Holding Court - Big 3 of NBA draft class is complete
Fret not, lottery guys; feel pleased and ecstatic, tankers. The Big Three of college basketball, the three most talented, and certainly the most hyped collegiate stars in a long while, are out. Out of college basketball, that is.
After a couple of months of fretting when Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid suggested that they might stay in school, the lottery teams can breathe easier after Parker, the last of that anointed troika of college blue-chippers, finally announced last Thursday (April 18 in Manila) that he will leave for the NBA after one year of playing for Duke University.
The announcement comes after Wiggins and Embiid, within a week of each other, made known their intentions to follow what their stars seem to be saying – go for the millions that are now available, regardless of whether you finish your college course or not.
Without going into the merits of whether acquiring a college degree serves one well in life, Parker's decision certainly makes this year's crop of NBA wannabes one of the most talented and heralded in draft history.
All right, Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge would tell you that this year's class is just overhyped, that there is no franchise or game changer in the draft class. But wouldn't it be foolish to ignore the idea that we're not talking about just the here and now when you're drafting young stars, particularly a bunch of freshmen who could have possibly been as great as Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan or Larry Bird was had they stayed all four years in college?
Don't get us wrong, either. We're not talking about mere potential here. The natural talent and physical skills are already there; the only difference between these kids and the Robertsons and the Lew Alcindors (that was the 7-foot-2 guy before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is the fact that they haven't fully unraveled those talents and skills unlike freshmen in previous eras who were not eligible for the varsity team until 1973, thus starting their collegiate careers as sophomores who had more developed games and did not apprentice on the job like freshmen do today.
Division I freshmen actually used to be eligible to play varsity ball, but the NCAA rescinded that rule in 1954 to make them ineligible, a situation that continued until their eligibility was restored some four decades back.
This is why college greats like Robertson, Alcindor, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, Cazzie Russell, Rick Mount, Pete Maravich and Austin Carr played in only 75 to 90 games. They were eligible for only three varsity seasons. Maravich, Mount, Robertson, Lucas and Russell would have all posted some unreachable numbers if they played 140 games in a career like today's collegians. For example, Maravich, who holds the NCAA's all-time records in career scoring with 3,667 points and scoring average with 44.2 points while playing for Louisiana State, would have scored 5,000 career points had he played in 113 varsity games, and The Big O would have also scored over 3,800 points using his career average of 33.8.
But back to Parker and company. Parker, the least likely, if ever there was one, among fellow freshmen de luxe Wiggins and Embiid, to turn pro partly due to the way his Blue Devils lost to Mercer in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March, finally decided his best option was to join the NBA.
"Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions," Parker said as told to Jeff Benedict in an exclusive story for Sports Illustrated. "Which environment – college or the NBA – offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player? Which environment – college or the NBA – offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court? The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA.
"My father, Sonny, played in the NBA. I know firsthand that the career span of a pro basketball player is finite. The lucky ones play until their mid-30s. With that perspective, I shrink my professional career with each year that I remain in college. It's ironic, but true.
"I realize how much of a privilege and an honor it is to join the ranks of the NBA," Parker continued. "I will do everything in my power to help deliver championships to the franchise that drafts me. At the same time, I recognize the obligation to represent the league in an admirable way off the court."
Parker added that his one year at Duke "has been a cherished chapter in my life. I'm very fortunate to have worn the blue and white. And I will always carry with me the memories of playing in front of the Crazies at Cameron. Now it's time to write the next chapter."
"Jabari could not have been better," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski stated of his top star, a consensus First Team All-American this past season. "He is the epitome of what you would want a basketball player to be – outstanding every day on the practice court and in the classroom and a very humble young man. He had a fantastic freshman year and is so deserving of the opportunity to play in the NBA and follow his dream."
Still, Parker got tempted to delay an NBA career with the arrival of top big-man prospect Jahlil Okafor, the top-ranked high school player in the nation, at Duke and the prospect of chasing an NCAA title with him and another top recruiting class. "The prospect of playing with such a talented big man is pretty tempting," Parker said of his fellow Chicago native, an All-Tournament Team selection in the FIBA Under-19 World Championship that the US swept last year. "Together we could help put up another banner in Cameron."
But the lure of a pro career and starting it as one of the draft's surefire top three picks is simply too hard to pass up at this point. The 6-foot-8 Parker, who led Duke to a 26-9 record, is certainly the most NBA-ready among his fellow Big Three. A polished, versatile offensive player whose only weakness is an undeveloped defensive game, Parker was the first freshman in school history to lead the Blue Devils in scoring (19.1 points) and rebounding (8.7 rebounds).
Parker also set or tied freshman records for points (670), points per game, rebounds (306), double-figure scoring games (33), double-doubles (14) and 20-point games (18) while norming 1.2 assists and 1.2 blocks. His father Sonny, a 6-6 swingman, was selected 17th overall by Golden State in 1976, the highest a Texas A and M product has been drafted at the time. Sonny played six years for the Warriors, averaging 9.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists while playing with such Warrior greats as Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith, Purvis Short and, in the end, Eric "Sleepy" Floyd.
While the young Parker would never be drafted as low as his dad, his decision to forego his three years of remaining collegiate eligibility may have been partly derived from the experience of past potential top picks, like Jared Sullinger of the Celtics, who blew his chance of being among the draft's top three by staying in college and dropped the next year at the lap of Boston at No. 21.
Last year, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, another hot prospect for the top five, chose to stay another year with the Cowboys and will likely pay the price with this year's draft class overloaded with talent.
Parker's decision makes him the fifth Duke freshman to declare for the NBA draft, following Corey Maggette (1999), Luol Deng (2004), Kyrie Irving (2011) and Austin Rivers (2012). It also brings to 36 the number of underclassmen who have declared for the draft as of April 18 after Parker's sidekick with the Blue Devils at forward, Rodney Hood, also declared his intentions the day after Parker did. All 36 will now be surely pro-bound as the NCAA deadline for withdrawing one's name for him to retain his college eligibility is April 15, a date that has clearly passed.
This runs counter to NBA rules that give underclassmen until April 27 to decide whether to enter the draft, and whose deadline for withdrawal is 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on June 16, a rule that the NCAA used to follow before the 2011 season.
The 36 underclassmen who will enter the June 26 NBA draft are as follows, in alphabetical order:
Kyle Anderson (6-9, 230), PG/F, UCLA sophomore; Sim Bhullar (7-5, 350), C, New Mexico State sophomore; Jabari Brown (6-5, 214), SG, Missouri junior; Jahii Carson (5-10, 180), PG, Arizona sophomore; Semaj Christon (6-3, 190), PG, Xavier sophomore; Jordan Clarkson (6-5, 193), G, Missouri junior; Joel Embiid (7-0, 240), C, Kansas freshman; Tyler Ennis (6-2, 180), G, Syracuse freshman; Dante Exum (6-6, 188), PG, Australia; Jerami Grant (6-8, 210), SF, Syracuse sophomore; Aaron Gordon (6-9, 225), F, Arizona freshman;
Gary Harris (6-4, 210), SG, Michigan State sophomore; Rodney Hood (6-8, 215), F/SG, Duke sophomore; Mouhammadou Jaiteh (6-11, 250), PF/C, France; Nick Johnson (6-3, 200), SG, Arizona junior; Alex Kirk (7-0, 245), C, New Mexico junior; Artem Klimenko (7-1, 245), C, Russia; Zach LaVine (6-5, 180), G, UCLA freshman; James Michael McAdoo (6-9, 230), PF, North Carolina junior; David Michineau (6-3, 175), PG, France; Vasilije Micic (6-4, 185), PG, Serbia; Eric Moreland (6-10, 218), F, Oregon State junior; Johnny O'Bryant III (6-9, 256), PF, LSU junior; Glenn Robinson III (6-6, 220), SF, Michigan sophomore;
Jabari Parker (6-8, 235), F, Duke freshman; Elfrid Payton (6-3, 190), PG, Louisiana-Lafayette junior; LaQuinton Ross (6-8, 220), SF, Ohio State junior; Jakarri Sampson (6-9, 214), F, St. John's sophomore; Marcus Smart (6-4, 220), G, Oklahoma State sophomore; Roscoe Smith (6-8, 215), F, UNLV junior; Nik Stauskas (6-6, 205), SG, Michigan sophomore; Jarnell Stokes (6-8, 260), PF, Tennessee junior; Noah Vonleh (6-10, 230), PF, Indiana freshman; T.J. Warren (6-8, 215), SF, NC State sophomore; Andrew Wiggins (6-8, 200), SG/F, Kansas freshman; and James Young (6-6, 215), G/F, Kentucky freshman.
The NBA, through random drawings conducted on April 18, broke four ties among teams that wound up with the same records to determine the final order of the June 26 draft and the draft lottery that precedes it on May 20.
Utah won a tiebreaker with Boston, with whom it finished tied at 25-57, and will now be slotted fourth in the lottery with a 10.4 percent chance at the top pick, just a shade over the Celtics' 10.3 percent. If they or any team behind them doesn't move up, the Jazz will pick fourth and the Celtics fifth.
The Celtics will also pick 17th after the tie between Brooklyn and Washington, both 44-38, went to the Nets, who owe the pick to Boston as a result of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade to Brooklyn last summer.
Chicago, 48-34 like Toronto, won a tiebreaker with the Raptors for No. 19, while Portland, 54-28 like Miami and Houston, won a tiebreaker with the Heat for No. 24, before the Rockets won their own tiebreaker with the Heat for No. 25. Miami now picks 26th.
The 14 non-playoff teams participating in the draft lottery (the first three picks in the draft will be determined by the lottery and the remainder of the lottery teams will draft from No. 4 to 14 in reverse order of win-loss record) and the order of drafting for the rest of the first round are as follows (previous transactions are in parentheses):
Milwaukee 15-67, Philadelphia 19-63, Orlando 23-59, Utah 25-57, Boston 25-57, LA Lakers 27-55, Sacramento 28-54, Detroit (may be conveyed to Charlotte) 29-53, Cleveland 33-49, New Orleans (may be conveyed to Philadelphia) 34-48, Denver (may be conveyed to Orlando) 36-46, New York (to Denver or to Orlando via Denver) 37-45, Minnesota (may be conveyed to Phoenix) 40-42, Phoenix 48-34;
15. Atlanta 38-44, 16. Charlotte (to Chicago) 43-39, 17. Brooklyn (to Boston) 44-38, 18. Washington (to Phoenix) 44-38, 19. Chicago 48-34, 20. Toronto 48-34, 21. Dallas (to Oklahoma City via Houston and L.A. Lakers) 49-33, 22. Memphis 50-32, 23. Golden State (to Utah) 51-31, 24. Portland (to Charlotte) 54-28, 25. Houston 54-28, 26. Miami 54-28, 27. Indiana (to Phoenix) 56-26, 28. L.A. Clippers 57-25, 29. Oklahoma City 59-23, 30. San Antonio 62-20.
SHORTSHOTS: LeBron James' jersey has remained the top-selling jersey worn by NBA players. He has held that spot since winning his second championship last year and has topped it six times. LeBron is joined by nine other players playing in the playoffs this year and two others who missed most of the season because of injury, proving that they're not necessarily out of mind even if they're out of sight. The other top-selling jerseys are, in this order, those of Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Tim Duncan and Paul George... NBA commissioner Adam Silver, presiding over his first board meeting since replacing David Stern at the helm last February, made it clear that raising the draft age limit to prevent the so-called "one and done" practice is one of his priorities. The age limit requiring American players to be 19 and a year out of high school was implemented in 2005, creating a trend where players would simply go to college for a year and then declare for the draft. Although Silver, along with Stern according to some, has been vocal about his desire to change that rule, no change could be passed in the last collective bargaining in 2011, although it was agreed that the rule could be revised at any time in conjunction with the union. The union has not had an executive director since booting out former representative Billy Hunter under acrimonious circumstances in February 2013. – Rappler.com
Bert A. Ramirez has been a freelance sportswriter/columnist since the '80s, writing mostly about the NBA and once serving as consultant and editor for Tower Sports Magazine, the longest-running locally published NBA magazine, from 1999 to 2008. He has also written columns and articles for such publications as Malaya, Sports Digest, Winners Sports Weekly, Pro Guide, Sports Weekly, Sports Flash, Sports World, Basketball Weekly and the FIBA's International Basketball, and currently writes a fortnightly column for QC Life and a weekly blog for BostonSports Desk. A former corporate manager, Bert has breathed, drunk and slept sports most of his life.