After waiting two weeks for a draft day trade to go through, former Washington Huskies wing Quincy Pondexter has finally joined the New Orleans Hornets in summer league and Hornets.com caught up with him yesterday.
Between obligatory comments about how he's going to work hard defensively, the excitement of being drafted, and the anticipated joy of playing with Darren Collison, Chris Paul, and David West, he talked about what he gained from spending an extra year in college instead of going to the NBA after his junior season.
I got a lot better over the year. I really spent a lot of time with USA Basketball with some of the best players in college basketball last year. That made me a lot better. This season I had a chance to really lead my team, be the only senior on that team. And get my degree. So I don't regret spending this year at all and in actuality it made me a lot better for this level.
To some, that may sound like nothing more than empty rhetoric. The intangibles embodied in this excerpt -- demonstrated ability to lead a team on the court and a desire to improve -- are so difficult to quantify that some people simply dismiss them as irrelevant. So what, if any, value is there to Pondexter's leadership experience?
Pondexter didn't wow anyone with freakish athleticism in college or put together quite the highlight reel of some other players, but he was one of the most efficient scorers in the draft at his position and clearly has the ability to lead a team that had some obvious flaws deep in the NCAA tournament. A lot of players have skill. The ability to lead a team on the court requires some knowledge of how to deploy that skill to not only contribute to the team but also impose one's will on the game and sort of be the team's center of gravity, if you will.
Similar to what Brian McCormick has written about competitiveness and work ethic, leadership tends to be overlooked in favor of athleticism and some nebulous equation for upside. Part of that is certainly that leadership is unquantifiable -- it's difficult to ever say that one player has "more leadership" than another. Another part of it is that obsession with what might be instead of what has already been. However, that year of experience being "The Man" and doing it so efficiently does shows a maturity to Pondexter's game that might serve him better than expected.
None of this is to say that Pondexter will be a star who should've been drafted higher or that all players should stay in college for four years to get that leadership experience -- leadership manifests in different ways in different situations. In fact, Kevin Pelton's statistical comparison to former Sonic Desmond Mason could either be seen as a positive (he has a chance to have a stick around for a while) or a negative (never a consistent starter for a playoff team). But the bottom line for Pondexter in seeing how he has navigated this entire process is that he's a mature, productive, well-coached player who is ready to put in the work needed to contribute to a NBA team. That might separate him from the rest the dime-a-dozen wing bunch.