Sunday, June 22, 2008
WHO SHOULD BE #1 in the NBA DRAFT? Beasley or Rose????
BEASLEY OR ROSE, WHO IS THE NUMBER ONE PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT?
“I’m only one player. I’m not God.”
Those words came courtesy of Derrick Coleman on NBA draft night in 1990 after Coleman, selected No. 1 overall by the New Jersey Nets, had been asked to share his thoughts on turning around the Nets’ sad fortunes. New Jersey had won just 17 games the previous season.
Coleman’s point is well-taken, but it will never prevent the NBA general managers, coaches and scouts from looking for the next savior. Will they find it in Derrick Rose, the quick and compact point guard from Memphis? Or in Michael Beasley, the power forward with shooting range and a thirst for rebounding? Or in someone else, someone perhaps the entire league thus far has miscalculated in its projections?
Despite the studying — of film, of measurements, of body types, of private workouts, of similar players, of character and of more available research and data than ever before — the NBA draft still is not, and never will be, an exact science. At its best, it’s part evaluation, part craps table.
Owning the No. 1 overall selection, however, is different. The process is the same, but the short- and long-term scrutiny, impact and pressure to get it right are immense. A team needs to land the player in the draft who will put together the best pro career, and that player had better be a multi-year all-star, the face of the franchise and the foundation around which the rest of the team will be built. Winning an NBA title wouldn’t hurt either.
This year’s draft will be held Thursday. The Chicago Bulls will select first, which means they have the toughest decision of all. If there’s a future MVP candidate and/or Hall-of-Famer in the field, they have to identify him now. This year's decision is especially difficult because there is no consensus No. 1. Opinions differ on Rose, Beasley and even USC guard O.J. Mayo, three players all younger than 21.
“You have to do all the research into what kind of people they are,” said former coach Chuck Daly, who won two championships with the Detroit Pistons. “Are they going to come to play every night? Who are they hanging out with? What are their habits? All of that enters into your decision.”
In the 23 drafts beginning with the 1985 edition that also incorporated the first draft lottery, there have been several in which the No. 1 pick was clear: Patrick Ewing to the Knicks in 1985, David Robinson to Spurs in 1987, Shaquille O’Neal to the Magic in 1992, Tim Duncan to the Spurs in 1997 and LeBron James to the Cavs in 2003.
The other years were more challenging, as teams made most of those No. 1 decisions with lots of hand-wringing and tentative tosses of those casino dice.
Since 1985, there have been seven go-either-way drafts where teams with the No. 1 pick had to make a choice, similar to this year, between backcourt and frontcourt. On six of those occasions, teams determined big was better than small, a strategy that dates to, oh, roughly when the first baskets were built. Here are the results of those seven:
1990 — Nets selected Coleman over Gary Payton;
1991 — Hornets selected Larry Johnson over Kenny Anderson;
1994 — Bucks selected Glenn Robinson over Jason Kidd;
1998 — Clippers selected Michael Olowokandi over Mike Bibby;
1999 — Bulls selected Elton Brand over Steve Francis;
2002 — Rockets selected Yao Ming over Jay Williams.
The only year when the guard won out was 1996, when the 76ers chose Allen Iverson ahead of Marcus Camby. The two are now teammates with the Denver Nuggets.
As the list above indicates, sometimes the guard would have been the right choice. Other times, the frontcourt player proved better in the long run. There is disagreement, however, over how to build a roster. Some teams believe in starting in the middle, focusing on post play, rebounding and interior defense. The dissenting view is to secure a perimeter player, ensuring ball-handling and creating ability, lock-down defense and long-range shooting.
With the recent emergence of dynamic point guards such as Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and, to a slightly lesser degree, Brandon Roy — and a desire shared by many teams to play at a faster, guard-driven tempo — the value of ball-handlers who not only facilitate, but also dominate, continues to rise.
“In this day and age, I would go point guard, but he better really be good,” said Daly, who coached standout point guard Isiah Thomas with the Pistons. “He’d better be an all-star, and that encompasses a lot of things: his physique to take the pounding, his decision-making and what kind of shooter he is. This is key, because at the end of the shot clock, the ball usually comes back to the guard and he’s got to make something happen or shoot the ball.”
For all the focus on point guards, however, the past 10 NBA champions have been anchored by elite centers and power forwards Shaquille O’Neal, Duncan, Detroit’s Wallaces and Kevin Garnett.
The question is, should position preferences dictate draft selections?
“You’d better take the best player, regardless of position, even if you’re strong in that position,” said Pat Williams, senior vice president of the Orlando Magic. “If you don’t, it will bite you. The Bulls have to figure out who’s going to be the better player regardless of position, regardless of anything else.”
Rose or Beasley? Beasley or Rose? Here’s a breakdown:
Strengths: Rose is 19 years old, but already has a calm, quiet and mature demeanor that many older players never develop. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Rose has an NBA-ready body. He thrives in the transition game and can summon an extra gear when he needs to get past opponents. The best part of his game right now is his ability to get into the lane and finish around the basket. He also shines in the spotlight, having played some of his best basketball during the NCAA tournament.
Weaknesses: Two things stand out. One, can Rose consistently run an NBA offense? He will need to prove he can make the correct reads, get his team into its sets and create for teammates. Two, his outside shooting. At this point, the results are OK, but his shot mechanics are questioned. How will this transfer to the NBA, especially with its deeper 3-point line? Rose shot 34 percent on his 3s in his sole college season. In two collegiate seasons, Paul shot a stellar 47 percent.
Draft campaign 2008: “Derrick’s an introverted kid who matured in a short period of time. He could have scored 25 a game, but he deferred a lot this year. He just wants to win. He has such an incredible will to win. I don’t know where that comes from. We played 40 games and had 115 practices, and he came to every single one of them focused and ready to work — that’s a skill. Then, his speed and ability to finish over people really stand out. He’s not chasing money, he’s chasing greatness. Point guards like him just don’t come along very often. And when they made Derrick, they broke the mold.” — Memphis coach John Calipari
Strengths: Beasley is also 19, but clearly one of his strengths is his strength. At 6-8 and roughly 240 pounds, Beasley overpowered most college opponents. He plays with purpose around the basket, can finish with either hand and attacks the glass (12.4 per game). But the trait that really separates Beasley is his shooting touch and range for a guy his size. He wowed attendees at the Orlando pre-draft camp with a flurry of 3-point shooting.
Weaknesses: Despite his size, Beasley is a bit short for a franchise power forward. Rebounding aside, can he anchor the defense? Can he defend the center position, if needed? These are the abilities that separate Duncan from Carlos Boozer. If Beasley slides over to small forward, does he have the agility to stay with quicker players? Likewise, would his perimeter game be more easily neutralized? And finally, questions linger about his attitude and maturity. Draft campaign 2008: “I listen to all of the reports questioning his character. It’s the biggest farce and joke I’ve ever heard of. He’s a tremendous kid, and the best teammate I’ve ever been around in 23 seasons. The thing I’m proudest of is how Mike embraced the leadership role. He accepted all of his responsibilities and came to compete every single day. When we returned from a loss at Texas Tech, he went straight to the gym and shot balls until 2:30 in the morning. He has a great work ethic. I think he’s a special person. Whatever NBA team he ends up with is going to be extremely happy.” — Kansas State coach Frank Martin
Most evaluators believe Beasley and Rose both will be fine pro players, even all-stars. There’s a difference, however, between a fine pro, an all-star and a franchise player. For example, consider the 2003 draft, where the four selections after James were Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Milicic has played five years in the NBA and is still 22 years old; it’s too early to label him a bust, but clearly he wasn’t worthy of being selected in front of the other players on that list. Anthony, meanwhile, is a remarkable talent, but he doesn’t impact the game in enough ways to ever become the focal point of a championship team. Bosh made great strides the past two seasons and has showed the ability and desire to continue to improve. Wade’s performance and leadership already reached their pinnacle when he led the Miami Heat to the championship in just his second year, in 2006; since then he has battled injuries. Whether it boils down to ability (Milicic) or leadership (Anthony), assessing the components of talent is no easy task. For example, Clippers executive Elgin Baylor once said this about Olowokandi, the center Baylor drafted No. 1 overall in 1998: “He is a legitimate center with good wingspan and has good offensive skills. When he came in and worked out, it was amazing. I don’t see a great risk in taking him. Some of the great centers in the league are getting older. And he is going to be one of the top centers in this league.”
In nine rather ordinary seasons, Olowokandi went on to average about eight points and seven rebounds per game.
Imagine walking into an Economics 101 class at a local university, evaluating students and their academic records, and then attempting to predict success as a young business executive five, 10 years into the future. It takes research and good fortune, which is precisely what happened with the Houston Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Former general manager Carroll Dawson, who spent 27 years in a variety of jobs with the Rockets, said there was little discussion going into the 1984 draft. The Rockets would take Olajuwon No. 1 overall, ahead of Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan.
“We were certain, no doubt about it,” Dawson said. “But the thing is, we got a lot more than we bargained for. We had seen him a lot and he dunked, blocked shots, rebounded and ran the floor like a madman. We didn’t know about his shooting touch until we got him. The only touch you saw in college was when he shot free throws and he couldn’t make them (55 percent). But every year in the NBA he added something. He had shooting touch and could shoot phenomenally.”
Most important, however, in Olajuwon’s development into a leader, a champion, and Hall-of-Famer was his maturity. Early in his NBA career, Olajuwon’s talents were undermined by personal fouls, technical fouls, fights and visible displays of negative emotion. Opponents easily frustrated him. But concurrent with a greater focus on his spirituality early in the 1990s, Olajuwon’s play and on-court demeanor matured. The result was two championships and some of the finest play in basketball history.
Just how difficult is it to predict character and work ethic? On one hand, consider Tim Thomas, who went to the Nets in 1997 with the seventh pick, two spots ahead of Tracy McGrady. Thomas has the physical skills of an all-star, but has considerably underachieved his entire career. On the other hand, Paul Pierce slid all the way to No. 10 in 1998 because of concerns regarding his disposition. Pierce has been the Celtics’ rock for 10 seasons, improving his play each year, and recently was named MVP of the NBA Finals.
What does the future hold for Beasley and Rose? Maybe one more piece of information will uncover a clue that will predict future success.
“You want to be absolutely as thorough as you can be,” Williams said. “You are going to examine these two young men like no human beings have ever been examined. You want as much face time with them as you can get. Ideally you want to go and meet their families, spend as much time as possible with siblings and parents, and you want to go to their hometowns and their high schools, visit their youth coaches. You can’t do enough.”