The NBA is a tough place to land a job, and an even tougher place to hang on to a job. As such, any little bit helps when you’re trying to stick around, and trying to make yourself look marketable in an increasingly competitive workplace. For some guys this stuff is simple. Its physical. A guy like Hasheem Thabeet has proven himself to be a stiff who just can’t compete at the NBA level in spite of his college pedigree. And yet? He’s on his 4th team. Four- different-teams-have seen this guy play and in spite of the fact that three of them blindfolded him and abandoned him in an alley to get him away from their team (I may be taking creative license here) a fourth team [the Oklahoma City Thunder] decided he still deserved another chance. Why is this? Because he’s 7′ 3″ and the NBA craves size like a duck craves bread crumbs.
However, your unique, marketable asset doesn’t need to be physical. The most readily apparent example of this in recent NBA history is the circus that was Linsanity.
Yes, that’s right… Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise to basketball infamy in the purported “Mecca of Basketball,” Madison Square Garden, was so big it bumped a dictator, 2 of the remaining members of Bush’s Axis of Evil, Apple and its former frontman Steve Jobs off the cover of Time magazine. Now, on one hand this isn’t surprising at all. Jeremy Lin is a Taiwanese American, and as such is a member of an extremely fast growing demographic in the US. Moreover up until his early 20s he appeared to be following the stereotypical path of many Asian Americans… Smart kid, sprinkles in extracurriculars (in his case basketball) to make his college app competitive, goes to an Ivy League school (Harvard) and BOOM you’re well on your way to success in life. Except Lin’s path WASN’T this generic path. He went to Harvard on a basketball scholarship, and evidently had anything but the typical Asian-American college kid’s demeanor. He became a lightning rod for the Asian American community, especially young males hoping to break away from stereotypes plaguing the community. The kid walked, talked, and acted like he was born and raised in the hood. He had absorbed a lot of the components of “basketball culture” that exist in the US today, in spite of the fact that his demographic supposedly clashed with this culture. So this guy could definitely mobilize the ever growing and already massive Asian American community in the United States, and transplant this audience into the NBA world.
Perhaps more importantly, however, was the fact that he also energized the Chinese NBA fan community abroad. China LOVES the NBA and the NBA loves China’s money even more. However, after Yao Ming’s retirement the marketing aspects of the relationship took a step back. Enter Jeremy Lin. Sure he’s an American, but as any Asian American who has spent a lot of time in Asia will tell you, a lot of Asian’s accept anyone who “looks” Asian as native on site. This can actually be a problem as native Chinese or Japanese will get really frustrated when their Asian-American counterparts aren’t fluent in the language [Whereas caucasian Americans will be given more slack] BUT ANYWAY there was a marketing and fandom vacuum back in China, the NBA’s largest expanding market, and Jeremy Lin filled the gap perfectly.
Add up both these factors, PLUS the fact that Linsanity was occurring in New York City, and you have a marketing leviathan. Moreover, it should be no surprise to anyone that when the Knicks’ neurotic owner cut ties with Lin at the end of the season [out of pure pettiness] Houston (former team of Yao Ming, and therefore the most popular NBA team in China) brought Lin in to reap the PR benefits.
However, the more interesting part of this story is the question of Jeremy Lin’s talent. Jeremy Lin is simply an undersized shooting guard who has to play point guard because of his size. All this in spite of the fact that he can’t really run the point. He’s a scorer, not a distributor, and that’s fine. That’s part of what made Linsanity so exciting. It was his galaxy sized testicles with some of the big shots he would take [and make] against allegedly superior players.
However, anyone who watches basketball is aware that a guy can go on a hot streak. Usually that means within a single game, but there’s no reason a guy can’t get hot for a week, a month, whatever length of time. Jeremy Lin is an amazing story, but as far as the NBA talent metrics are concerned? The guy probably hovers right around average. On nights where he’s off he is atrocious and can single-handedly sink his team. On nights where he’s on he can single-handedly win the game like you saw above. But you could probably find 5,000 guys to give you what Lin gives you on the basketball court. A lot of times, in the NBA, the talent level is just so high and the number of roster spots is so limited (only 450 guys can be on NBA rosters at any given time. 30 teams, 15 spots per team… that is an incredibly small number for any career. Think about your job? How many people do that? I guarantee its not capped at 450.) that if you’re not an elite player you simply have to do something special off the court to earn your time on it.
This is what I’ve been thinking about in regards to Aaron Harrison. The BBN has been absolutely obsessed with the Harrison twins’ decision to turn pro or not this year. This issue has been particularly complicated because these guys are bothers, they are twins, and they are so close that they feel the need to make these decisions together. Now, I definitely don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it makes this issue more muddled than it needs to be. If Andrew and Aaron weren’t twins, I think there would be no question that Andrew Harrison would turn pro and Aaron would come back. Andrew’s “unique aspect” that he would bring to the NBA would be his size. His abilities as a point guard definitely need work, but he’s young and that’s to be expected. However, there are very few 6’5″ point guards in the NBA. That size could be invaluable to a team on defense and it gives Andrew an advantage over any opposing point guard attempting to defend him.
Aaron though? The pro-basketball world is littered with 6’5″ shooting guards. Remember those 5,000 guys who can do exactly what Jeremy Lin does? Well those same 5,000 can do exactly what Aaron does on the court, and a team wouldn’t need to use a draft pick to get them. He would need to find a way to be like Lin, and market himself beyond his basketball skills. Aaron hit some insane circus shots for us. Aaron can DEFINITELY energize a fan base, and I think he can produce in the NBA at an adequate level. What I don’t know, however, is if this is enough to immediately energize marketing guys, and justify using him over the other, cheaper versions of him. I’m not sure he has one attribute which would get the dollar signs spinning in their eyes like Jeremy Lin does.
With that in mind, if Aaron wasn’t Andrew’s brother it seems like he would definitely come back. That way he would have the option to learn how to play point guard in college (a difficult task, but at least POSSIBLE in college compared to the NBA where Rodney Stuckey will tell you its nearly impossible). If he were a point, he would have exactly the same value as Andrew and would be a lot more attractive to NBA teams. If he weren’t going to improve his on court stock and were going to try to leverage his marketability to earn a roster spot, the only thing I can really think of that he could use would be the fact that he has a twin in the league. For whatever reason fans get kind of excited about brothers and twins. The best example is the Morris twins in Phoenix right now, but people also get excited about the Lopez twins and the veritable cornucopia of basketball playing Plumlees, even though those guys don’t play on the same team. If there was some way that a team could bring in both Harrisons as a package deal they become immediately marketable. However, that would either mean one of them would need to drop to the second round (likely Aaron) where the contracts are not guaranteed, or it would mean they would need to go pro in different years (ie Andrew this year, Aaron next).
Either way it seems like the best thing for Aaron to do is to come back for one more year, maybe learn how to play point guard, or at the very least develop his skills more, leave the 2014 draft class (absolutely LOADED with guards … Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ennis, Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Nik Stauskas… the list goes on for miles) and enter the 2015 class with far fewer guards, then he couldn’t help but improve his draft stock. This in turn would improve his chances of sticking in the league for a long time.
Now, this article is also a little too pessimistic. I think Aaron Harrison is REALLY good. Like 2 buzzer beating game winners good. And I think if he’s given a chance he’s going to stick in the NBA, and have a solid career. I simply worry about him getting a fair shot in the league. However, maybe he’s already done enough to make it happen. I know he’s certainly already done enough to be beloved by Kentucky fans forever, and I’m going to be happy for him and his brother no matter what decisions they make.