There really is no particular impetus for this post, but it's one of my favorite theories about the NBA, so I've decided to write it out for you, the reading public. Often times, during the NBA draft or during the season, a player will be referred to as a "head case," or will be described as having "poor intangibles." When he plays badly and finds himself on the bench or trading block, the announcers will say "Nobody doubts his talent, but..." You all know what I'm referring to.
However, when we say a player is a "head case," we could be talking about one of any number of things. In my travels, I have found that NBA head cases fall into three broad categories, which I have named after former Golden State Warriors: The Mike Dunleavy head case, The Erick Dampier head case, and the Latrell Sprewell head case. Without further ado, let's break down the differences:
The Mike Dunleavy Head Case:
In 2002, my beloved Golden State Warriors had the worst record in the NBA. The top 2 choices in the draft would have yielded Yao Ming or Jay Williams, the best point guard and center prospects in years. We got the #3 choice, and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. Mike was supposed to be the jack-of-all trades, a worthy consolation prize. He was athletic, had a silky-smooth stroke, was 6-9, and had fantastic "intangibles." (Translation: he played for a successful college program. Also, he was white.) Of course, in the pros, Mike sucked. He had a few horrible years, but managed to flash enough potential to net himself a $55 million dollar contract in 2005. (In a fair world, when Mike Dunleavy came into Mullin's office to sign that contract, Chris Hansen would have shown up.) After 3 and a half years of watching Mike Dunleavy, I will say that he has talent. He has a beautiful shooting stroke, is surprisingly athletic for a guy his size, moves gracefully, and has great court vision.
But, lest we forget, he sucks at basketball. Why? Because he's afraid. He would lose confidence in his shot and go on prolonged shooting slumps. He would often take himself out of games by refusing to go to the hole, finishing with 3 shots in 35 minutes. To succeed in the NBA, confidence is necessary; the Mike Dunleavys of the world don't have enough.
How to spot a Dunleavy:
- Getting the ball and passing it immediately 9 out of 10 times
- Only shooting when wide-open, and often missing even then
- Following up a 30-point game with a 5-point game
- Eyes down, ashamed body language
- Missing free throws
- Kwame Brown
- Keith Van Horn
- Gerald Green
- Sebastian Telfair
- Michael Olowakandi
- Dorell Wright
- Darko Milicic
- 90% of all players from Europe
- Joey Harrington (Not technically a basketball player, but he's a Dunleavy all right.)
I'm actually grouping two types of head cases here, but they both fall under the same basic umbrella: players who don't give a crap. Erick Dampier, whose parents apparently couldn't decide if they wanted to spell Eric with a C or a K, is a fantastically talented basketball player. He's a legit 7 feet, athletic, a great rebounder, has soft hands, and a decent shooting touch. He was the #10 overall pick when he was drafted. His first seven years in the league, he disappointed, averaging about 7 points and 7 rebounds a game. Then, in the 02-03 season, he averaged 12.3 points and 12 rebounds per game. That was his contract year. After he got a fat contract from the Mavericks (he got Steve Nash's money-nice call, Mark), his averages promptly dropped to about 8 and 8. Erick Dampier doesn't give a crap-he's just looking to get paid.
There is another group of players I put under the Dampier label-the shooting guard/swingman types who care enough to get themselves involved in the game, but seek only to make themselves look good. These guys shoot lots of 3s rather than drive to the hole, score a lot of points with a low percentage, pass the ball rarely, and cannot be bothered to work on defense-the bane of the stuffy white sportswriter's existence. While these players differ stylistically from the Dampier types, they have the same basic problem: they lack the all-consuming desire to win, or "Jordan Gene" which we believe should be inherent in all athletes. (I don't believe this as strongly as most, but that's a whole other essay.)
How to Spot a Dampier:
- Low rebound totals
- Lack of hustle
- Showing up to camp fat
- Unwillingness to go to the hole
- Too many 3s
- Poor defense
- General disinterest
- Michael Pietrus
- Ricky Davis
- Darius Miles
- Steve Francis
- Stephon Marbury
- Eddie Curry
- Now that I think about it, pretty much everyone on the Knicks not named Renaldo
- Boris Diaw
- Vince Carter
- Stromile Swift
Ahh, Latrell. We loved Latrell. He went all-out every night. He drove to the hole with reckless abandon. He could D up with the best of them. He could shoot 3s. He was the bright spot of a very poor Warrior team. Of course, he was completely insane, and one day he choked P.J. Carlesimo, leading to him having to leave the team and be suspended from the NBA for a year. The sad fact is this: the drive that makes NBA players great on the court often renders them insane off of it. Although the Sprewell head case will play as well, if not better than, a player with no "character issues", GMs are scared to death of them, because when things go wrong with a Sprewell, they simply can't stay on the team.
How to Spot a Sprewell:
- All-consuming desire to win
- Maximum defensive effort
- Takes an inordinate amount of shots(not out of a desire to pad stats, but out of the belief that he alone has the power to decide the game for his team; head-casery is a subtle science.)
- Speaks out against the coach
- Demands trades
- "Off-court incidents"
- Ron Artest
- Carmelo Anthony
- Allen Iverson
- Stephen Jackson
- Gilbert Arenas (Left the Warriors because he believed having Earl Boykins play 4th quarters was an insult to his abilities, and because the Warriors picked him with the 31st pick instead of the 16th. Trust me, he's nuts.)
- Bonzi Wells
- Rasheed Wallace
My thoughts differ from most on head-cases. Most would tell you that of these three, the Dunleavy is the least dangerous, the Dampier is the 2nd-worst, and the Sprewell is unbearable. I flip it around-I'd rather have a Sprewell than a Dampier or a Dunleavy, and a Dampier more than a Dunleavy. Call me short-sighted, but I believe in putting the best basketball players on the floor and letting everything else work itself out; for this reason, I do not fear the Sprewells. Dampiers often find passion at some point in their careers, but once a player's confidence is gone, it will probably never come back.
Consider my beloved Warriors. The bane of our existance, Adonal Foyle, is one of the nicest, most intelligent men in the NBA, if not the planet. At the middle of the season, we traded Mike Dunleavy himself for a bona fide Sprewell: Stephen Jackson. What happened? Baron Davis, who had been one of the league's biggest Dampiers, found his passion. We started playing defense. We started pushing the pace. We started drawing fouls and scrapping. And during that Mavericks series, whenever we needed a 3, Stephen Jackson would step up and drill a 3 with a hand in his face. Why? Because Stephen Jackson has WATERMELON BALLS. Dunleavy would have passed 10 times out of 10 in that situation. To be the Mavericks, we needed confidence. We needed someone who had no fear. That someone turned out to be Stephen Jackson. To succeed in the NBA, sometimes you need to be a little crazy.