NBA / Aug 31, 2012 / 2:00 pm

To Be (A Bust) Or Not To Be (A Bust)

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan (photo. Gary Land)

The morning perusal of various basketball websites brings its usual all-over-the-map type news – everything from Daniel Gibson trade rumors to Dwyane Wade’s get-me-through-the-day inspiration. But one wistfully hopeful piece over at SB Nation’s Raptors HQ caught my eye (even if it’s a few days old).

To catch you up briefly, if perchance clinking links is not your forte: Adam Francis details DeMar DeRozan‘s much-needed basketball progression, aptly summed up with this sentence:

“Going into his fourth and final year under his current contract, awaiting either free agency or an extension, DeRozan has yet to prove to his critics that he has what it takes to be a crucial piece of the Raptors’ future.”

And this, really, is the crux of the piece. Did Toronto whiff on the 9th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft? Statistically, at least, it’s difficult to dismiss DeRozan’s contributions as that of a bust. His 16.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season point towards a solid NBA scorer. But prolific scorers with little other talents remain in excess in the NBA, so it’s more than likely that Toronto can find a cheaper replacement. But assessing Toronto’s future plans is an exercise in futility, especially when NBA GMs tend to keep things so close to the vest. And whether or not DeRozan takes that next step, who knows. Because I think the bigger and more difficult question is, what is a bust, anyway?

We can look at Greg Oden, Sam Bowie and other injury-riddled would-be’s and fence in our critical predilections, or we can have at it and jump ship before even setting sail (looking at you, Jimmer Fredette). But then there’s the case of guys like DeMar DeRozan. Do we rate him based on other ninth picks? Do we rate him relative to guys picked near him? Do we judge him against his perceived potential?

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, and I don’t think anyone does. Because the word “bust” is unwaveringly relative in itself, an unmarriage between present reality and future expectation. And it’s conveniently flexible, too. Players are busts until they aren’t. What if Hasheem Thabeet breaks out this season with OKC and actually, you know, uses his arms to block shots? Does that somehow mitigate three seasons of, well, nothing?

The tangible irony of the “bust” label is frustrating, if only because it reinforces the negative perception on a psychological level. NBA players read, too, and they hear the whispers. Even if our definition is ever changing, to hear the word bust is to hear one word finality. And that’s got to be emotionally damaging on some level, to know that your basketball career is summed up by failure – even if there’s still time, and that failure was only relative to ceiling-less conjecture. Except we want these players to succeed, and nothing would excite the home crowd more than that 1st round draft pick finally making an All-Star team or dazzling the stat sheet.

This all doubles back to the NBA Draft, where we harp on potential and discount the ugly. The conversations are “who’s going to be a star? Who’s a sleeper?” Never, “who are the most likely busts?” This points towards our most honest emotional disposition, that the NBA thrives when players succeed because fans like it. Except our unflinching impatience waits to vilify someone, or everyone. And it’s unfortunately counterintuitive and unlikely to stop.

How do you define a bust?

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