Maybe I’m missing something. Each year, I watch college basketball from November to April and come away amazed at the performance of many collegiate stars. No hoops novice, I leave each season thinking I have a good feel for who the elite players are, only to have my opinions blown up by NBA general managers on draft night. This year, in particular, a number of the NCAA’s top performers fell into the second round while those projected to have higher ceilings populate the higher end of the draft. Potential seems to trump an established body of work every time.
For starters, it was strange to see Pitt’s DeJuan Blair, the best player on one of the top teams in the country’s most elite conference, have to wait until the 37th pick to hear his name called. Now, I realize that professional scouts are concerned by the fact that Blair stands just 6’6″. I’ll also give them a pass on their reservations about his jump shot. However, one look at the second pick reveals a contradiction of their own opinions. UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet, dubbed the best big man in this year’s lottery, was completely and thoroughly dominated by the smaller Blair in both of their head to head meetings during the ’08-’09 Big East campaign. Any questions about whether Blair will be able to succeed on the next level should have been answered right then and there.
USC basketball alum Taj Gibson, despite averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks per game, fell to pick 26 of the first round; three picks later than Omri Casspi, a 6’8″ small forward from Tel Aviv, Israel. One scouting report on Gibson says that he may lack the size strength and athleticism you’d expect from a power forward, an assessment that seems ridiculous given his college production. Even sillier, while hundreds of Pac Ten players have starred in the NBA, no Israeli player has ever played in the league. Once again, potential wins out over an established resume.
What really gets me, however, is how many of these “potential” picks, wash out. History, it seems, is disregarded on an annual basis. Where would the Celtics have been last year when, after losing Kevin Garnett to injury, if they didn’t have Glenn Davis? Davis, despite carrying LSU to the Final Four, fell to the second round because of perceived deficiencies in the very repertoire he displayed in college. Big Baby was able to lead the Celtics through the first round using the skills that were doubted as he entered the league. We’re not trying to solve the problem of global warming here. It’d be nice, though, if NBA scouts gave a little more credibility to a college career. Check back sometime in January to see how DeJuan Blair and Taj Gibson are doing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both performing at a higher level than many selected before them.