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June 29, 2009

Which second-rounder will thrive in the NBA?

We're four days past the NBA draft, when pro teams decided -- or at least tried to decide -- the best fit for their teams.

While those who went in the first round justifiably got most of the attention, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of college "stars" who went in the second round.

We asked basketball writers Jason King and Mike Huguenin for their opinion on which second-rounder will make the biggest NBA impact.

King went with a guard, Huguenin with a forward.


Frankly, I was surprised at the number of good players who slipped into the second round. Kentucky's Jodie Meeks. Arizona's Chase Budinger. Saint Mary's Patrick Mills. Xavier's Derrick Brown. Pittsburgh's Sam Young. And -- most of all -- Pitt's DeJuan Blair, who went to San Antonio.

Blair has bad knees. He's not all that athletic. He lacks height. All legitimate knocks.

But you know what? He can play basketball. He has numerous positive attributes. He's a solid defender and was one of the Big East's leaders in steals, meaning he can anticipate and move his feet. He can score in the low post and has a serviceable face-up jumper to about 12 feet. He's an OK passer. Best of all, he's strong as a bull and is a rebounding machine.

Nothing against Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet, the second pick in the draft who has a great upside and is going to be a solid NBA player for a decade. But Blair owned him this season, using his high basketball IQ and his brute strength to thoroughly outplay Thabeet in two Pitt wins over UConn.

Blair never is going to be an NBA superstar. But 90 percent of the guys taken in the first round won't be, either. Heck, half won't even be serviceable players. Blair will be serviceable -- and right away. He's a great fit for San Antonio; he'll fit into a role much like Paul Millsap fills with the Utah Jazz -- he'll rebound like mad, bounce opponents around (even knock a few down) and be a productive garbage man on offense. And I'll bet Blair does all that for a long time, too.

One other thing: Meeks, Budinger, Mills, Brown and Blair were underclassmen. All except Meeks were considered first-round locks at some point in the draft process, but each fell into the second round, which means no guaranteed money. Each made their decision to turn pro in April, and each had almost 2 months to change his mind. During those 2 months, the players worked out for and met with various teams. Still, none of them pulled out of the draft during those 2 months.

Now, think about next year, when the amount of time a player has to change his mind about entering the draft is cut in half; the decision will be due in early May. If all those guys made bad decisions this year -- and to me, being picked in the second round means they made a bad decision -- with all that time to talk with NBA folks, what in the world is going to happen next year to underclassmen who declare?


Considering the way he performed as a junior at Kentucky last season, I was a little surprised Jodie Meeks wasn't selected in the first round of the NBA draft and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he ended up having a banner pro career.

Meeks' obvious strength is his shooting touch. You don't score 54 points in a game (which Meeks did in a victory at Tennessee) if you don't have a knack for putting the ball in the hole. The good thing about Meeks is that he's as deadly from mid-range as he is from beyond the 3-point line. He was also one of the top free-throw shooters in college basketball last season.

Among the knocks on Meeks are that he doesn't have much length, he doesn't attack the basket and that he doesn't make his teammates better. The length issue is out of Meeks' control. The other criticisms are somewhat fair, but I'm not sure slashing into the lane is Meeks' game. And other than Patrick Patterson, did you see the players Meeks was playing alongside at Kentucky? Meeks didn't have any choice but to shoot a lot. The alternative would've been ugly.

There are plenty of positive attributes about Meeks. He moves incredibly well without the ball and will be one of the strongest, most well-conditioned athletes in the league. Heck, the guy can bench-press almost 300 pounds. He's also not a prima donna, meaning he'll work hard in practice, do what his coach asks and give everything he has on the court.

Sooner rather than later, Milwaukee will look good for selecting Jodie Meeks, although I still think he should've returned for his senior season to help lead Kentucky to a national championship.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.
Jason King is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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