PRESS BOX: Stop labeling young NBA talent busts, give them time to grow potential

Pictured on the left Detroit Piston, center Kwame Brown, goes up for a layup at the hoop. On the right, Killian Hayes who is pictured playing for the German basketball club, Ratiopharm Ulm, before entering the NBA Draft and being drafted by the Detroit Pistons. Photo illustration by Madison Tran.

Arrick Wilson, Interim Sports Editor

Throughout the NBA’s tenure, the NBA draft has often been riddled with busts — when a certain player who was projected to be a great contributor or generational talent doesn’t achieve their potential.

Fans and sports commentators alike have been known for killing young athletes’ potential, disparagingly calling them busts for not performing to the standards of more experienced players. With young NBA athletes often coming into the league at the young ages of 19 and 20, this can affect the mental health and mind of the young players, stunting their potential.

Players like Killian Hayes, who was drafted seventh overall in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. Hayes battled a labral tear — an oftentimes season-ending injury — in his hip last year, according to Detroit Free Press. The 6-foot-5-inch French-American guard has only scored in the double digits 12 times in his short NBA career, because of it, according to Basketball Reference

Across the internet, there are opinions stating Hayes to be a full-on bust for this performance, including from sports writer Michael Scott from the sports website Fansided. Scott wrote an article entitled “Detroit Pistons: 3 Reasons Killian Hayes is an NBA Draft bust,” where he lists reasons why the young 19-year-old is not good enough and should be labeled a bust.

“Glimpses of greatness are there, but they often dissipate as quickly as they arrive,” Scott said. “Hayes is a turnover machine who struggles when facing pressure-focused defensive schemes.”

On the internet, anyone could find statements about Hayes that are positive and encouraging to young athletes. Statements from viewers who are more sympathetic toward young athletes help give them time to grow. 

“I know Killian Hayes is having a not so stellar rookie season but in no way is he a bust,” a fan tweeted about Hayes being considered a bust. “I still believe in this kid, that he’s going to be one of the best passers in the league someday.. He has shown some flashes after coming back from his injury.. Believe me, this kid is legit.”

Positive critiques are essential for some players, especially coming from sources like Rod Beard, a Detroit Pistons beat writer for The Detroit News. Beard expressed his opinion about not understanding why Hayes is being labeled a bust in a Nov. 15 tweet.

“He’s still a kid and he’s still going to get better. Give it time,” Beard stated. “If nothing else, he’s an above-average defender who could become elite, and he gets guys the ball. That’s a good starting point.”

Fans and sports commentators rush to critique young players before they are able to refine their craft. The coverage and critiques do not give athletes enough time to mold their skills, and should be empathetic about teenagers playing against some of America’s greatest athletes. 

Cade Cunningham was drafted first in the 2021 NBA draft. Cunningham was named as one of the best prospects in the draft by ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas, in an ESPN segment which he tweeted, discussing Cunningham’s performance.

“Over the years you’ve evaluated a lot of players and Cade Cunningham is the most complete basketball player that I can remember coming into the draft. He really does check every single box, he does everything well,” Bilas said.

Recently, Cunningham was subject to bust talk when many took to Twitter after an NBA debut of only two points, seven rebounds and two assists, on Oct. 30 versus the Orlando Magic. Cunningham’s debut evoked tweets from fans like Frank Ammirante, who was not a fan of the Piston’s number-one pick. 

“Cade Cunningham is absolutely invisible on the floor. Dude looks like a bust already, big yikes,” Ammirante tweeted.

Cunningham recently silenced critics all across the world in a game versus the ​​Sacramento Kings on Nov. 15, however, where he had 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, which is stronger than his debut. Cunningham also earned his first triple-double on Nov. 22 against the Los Angeles Lakers, and was named among the top three in the NBA Kia Rookie of the Year leaderboard on Nov. 24. 

This is the main reason why fans shouldn’t give up on young players, and should let them discover that potential instead of failing to critique players after a small sample size, stunting their mental growth. Give these players time to improve and get adjusted to the league of superstars.

Another example of fans and writers giving up on athletes early is one of the most historically famous NBA draft busts, Kwame Brown. Brown was drafted by the Washington Wizards in 2001, by NBA Hall of Famer and then-president of basketball operations, Michael Jordan. Brown was the number-one overall pick and was the first high school player to be selected first overall in the NBA draft. Jordan believed in the potential of the 19 year old from Brunswick, Georgia.

“We feel like we have a quality kid and his potential is unbelievable,” Jordan said. “We don’t know what this kid is capable of doing, that’s the beauty of why we drafted him. We don’t know. In a couple of years, he may be a star.”

In his 12 seasons across seven teams, the “quality kid” with the “unbelievable” potential went on to only average 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds, which is low for being drafted first. 

In contrast, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who was drafted first overall two years after Brown, has averaged 27.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists across his 18-year NBA career, according to Basketball Reference

Brown retired in 2013 at the age of 31, last playing for the Philadelphia 76ers while averaging 1.9 points per game, according to Basketball Reference

In a 2017 interview with the basketball website, HoopsHype, Brown talked about facing criticism from the media. Brown spoke of how it was hard being a young player, coming from high school and being told to justify his first-overall pick, early in his career.

“I was being bashed and then not even getting the opportunity to play big minutes and prove myself,” Brown said.

Popular ESPN writer and commentator Stephen A. Smith has remained vocal for years about Brown being a bust. On Feb. 1, 2008, when Brown was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Memphis Grizzlies, Smith suggested that Los Angeles should have a parade.

“Kwame Brown is gone. The City of Angels, Hollywood, you should be celebrating. Throw a parade already, whether you win a championship or not. This man was a bonafide scrub, he can’t play,” said Smith. “No disrespect whatsoever, but I’m sorry to call, tell everybody the truth, the man cannot play the game of basketball. … He has no game whatsoever, plays no defense, doesn’t have the heart, the passion or anything that comes with it.”

Smith further perpetuated the idea by tweeting out an old clip of the statement on Feb. 1, on its 13th anniversary.

This type of negative media influence is what can kill the reputations of young potentials in the NBA. Basketball fans don’t give athletes enough time to fully find their potential, they just write athletes off completely. And they do this because it has been normalized throughout the culture of the NBA.

Remember these are young players, and give them time to become the great players they will eventually grow into. NBA fans should learn to be fans, not fanatics, and learn to not over-evaluate small sample sizes of young players. Give young players time to attain their NBA potential, fully.

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