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The Problem With Predicting Part II

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I remember the first time I really sat down and watched college ball and March Madness. It was 1994. Twelve Tourneys have now gone by (as an aside has there ever been a less excited Coach than the Gators' Billy Donovan?) along with countless classic memories and upsets. What caught my attention in 1994? What made me a fan of college ball that year? One reason stands above the rest:

Shawn Respert.

In the 1994 and 1995 season Shawn Respert was the MAN. Although Michigan State's tournament appearances were both generally short lived, those seasons I have some vivid memories of Respert launching shots from all over the floor and thinking...this guy is going to be a STAR in the NBA. It was also the expansion year for the Raps. Although fans were dying for Ed O'Bannon rather than Damon Stoudamire, I wanted Shawn Respert. Like all other newborn Raptors fans that year however...

I was wrong.

Shawn Respert was picked by Portland in the 1995 Draft with the 8th pick and was quickly dealt to Milwaukee for the 11th pick, Gary Trent. Great things were expected of Respert. Unfortunately like many of the 1995 draft class, things did not work out. Although not publicly known until early 2005 Respert was diagnosed with cancer of the abdomen. Although he tried to play through the cancer and get his career back on track, things just did not play out.

So is Shawn Respert a draft bust? Hell no. A sad story? Damn right.

Now, you are probably thinking "Why talk about Shawn Respert when discussing the difficulty in predicting the outcome of draft prospects?" Respert has a valid excuse for not becoming a solid NBA player. Another player I thought was going to be a star, does not however.

Let me re-introduce you to the Alaskan Assassin, Trajan Langdon.

Langdon was another great shooter. During his time at Duke, he, much like Respert, could shoot the lights out. During his final season he hit 112 threes while shooting 44% from behind the arc. His play at Duke led to David Stern calling his name with the 11th pick of the 1999 draft as he was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Much like Respert, the best shots Langdon ever took were for his alma mater. In fact, if you compare the career stats of both guys over 48 minutes they are eerily similar. At the end of the day, both of their respective pro careers can be summarized on a one page resume.

Now 1999, was an interesting draft for shooting guards. Not only was Langdon selected that year but so was Rip Hamilton and the "Franchise Killer" Steve Francis. Rip came from Duke's nemesis, UCONN, and although he averaged more points per game than Langdon, they had similar games. Their pro careers? About as similar as a Great Dane and a Lhasa Apso. One is an All-Star and NBA Champion....the other? Overseas. To me this obviously begs a number of questions with three coming to mind almost immediately:

1. Why didn't Langdon flourish while Rip became a star?

2. Why did such a purer scorer not flourish in the NBA while his back-up Corey Maggette has managed to become a solid contributor in the NBA?

3. What does this mean for JJ Redick?

You can't take anything away from JJ Redick and the career he has had while attending Duke. He's the all-time points leader in the ACC. That's right, out of all the players to come out of the ACC he has more career points. He can hit it from anywhere on the floor. If players were chosen simply based on college stats JJ Redick would go number 1. Adam Morrison 2. This won't happen though. In fact if you have been following draft boards this year JJ's stock has fluctuated an enormous amount. Right now he is sitting between 10 and 16 and at certain times has been in the top 7. In fact if Joakim Noah, Aldridge and others return to school as is rumoured (making this a very weak draft) JJ could really move up the draft boards.

So why is all of this important to me? The Raps are going to pick right around where JJ will likely fall. I see JJ and in some ways I see a game much like Rip currently in Detroit. I also see the Alaskan Assassin in him and when all is said and done I hope that Colangelo has a similar opinion of JJ Redick as myself. The Raps better not pick Redick and here's why:

JJ Redick is the next Trajan Langdon.

Many people will disagree with me. Hear me out. I have probably watched more Duke games this year than any other. Not because I love Duke like my boy Franchise, but because I really enjoy watching Redick. Redick is entertaining. He makes the game fun to watch. His ability to simply let fly and hit crazy shots both often and with CONSISTENCY. Watching him makes a Saturday afternoon that much better.

He will not however, become a successful pro, in particular in Toronto. The first reason for this is that he is simply too small. Redick is a pure scorer and has no position in the NBA other than SG. And the problem is, he's 6'4."

Let's take a look at some of the league's other 6'4" players who are similar to Redick playing in the NBA. I mean, who indeed is out there at 6'4" - 6'5" that is a successful NBAer while being limited to one position? I have saved you all the "search through NBA rosters" and here's a list (keep in mind PG's and guys who manage to play a little at SF are not included, i.e. Ruben Patterson:)

Tony Allen, Orien Greene, Eddie Basden, Kevin Burleson, Ben Gordon (6'3"), Damon Jones, Flip Murray, Larry Hughes, Alex Acker, Mo Evans, Bob Sura, Richie Frahm, Cuttino Mobley, Aaron McKie, Von Wafer, Smush Parker, Dwayne Wade, Derek Anderson, Jermaine Jackson, Rashad McCants, Arvydas Macijauskas, Jamal Crawford, DeShawn Stevenson, Voshon Lenard, Steve Blake (6'3"), Melvin Sanders, Ray Allen, Andre Owens, Devin Brown, Gordan Giricek, Antonio Daniels, Donnell Taylor, and Billy Thomas.

Ok, now from that list I have highlighted the guys who strike me as having a similar game to that of Redick (If you really think JJ will turn out like Ray Allen or Dwayne Wade you are delusional and must somehow be related to Isiah Thomas, and no -one can convince me JJ is as athletic as Crawford or Gordon). That leaves us with:

Damon Jones, Rashad McCants, Bob Sura, Richie Frahm, Voshon Leonard, and Gordon Giricek. This is not exactly an elite list. Damon Jones just managed to get a multi-year deal, McCants has been brutal in Minny thus far and is more athletic than JJ. Richie Frahm? Yikes. That leaves three guys, and Sura is/was more of a PG. So there are now TWO GUYS, in the whole NBA who have similar games to Redick and are of similar stature. Maybe there is good reason Langdon never made the NBA, it is almost impossible for a 6'3" pure shooter to make it.

What about the pure scorers like Rip and Korver you ask? They are 6'6". They can get their shot off. Korver in particular is big enough to shoot over people. I realize we are only talking two inches, but if you play pick-up ball there sure is a difference between being guarded someone your size and someone two inches taller. In the end however, it will be these two inches that kill Redick's pro career. I understand the argument that a player is a player regardless of size (just ask Boykins), but being an undersized SG with little to no PG skills is about as useful in the NBA as a parka in the desert.

Unless of course....

Redick gets drafted to a team with the right system. Rip is the perfect example of this. Prior to being traded to Detroit Rip managed to get hit shots off and had some nice nights in Washington (he's 6'6") but not until Larry Brown designed an offensive system where Rip managed to fight off screens, curl and was a focal point of the offence did he flourish. Rip is as successful as he is because he is a GOOD ball player in a GREAT system for his skills. Langdon on the other hand was drafted into one of the worst franchises in the NBA at the time. I am not sure there was even a system there when he wore the Cavs uni.

If that's the case one thing becomes very clear. Even if JJ manages to beat all odds and make a mark on the NBA the chances of that happening in Toronto are even smaller. Let's look at the Raps today. Do we take a lot of threes? Absolutely. Does JJ shoot 3's? Damn right he does. Could we use a scoring punch off the bench? Yes again. Seems like a possible fit, until you really understand what the Raps offence is all about. We don't run many plays off screens. If JJ makes the NBA it will be because the team he plays for uses a lot of screens to help open up opportunities for him. We simply don't run that kind of offence. We run high pick and roll. We allow Mike James, Mo P and Charlie create their own shot. We occasionally swing the ball. The only pick play we run is usually for Mo P on the first play of the game. Seems to me we may not have the system for Redick to succeed. Could we run more screen plays? Sure we could. In fact, Mitchell did play with Reggie Miller in the early 90's so it is possible. Reggie loved to come off screens and nail the three. To that end it is possible JJ could earn a living the same way. If you are a Raps fan though, you know that Mitchell doesn't run plays for rooks. We have the key pieces to our offence and the last thing this team needs is a guy who can't be effective unless he is getting his. Does JJ play D? Does he drive? Does he have great court-vision? Let's just say these are not on the top of his resume.

As a result? I expect his resume to read much like Langdon's: Great Duke player now abroad, looking for NBA employment.

Don't worry, if I eat my words I am cool with that. I was also adamant that Channing Frye was going to be the bust of the 2005 draft. Can't be right all the time, and of course, this is the problem with predicting.

HOWLAND