The Upside of Falling Down

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

As recently as a few weeks ago, Jrue Holiday was a projected top 10 pick. A good number of observers felt that another year at UCLA would've served Holiday well, but there was enough collective faith in his court smarts, defense, and capacity to blossom into a productive NBA guard. Whether it was Ben Howland's slow-it-down offense, playing off the ball alongside Darren Collison, or something else, Holiday found himself as the dreaded "Last Guy Sitting in the Green Room" Thursday night, and ultimately went #17 to Philadelphia.

In the big man division, no prospect dropped farther and harder Thursday night than DeJuan Blair. Projected as a certain first-rounder and as the seventh best player in the 2009 draft class according to John Hollinger's Draft Rater, Blair was a brute force at Pittsburgh with 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game, along with a rugged brand of defense. At the combines, Blair's wingspan measured at a eye-popping 7-foot-2.

What caused Blair to slip to the seventh pick of the second round? Concerns about his knees. In high school, Blair tore both of his ACLs and had them surgically repaired. Blair's scar tissue essentially got re-absorbed by his body and the result left Blair with essentially no ACLs.

Although he's suffered no adverse effects ever since, Blair's is an unprecedented injury and one that scared off a slew of NBA executives. Though Blair literally has no ACL to tear, some team physicians feel that Blair could eventually develop a nagging issue that could eventually wear him down. As a result, Blair ended up as the #37 pick of the draft, landing with San Antonio.

Dropping in the draft is a tough indignity for a young guy to endure. In addition to the dashed expectations and losing face, there's also the monetary loss. As a second-round pick, Blair isn't even guaranteed a contract. Holiday will make less a couple million dollars less over the next four years as the 17th pick than a player who went 10th.

But once Holiday and Blair get over the initial sting, both will realize that they're in ideal situations -- not in spite of having dropped, but because of it.

Holiday joins a young Sixers team deprived of guards that went into the postseason with a shooting guard platoon of Willie Green and Lou Williams. Philly's point guard, Andre Miller, has an uncertain future with the club. In other words, there might not be a better situation for a young guard than joining the beleagured Sixers' backcourt.

By virtue of dropping to 37, Blair lands with arguably the NBA's best franchise. Not only will he join a model organization, but he'll be able to step in and fill one of the team's most glaring needs. The Spurs never found the bruiser they needed up front last season. Matt Bonner, Fabricio Oberto, Drew Gooden, and an aging Kurt Thomas all logged minutes as Tim Duncan's frontcourt mate, but none could effectively fill the role. Blair will have the opportunity to step in and help the league's 30th-ranked offensive rebounding team.

Mark Jackson, Jameer Nelson, and Josh Howard all sat around longer than expected on their respective draft nights, and each fell into ideal situations. With some serendipity and hard work, Holiday and Blair will have the same opportunities to emerge as steals on winning teams. When and if they do, the frustration of Draft Night 2009 will be a footnote.