Unless He’s Shaq, Never Draft An NBA Center #1

Once and for all, hopefully this whole draft debacle with Greg Oden ends the NBA’s recent obsession with big men. There will always be tall men playing in the league, but looking for the next Dirk Nowitzki is a lost cause.

Despite all of the warning signs against drafting Greg Oden, the Portland Trail Blazers went ahead on June 28, 2007 and picked him anyway. Why? Apparently, his being a center proved too valuable too pass up.

I don’t know a single person who doesn’t salivate whenever the seven-foot “Blonde Bomber” (Dirk Nowitzki) swishes a three-pointer, but you’ve got realize that he’s as rare as they come. Taking away basketball god Tim Duncan out of the equation since he’s a mixture of center and power forward goodness, the last dominant center of the last fifteen years is Shaquille O’Neal.

NBA executives have gotten spoiled after Shaq was drafted in 1992 and subsequently dominated the paint. Shaq is that rare breed that has reinvented what a center should be: an overpowering dunk machine. Looking at the last few drafts, the only player that has found success as a true center is Yao Ming with his career points and rebounds per game averages of 18.5 and 8.9. I’m not even looking at Phoenix Suns star Amare Stoudemire since he mixes positions a la Duncan, and we’ll sweep the Detroit Darko experiment under the rug.

The reality is the game has sped up, and point guards and playmakers like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd have much more impacts on their teams than a tall guy constantly shifting in and out of the paint. Look at what LeBron James has done for the Cleveland Cavaliers or Dwyane Wade for the Miami Heat (especially when Shaq retires) or Carmelo Anthony for the Denver Nuggets. What has 2005 first overall pick Andrew Bogut done for the Milwaukee Bucks? How long has it taken the Los Angeles Clippers to recover from drafting Michael Olowokandi?

In winning six titles for the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan should have proved that a dominant center wasn’t needed so much as an adequate one. Could any other team win a title with the likes of Will Perdue, Luc Longley, or Bill Wennington as their starting centers? Having Scottie Pippen by your side doesn’t hurt either, and I bet Shaq liked having Kobe Bryant by side all those years with the Lakers. But the fact remains Jordan was the Bulls and made everyone around him so much better.

Everything would be a moot point, however, if Kevin Durant disappoints for the Seattle Supersonics with either poor play or — god-forbid — an injury. The only person who would find solace in the combination of Oden’s injury and Durant’s uncertain rookie season is Danny Ainge. Whoever saw the telecast of the recent draft could see the moment that Ainge’s heart stopped when NBA commissioner David Stern read the Boston Celtics for the fifth overall pick. If the Celtics do find success sans Oden or Durant it would in spite of losing its statistically dominant top two picks to long odds and very bad luck.

If anything, that bad hand forced Ainge to make tough decisions to get the 2007-2008 season to mean something other than lots of drinking. With all of those past draft and trade mistakes, Ainge had a mandate for change, like New York Mets GM Omar Minaya had the season after he idiotically traded away Scott Kazmir for walk-specialist Victor Zambrano and traded FOR Kris Benson in 2004. When New Yorkers made their feelings shown, Minaya swiftly signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran in 2005, and in 2006 got Carlos Delgado and reached game seven of the National League Championship Series.

Ainge made powerful trades too. His golden star was getting the best player available in Kevin Garnett to strengthen his already solid Paul Pierce-Ray Allen (whom he traded for earlier that year) duo. KG is tall, but a center he is not because of his mobility and versatility. Having a starting line-up of three all-stars can sure make you smile, but will he smile with his team in the playoffs?

Another moot point would be if Oden successfully recovers from the dreaded microfracture surgery. Stoudemire did it. Hell, John Stockton did it at age 35. Many others were able to recover from it, although poor Penny Hardaway was never the same after having it on both knees.

Two things work in Oden’s favor when he finally plays an NBA game. One, he’s still only 19 with his youth being able to heal everything short of missing limbs. Two, he hasn’t played an NBA game so expectations would have to be scaled back dramatically and every analyst would call him a success if he gets more than a 10.0 PPG/5 RPG average that first year after the surgery.

While Sam Bowie comparisons might be premature, it helps my argument as to why you never draft a center over a playmaker. Also I’m choosing to ignore the fact that the Houston Rockets drafted Hakeem Olajuwon ahead of Bowie and Jordan because the team needed a center that year and “The Dream” was universally lauded as the best center of the draft. Plus, he led the team to back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995. Either way, all eyes will be on Oden for the 2008-2009 season, and hopefully (for the team’s sake) not another Oden moment will be repeated. Although from a non-Blazer fan viewpoint, it’s a little comical to see the karma. With only a 5.3% chance at landing the first overall pick, Portland snatched it from both the Memphis Grizzles (25%) and the Celtics (19.9%) and has so far landed a dud. Ouch.

5 Replies to “Unless He’s Shaq, Never Draft An NBA Center #1”

  1. Mets GM Omar Minaya was not with the team for the Kazmir trade. Thats the one silver lining Mets fans have. Without that trade, Omar may have never come on board. Besides that, good post. The problem is, besides Jordan, what swing player/gaurd has let his team to a title. Not Kid/T-mac/Kobe/Vince. Duncan/Shaq/Hakeem has, though these players should never be mistaken for Bogut/Oden.

  2. I dont think you can hardly call Greg Oden a bust at this point. He’s going to miss a season, big deal. It’s not like that one year is going to make or break him. In fact it might just be good for him, he’s going to have a year to study the league, get adjusted to the NBA life, get to know his teammates and get familar with his coach, all without the pressure of having to perform on the court every night. Just remember that you haven’t seen what he can do yet. He played a year in college with his weak hand and led his team to the NCAA title. Again, what is one year? What he’ll be 20 now instead of 19 when he starts his career? Oh my god, he’s going to age right out of the league…

    seriously, how can you say that drafting centers is the riskier than drafting anyone else? lets take a look here… in fact your argument holds no basis, but ill let this list prove that….

    2004 Dwight Howard
    2002 Yao Ming
    1997 Tim Duncan
    1992 Shaq
    1990 Derrick Coleman
    1987 David Robinson
    1985 Pat Ewing
    1984 Hakeem
    1982 James Worthy
    1974 Bill Walton
    1969 Kareem Abdul Jabar
    The List goes on and on…

    Your argument is ridiculous because look I could say don’t draft power forwards number one… Kwame Brown was a bust, see see. that’s stupid because for every kwame there is a elton brand, TD, Dwight Howard, or another to prove it wrong. The draft is a crap shoot, look at len bias, there are no sure things. and you can’t lable GO a bust before he plays a game. Is Amare a bust because he had the same injury? no.
    Let’s look at the NBA champions of the past few years
    07- San Antonio Big man Tim Duncan
    06- Miami- Big Man Shaq
    05- SA Again TD
    04 Detroit- Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace
    03- SA Again TD
    02- LA Shaq
    01- LA Shaq
    00- LA Shaq
    99- SA TD and David Robinson
    96-98- You win
    95- Houston Hakeem
    94- Houston Hakeem
    91-93 Chicago you win

    11 of the last 17 Championships were won by teams led by dominating bigmen as opposed to the team with the dominating swing man…. hmmm… is your theory busted?

    But, then again with irresponsible reporting that states omar minaya was the mets gm when they traded kazmir what should i expect.

  3. Yeah. You’re not the first one to say my facts aren’t straight. I’ll do better. But I didn’t say Oden was a bust.

    Plus, my article was more about how the game has changed. Mentioning all those past players doesn’t change the fact that 90s and 00s ball is drastically different.

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