In the April 28, 2008 addition of Sports Illustrated - yeah, five years ago - there was an article about the NFL draft. Not surprising, since it was the same time of year as the one held a few days ago. The article was about the 1998 draft, the one with Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, and with the #5 pick (Curtis Enis, who retired from the league two years later) and the #92 pick (Hines Ward, who became the Super Bowl XL MVP). A couple of the people quoted in the piece were New Orleans coach Sean Payton and former Green Bay Packers general manager, and current San Diego Chargers consultant, Ron Wolf.
Their discussion was, naturally, about the “science” of drafting football players. Their comments, however, rang just as true as if they were discussing the NBA draft. Payton’s comment was, “You get excited about a guy because of his tools and projecting his ability, but so much of this is looking beneath the surface.” As the NBA playoffs continue, it’s impossible not to look at the “nobodies” who slipped through the draft cracks and the high profile picks which have yet to live up to pre-draft hype. Everybody knows the Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan gigantic mistake and Greg Oden before Kevin Durant humongous error. Another interesting example would be the 2009 draft in which the Minnesota Timberwolves were in the market for a guard (several as it turned out). They took Ricky Rubio, Spain’s version of “Pistol” Pete Maravich, with the fifth pick. They also had the sixth pick and, because most thought Rubio would be difficult to sign, they decided to go with an additional point guard. Their choice was Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn - whose career mostly has been in the NBA, although last season he played for the Melbourne Tigers in Australia.
What Payton meant can clearly be seen in that selection. Not only did Minnesota select Flynn over the next pick, Stephen Curry, whom the T-Wolves are constantly being reminded went to Golden State but they also passed on #10 Brandon Jennings, #17 Jrue Holiday, #18 Ty Lawson (they actually did draft Lawson but it was only to trade him to Denver for a future first round pick) and #19 Jeff Teague. It’s more than a stretch to say that guys picked in the first round “slipped through the cracks” but it does show how the draft is such a crap shoot for a team when its name comes to make its draft selection.
Other classics? How about the Clippers, a year after they wisely (OK, that year, a three-year-old would have) picked Blake Griffin at #1, they felt they needed to get a small forward with the ability to get his own shot. They chose Al-Farouq Aminu with the eighth pick. The Jazz took Gordon Hayward next, just before the Pacers who grabbed (and has never let go of) Paul George. Why would the Clippers pass on Paul George for Al-Farouq Aminu?
For the answer, listen to the eerie crossover similarity between football and basketball, as told by Ron Wolf:
The fascinating thing about pro football is, no matter how long you’re in it, you can’t predict how guys are going to handle the pressure, the limelight, the money.”