By: Jamie Samuelsen
I’m not one of those NBA fans who think I could be a GM.
There’s a lot more that goes into it than simply proposing ridiculous trades (Villanueva and Stuckey for Dwight Howard!). And the salary cap remains one of the most mysterious math formulas on the planet. I still don’t get how the Heat can afford LeBron, Wade and Bosh and STILL go out and get other free agents for decent money.
But here’s one thing I do know, and one thing that drives me crazy when I watch GMs waste draft pick after draft pick chasing the next big thing – NBA GMs need to quit with projecting greatness. They need to quit overthinking it. They need to quit analyzing upside and measurables. And they need to stop searching for the next Dirk Nowitzki.
Basketball people love to project what a college kid or a foreign player is going to become. I love Jay Bilas and I think he does a great job on ESPN’s draft coverage. But I get so tired of hearing him say that Nerlens Noel is going to be the next Larry Sanders. Or Alex Len will translate into a poor man’s Chris Kaman.
And if you think this whole message is about Darko – it’s not. Darko was an awful pick. There’s no defending it a decade later. But the Pistons did have a small forward (Tayshaun Prince) and did have a starting backcourt. If Milicic had panned out, the Pistons would have won more than one title in the last decade. But he didn’t. And he remains Joe Dumars’ cross to bear as people try to come to terms with how Dumars still has a job.
I’m not talking about the 2003 draft, I’m talking about 2005. The Bucks had the first pick and chased after Andrew Bogut from Utah. He had all the trappings of an NBA Draft bust. But to be fair, if Bogut could have stayed healthy, he would have had a strong NBA career. Sadly, a horrific knee injury and foot problems have limited him somewhat. But he was still a key player for Golden State in their playoff run this spring.
But after Bogut, it got dicey.
The Hawks had the number two pick and they had two of the best college point guards in recent memory waiting for them. They could have gone Chris Paul from Wake Forest. They could have gone Deron Williams from Illinois. Instead, they passed on both and gambled on the upside of Marvin Williams from North Carolina.
Williams wasn’t even a starter on the Tar Heel team that won the 2005 National Championship. He was the sixth man. He wasn’t a first-team ACC selection. He earned honorable mention. But he had the look of a star. He was tall, athletic and could jump out of the gym. He had the famous u-word – upside. Paul and Deron Williams could play. They were just great college players. Marvin Williams wasn’t a great player, but people forecast that he would become one.
So where are they now? Marvin Williams is now with the Jazz where he averaged 7.2 points per game this season. Deron Williams and Paul are simply two of the best point guards in the game. Both have been All-Stars. Both have been Olympians. And both would be the top two picks in the 2005 Draft if they redrafted the players today.
So what’s the lesson here for the Pistons heading into the draft tonight?
Don’t reach. Don’t project. Draft a player that you know can play the game. If Trey Burke is there, grab him. If Victor Oladipo is there, grab him. Those guys may not have all the ‘measurables’, although Oladipo has most of them. The Pistons are in a rebuilding mode. Let’s not put them further ahead in the process than they already are. But they also can’t afford to take a project that simply won’t work out. Both Burke and Oladipo are winners who have played at the highest level. There’s nothing to project. There’s nothing to grow into.
The Pistons don’t need to win now. But they need players who can play now. And Dumars can’t afford to swing for the fences and miss. He needs to connect on a solid extra-base hit that we know can come through. Burke and Oladipo both fit that bill.