The NBA: Where “My Kneecap Exploded” Happens


(*patella erupts like the Mothership in the final scenes of Independence Day*)

The above is a reenactment of the star-crossed first days of Clippers phenom? and first overall draft pick Blake Griffin. On Wednesday, the power forward called it a season and opted for the knife, electing to undergo surgery on Jan. 20.

If you’re keeping track, Griffin has played as many games this year as you and me – unless you happen to be Darko Milicic, in which case we’ve got him by eight.

In NBA history, four overall no. 1’s have sat out their first season – Griffin, Greg Oden, David Robinson (Navy commitments), and Gene Melchiorre (point shaving scandal; never played an NBA minute).

Of course, everyone is quick to draw comparisons to Mr. Glass Greg Oden, who, like Griffin, busted his knee before opening night… and then broke down like a beat up Geo in his sophomore campaign.

Oden, though, is an easy parallel that deflects attention from the um, larger, problem: namely, bonehead GMs insisting on going big over going less big. Not a good strategy.

Of the 50 players drafted in the top 5 from ’99 to ’08, a quick ‘n dirty Oden, I mean “breakdown,” reveals seven clear-cut (read: makeshift) categories: Superstar or potential superstar, star or potential star (think Jamison or Billups), above average second or third guy on a good team (this category was made for Russell Westbrook), a starting role player on a good team, role bench guy, trainwreck, and, as a corollary, injury trainwreck.

Here’s how the blue-chips fall…

Superstar or Potential Superstar: Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Durant, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, LeBron, Carmelo, Chris Bosh, D-Wade

Star or Potential Star: Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Baron Davis

Above Average: Westbrook, Al Horford, Jeff Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bogut, Ben Gordon, Devin Harris, Jason Richardson, K-Mart, Elton Brand, Lamar Odom

Role Starter: Mike Conley, Andrea Barnani (hey, if it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t happenin’), Tyrus Thomas, Marvin Williams, Ray Felton, Emeka Okafor, Tyson Chandler, Mike Miller

Role Bench: Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden, Eddy Curry

Trainwreck: Adam Morrison, Shelden Williams, Darko Milicic, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Kwame Brown, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Steve Francis, Jonathan Bender

Physical Trainwreck: Oden, Shaun Livingston, Yao, Jay Williams

Yao: Looks great in a suit

Now, since some of these guys could potentially climb or fall a level, let’s merge the top 2 layers into a group and the bottom 4 into a group and call them “hits” and “misses.” Cliff notes: the misses start with role players and we’ll discard the above average guys, assuming that drafting teams didn’t feel screwed, but weren’t patting themselves on the back either.

Hey Kevin Pritchard, listen up. This concerns you. Of the “hits,” only 4 of 14 (29 percent) are traditional big men. The rest are all guards or swingmen. And that 29 percent falls precipitously should Kevin “I’ve Already Had One Major Injury” Love and Michael “I love SpongeBob and Marijuana, Not a Formula for NBA Success” Beasley not pan out.

Of the misses – and this is where it gets juicy – 17 of 25, a whopping 68 percent, are big men. Bigs also account for 10 of 14 players in the bottom two rows, the Unmitigated Disaster and/or Travesty echelon. That’s a 71 percent clip, kiddies.

Look, the lesson here is that if you’re going to take a big or banger, take one without any ACLs. This seems to be working for the Spurs – rook Dejuan Blair notched a 28-21 Wednesday spelling a resting Tim Duncan.

And then there’s poor Mr. Griffin. Just 12 months ago, the Oklahoma shooting-star was over the moon, using undersized Big 12 forwards as chew toys with big bro Taylor.

Hey Blake, in the words of Will Smith, welcome to Earth.

– Robbie

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