This Thursday night the University of Pittsburgh basketball program will take an exciting and necessary step . Two Panthers are expected to be taken in the first round as Sam Young, 24, and Dejuan Blair, 20, will both be signing lucrative NBA contracts instead of midterm exam sheets this fall. The only question left to ask is who will be the better professional?
One point must be made before the comparison begins though. Blair had to go to the draft this year. There are multiple reasons that made the decision obvious, if not easy, for Pitt’s first All-American since Billy Knight in 1974.
- With two ACL injuries looming in his past, Blair could not afford to wait. The Big East co-player of the year is one knee-to-knee hit away from becoming the Pittsburgh Explosion’s newest acquisition.
- With Levance Fields, Tyrell Biggs, and Young leaving, Blair would become Jamie Dixon’s only legitimate scoring option which would force more double teams and result in a dramatic statistical drop.
- Next year’s college recruiting class is going to be one of the best in recent memory. Heralded recruits such as John Wall, Xavier Henry, and Demarcus Cousins will make their mandatory college year their only college year–and they will not be the only freshmen thinking of making the jump.
Blair certainly had his share of national attention this season, which is hardly fair to ‘Super’ Sam considering that he is the better of the two. Most experts are predicting the ‘Big Fella’ to be a late lottery pick dropping no further than pick number 20, which means he will be the higher drafted of the two former Pitt standouts. Young, however, is not far behind. Many foresee him being drafted anywhere between pick 22 and 26. So if Young’s the better player, why is he going to be drafted later?
Young will not be considered an elite prospect at the 2009 NBA draft simply because of his age. The mutual consensus among experts is that dominating a league in which you are two years older than the rest of the competition does not impress professional scouts. I see this as a flaw on the scouts part though considering some of the best basketball players over the past few years have been freshmen which would make age a moot point. Instead, the more devastating blow to Young is that being a small forward in the NBA is like being a cabbie in New York City. In order to find a starting position at the three spot, Young is going to have to carry his famous work ethic with him–which will be no problem for the skilled Panther forward.
Dejuan Blair on the other hand already starts a leg up on his multi-talented Panther teammate. There are far fewer superb centers that find their way from college to the professional ranks than there are small forwards. Although this is a testament to the overall ability Blair, there are also some drawbacks. Being a high draft pick will most likely demand he start right away. Yet the biggest flaw Blair has is that most centers leave college having not reached their full potential whereas Blair may have already found the most success he will ever see. In most cases it’s obvious that big men are raw when they leave their collegiate teams only to find that when they work with the best coaches in the world at the professional level they become all-star centers. A perfect example of this would be former Duke standout Luol Deng. Deng, although very successful at the college level, was a raw talent that was molded into a go-to center in the NBA. Even if Blair has not reached most of his potential, it will still be hard for a 6’7″ center to play against a 7′ center and dominate like he did at lower levels. A raw talent with size is what NBA scouts drool over and, more often than not, the undeveloped player with good size and athleticism turns into a dominant center while the well-rounded standout college player turns into an average joe–just ask Andrew Bogut, Adam Morrison, or Drew Gooden.
So why will the exact same thing not happen to Young? The answer is simple: because there are many more scoring options and much more space on the wing. The variety at the small forward position ensures that even a mediocre wing player in the NBA is capable of dropping 30 on a team if their shot is falling. Also, after seeing Young turn his awkward freshmen jump shot into a smooth stroke as a senior it is obvious that his shot will only become better with every-day practice.
Defensive presence may not mean anything in NBA regular season, but when it comes time for playoffs the cliche holds true–defense wins championships. Perhaps the biggest gap between the two former Panthers is in this category. Young is an intimidating defender when he decides to show up, averaging over a block a game in his junior year and just under a block a game in his senior year. He has the athleticism and speed to stay with a guard and the size and strength to play a forward one on one. Blair, on the other hand, is at a disadvantage because the forward position in the NBA is changing to cater the more versatile big men. Centers like Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Rasheed Wallace are taking over the game with their quick high post moves and sharp shooting–both of which just happen to be Blair’s weakest areas. However, any fan of the Boston Celtics can tell you that Glenn ‘Big Baby’ Davis adapted his game to fit the new modern style of a NBA big man after leaving college in almost the exact same position as Blair. Davis became a playoff hero this year thanks to his jump shot, which is exactly what Blair must develop in order to become an all-star center.
The bottom line is that Young is ready to enter the NBA right now and be an immediate impact player while Blair still has to develop a shot if he wants to reach his maximum potential. Teams will no-doubt drool over the fact that No. 45 is an offensive rebounding juggernaut as well they should. Blair showed in college that he can go toe to toe with any center and outrebound them, but there is much more to the center position than rebounding. If either of these Panther greats become NBA all-stars then they will have overachieved; both have the potential, but the NBA game is a lot different than the college game they dominated. Expect Blair to be a career 10 point, 12 rebound player and Young to show his scoring touch by averaging 14-15 points over the course of his career. Young and Blair are the exact type of players every team needs to win a championship, so don’t be suprised to see both have lengthy and productive NBA careers.