Eight years ago seems like an eternity for the Charlotte Bobcats. It was the organization's first draft, and they had positioned the franchise to have the second overall pick. Everything was falling into place, regardless of who the selection was going to be; the Bobcats 2004 draft was easy. The Orlando Magic, however, had to make a crushingly difficult decision between two big men. Take the NBA ready player who had been one of college's best centers, or roll the dice on the unproven, yet dominant high school player with all the upside in the world; fully aware they could be selecting the next Kwame Brown.
The decision for Orlando to take Dwight Howard wasn't as easy as revisionist history tends to make it, and there were people inside the Magic organization who felt the team shouldn't be taking a risk on an unproven HS center, over one of college's best players multiple years in a row. Ultimately they hoped the team would wind up with the most dominant center in basketball, just as they had when they drafted Shaquille O'Neal over a decade before.
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Fast-forward to 2012 and the New Orleans Hornets are not faced with such a hard decision. Luckily for them Anthony Davis was just as effective at Kentucky as he was in high school, which served as the nail in the coffin to ensure the rangy PF would be the first selection. Charlotte now find themselves in the same position as Orlando those eight years ago, and they have the hardest decision to make in the draft-risk taking Andre Drummond and potentially landing the next young bust, or risk passing on him and regretting the next decade as they still search for a dominant big man.
There's no easy answer whether or not the Bobcats should gamble on Andre Drummond, and if you think it's a simple decision you need to give it more thought. There are myriad reasons why Charlotte should pass, and just as many why he's worth the risk.
By nature, sports fans are inclined to fall into the ‘What have you done for me lately?' club. We all tend to have a memory that only lasts 365 days, and are too willing to discount any history that reaches further than that. Through the lens of recent accomplishments Drummond looks like your average, under-achieving college player who arrived at UCONN with much pomp and circumstance, and left being not very special. His averages of 10.2 pts, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks don't capture the hearts and minds of fans, especially for a player who towered over and outweighed his opponents. That being said, it's important to not look at a player in one year of isolation, and if you go back to 2010 (Drummond's final year in high school) you'll see a player who wasn't only dominant, but devastating: 20.2 pts, 16.6 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per game; Drummond manhandled the competition with ease, and that's what made him one of the most coveted recruits in the country.
The fact is, had the NCAA and NBA not adopted the ‘one-and-done' rule, Andre Drummond would have just finished his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, after unquestionably being selected with the 1st overall pick in last year's draft. That is the level of hype surrounding him, and that was why the comparisons to Dwight Howard came fast and furiously when it was time for Drummond to select a university.
Those comparisons to Howard are a little more labored now, and just one year later we hear strains of ‘he had that potential, but...'. I don't feign to understand what caused Drummond to struggle at Connecticut, but he's openly discussed how he didn't take his only college season as seriously as he should have, and that he played with too much weight. It's far too easy to indict him as being lazy or not caring, but truth be told I'm not sure how motivated I could be if I knew I was just biding my time waiting for a million dollar payday, and there's a reason ‘the freshman fifteen' has become such a cliché.
Andre Drummond arrived in Chicago for the NBA Draft Combine saying all the right things, being open about his struggles, and weighing in 20lbs less that he played at last season. Rather than going to on the offensive and trying to convince the world why he should be the #1 pick he's atoning for past mistakes. Is he being coached by a savvy agent looking to ensure he maximizes his earning potential? Perhaps, but the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell doesn't think so, and truly believes Drummond is looking to make up for his bad season.
That being said, he's still not the perfect prospect much like Dwight wasn't when he entered the league. Like Howard circa 2004 he needs to learn how to be more aggressive, and understand better how to use his big frame. Cerebrally he needs to get a better feel for rebounding, and putting himself in better positions to grab boards. Some have talked about his lack of touch, but that's something fairly common with most big men entering the league.
Andre Drummond suffers from something I like to call ‘puppy dog syndrome', which sounds derogatory, but it's not intended to be. When you have a player who is young, and doesn't understand his own strength you tend to see them use their abilities at inappropriate times, and lack the grace needed to play at a high level. This is a quality we saw from Bismack Biyombo last year, who oftentimes let enthusiasm overshadow sound play-this is an enviable quality, but it doesn't make for the best pro out of the gate.
As fans of the Charlotte Bobcats all you can do is leave the decision in the hands of those who have forgotten more about basketball than we'll even know. Hopefully the scouting staff will be able to correctly project Andre Drummond, and determine whether he's more Dwight Howard than Kwame Brown. As a fan I know one thing: it's not always right to fear upside over readiness. Covering the Carolina Panthers for four years I fell into this trap when the organization decided to take the biggest risk in franchise history and select Cam Newton 1st overall. Leading up to that draft I infamously said the Panther shouldn't take Newton because of the risk, obviously I'm glad the team doesn't listen to me. Unlike Drummond, Newton may have dominated at the NCAA level, but it's far harder to project NFL players from college to the pros than it is NBA players. Newton possessed some of that ‘puppy dog syndrome' too, and he's still learning touch-the result of the Panthers having the foresight to see the player Newton could become, not just what he was ensured they got a franchise player when everyone else was saying they were foolish.
There's little doubt that Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, and Bradley Beal will all be solid NBA players. Each possesses abilities that translate well, and will improve whatever team they wind up on. However, there's just one player after Anthony Davis who could be the kind of player to completely rejuvenate a franchise, and become one of the league's best players and that's Andre Drummond. Is he worth the risk? Honestly, I'm not sure, but I'm glad it's not going to be my decision to make.