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NBA draft: the known vs. the unproven

Posted: May 24, 2011 2:52 p.m.
Updated: May 25, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Every year around the time of the NBA Draft, the top sports outlets like Sports Illustrated and ESPN try to predict which players in high school, college and overseas will be the next stars of the NBA.

With the relatively new rule in place that a player selected in the draft must have at least one year of college under his belt, the draft has somewhat gone back to the days when fans recognized most of the top talent being drafted.

Unfortunately, the influx of foreign-born players and one-and-done college freshmen picked at the top of the draft board has turned the event into a kind of guessing game where teams rely more on upside and potential than they do on proven talent.  

It seems college stars sometimes shine so bright that franchises overlook potential downsides. One of the most glaring examples in recent years has been Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers. After playing only one year at Ohio State University and being plagued with injuries even in college, Oden was picked number one overall in 2007. Oden has had all three of his pro seasons cut short and has played in less than 100 games in his career.

While teams experienced misfortunes from picking unproven college freshmen even before Oden was picked by the Trail Blazers, it seems likely that this trend will continue or even increase in subsequent drafts.   

NBA teams have also fallen into this trap by drafting untested players who played outside of the United States. In 2003, the Detroit Pistons choose Darko Milicic from Serbia ahead of notable college stars like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade.

Milicic is now known for being a draft bust and is playing with his fifth team since 2003, while Anthony currently anchors a talented New York Knicks team and Bosh and Wade have become mega-stars with the Miami Heat.

These scenarios obviously don’t unfold in the same way for every team. For instance, of the last four number one overall draft choices, two were one-and-done college freshmen, but they both have become respected commodities for their teams. Top picks John Wall in 2010 and Derrick Rose in 2008 have earned praise as rising young talents.  

Wall earned a spot on last season’s All-Rookie team, while Rose became the youngest player to ever win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

Also, foreign-born players like Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tony Parker are considered some of the best players in the NBA.  

Of course, like with all sports drafts at the professional level, hindsight is 20/20. Portland fans in 1984 could never have imagined that picking a 7’ center from the University of Kentucky over a 6’6” guard from the University of North Carolina would have ever been considered one of the worst draft decisions in sports history.

Unfortunately for Portland, Sam Bowie, the center from Kentucky who was picked second overall, played for three different teams during his relatively uneventful career, while the guard from North Carolina, Michael Jordan, turned into perhaps the most recognizable and prolific professional basketball player of all time.  

Nor could the Boston Celtics have predicted in 1986 that Len Bias, a first team All-American at the University of Maryland, would overdose on cocaine two days after being drafted and never play one day of professional basketball.

Obviously teams will try to avoid these traps during the 2011 draft scheduled for June 23. This year could be headlined by a story of redemption as the Cleveland Cavaliers, a franchise devastated by the departure of future Hall of Famer LeBron James, will have the top pick overall.    

While not a lock at number one for this year’s draft, Kyrie Irving, a Duke University guard, is projected to be the top choice for the Cavaliers. Irving played in only 11 games during his one season at Duke after being plagued with a toe injury.

(Michael Ulmer is a staff reporter for the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. E-mail responses may be sent to county@ci-camden.com.)

 

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