumb, or misguided, or necessarily being conned by opposing coaches or people close to them into believing they're something they're not. It's that being loved by the NBA draft and actually playing in the NBA are two completely distinct things. You don't need to be drafted to get in the league. You don't need to fit some preconceived notion of what a point guard or shooting guard should be. But in the draft, the focus on these minute differences, combined with an inherent fear of "tweeners," give young players the impression that getting drafted or improving one's stock or impressing scouts requires them to fit such notions -- that they must twist their games into a pretzel to get NBA scouts to bite. If your lifelong dream was at stake, you'd do the same thing.

The league is smarter and more analytically driven, and cares less for traditional eye-test positionality, than ever before. Point guard, shooting guard, combo guard, power forward, stretch forward ... who cares? What is Curry? Russell Westbrook? Derrick Rose? The best two players in the NBA (LeBron James and Kevin Durant) don't even really have positions; James' team, the Miami Heat, doesn't play anything remotely resembling a center, even when facing the frontcourt of Roy Hibbert and David West.

Can you make shots? Can you get to the rim? Can you guard? Can you handle and pass? These are the questions that matter. At the end of the day, no matter what you are, if you're good enough to play in the NBA, someone will find a place for you.

It doesn't have to be complicated. It's actually pretty simple. Being good at what you do is always what matters most. The rest will come.

Hopefully, wherever Reinhardt ends up, that maxim proves as true for him as it does for most.