Performance or Potential: Which Does the NBA Prefer?


In the aftermath of Stephen Curry’s 54-point explosion at Madison Square Garden, I heard a discussion on whether or not he had entered elite status among NBA guards.  Which got me thinking about the difference in what constitutes elite status in today’s NBA as opposed to during the 1980s and 1990s.

Back then, players were given elite status after leading his team to a NBA title or consistently being in the discussion of teams that were expected to contend for the Larry O’Brien trophy. 

In today’s NBA elite status is granted based upon either highlight reel appearances or the potential of what player can do in the future.  Then a player’s success turns in to validation of him being granted elite status.

With all of the expansion the NBA has gone through since the late-1980s (going from 22 to teams to the current 30 teams), the talent level had to spread among more teams.  A by-product of this expansion is that players that would normally be second or third offensive options in the 1980s or 1990s were now being thrust in to offenses where they were the number one option.

Offenses went away from ensuring that all the players were on the floor were legitimate threats, and became more focused on giving the best player a majority of the shots.  The surrounding players started to become interchangeable parts rather than five solid players that worked together a single unit.

This change in criteria for player evaluation was not limited to the players currently in the NBA but also when teams were looking at players during the NBA Draft process.  Now a player is viewed as damaged-goods if he stays for his senior season, and as a result, a greater number of players stay for one year and then move on to the NBA. 

In response, a greater portion of NBA Lottery picks are players who are coming out after the freshmen, sophomores or from other countries. A player with unknown potential has become more valuable than a player who has been through the regular and postseason battles.

So to all of you scouts get ready to attend more games in muggy high school gyms versus traversing the country during March Madness.

What do you have to say Spurs fans? Has the definition of elite player changed?

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