Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Opinion: In NBA, drafting smaller smarter


When in doubt, it seems, NBA executives tend to reach for the athletes with the longest reach at draft time. So often, the execs (many of them by then ex-execs) cringe for years watching the perimeter players they should have taken jet down the court in All-Star and playoff games.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, holders of the No. 1 selection in Thursday’s draft in much the same way the Chiefs had the top choice in the NFL during a year without an obvious top guy, have a wide array of options. Centers Alex Len of Maryland and Nerlens Noel of Kentucky are under consideration. So are shooting guards Ben McLemore of Kansas and Victor Oladipo of Indiana. Georgetown small forward Otto Porter and UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett also reportedly have been on the Cavs’ radar.

To center, or not to center, that is the question. History says the guy with his finger on the button will press center. History also teaches that to do so is to take a risk not worthwhile.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ 1983 decision to bypass Michael Jordan to take talented but brittle Kentucky center Sam Bowie remains the best argument for choosing human flight over extraordinary height, but it’s far from the only example.

In 1977, Indiana’s plodding center Kent Benson was the No. 1 player chosen in a draft that included, among others, forwards Bernard King, Cedric Maxwell, Marques Johnson and Walter Davis and guards Norm Nixon and Otis Birdsong.

In the same draft that Bowie was selected ahead of Jordan and Charles Barkley, centers Melvin Turpin and Tim McCormick were chosen ahead of John Stockton.

In 1984, the irrational run on post players continued at an even faster, panic-driven pace. Benoit Benjamin went third, Jon Koncak fifth and Joe Kleine sixth. Combined, the centers did not appear in an All-Star game. Nos. 7 (Chris Mullin), 8 (Detlef Schrempf) and 13 (Karl Malone) played in 22 glitzy mid-season exhibitions. In 1998, the Los Angeles Clippers had a sneaking suspicion they were taking the next Hakeem Olajuwon with the top selection in Michael Olowokandi, even though all the centers had in common was they were born in Nigeria. Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, who have combined for 21 All-Star selections, were taken ninth and 10th.

In 2003, the Detroit Pistons chose center Darko Milicic with the second pick and then watched Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade drop off the board with the next three. Len, 20, and Noel, 19, do have intriguing qualities, but remember this: Big men tend to break down physically much quicker than guards. The general managers who selected Bowie, Ralph Sampson and Greg Oden ahead of Jordan, Clyde Drexler and Kevin Durant need no reminder of that. Noel has had two serious injuries in the past four years to the same knee. Len, bugged by stress fractures, had foot surgery.

Noel runs the floor well and is a terrific shot blocker, but at 210 pounds, will he ever fill out enough to hold his low-block position in a league that allows so much to go uncalled? McLemore calls to mind Ray Allen. Noel seems on a path to become another Marcus Camby, which isn’t bad in some ways, except when compared to Allen. Naturally, since Camby is so much taller, he went three spots ahead of Allen in 1996.

Those in the Len camp point to his big games against Noel and Duke’s Mason Plumlee. Careful. Loyola of Chicago’s LaRue Martin was selected first overall in 1972 based largely on having big games against UCLA’s Bill Walton and Marquette’s Jim Chones. Martin lasted four years in the NBA. Len likely will have a much better career than that. He might develop into a solid starting center, a la Andrew Bogut, the No. 1 overall selection in 2005. Perennial All-Star point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul went third and fourth that year.

The smart play lies in passing on the two pivot men. In favor of what perimeter player? A question for another day, same space. Thursday.


William Blake 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Who would have thought....

That the biggest giant-killer in the game of basketball would come from the addition of the 3 pt perimeter shot?

There will come the day when a team dominates the game without any bigs. There will be a capable coach who somehow didn't end up with a single big and so he/she figures out a way to win anyways.

I almost thought it may be Missouri back a few years ago... but, of course, they are Missouri... enough said.

By shooting the distant shot, height suddenly loses it's advantage in basketball. Rebounds bounce out long, and become available to who reacts quickest instead of who is tallest.

Getting open for the trey is more about X-axis movements... and the taller guys that don't have a swift pair of legs will get a tight challenge on their distant jumpers... making it hard to nail the shot.

Effective screens create the gap, and passing makes the opportunities, and being a marksman from way out ices the cake. There is nothing in that skill set that requires height, and usually the little guys master these skills easier.

Basketball is a game of transition... on the court, and in the coaches' minds. The day will come when someone figures it out and finds a way to defeat height.

Imagine having a child you hope will one day master the game... and you actually hope he/she stops growing taller!

That day may never come... because your hopes will shift from focus on height to focus on skill set. As long as the skills are there... the player will succeed! And that is the philosophy Naismith would embrace today.


William Blake 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Nice article, Tom.

For so many years NBA management over-emphasized Y-axis basketball. I believe this goes back to the days of the Lakers in their golden days... Kareem was a monster in the post with his patented sky hook that no one could touch and Magic was a premiere PG of his day at the height of a forward. Management created this idea that basketball would continue to "climb" and soon we'd have 7' PGs.

I'm sure the day will come when we get a 7' PG. So what. The last time I checked the rules, basketball games are won by who has the most points at the end, not who puts the tallest team on the court.

Basketball success is the product of who can create the most-efficient Z-axis offense and being able to limit it from opposing teams on the defensive side. It takes some level of X-axis and some of Y-axis to get there. There are 5 positions on a court and there aren't many rules on how you define those 5 positions... but lots of trial and error seem to indicate you need at least 3 guys out there at all times that can handle the rock. Shorter players have advantages in handling the rock. Sometimes a tall player comes around that can defy the norm... but filling the positions on the court should be about getting the properly-skilled player at each position, instead of just the tallest.

In the golden days more emphasis was put on the 5. Media seemed to always call the 5 guy the "difference maker." In those days the trey either didn't exist or wasn't near the factor it is today. The trey now is perhaps the biggest single factor in games won in the NBA. I'm not discounting all the other factors... just pointing to what makes success. An old Spurs teams came a few seconds away from carting off another trophy because of their trey shooting.

Dunks are for doughnuts... the dunk can be a thing of beauty... a moment that can inspire a team and their fans... but no one can tell me the dunk means as much as it used to. We've all seen it done a zillion times now... through the legs.. 360-rotation... flying over a defender... Dunks still control a big part of the highlight tape. But has anyone noticed how nailing the trey is coming on?! Treys are deciding games in big fashion... more so than dunks. It takes 3 dunks to equal only 2 treys. And how many times has that extra point iced it for one team or put another team back in the game?

Personally... I know I'd rather be a player like BMac... with all that upside and already a master at the trey, than any big man trying to dominate the post in "2sville!"

So let's see the draft... lets' see if NBA management has learned any lessons. Let's see a skinny, knee-hobbled "big man" steal the show again.

It all started with Magic Johnson... well where is the magic today? The magicians today all bomb treys and the magic is moving back further and further from the basket.

This is one area of the game I think college coaches can teach the NBA how it's done.


Tyler Fox 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I think the unintentional moral of this article is that for every center prospect in the draft, there are several guards and forwards. GMs are four times as likely to find a good prospect at another position because there are 4 other positions.


justanotherfan 9 months, 3 weeks ago

The problem with this article (and many like it) is that guards and small forwards bust at a decent clip as well.

Anybody remember Bo Kimble. Injuries wrecked his pro career. He averaged less than 6 points per game for his career. He was drafted 8th in 1990. In that same draft Rumeal Robinson went 10th. In between those two, Willie Burton went 9th. Future all stars Tyrone Hill (11), Jayson Williams (21), Antonio Davis (45) and Cedric Ceballos (48) all went later.

How about 1995? Shawn Respert went 8th. Ed O'Bannon went 9th. Neither ever played in an all star game (or was even much of a contributor on a team).

2000? That draft was so bad, there's really nothing notable in it.

2005? Yeah, Deron Williams and Chris Paul are better than Andrew Bogut, but Bogut is no slouch. The biggest disappointments in this draft have to be forwards Marvin Williams (2), Charlie Villanueva (7) and Ike Diogu (9).

2010? Wesley Johnson (4) is probably the biggest disappointment in the top 10, with Al-Farouq Aminu (8) second.

Take any random year, and you will probably find a guard or wing player that is a big disappointment. In 1993 picks 5-7 were Isaiah Rider, Calbert Cheaney and Bobby Hurley. None of those guys were anything special in the NBA. The jump from college to the pros is not an easy one, and some guys wash out.

The instinct of NBA GMs used to be if a guy wasn't skilled and was big, he could hang on in the league. If a guard isn't skilled enough, or quick enough, or athletic enough, or can't shoot, he's just going to wash out. There's not really a way to redeem a perimeter guy if he can't play at that level.


BainDread 9 months, 3 weeks ago

There is a nice article on Jeff Withey and his prospects for the draft in his hometown newspaper.


rockchalk_dpu 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I don't pretend to know how the draft will unfold because I don't follow the NBA close enough to know the needs of each of the teams. What shocks me though when I read these draft articles and projections is how high Victor Oladipo is on most people's mock boards. In the Indiana games I watched (which were many because I used to live there), he never wowed me with anything more than his defensive pressure and his ability to finish around the rim. He doesn't have a great shot and in fact rarely attempts anything further than a midrange jumper because of this. The closest comparison I can make is that he's a more athletic Releford minus the outside shooting ability, which is not something you magically develop after years and years of playing the game. He'll have time to sort things out when he's not in class and this is his job, but I can't see how he'll be able to revamp his shooting motion to turn it into something even close to Ben's.

I know that these GMs don't want to miss out on the next big thing, and he's drawn comparisons to D Wade and a young Jordan by Dookie V and Magic which I'm sure are feeding into this hype that he must be drafted high. Based on his current skill set though, I just don't see how Victor is anything better than a role player that comes in as a defensive stopper. This is not to say that he is stuck at his current talent level and will never get better, just that I don't believe this is the type of player you throw a lottery pick at. This is the guy you get as a steal in the second round that could maybe become a big star, not the one you bet the franchise on.

Sorry for the rant, I just continue to be perplexed how people have Oladipo going ahead of Ben and wanted to see what others thought.


Cameron Cederlind 9 months, 3 weeks ago

If only they had taken a smaller option like Dirk Nowitzki or Carl Malone . . . who are 7' and 6'9 respectively. Good on you for keeping with the title.


Jason Keller 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I wouldn't take Ben in the top 3. If he can't get in shape for the biggest job interview of his life why would I invest millions in him? Should we blame it on his agent? Ben chose to hire him. Stop making excuses for him. He is a man now and needs to learn how to be a professional. That means you get your butt in bed early, eat right and work as hard as you can for as long as you can. I hope he turns it around but with this type of focus, he is the next Xavier. Hope he gets it together.


Lonnie Snow 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I really like this article, in light of it I agree BMac, Trey B. and victor O. All played well this year and I think can contribute right away if drafted to the right team and given a shot. No way would Oden ever be a Kevin Durant. Guys like Kevin just don't come around but like every 3-5 years


David Brown 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Nice history on some selected past NBA drafts. Crystal ball anyone?
Interesting how superior college talent doesn't always translate to the NBA. I tend to think that the players will, mindset/attitude, how they approach the travel/length-of-season/business aspects of the NBA can mean almost as much as their jump shot to their ultimate success. Being a "professional" means much more than simply drawing a paycheck. Virtually every player in the league can run, jump, and shoot. What can you bring beyond that?


Jim Erickson 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Another point on Oden... Drafting him ahead of Durant wasn't a "mistake" as much as it was terrible luck. It could have very easily been Durant's legs going awry with Oden becoming Dwight Howard, or better.


Jim Erickson 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I hope McLemore goes number 1 overall, and think he has a decent case for it.

I also think you go for the center if there is a dominant one available. Greg Oden's injuries and the fact that the Heat don't have a legitimate 7-foot monster may cloud the reality that basketball games are much easier to win with a genuine big man.


Joe Joseph 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Nerlens Noel will go down as one of the biggest top-pick busts of all time.


Danny Hernandez 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I'd take Ben number 1 but what do I know


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