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Archive for Thursday, June 26, 2008

Keegan: Don’t pass on Arthur

June 26, 2008

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Ten years later, it's time to learn from the 1998 draft. As the saying goes, those who don't learn from history ... get fired.

Kansas University teammates Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce were considered neck and neck by most trying to project the draft. Then-KU coach Roy Williams didn't offer a guess as to which player would go first, but shared that he was assured both players would not slip past the eighth pick. He expressed confidence both would be taken in the top five.

R.C. Buford, then a scout and now general manager of the San Antonio Spurs, looks pretty smart 10 years later.

"I think he is the best player in the draft," Buford told the Journal-World's Gary Bedore of Pierce, the Boston Celtics forward who just won the NBA Finals MVP hardware, before the '98 draft.

To the delight of the Celtics, Pierce slipped all the way to 10th. Seven picks earlier, the Denver Nuggets chose LaFrentz.

Pierce slipping so far away from LaFrentz could only be described as paralysis by overanalysis. Evaluators, given too much time, tend to find a reason not to like a player. In the case of Pierce, it likely was his sloppy ballhandling.

Looking back on the '98 draft, here's how the top five picks should have gone: 1. Dirk Nowitzki; 2. Pierce; 3. Vince Carter; 4. Mike Bibby; 5. Antawn Jamsion.

Here's how the top 10 picks went down: 1. Michael Olowokandi; 2. Bibby; 3. LaFrentz; 4. Jamison; 5. Carter; 6. Robert Traylor; 7. Jason Williams (of Florida); 8. Larry Hughes; 9. Nowitzki; 10. Pierce.

Ten years later, there appears to be more paralysis by overanalysis going on in the case of Darrell Arthur, one of three members of Kansas University's national-title basketball team, projected to be taken in the first round.

Arthur appears to be slipping in the draft projections. A few weeks ago, he was talked about as a top 10 pick. Now, he has slipped to as low as 20th, depending on the mock draft. Meanwhile, Mario Chalmers, vastly underrated as a second-round pick by many weeks ago, has vaulted as high as 12th in one mock draft. Why? He does everything well. The search party for negatives came up on empty for the long-armed, explosive, hot-shooting guard. Brandon Rush's draft projection has stayed pretty stable in recent weeks, usually hovering around the 15th pick. His negative ballhandling long ago was identified. An explosive leaper, sharpshooter and quick-footed defender, Rush could be a star with the right team.

Here's what Arthur-doubters need to know about the fleet, explosive 6-foot-9 power forward gifted with freakish athleticism: Nobody he faced in a two-year college career had the talent to slow him when he was on his game. His performance always seemed influenced by whether he was having a good day, not by the quality of the opposition. As a freshman, he totaled 19 points and nine rebounds against Florida, which went on to win its second consecutive national title based largely on its talented frontcourt. As a sophomore, he had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the title game against Memphis. He won't turn 21 until next March 25. In time, he'll make one GM look smart and get a few others fired.

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