Staying Ahead of the Curve

Lets all take a trip down NBA history lane. Hold on to your hats, take my hand... ok, don't take my hand.


In 1995, the "popular" thing to do was to take NCAA production from big schools in the draft. In the meantime, a then obscure, now infamous GM named Kevin McHale fell in love with a skinny 6'10 HS kid and took him with the 6th pick overall. It was considered a reach at the time, but nobody knew then what Kevin Garnett would become. It was the type of move that would be blasted by the likes of ESPN today. The next year, Kobe Bryant fell all the way to 13 and Jermaine O'neal went 17th. The year after that, Tracy McGrady went 9th. They were the only prospects to be drafted straight out of High School since Moses Malone.

Fast forward to the early 2000, where High Schoolers (and by extension due to the no HS rule implemented in 2006, college freshmen) are now all the rave. People scour the prep landscape searching for the next KG, Tmac or Kobe. Prospects are lauded for their massive potential, dreaming of what the 18 or 19 year olds will look like when they are 24 or 25. Kwame Brown goes first overall in 2001. A record 8 high schoolers get taken in 2004. And in consecutive years (2007 & 2008), new records are set for the amount of Freshman taken in the first round. Despite huge numbers of busts, scouts are fueled by gems like Amare Stoudemire, Al Jefferson, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Lebron James, and continue to drool over their potential.

Ok, now go back to 1996. The Kings are on the clock. Fans are screaming for John Wallace of Syracuse. "With the 14th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings select... Pedrag Stojakavic from Serbia-Montenegro." The City of Sacramento grabs it's torches and pitchforks, thirsty for blood. No European had been selected in the first round since Vlade Divac in 1989. And yet, when the young man does come over from Europe, he explodes. Wallace fades into obscurity, and Stojakavic is an instant steal. The floodgates are cracked, and would be open forever two years later, when the Mavericks traded the rights to Tractor Traylor for German star Dirk Nowitzki. ESPN laughed, claiming that the Mavs had been hoodwinked. And yet, we all know the story. Tractor Traylor is a joke, and Dirk is an MVP winner. Not to mention Manu Ginobli, who fell all the way to 59th (!!!), quite possibly the greatest second round steal of all time.

Forward again to the 2000s, where Europeans have exploded beyond imagination. Driven by the success of the Kings' Euro trio of Divac, Peja, and Hedo, scouts are now all over Europe trying to find the next Ginobli. Go onto and see how many "Dirk Nowitzki" comparisons you can find for the most obscure kids. "Tall, mobile, skilled" becomes the mantra for these guys. Skita goes 5th in 2002. Darko goes second in 2003, the first of a record-setting amount of Euros taken in the draft that year. All culminating with Bargnani going first overall in 2006, the first Euro taken first in NBA history.  Euros become infamous for busting, yet nobody wants to miss out on the next Tony Parker (28th, 2001).

So, what's my point through all of this? Well, pools of talent go in and out of fashion throughout NBA history. HSers and Euros are a perfect example of this. Those who are the trendsetters are those who open the floodgates with their steals never thought of by ESPN or mock draft websites. There is a danger, though, of striking when the iron is cold and coming off looking like a fool. But the truly brilliant GMs have perfect timing in their selections, and all it takes for one reach (KG, Dirk) to open the floodgates.

So how does this relate to the Kings? Well, we just took Jason Thompson 12th overall. Draft graders are ridiculing us. Mock drafts were destroyed (including mine lol). And yet, we are again tapping into a pool of talent that hasn't quite becoming trendy yet: the mid-major school. We've done it before, with Kevin Martin in 2004, which was a runaway success. And yet, guards don't usually set trends, it's big men that do. People are terrified of mid-major big men because of Olowakandi. Perfect example of striking when the iron is cold. Because of that fear, people just haven't taken a good look at some of the talent in the mid-major level. People may say that all of the true talent gets recruited into the bigger programs. But, that doesn't account for late-blooming players like Kmart or JT, who don't blossom until later in their college careers.

I'm not saying that JT is going to be a super steal, it's still up in the air. I'm just saying that over time, there have been areas of talent that just aren't accessed, and the GMs who stay ahead of the curve and the trendy thing to do are the ones who get major steals. Who knows, maybe scouts will scour the land looking for the next Jason Thompson in a few years.

I also would like to note that NCAA seniors are also being horribly underrated these days. They don't have the potential of underclassmen, but have much less bust potential and still normally have room to improve. The Kings took 3 NCAA seniors this year.

(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)

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