Did you hear there’s a Draft tonight? I know, I almost missed it too. No one has been talking about it but, apparently, executives from thirty teams are going to sit around making phone calls all night in Madison Square Garden and decide the future of their franchises while a bunch of young men in funny-looking suits put on ugly hats that transform them into instant millionaires. It’s supposed to be wild.
Honestly, until all the trading went down, I wasn’t even all that excited for the NBA Draft for probably the first time in my entire life. I mean, it’s always a great event and watching it is one of my favorite things to do each year so I was looking forward to it in the same sense that it’s always cool when Christmas comes along, but I just really don’t have an informed enough opinion on most of the guys people are talking about as lottery picks to have gotten all that fired up.
To be completely truthful, I could barely pick any of Tyreke Evans, James Johnson and JRue Holiday (who might have the best draft-day name since D’Brickashaw Ferguson) out of a lineup. And if I haven’t actually watched you play in a basketball game five or six times, I really can’t pretend to know what the hell I’m talking about when I discuss your pro potential.
Eagerly trying to read up on all these guys can help, but it often just make things worse by bringing faux-knowledge into the equation. I try to check out as much info as possible and subsequently end up trying to sound intelligent when out drinking by saying things like “I like Johnny Flynn a lot but I think his size might mean he’s a bench player at best” or “I’m pretty concerned about Dejuan Blair’s MRI,” but all the scuttlebutt, innuendo and flat-out misinformed descriptions that are out there about how these kids actually play the game means that even doing your homework isn’t going to propel you into some new stratosphere of insight if you didn’t actually watch the games. (Wait, someone is seriously trying to get me to believe that Gerald Henderson is going to be the next Latrell Sprewell? Hmmm. Considering that I have actually watched Gerald play at Duke for three years and I have also seen this, you, sir, are either peddling misinformation or just lying to me.)
Essentially what I’m saying is that I have no clue which of the players in this year’s Draft will be any good. Partly, it’s because I really don’t watch much NCAA basketball anymore. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that every time I go into an evening thinking “Nice, UNC/Duke is on tonight,” I later find out that the Jazz are playing Denver or the Heat are playing the Suns, and I end up watching that instead. The quality of play is just so much higher and Dwyane Wade literally does something in every game he plays that would be the ACC highlight of the year if he did it while playing for Clemson. Still, if college hoops were played during the NBA offseason, I would watch every game. But rarely does my desire to watch even a great match up like UConn vs. Syracuse supersede the feeling that I would be missing too much if I chose to watch that over Deron vs. Melo.
On top of my lack of first-hand knowledge about this year’s draft crop, I also know that I have been waaaay off about a lot of players even back when I did watch a ton of NCAA hoops. I thought Boozer would be mediocre at best, for example. I absolutely adored Ron Mercer. I thought John Wallace would be a beast. I saw Rashad McCants making a few All-Star teams. I was a huge Maurice Ager fan. I even sort of liked Hilton Armstrong quite a bit for some reason. (On the other hand, I have actually gotten a few things right: I couldn’t believe Vince Carter didn’t go #1, I’m still baffled as to why Josh Howard fell to #30, I loved Shane Battier and I was one of the few people who had any inkling that Dwyane Wade would be a superstar — although I admittedly had absolutely zero idea he would be this good).
Despite all this, there is one definite opinion I have about the 2009 Draft, however: I would take Ricky Rubio over Blake Griffin.
It’s impossible to dismiss Blake’s incredible numbers or look past how easily he dominated the college ranks last season. His ability to rebound will definitely translate to the pro level. He might even be an NBA All-Star some day. That is all true. I know all that.
I just think Rubio has the potential to be legendary.
Like everyone else, I haven’t seen him play all that much, of course. But who would you want if I told you that you could either have (a) a guy whose upside is a pre-alcoholic Vin Baker, or (b) a potentially beloved 6’4″ teenager with floppy hair who has the chance to be the next great white point guard?
From a purely on-the-court basketball standpoint, I can see why Griffin is so appealing — he’s a can’t-miss talent who has zero potential to not be very good. And generally, my belief on how a GM should approach a draft is to be risk-averse. The upside argument for taking guys like Tyrus Thomas who can’t necessarily do anything great on a basketball court over guys like LaMarcus Aldridge who have proven skills that apply to any level of basketball has always puzzled me. I would take LaMarcus over Tyrus thirteen times out of ten.
But if this Spanish kid can figure out how to pass the ball with as much flair, presence and effectiveness as he has done internationally, the Rubio phenomenon — both on the court and off the court — could reach giant heights. We’re talking about a taller, goofier-looking Steve Nash-type of fan-love. Something like that not only makes your team instantly relevant Leaguewide and featured nightly to casual Sportscenter viewers, but it gives you the franchise foundation point guard that it is becoming increasingly clear that the best teams in this League now all need. (Yes, I know that Orlando and Los Angeles both made the Finals without marquee PGs, but the Lakers are a special case because of the triangle and Orlando had a lot of other things working in its favor this post-season. The Cavs are obviously another team without a great PG, but (a) look what happened to them, and (b) any team with LeBron is always going to be an anomaly.)
Ultimately, the NBA is an increasingly perimeter-based League, so I’m taking the potentially transcendent PG over the certainly sound big guy.
Take Rubio over Griffin. I’m certain that this is how it should be. Write it down. Take a picture. Book it. Ricky Rubio will have a better career than Blake Griffin. It’s a certainty.
Just remember that this is merely the opinion of a guy who would have taken John Wallace over Ray Allen in 1996 — and remember that all the other “expert analysis” out there is coming from people whose perspectives have been equally flawed in the past.
They just won’t tell you about it.
John Wallace: Future NBA All-Star