With all the buzz generated from this year’s decidedly mediocre draft class, followed by the seemingly louder buzz surrounding Greg Oden’s free agent escapades, I feel the need to take a moment and explain why I’m sleeping a little more easily knowing Portland selected a guard with the 10th pick this year. The Blazers’ most prominent need at the time of the 2013 NBA Draft was a center, but they didn’t go that route (obviously).
For some time, I have been of the opinion that guards are more likely to pan out in the NBA. Well, maybe that’s a stretch. More accurately, I think they are less susceptible to spectacular failure. This is not only because big guys are more prone to injury, but because their size can blind General Managers to their inadequacies. Just think of the biggest draft busts in the last decade or two. I’m talking top 5 selections that were highly rated in college. How many of them did not have “forward” or “center” in their job description.
Sure you have your cripplingly injured guards (Jay Williams), and your bafflingly selected guards (Jonny Flynn), but for the most part, the most notable let-downs we’ve seen in recent years have been big, bad behemoths. While the Sixers can celebrate Nerlens Noel (cautiously so) and the Suns’ medical staff can speed the recovery of Alex Len, I am satisfied with CJ McCollum and his proven scoring prowess.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and cringe at the faces that just might be reflected in a few of this year’s bigs:
2007: Greg Oden
Selected #1 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers
I’ll start here to get him out of the way. Oden had been touted as a once in a decade player. 7’0”, 285 lbs of pure talent. I will go to my grave swearing that any team in Portland’s position would have chosen him too. Clearly, it wasn’t meant to be. Oden had knee surgeries like they were routine checkups and could only string together 82 healthy games in 5 seasons with the Blazers, while 2nd overall pick Kevin Durant played his way to three consecutive scoring titles, among other accolades.
2006: Tyrus Thomas
Selected #4 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers
*traded to the Chicago Bulls for LaMarcus Aldridge
Position: Power Forward / Center
This one turned out a lot nicer for Portland. Aldridge became Rip City’s anchor over the years, while Thomas faded into obscurity. Thomas couldn’t even break into a starting lineup until his 3rd NBA season. It would be his last season in Chicago and only season as a starter. He was turfed to Charlotte, AKA basketball hell, for a 1st round pick and some change, but never met his anticipated potential. To this day, a few fans are crossing their fingers for a breakout season that will never come.
2001: Kwame Brown
Selected #1 overall by the Washington Wizards
Ah, yes. Kwame. “If you draft me, you’ll never regret it” may be the most haunting sentence Doug Collins has ever heard. Little did he know that the 6’11” center would make a better hot potato than a franchise player. After his rookie contract expired, the demigod of disappointment bounced from L.A. to Memphis to Detroit to Charlotte to Golden State to Philly, where he is making $3 million this year to ride the pine. It has been 12 years and Kwame still gets no non-sarcastic love.
2009: Hasheem Thabeet
Selected #2 overall by the Memphis Grizzlies
Thabeet is the definition of a height masking inadequacy. 7’3” sounds pretty impressive until you see him play. Using his tower-like frame, he snuck in at #2 between Blake Griffin and James Harden. In his rookie year, he claimed his piece of basketball history by being the highest drafted player ever sent to the D-League. Yikes. Though he has spent his share of time battling injuries, they haven’t been serious enough to excuse his lack of talent when healthy.
2008: Michael Beasley
Selected #2 overall by the Miami Heat
Position: Small Forward / Power Forward
Okay, Beastly had his moments, but they were few and far between. He’s been a problem off the court his whole career (including this week’s arrest for possession of Marijuana) and mediocre on the court. Phoenix is currently tied to that sinking ship for $12 million over the next two seasons. I suppose on the bright side, his presence in the land of the sun increases their odds in the Wiggins Sweepstakes, but he will never be worthy of his 2008 #2 selection behind Derrick Rose.
2003: Darko Milicic
Selected #2 overall by the Detroit Pistons
For some perspective on the monstrosity of this flop, the 2003 draft went: LeBron James #1, Darko Milicic #2, Carmelo Anthony #3, Chris Bosh #4, Dwyane Wade #5. When you arrive in that company, you have to do something that says you belonged there. He couldn’t find minutes with the Pistons championship squad, but things never improved for him elsewhere. Last season he totaled 5 minutes of playtime, grabbed one defensive rebound and turned the ball over twice.
2000: Stromile Swift
Selected #2 overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies
Position: Power Forward
If you’re not mired in the NBA’s forgotten disappointments yet, you will be if you can conjure the memory of Swifty. At the time of the 2000 NBA Draft, the Grizzlies had never won more than 22 games in a season. Stromile Swift was supposed to be their big break, but, as can happen from time to time, he shrunk into mediocrity. The best thing he ever did for the Grizzlies was return to them from Houston in a 2006 deal so the Rockets would part with Rudy Gay.
2006: Adam Morrison
Selected #3 overall by the Charlotte Bobcats
Position: Small Forward / Power Forward
Last but not least, we arrive at The Stache. Michael Jordan hadn’t picked a winner like this since Kwame Brown. Morrison started off okay, but lost his starting spot partway through his rookie season due to shoddy defense. In the following pre-season, Morrison tore his ACL and missed an entire year. But, as fate would have it, he was traded to the Laker bench and accumulated 2 championship rings before being released as a very successful washout.
Honorable(?) mention to Michael Olowakandi (center), who was draft #1 in 1998 by the Los Angeles Clippers. He was left off of this list because his impact in the league was so minimal, I wasn’t sure the masses would recognize him as “notable”.
So you see why I am glad to have a guard. While guards are by no means immune to failure, they seem to be less inclined toward dramatic under-performance; at least, on a grand scale. If CJ McCollum avoids serious injury, I cannot foresee a circumstance in which he does not live up to reasonable expectation. The biggest draft jokes of the last few decades have been some of the biggest men drafted. I am comfortable with the Blazers’ decision to bring in an athlete that cannot hide in the length of his own shadow, and I look forward to years of reliable service.