x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Draft picks are destiny's children

There are so many examples of teams making the wrong choice between players that it almost does not even qualify as a legitimate debate to use hindsight to evaluate the draft order of players in the NBA.

There are so many examples of teams making the wrong choice between players that it almost does not even qualify as a legitimate debate to use hindsight to evaluate the draft order of players in the NBA. With that being said, basketball fans in Portland should at least consider the possibility that their team made a mistake in selecting Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.

The two players are forever linked because they were in the same NBA draft year. Oden was the incumbent star of his draft year, while Durant came out of nowhere to be one of the top players in the NCAA in 2006-07. While Oden had dealt with agents trying to secure his services over the course of both his high school and college run, Durant was seemingly under the radar. In years previous, there have been other examples of how teams passed on one player to draft another, only to see over the course of time that they made a selection mistake.

Perhaps the most famous drafting mistake was the decision by the Portland Trail Blazers to pick the 7ft 1in Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft. Bowie had put together an impressive collegiate career at the University of Kentucky before entering the draft. He was also very tall. Jordan had put together a decent collegiate career before he entered the draft, however he was no giant of a man. He was a pedestrian 6ft 6in.

In short, it was a great deal safer for the Blazers to go with the established height as a player who needed the ball to be effective. We all know now that Portland made a big mistake by passing on Jordan. The 2007 draft was almost déjà vu. Oden was the can't-miss-kid. Watching the 7ft Oden star for the Ohio State University basketball team, it was clear that he was a cut above the rest. With such great expectations, it is only obvious that Oden has not lived up to what others proclaimed to be his potential.

In hindsight, he has been a big miss since he entered the league. A combination of less-than-stellar play as well as continual injuries has made Oden a bit of a question mark. He has not shown that he has the inherent skills to someday become an incredible basketball player. Years ago, during a successful run as the top executive of the New York Knicks, Ernie Grunfeld told a colleague of mine that evaluating players was like trying to capture lightening in a bottle. The point was well taken. With few exceptions, there are no sure things in life, not the least of which are the future behaviour of human beings. Very few people were willing to put Durant over Oden before the two entered the NBA.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to speak with former NBA general manager Wayne Embry, a senior executive with the Toronto Raptors. Embry claimed that the best teams were built from the centre position outwards. I am sure that he too, even with his Hall-of-Fame accolades, would have selected Oden with the first pick. In short, on paper perhaps, Oden was a better prospect than Durant. In many ways, the former Seattle Sonics were lucky that they did not have to decide between the two players but rather select the guy that Portland had passed on. I would not be surprised to find out that the Sonics would have taken Oden had they had the first pick.

The best part about the story of Oden and Durant is that they are well-known for being great guys. While it would be nice to see Oden healthy so that we could enjoy both players over the years to come, meanwhile Durant continues to show why he is one of the future stars of the game, inspiring questions as to whether Portland made a mistake. gdole@thenational.ae