Sometimes history teaches us everything. Sometimes it teaches us nothing.
I was thinking about the Griffin/Rubio debate the other day, and it got me to wondering – when was the last time that a player came out of college as the undisputed #1 pick? It sure seems that it has been a long time. Was I on to something? Had I discovered a trend? Unable to track down Colleen Maloof for her opinion, I was forced to forge on alone.
I have long felt that in this modern day of increased media coverage, it is nearly impossible for a collegiate cager (note – “cager” was a huge synonym for basketball player when I was a college journalist, and I discovered it at the bottom of an old water pipe that was stuffed into a box with my debate trophies…yes, I was also a master debater) to get through even one year of play unscathed. Not like the “good old days,” when Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes laced them up for national TV once a year.
Today’s foreign players hold the mystery that our collegiate players used to enjoy. You don’t have to go back much farther than 1997. We knew of Tim Duncan, Keith Van Horn, and Ron Mercer, but how much did we really know of them? And perhaps not coincidentally, Duncan is the last college hoopster (OK, I’ll put the pipe down now) that I can find that was the undisputed #1 pick. There is probably more tape on Ricky Rubio then there was on the Wake Forest Tim Duncan.
How would the conversation at StR played out if we were guaranteed a top-four pick in:
2008 – Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley – By draft day it was a toss-up. Even O.J. Mayo had entered the picture.
2007 – Greg Oden or Kevin Durant – Most felt Oden, but many liked Durant.
2006 – Andrea Bargnani (foreign player) – Beat out LaMarcus Aldridge, Adam Morrison and Tyrus Thomas.
2005 – Andrew Bogut – Marvin Williams was thought to be the best player, and Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Raymond Felton flooded the market at PG, causing all of them to slip a little).
2004 – Dwight Howard (high school) – Over Emeka Okafor
2003 – LeBron James (high school) – Over import Darko Milicic and Orangeman Carmelo Anthony.
2002 – Yao Ming – (foreign player) – Yao joined Nikoloz Tskitishvilli and Nene as imports selected within the top seven. Jay Williams was the first college player chosen (at #2). Amare Stoudemire was selected out of high school at #9.
2001 – Kwame Brown (high school) – Jason Richardson was the first college player chosen, going #5. Fellow prepsters (OK, now I’m really going to put down the pipe) Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, along with Spaniard Pau Gasol rounded out the top five.
2000 – Kenyon Martin – Martin beat out fellow college luminaries Stromile Swift and Marcus Fizer, as well as high school sensation Darius Miles. This is the type of draft that you fear as a Kings fan this year.
1999 – Elton Brand – It was between Brand and Steve Francis, with a little Lamar Odom on the side (though Baron Davis did make a late run).
1998 – Michael Olowokandi – To be fair, any time the Clippers have the #1 pick, it can skew the results. Mike Bibby, Raef LaFrentz and the Carolina kids (Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter) were also in the mix.
1997 – Duncan – Keith Van Horn was not even part of the discussion when it came to who the #1 pick was, and Van Horn went #2.
Which leads me to Blake Griffin. Now, I have no way of knowing whether Griffin is going to wind up more like Tim Duncan or Tim Thomas, but I do know this – never has someone scored and rebounded so much and taken as much heat over the perceived holes in his game. Beasley took a little flak, but his attitude was always part of the conversation. Griffin has taken guff for being one-dimensional (for some reason, a guy that can finish that efficiently at the basket should force himself to score away from the basket) or that the game comes too easy for him (the same was said of Durant, by the way).
If I were going to argue against Griffin, it would be that Brand was the last college player chosen at #1 to be (in hindsight) deserving of the pick, with the jury still out on Oden and Rose (both technically rookies this year). The counter-argument might be that now that high school players can’t declare, more and more college freshman will prove worthy of the #1 pick (again, see Rose and Oden). At the end of the day, it is difficult to say that the college ranks is no longer capable of churning out viable #1 picks, especially now that most high school prodigies are heading off for a year of college ball.
None of this is to say that Griffin should be or will be the #1 pick. But it amazes me that a guy could be this good at the college level, playing division one, excelling whenever he faced better teams, and that some fans would not want him on their NBA team. To prefer Ricky Rubio is one thing, but to not want Blake Griffin at all? It does not make sense to me.
My personal preference would be that Rubio (or Tyreke Evans or Brandon Jennings) showed up at the Kings practice facility and showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the guy that can make his team and teammates better. I’d love a guy that would bring out the best in Kevin Martin, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson. But failing at that, I could learn to limp along with Blake Griffin’s fanaticism at the rim.
I suppose that all of this history really teaches us nothing, other than nothing can be learned from all of this history. Man, I just hate it when I write an entire article and it adds up to nothing. Now I know how Ailene Voison must feel.
Where is that pipe?