On June 23, the NBA Draft will take place, which marks the beginning of lucrative careers playing basketball for thirty to sixty young men, and it also marks the moment all the prognosticators’ forecasts will be proven right or wrong. In the past few years, I could see the logic and reason in where the University of Virginia’s draft-eligible players were selected (or not). But this year, I cannot understand the projected value of one player.
Admittedly, when the college basketball season began, I made the prediction that Malcolm Brogdon was not an NBA player. I listed all the reasons that the current pundits site. Mainly, I criticized his athleticism, height, and shooting ability. When you watch him play, his movements are jerky and sometimes awkward, unlike the fluid, graceful motion of the game’s great athletes. So, I said he wasn’t quick enough to get his shot off at the next level, and based on a slightly unorthodox form, low release, and flat trajectory to his jumpshot, I said he also wasn’t skilled enough to consistently make open three-pointers. He was a good defender, but I couldn’t see him being a dominant defender against the elite athletes of the NBA.
Boy, was I mistaken.
Brogdon proved me wrong on every single point. For someone who was already good enough to twice be named to the All-ACC team, I don’t recall ever seeing a player improve so much from one year to the next. All Malcolm Brogdon did was make history that no one, not even the likes of Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, David Thompson, Tim Duncan, or Ralph Sampson, has ever accomplished. He was named the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. Despite this, most experts do not consider Brogdon to be a first round pick. In other words, experts believe most every team will have the opportunity to draft Brogdon and choose not to.
In trying to arrive at a rational explanation, 1 Samuel 16:6-7 comes to mind.
“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
The Lord rejects the seven oldest sons of Jesse and tells Samuel to anoint David, the young shepherd boy, as the King of Israel. Now, Malcolm Brogdon is a well-built man in appearance and I don’t intend to compare him to one of the greatest leaders of the Israelites or myself to Samuel the profit (I’m very far from), but I reference this verse to illustrate a point. I was guilty of looking at Brogdon the basketball player based on his appearance without considering the substance of his play. This fault in evaluation is the basis of the popular book Moneyball as well as the movie it inspired. Whereas scouts and evaluators seemingly can’t look past Brogdon’s funny-looking shot, jerky pattern of motion, or average height, a shrewd General Manager could see that Brogdon’s field goal percentage improved every year despite his increasing shot difficulty and that his three-point shot improved drastically to nearly 40%. Or, they might see that, despite his jerky movements, he had the fastest shuttle time and ninth-fasted lane agility time in the entire NBA Draft Combine. Or, they might see that while 6’5″ is average height for a wing player, Brogdon has a 6’11” wingspan and has successfully defended the consensus fastest player in the draft (Point Guard Cat Barber of NC State) as well as arguably the best prospect in the draft (Duke Forward Brandon Ingram, second half only), meaning he could defend at least three out of five positions in the NBA, a rare and valuable asset. I couldn’t see any of this before the season began, but I also couldn’t see Brogdon’s heart and how hard he pushed himself to improve and achieve.
How often do we make this same mistake in our evaluation of people on a daily basis? The great thing about sports is that the lessons learned translate over to the rest of our lives, and so for me, seeing this mistake I made brings this flaw in my thinking to the forefront of my consciousness. I can’t site an example of how I’ve done this in other aspects of my life, but knowing I did it in this evaluation, the odds are that I have. And, we all have committed this error to varying degrees, because we cannot know another person’s heart, only God can. Still, we should be vigilant in fighting that initial instinct to judge a book by its cover.
Returning to my example, there’s even more to like about Brogdon if you look beyond the aesthetics of his game. He graduated with a Masters Degree from the highly competitive Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and having been inspired as a child on a service trip with his family, his life’s goal is to affect policy or even begin a non-profit organization aimed at alleviating hunger in third-world countries. I’d encourage you to read more about it in this excellent article by Sports Illustrated. His family calls him “Humble Moses” based off his personality and middle name, and his teammates call him “President.” He works hard to accomplish the goals he sets for himself, and as far as I can see from my outside perspective, he does a pretty good job of accomplishing them. He certainly has in his basketball career. Aside from his unprecedented personal achievements, he was a cornerstone of the foundation that took Virginia basketball from ACC bottom-dweller to perennial power. If you had told me when Brogdon was a freshman that Virginia would win the ACC twice, be a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament twice, and be a six-minute stretch away from the Final Four, in all my bias, I’d have told you that was impossible.
So, I’m thankful for this lesson I’ve learned and will do my best to apply it to all aspects of my life. On another note, I’m finished underestimating Malcolm Brogdon, and I’d encourage NBA General Managers to strongly consider if you want to pass on this man with your pick.
Such a remarkable player! Yes, good reminder that we can’t judge a book by it’s cover!