Have you ever heard the phrase “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it?” History will repeat itself on June 28, when some team near the top of the NBA Draft will select UConn big man Andre Drummond. That team will face the same doomed result that the Memphis Grizzlies suffered just three years ago, when they drafted fellow UConn big Hasheem Thabeet.
In 2009, the Grizzlies took Thabeet with their second overall pick. The big man was known for his defense at UConn, but came with some fairly high question marks about both his offense and his competitiveness. Still, with such a gifted body giving him excellent potential, the Grizzlies felt they had no choice but to take him.
Fast forward to 2012. The 7’4” center has never averaged more than 13 minutes a game in his three years in the league. The Grizzlies didn’t even wait a year—they traded Thabeet to the Houston Rockets after his first season, and a year later, the Rockets traded him to the Portland Trailblazers.
Three teams, three seasons. Safe to say, Thabeet was a huge ThaBUST.
And now in the 2012 Draft comes along another UConn big man, the 6’11” Drummond. Much like Thabeet, he’s athletically gifted and extremely raw, and comes with red-flags about his work ethic.
Where Thabeet was gifted with extreme height and slightly above-average athleticism, Drummond is just 6’11”, but has Dwight Howard‘s extreme athleticism and strength. That is where their differences end.
Drummond, like Thabeet, is known for his defense. Thabeet averaged 4.2 blocks a game his junior season, where Drummond averaged 2.7 last season. Offensively, Drummond may be even rawer than Thabeet was. Thabeet did have an extra two years of college when he entered the draft, so it’s hard to really judge Drummond based on Thabeet’s freshmen stats, but both players are/were exceedingly sketchy offensively.
More importantly, Thabeet didn’t have the mental focus for the NBA game. Scouts saw his body and defensive abilities and seemed to assume he would mold into the league. He didn’t have the work ethic or the competitive spirit that he needed, and without that, Thabeet will be lucky if he’s in the league in two more years.
Drummond showed those same red flags last season at UConn. For a guy who could physically dominate his opponents night in and night out, his production was very disappointing. He averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, but never seemed completely motivated. At times, he looked lost on the court—at others, he looked down right lazy.
Big men will always be the most difficult and alluring to draft. The history of the NBA Draft does have a history of athletically-gifted talent-raw bigs that worked out (Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire) but it’s also riddled with the failed careers of those who didn’t work out—like Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, and most recently, Thabeet.
Drafting an athletic and raw big is one of the more risky moves to pull in an NBA Draft, yet at the same time, passing on that big is seen as just as risky. While no GM wants to be the guy who drafts a bust, they also don’t want to be the ones who pass on a future superstar.
With all due respect to point guards, the big man is the most important position in the league, and many teams feel that if they just draft that if they can add that superstar big, they will be a team that can compete every year for a title.
So there will always be teams who reach for those bigs, even as significant question marks remain about the players skills and, more importantly, their mental ability to handle the NBA. Hasheem Thabeet had the physical tools to be an excellent player, but he never had the necessary focus or determination to make it in the big league.
Does Drummond have the work ethic? It sure didn’t look like it at UConn. Unless he suddenly decides to put all of his effort into his sport, Drummond will be nothing more than just another of the long line of big men busts.
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