With Adam Morrison expected to put his hat into the NBA Draft today and Tyrus Thomas already doing so on Monday, the question becomes simple:
Go with the proven commodity or draft based on potential?
This writer believes GMs should play it safe and go with the players that have proven themselves in the college game.
Tyrus Thomas had a few good games in the NCAA Tournament and found himself catapulted to the top of the draft board. His agility as a big man combined with his leaping ability make him the player with the most upside in this draft class. He has great hands, as is evidenced by so many of those alley-oop catches and throw downs and played with a great amount of energy as he used those hands to rebound the ball well.
Thomas' only weakness, seemingly, is that he has yet to really prove himself on the collegiate level. Throughout the season, he averaged 12.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Sure, he had a few great games in the Tournament, but his averages actually went down - averaging just over 7 points and rebounds per game. However, his athleticism was put on center stage as his highlight blocks made Sportscenter's Top 10 list and such.
Yes, the leaping ability and athleticism are great. Thomas even has a bit of a mid-range game, although not polished. But his game is exceedingly reminiscent of another LSU Tiger to enter the NBA Draft in 2000 - Stromile Swift.
Swift made a lot of noise as an athlete in his sophomore year at LSU, just like Thomas is now (although Thomas redshirted). He averaged above 16 points a game and was lauded for his leaping ability, length, soft hands, and touch around the basket. Basically, Tyrus Thomas and Stromile Swift are the same person coming out of college.
But it doesn't seem like NBA GMs have learned anything from the Swift scenario. A career underachiever, Swift has most recently been seen siphoning Houston's salary cap of over $5 million a year.
Same school. Same type of player. Apparently, too good to pass up, though.
When looking back through the draft years, plenty of high schoolers and underclassmen have made impacts at the NBA level, but equal, if not more, amounts have had little or no impact. In 2004, Emeka Okafor had a good rookie season, but injuries haven't allowed him to play well since.
Ben Gordon is the new franchise player for the Bulls. Devin Harris is in Dallas' long term plans. Jameer Nelson seems to be the PG of the future in Orlando.
What did they all have in common? They all were leaders at the collegiate level.
Moving back to 2003. Yes, LeBron has been amazing. Carmelo only played one year of college ball, but he won a National Championship. Dwyane Wade took Marquette to the Final Four. Chris Kaman led the Central Michigan Chippewas to only their second winning season under Coach Jay Smith. Kirk Hinrich and Luke Ridnour led their teams and were their floor generals, and we're only starting to get a peek of what Nick Collison can do due to all his injuries. Josh Howard is the unsung hero on the Mavericks roster.
Again - all players that made an impact in college and showed what they can do.
Although I don't believe that leadership in college is a requisite to NBA success (see Kobe, Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Garnett), it certainly makes more sense taking a player who has proven to be a star in college, a player that led his team (Tim Duncan, Jason Terry, Rip Hamilton, Andre Miller - all just in 1999) as a more-likely-to-be successful pro. This year is no different - while players like Rudy Gay and Tyrus Thomas generate draft buzz for their athletic ability and their "upside and potential", Adam Morrison, Brandon Roy, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, and Mardy Collins will all fall on draft boards even though they are the players who scouts know exactly what they're going to get out from them.
Am I wrong for thinking that first round picks should be used on the player that more guarantees solid play and success? The NBA Draft (like all professional sports drafts) has become a pure crapshoot with picks being made based on potential; considering all the picks that are seemingly busts, wouldn't it make more sense to take the player that is less risky? Sure, the reward isn't nearly as high as taking a chance on Rudy Gay, banking on the fact that he might become a superstar, but isn't that pick wasted if he's not anything short of extraordinary, when a role playing SF that would be able to contribute sooner (Rodney Carney) is available?
The sure-fire pick, the experienced college player, more than likely will contribute what is needed immediately, helping lottery teams make the jump out of the lottery in the next year, rather than three years down the line because of their "potential".
There's a financial aspect to all this as well - under the new CBA, rookie contracts' third and fourth years are a team option. Basically, the "potential" player has two years to prove himself, or the team can choose to not pick up his option. More than likely, though, those type of players will be kept for the full four years, as their last two years are relatively cheap salaries and no team will be willing to let their invested draft pick leave without getting something in return. Factor in the GM's ego, not willing to give up on his project player, and you know that potential player will be there all four years. By the end of that fourth year, won't that player demand more money upon free agency should he live up to such lofty potential? Won't he be leaving the team that drafted him because the dollar signs in another city are so enticing? Yes, I know Bird Rights will allow the team that drafted the player to spend money on him and keep him around, but the team may have only gotten a good year or two out of this player, when he finally reached his potential. Sign the ready college player, you get production now. All four years of that deal fill a need on your roster for cheap.
Maybe I'm more conservative than NBA GMs and lack the patience or foresight to make an intelligent choice in the draft, but going with players that have proven their abilities in college seems like the safer, more stable route to me. Will I be missing out on the TMacs, Garnetts, and Kobes? Yes, but for every superstar I miss out on, I'll have a solid team contributor and can spend my salary cap space on hopefully getting my superstar via free agency or trades. My team wouldn't be stuck in the gutter constantly, as fielding role players around acquired stars will lead to success.
And who is to say that the collegiate star won't become a superstar? Wade and Anthony did. Gordon certainly is on his way to superstardom. Tim Duncan, Rip Hamilton, Steve Nash, and Ray Allen are all there.
The bottom line: Adam Morrison and Brandon Roy have shown their abilities all season long and throughout their collegiate careers. The NBA teams looking at them know exactly what they'll be getting out of them.
Tyrus Thomas has had a few games that display a spring in his legs. In a few years, he might be a great player.
Who would you go with if you were a team that missed the playoffs and needed to turn it around immediately?