One of my favorite things to do just before the NBA draft is look back at previous drafts to see just how wrong we all were and let it serve as a reminder of just how misguided we're all about to be. Don't get me wrong, if Duke's J.J. Redick was available and my team needed a shooter, even if it was a few spots too high, I'd take him. Shooting is always at a premium and the pure shooters will be even more valuable in this new wide-open style of play the league openly embraces. Redick, plain and simple, is the best shooter coming out of college.
But that doesn't mean he'll be the best shooter in the NBA. Shooting is something that can be learned. Magic Johnson, who had no shot to speak of when he got to the NBA, developed a set shot that, if not deadly, was particularly effective. The reason Michael Jordan wasn't drafted No. 1 in 1984 is that some scouts worried he couldn't shoot, that he wasn't effective facing the basket and had no real range. How'd that assessment work out?
It was true at the time, but times change. Reggie Miller was a slasher and medium-range shooter coming out of UCLA in 1987 and Dale Ellis was a post-up player coming out of Tennessee, but they became prolific long-range NBA shooters. Redick is the best shooter now. But Brandon Roy, a 6-foot-5 guard from the University of Washington, went from a 10 percent three-point shooter as a freshman to 22 percent as a sophomore to 35 percent as a junior to 40 percent as a senior. This kid might (or might not) turn into one of the great shooters in the league if his learning curve continues.
How do we know that 6-9 Serbian Milko Bjelica won't be the next Peja Stojakovic? Maybe somebody's system is better suited to throwing the ball up top to Kevin Pittsnogle, the 6-11 kid out of West Virginia, who hit 48 percent of his three-pointers as a freshman, then 43 percent as a junior and 40 percent last season on an astounding 227 attempts. Suppose U-Conn.'s Rashad Anderson, 6-6 and 215 pounds, gets to the NBA and becomes a gym rat the way Gilbert Arenas did?
The NBA draft isn't as unpredictable as the NFL draft, but there's nothing exact about it. With the 15th pick in the draft three years ago the Orlando Magic took Reece Gaines. The Boston Celtics, selecting 16th, took Troy Bell. Both clubs thought they were getting really good perimeter players who were worthy of middle first-round picks. But with the 21st pick, the Atlanta Hawks took Boris Diaw, a budding star who is now in Phoenix and may make Shawn Marion tradable. And with the last pick in that round, 29th, the Dallas Mavericks took Josh Howard, a critical ingredient on an NBA Finals team.
Oh, we can get even more dramatic. Cleveland, in 2000, took Jamal Crawford eighth. He was supposed to be, coming out of Michigan, a player who could swing anywhere in the backcourt or on the wing, and at 6-5, create his own shot. Playing in the same conference, however, at rival Ohio State, was a player we now know to be an extraordinary shooter, who was taken by Milwaukee (cheers to Ernie Grunfeld) in the second round with the overall 43rd pick: Michael Redd. Crawford averaged 14.3 points per game last season; Redd averaged 25.4.
You can play this game in every draft.