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We Missed Out on DeJuan Blair. So What?

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This post is here to address one of my biggest pet peeves when people talk about the Thunder. The person who complains is always some random caller on the Sports Animal, some friend on Facebook, or some random fan I happen to meet in person. They like to say we're missing a big physical post presence down low (which is true). But then, when laying blame for not getting that presence, they criticize the Thunder for not taking DeJuan Blair.

And you know what? I can't take it anymore. Enough. Sure, I'm acting like a big jerk, but if I hear this stupid argument one more time, I'm going to explode.

Back in 2009, the Thunder had the third and the 25th pick in the NBA Draft. The third pick was James Harden, and given how he's played this year, most have been satisfied with that selection. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the 25th pick was used to select Rodrigue Beaubois, who was immediately swung for the 24th pick, B.J. Mullens.

And Thunder nation cried. No wait, actually, nobody was crying. Because nobody knew we had missed out. Personally, I was disappointed that we didn't stick with Rodrigue Beaubois, who has gone on to be a semi-successful bench scorer for the Mavericks. The most read Thunder Blogger, Royce Young, rated the pick a B-, and said it was "great value" for as low as Mullens went. He does admit that Mullens could be a bust though. SLAM online said that, "drafting him at 24 is a great move by the Thunder". The list goes on. In fact, most columns about the draft ignored the selection of Mullens, and talked about Harden instead.

When the 37th pick came up, the Spurs made the obvious choice by picking DeJuan Blair, a big man with lots of skill, but questionable injury problems. DeJuan Blair was considered a huge steal for the Spurs, even at draft time. But, had B.J. Mullens dropped to the 37th pick by some sort of oversight, the Spurs might have taken him instead. Both players had strings attached, and for valid reason. B.J. Mullens was an athletic big with questions on his transition to the NBA game, and DeJuan Blair was a NBA-Ready big man who had questions about his injury history. Given how Mullens draft stock was much higher and the fact that he had more potential, the Spurs might have actually drafted him instead of Blair. And everyone would have called it a huge steal.

Below: Five Things People Forget When Calling Out The Thunder's Error.

Unfortunately, now that 1.5 years have passed and DeJuan Blair has averaged decent numbers (over 20 and 10 in his past two games), people are up in arms about the pick. Oh, what an error the Thunder made! How could they have picked such a lame duck in B.J. Mullens, when DeJuan Blair was readily available and the obvious pick?!

When making this argument, people forget five things.

1. How the Thunder pick. The Thunder rarely, if ever, take a risk on injury prone players. (They did sign Nenad Krstic and Shaun Livingston, but those were low risk signings, not draft picks.) They generally make the safe pick when it comes to the draft, and rely on talent, work ethic, and upside when gauging a player's stock. It leads to some slow NBA transitions (Ibaka's year maturing in Spain, Harden's ho-hum season last year, Westbrook's steadily improving point guard skills), but it also pays huge dividends in the long run, and it helps avoid huge busts.

2. DeJuan Blair's career could end tomorrow, and B.J. Mullens hasn't been written off yet. Sure, things are heading in the wrong direction on both sides if this argument is to become true, but the NBA is a cruel mistress. DeJuan Blair is completely missing his ACLs, which means that his quads and hamstrings support his knees in lieu of his ACLs, and if one of those muscles gets injured, he's screwed. Additionally, he is at much higher of a risk for traditional knee injuries, and should his bones start to slide out of place, he could see a severe loss of mobility. (Professional explanations here and here.) Meanwhile, B.J. Mullens has averaged solid D-League numbers (15 PPG and 7.5 RPG last year), even though his game hasn't transitioned to the NBA Level. Being a young center, that's to be expected. Tyson Chandler, a center who came to the NBA straight out of High School, spent 5 years languishing on the Chicago Bulls before he finally found his game in New Orleans. Even a bust like Darko Milicic, after years of failure, is good enough to back up for any team in the NBA at this point.

3. Other teams missed out on DeJuan Blair too. The Mavericks, Bulls, Grizzlies (twice), Timberwolves, Lakers, Cavaliers, Kings, Wizards, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, and Pistons all missed out on him. And out of the guys who went between Mullens and Blair, how many were really that great? Taj Gibson is a decent big man for the Bulls, and Wayne Ellington and Dante Cunningham are alright guards. But none of them have set the world on fire, and none are going to win games for you.

4. There are no "busts" at Pick #25. Once you get into the late first round, the talent starts thinning out, and teams like to take chances on players they think have a shot at greatness. Nobody is passing up on sure things, and nobody is pinning the future hopes of their franchise on these players. If they work out, great. If they don't, cut them, or don't renew their contract after four years. It's as simple as that. Typically, franchises picking in this range are playoff teams that are using their pick for their future plans, or worse teams that want more prospects to harvest on their roster. Not teams looking for solutions to the gaping holes on their team.

5. The Thunder have a deep roster. While our roster isn't even close to a team like the Lakers in terms of talent, we beat the crap out of them when it comes to depth. People forget we have Morris Peterson, Royal Ivey, and Daequan Cook on the roster, all players that have had success on other NBA teams, and would be seeing time on other NBA teams were they not stuck behind Harden and Maynor. And in the big man department, there's D.J. White and Cole Aldrich, both players who are older than Mullens. White has a solid mid-range game as well, which got him time over Mullens when Krstic was hurt. Sure, Ibaka has found success while being the same age as Mullens, but he relies on his athleticism, while Mullens will rely more so on his size and skill, which takes more time to develop. (Even though Mullens is athletic for a 7 footer, he is not nearly as athletic as Ibaka.)

But, even after all of this, there still is an argument that I cannot refute.

"If DeJuan Blair blew both knees tomorrow and never played another NBA minute, he's already accomplished more than Mullens ever will."

That may turn out to be true. And if it is, then so be it.

Because the Thunder aren't the perfect NBA team. They don't know exactly how all of their prospects will turn out. Like everyone else, they have to make educated guesses and hope that they're right.

Sometimes, those guesses are wrong.


Aaaah. That was quite therapeutic.