The importance of player-team fit

Why pairing the right player with the right organization is critical in the NBA

Updated: March 12, 2014, 2:14 PM ET
By David Thorpe | ESPN Insider

Conventional wisdom regarding sports suggests that athletes either have what it takes to play at a high level or they don't. We hear and read about them daily; some players who are struggling are labeled busts or disappointments, while others are deemed pleasant surprises or, better yet, stars who came out of nowhere.

However, when it comes to the NBA, most of the league's success stories and failures are as much about team and position fit as anything else. From a player's team role to their position to their teammates to their fit within a team and system, situation and environment can go a long way in terms of defining how that player performs. It is on management and coaches to get those formulas right.

Need some proof? Here's a look at more than a dozen examples of "ideal fits" around the NBA.

Star examples

First we will begin with some stars. The simplest example we have is that of James Harden. Had Harden stayed in OKC as some wanted him to, he'd still be the "third wheel" behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Note that he would still be on a great team, but he wouldn't be among the league's scoring leaders and he'd never be in the conversation for MVP. His jump to Houston last season, to a team devoid of stars and in a system that required an open floor, fast pace and one middle ball screen after another, meant he entered the perfect environment for a former sixth man to explode. Had Harden joined another team -- such as Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago or even Atlanta -- he wouldn't have been nearly as good a fit as he's been with Houston. The dynamics are just not the same.