x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Teams are carried away by potential

The NBA Draft for the 2009 season is tonight and it has all the drama and intrigue you would want. It is also a microcosm of the American sports fan.

The NBA Draft for the 2009 season is tonight and it has all the drama and intrigue you would want. It is also a microcosm of the American sports fan. We love the draft because it is full of hope, hope of what is next on the sports landscape. The announcers always compare a draftee to an established player. "Hasheem Thabeet is the next Dikembe Mutombo ? Blake Griffin is a more athletic Carlos Boozer." You never want to be called a "poor man's" version of great player. It is not a compliment.

We love the draft because of the impact that a new, young player can have on a struggling franchise. The San Antonio Spurs were 21-61 in 1989, the year before the No 1 overall pick David Robinson joined the team. They were 56-26 in Robinson's rookie year. One man changed everything. Will University of Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin do that for the lowly Los Angeles Clippers? The Clips, who were 19-63 this season, are expected to take Griffin with the No 1 pick.

History suggests that of their last 23 first-round picks, only one became an all-star as a Clipper. Big players usually struggle or move on to play well to another franchise. Good luck Blake. We love the draft because of the 'P' word: potential. Teams do not draft experienced college players anymore, they take an 18-year-old European college freshman who played just one season on the NCAA level before jumping to the pros.

This year most experts predict that Ohio State freshman centre BJ Mullens will be selected before North Carolina senior Tyler Hansbrough. Mullens was a high school all-American, but had an unimpressive freshman year in college. Hansbrough, on the other hand, was one of the most productive players in North Carolina history. Why will Mullens be taken ahead of Hansbrough? Potential. NBA teams know everything Hansbrough can do, but the upside of Mullens's game is still out there in the mythical land of potential. It is not about what you have done, it is about what you might do.

So many teams have been burned by this mindset in the history of the draft you would think that by 2009, teams would have learned. In 2005 the Atlanta Hawks drafted North Carolina's Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul out of Wake Forest. Paul is an all-star; the Hawks still wait on Williams to pay off. In 1998 the Clippers took the unproven Michael Olowokani and passed on Vince Carter and Paul Pierce. That is why they are the Clippers.

We love the draft because NBA teams love height. If you are 7ft tall and can jog a bit, the NBA will take a long look at you. Teams are afraid to pass on the next Shaq, the next Kareem, and the next Ewing. I can't tell you how many times a team took a stiff, not very athletic seven-footer over a smaller player who could play basketball. In 1993 the Philadelphia took 7ft 6ins Shawn Bradley with the second overall pick. Bradley spent a decade getting pushed around by stronger players and getting dunked on by more athletic ones.

In the 2009 draft, the 7ft 3ins Hasheem Thabeet out of Uconn is the player who is creating the most debate. He is expected to go in the first eight picks and could go as early as second. Like most big men, Thabeet has strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are that he blocks shots, alters shots, runs well and plays hard. The weaknesses are that he has a limited offensive game, he is thin and can get pushed around.

The announcers at the draft will say, "you can't teach height" as the reason to select Thabeet. That is true, but you also cannot make a star out of a guy who might be better off stacking the high shelves at the library. I love the draft. @Email:ppabst@thenational.ae