The closer we get to 2014 and the new luxury tax rules, the more I am convinced that how you draft is more important than ever. Now that most teams are going to avoid going over the tax threshold at all costs, the only real feasible way to build a contender is going to be by picking the right guys and keeping costs as low as possible. I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be one or two teams who might have enough money and balls to basically buy titles, and in this sport it would actually make more sense as a strategy than it does for the Yankees or the Red Sox. If someone with deep, Jacques Cousteau pockets is willing to bleed money for championships, they might be able to put the league in a chokehold for years to come.
Barring such unlikely happenings, you are going to have to nail your draft picks, especially the high ones. OKC is the current shining example, since they’ve built a team good enough to make the NBA Finals in four years’ time, all because they got Kevin Durant, Jeff Green (since traded for Kendrick Perkins), Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka in the draft. Essentially, that’s the entire nucleus of the team, and everyone but Durant was still on his first contract as of this season.
Yeah, it’s a pipe dream to think you can do as well as they have, but in Basketball all it really takes is one guy, one Derrick Rose or Blake Griffin type to boost the fortunes of your sagging franchise. In this game, you can sell hope through the draft like no other sport can. That is, if you don’t fuck it up.
Sooooo, I put some thought into the most common mistakes that teams make in the draft, why them make them, and who they made them on. I’ve named them the “Five Deadly Draft Venoms” as an homage to a truly great Martial Arts flick.
For the sake of clarity I’m gonna strict to fairly recent references wherever possible, so as to avoid having to explain who Bill Willoughby or LaRue Martin were. Trust me, it’s easier for all involved this way.
DEADLY VENOM #1: THE BIG GUY WHO PLAYS BECAUSE HE’S BIG
There are no shortage of these guys in the hoops world, and it’s been that way forever. Hey, if somebody offered you millions of dollars to do something you don’t particularly enjoy, you’d at least have to consider it, right? Sadly, plenty of them manage to conceal there disdain for the game of basketball well enough to trick these teams into using a top ten pick on them. To be clear, I don’t begrudge a guy getting paid alot of money to play a game that he’s not pouring his entire heart and soul into, I just wouldn’t want that guy anywhere near my team.
Poster Child: Michael Olowokandi.
If you ever saw him play, you are simply nodding your head in agreement on this one. He was a pretty talented player who actually had some moves, he’s just couldn’t give a shit about winning or perfecting his craft in any way. The Kandi man actually managed to last nine years in the season, strictly on his talent, and ended up earning almost 38 million dollars to pay a game he clearly had no love for. Good for him, I guess.
Other notable examples: Patrick O’ Bryant, Eddy Curry and Michael Sweetney.
O’ Bryant, the 9th pick of the 2006 draft, had the misfortune of being dropped in the lap of Don Nelson, the man whose dislike of plodding big men is the stuff of legend. O’ Bryant’s lack of progress (or a clue) got him waived by the Warriors after two seasons and playing in China just two years after that.
Eddy Curry parlayed a giant body and a world of potential into 70 million dollars earned over 10 years and well, not much other than disappointment for those he played for. How does a 7 foot, 300 pound man average 7 rebounds per 36 minutes played? Very casually.
Mike Sweetney may or may not have loved the game, but there can be no doubt that it took a back seat to his love of eating. From big in New York (literally) to huge in Chicago to buxom in Boston, Sweetney has expanded at a positively frightening rate for a guy who wasnt even 25 yet.
And then came Puerto Rico.
I’m scared to ask what that trophy is for.
2012’s prime candidate for Deadly Venom #1: Andre Drummond
He’s got all the familiar symptoms. yeah he’s 7’0 275 with a world of potential, but he’s also been questioned about how much he wants it, and his lackluster freshman season at UConn was a major bell ringer. After all, if you can’t do better than 10 points and 7 rebounds a game in the Big East, it’s hard to imagine you’ll set the Pros on fire, especially if you aren’t the self-starter type.
DEADLY VENOM #2: THE GREAT FOREIGN HYPE (AKA “THE DIRK SYNDROME)
Yeah, their was a smattering of great internationals in the league before Dirk’s arrival, notably the late Drazen Petrovic, the hairy Sarunas Marciulionis and the massive Arvydas Sabonis, but the league went INTERNATIONAL CRAZY in the wake of Nowitzki’s immense success. Suddenly, everyone wanted a long haired jump shooting 7 footer of their own, and the desperation produced some rather calamitous draft moments.
Poster Child: Darko.
Honestly, he could have qualified for the first deadly venom as well. In a year in which Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh were all there for the taking, the Pistons could not resist the potential of the 19 year old 7 footer with the dizzying array of skills. Drafted onto a team that went on to win the NBA title the very next year, the rookie Darko was chained to the bench by Coach larry brown, thus likely sapping him of whatever desire he might have had in the first place. The rest is underachiever history.
Other notable examples:Yaroslav Korolev, Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Fran Vasquez.
The Clippers thought they were getting the next Euro sharpshooter when they drafted Korolev. What they got was a grasshopper with a busted jump shot, as the dreadfully skinny Korolev scored a grand total of 39 points in two seasons before the Clippers cut him, and that’s the last anyone has seen of him on American soil. Ditto for Tskitishvili more or less, except he managed to last four seasons in the NBA despite being totally out of his league.
The Fran Vazquez story is just too good to make up. On the eve of the 2005 draft, Vazquez allegedly warned all NBA suitors that he was happy in the Spanish League and they ought not to waste a pick on him. of course, then-Orlando GM John Weisbrod (whose only previous experience running a team was in the NHL) decided to call his bluff and selected him with the 11th pick, envisioning a Dwight Howard/ Vazquez tandem.
Thing is, Vazquez wasn’t kidding. He didn’t show up for the 2006 season. Or the 2007 Season. The Magic fans patiently waited for Vazquez. And waited.
Seven years and counting now.
2012’s prime candidate for Deadly Venom #2: Um, nobody
Call it a market correction or maybe just a down year for overseas talent, but only France’s Evan Fournier is considered to be first round material among this crop, with most projections having him in the 25-30 range. So for this year at least, there will be no Dirk wannabe’s in the mix.
DEADLY VENOM #3: THE PLAGUE OF THE DREADED “UPSIDE”!
This always hurts. what you see in workouts or the draft camps can often distort your reality, causing a player who didn’t dominate and the College level to be grossly overrated by some tea that’s simply enamored of what he could be. Finding a bonafide superstar can both make a GM’s career and change the fortunes of a franchise. So much so, in fact, that the desperate those same Gm’s can end up fired in the wake of a bad draft blunder.
Poster Child: Marvin Williams
Speaking of franchise-altering decisions.
What do you think of the Atlanta Hawks roster? Pretty good team, perennial playoff qualifier, but probably lacking that last big piece to put them up there with the big boys, right? Well, what would you think of them if they had Chris Paul or Deron Williams? I mean, even the most cynical among us would have to concede that a team featuring Paul or Williams along with Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Al Horford would be no joke, dont you think?
The sad fact is, the Hawks had a chance to draft both of those guys and passed because they just couldn’t resist the breathtaking talent of Marvin Williams. Seven years later, it’s apparent that Williams will never be more than a serviceable Small Forward, capable of 25 points one night and 4 the next.
Not to be the broken record, but this is the kind of mistake that can handicap a basketball team for years.
Other notable examples: Joe Alexander, Yi Jianlian, Tyrus Thomas.
Every now and again there is a player who shoots up the draft board during workouts. Joe Alexander was one of those. Showcasing that elite level of athleticism and the physique of a superstar, the Bucks were impressed enough to snap him up with the 8th pick. Of course, playing NBA level Basketball proved to be troublesome for Joe, and the Bucks gave up on him pretty much immediately. So did the Bulls, the Hornets and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Yi Jianlian is what happens when a team is blown away by talent displayed by player in an empty gym workout, only to be confronted by the reality that said player is about as ready to handle the physical rigors of the pros as Jamarcus Russell was for the demands of NFL quarterbacking. On the bright side, Yi was never arrested for Sizzurp possession.
Tyrus Thomas had the build and physical prowess that made him look like a superstar in the Shawn Kemp/Antonio McDyess/Amare Stoudemire mold. The Bulls were impressed enough to trade down to get him, swapping him with future star LaMarcus Aldridge. Well, Thomas ended up being the second coming of Stromile Swift, he of the million dollar body and 10 cent brain. Thus far, his career highlight is getting into a pull-apart with head coach Paul Silas in which Silas was actually clowning Thomas for being overpaid.
Yep, that’s not good.
2012’s prime candidate for Deadly Venom #3: Take your pick.
Really, that’s the story of this draft. Everywhere you look there is talent, but there’s also a lengthy list of guys whose stock has dropped from original projections. It’s the main recent this draft has been downgraded from “awesome” to “hopefully good”. John Henson, Andre Drummond Damien Lilliard and Dion Waiters are all considered top 10 picks and risky ones, at that, while Terrance and Perry Jones III (no relation) are in a freefall after being considered top 5 guys less than a year ago.
What can I say, this draft, much like love, is a battlefield.
DEADLY VENOM #4: THE PROBLEM CHILD
Tough to fathom in this era of Wonderlic tests and downright surgical background checks, but some mighty big flakes still manage to slip past some of these teams. Of course talent rules all, so sometimes the decision makers just have to roll the dice. Still, if you have a look through the history of the draft, most knuckleheads stay knuckleheads.
There is a difference, after all, between a young kid who needs to mature a bit and figure out the difference between a good shot and a bad one (Russell Westbrook, for example) and a guy catching murder charges or shooting himself in the leg in a strip club or whatever.
Poster Child: Eddie Griffin
Coming out of Seton Hall after his Freshman year, Griffin had all the potential and the world and Kevin Garnett-type skills. He also had a checkered personal history that included a vicious beating of a Seton Hall teammate in practice. Perhaps the most talented player in the 2001 Draft, Griffin managed to fall to the 7th pick, where the Nets grabbed him and promptly traded him to Houston.
Within two years, the Rockets had given up on him after repeated stints in Alcohol Rehab clinics, and in fact Griffin missed the entire 2004 Season in an attempt to get sober. The Wolves took a chance on him in 2005 and he was a solid, if somewhat less productive player in his three years there, save for a bizarre incident where Griffin reportedly crashed into another car while masturbating.
Three months after being released by Minnesota, Griffin was killed when he drove through a railroad warning and was struck by a moving train in what may or may not have been a suicide. He was 25 years old.
Other notable examples: Michael Beasley, Demarcus Cousins, Javaris Crittenton
Michael Beasley had enough talent to actually convince people that he was worth taking over Derrick Rose in the 2008 Draft. Since then, Rose has won Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and made three All-star teams. Beasley has been busted for smoking weed in his hotel room at the 2008 NBA Rookie transition clinic, gone to rehab in 2009 for alleged drug problems and mushed a fan during a 2011 NYC Streetball game.
I ain’t lyin’. Look for yourself.
DeMarcus Cousins appears to be the next big head case, having already quit trying in a game after complaining that Tyreke Evans wasn’t giving him the ball and getting Paul Westphal fired for being being uncoachable. At only 21,one shudders to think what he’s truly capable of.
When the Lakers drafted Javaris Crittenton with the 19th pick in 2007, they saw a big point guard with open court instincts. By the time he got to Washington, he had developed an affection for guns and gambling, culminating in the infamous Wild West showdown with Gilbert Arenas that lead to both of them being suspended for the rest of the 2009 Season.
Now out of the league, Crittenton was arrested in August of 2011 and charged with murder in connection with the death of a 22 year old mother of four. Atlanta police claim the murder was in retaliation for a robbery in which Crittenton has the victim. Javaris is currently awaiting trial.
2012′s prime candidate for Deadly Venom #4: Andre Drummond or Austin Rivers
I tried, but I couldn’t pick just one.
Drummond by all accounts is a good kid, but seems to have the maturity level of a 16 year old and might not understand what he’s in for until he’s on his second or third team. Five years from now, some team might be getting a beast of a free-agent, but the team that’s drafting him better cross their fingers.
Austin Rivers would be the opposite side of this coin. By all accounts as arrogant and entitled as they come, he’s either going to be a helluva player or a cautionary tale about what happens to a guy who can’t accept the fact that he’s just not as good as he thought he was. The track record for these types is not very good, and the NBA is lousy with bench players who think they should be franchise players.
DEADLY VENOM #5: THE HUMPTY DUMPTY THEORY
Often lost in the shuffle when it comes to talking about the world of sports is one fundamental truth:
The human body wasn’t really built for this shit.
It’s not just Football or Gymnastics either. Fact is, some people just aren’t up to the task of putting their bodies through this kind of shit on a day-to-day basis, and alot of times these types are sending off red flags long before draft time. There are freak injuries like what happened to Shawn Livingston (watch this only if you have a strong stomach) or mystery illnesses like the one that befell DaJuan Wagner, and then there are guys whose bodies just break down, period.
Poster Child: Greg Oden
Not that this story needs to be re-told or anything, but Greg Oden’s enormous potential outweighed the obvious concerns about his durability. Fact is, Oden was the most sure-fire superstar big man prospect since Tim Duncan, and for all the revisionist history spouted about that draft, nobody but nobody was going to take Kevin Durant over him. The fact is, he dominated the College ranks despite playing his freshman season with a broken right wrist. Call it the Portland curse or just plain shitty luck, but Oden’s entire tenure in Portland hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans while Kevin Durant is considered a top three player in the league.
Them’s the breaks.
Other notable examples: Adam Morrison, Jonathan Bender
If you had a chance to take a 6’8 scoring machine who was drawing (unfair, I might add) Larry Bird comparisons with the third pick, it would be tough to say no. If said player happened to have type 1 diabetes, well, it becomes a tougher decision. That was the case with Adam Morrison, a talented player who suffered thru a lackluster rookie season, then blew out his left Knee prior to the start of his second year. Now 28, Morrison is struggling to find his way back to the NBA.
Bender was seen as an all-world talent but at 6’10 and approximately 120 pounds, there was some well-founded concern that his body not be able to handle the rigors of the Pro game. Still, there had been plenty of guys who were told to gain and weight and still went on to a great career. Reggie Miller comes to mind, for starters. In Bender’s case, he was picked 5th in the 1999 draft and showed enough promise to get a 4 year, 28 million dollar contract from the Pacers. Sadly, he only played more than 60 games once in his seven years in Indiana and ended up retiring at the tender age of 25. His 2010 comeback attempt with the Knicks lasted 25 games and now, at 29, he is permanently retired from the game.
2012′s prime candidate for Deadly Venom #5: John Henson
Ok this is strictly a hunch, but what can I say, his body scares me. You don’t see a whole lot of successful NBA players with that Phil Jackson/Vlad Guerrero/ Redd Foxx Posture. You just don’t. Maybe it’s the fact that he looks 30, or that he looks too much like Milton Reece from the White Shadow. Maybe it’s all of those things together. Point is, I just have this feeling he’s going to spend more time on the IR than he does on the court.