Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Of the Maryland players drafted in the NBA between Joe Smith in 1995 and Alex Len in 2013, whose career has been the most surprising and whose has been the most disappointing?
Don Markus: There have been more than a dozen former Terps to have played in the NBA in the past 18 years, and only one – Steve Francis – has been an all-star.
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That said, a handful of former Terps who have played during the past two decades have had long and fairly productive careers, such as the now retired Smith (16 seasons), Tony Massenburg (15), Walt Williams (11) as well as Steve Blake (9). A four-time All-Star, Francis had a mostly productive eight-year career cut short by injuries.
But there have been more than a few whose careers didn’t last as long as many thought, such as Juan Dixon (7), Lonny Baxter (3) and Keith Booth (2). A number didn’t even get their NBA careers off the ground, such as John Gilchrist and Mike Jones.
As far as the most surprising, a number of fans I’ve talked with over the years say it’s Blake, at least compared to Dixon and others on the 2002 national championship team. I always figured that Blake had a better chance because he was a true point guard while Dixon was more of an undersized shooting guard.
Still, who would have thought that a player that averaged no more than 11.6 points in college and has averaged double figures only once in the NBA (a little over 11 a game as a starter in Portland in 2008-09) could stick around this long, playing with the likes of Allen Iverson in Denver and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles?
Blake has not had the most productive stint during his three seasons with the Lakers, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that once he got over the adjustment of playing with Bryant in Phil Jackson’s Triangle offense, Jackson retired and the franchise has been in flux ever since.
Yet every time it seems that Blake is about to be passed in the rotation by another point guard – remember when the Lakers brought in Ramon Sessions two years ago? – he proves too solid and too steady to bury on the bench.
If he can stay healthy, I can see Blake playing another five years or more. Though it seems unlikely he will be a starter again, as he was in Portland and for a time with the Lakers, his reputation as a good guy to have in the locker room and a 15-to-20-minute sub at the point will probably keep him in the league a long time.
How about the most disappointing Terp since Smith?
Many believe it’s Smith, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft after being national player of the year as a sophomore. While he was never the main scoring option on any team he played – even when he averaged more than 18 points in Golden State his second season – Smith was a pretty good role player for a long time.
There are some arguments for Booth and Jordan Williams, too.
Booth, who was the No. 1 pick at the end of the first round by the Chicago Bulls in 1997, never developed a jump shot and really never was given much of a chance, appearing in only 45 games in two seasons. He was a great college player who got by on toughness and grit, a 6-5 power forward whose qualities never carried over to the pros.
I’m not sure you can say that Jordan Williams had the most disappointing career, since he was a second-round draft choice who many believed was not ready for the NBA when he left after his sophomore year in 2011. While he could surface again after getting cut by the Atlanta Hawks before last season (after he was traded there by the Brooklyn Nets) it seems doubtful.
Based on where he was drafted, and what he showed at Maryland, I might say that Wilcox has been the biggest underachiever. Had he stayed past his sophomore year, Wilcox had the kind of talent that could have made him an ACC player of the year candidate as a junior. Believe it or not, there were some who were comparing him to Len Bias when he emerged during the 2001-2002 season.
Drafted eighth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers after the Terps beat Indiana for the NCAA title in Atlanta, Wilcox has been the definition of an NBA journeyman nearly from the start. He had only one stretch of three years in Seattle when he was a regular starter and averaged respectable numbers (around 14 points, 8 rebounds a game).
Wilcox has had some health issues – the most serious coming when he underwent open heart surgery during the 2011-12 season – but he never really developed a game based around pure basketball skill rather than athleticism. He won’t approach either Massenburg or Smith when it comes to the number of teams he plays for – Wilcox is currently at six – but I doubt whether he plays as long as they did either.
So my choices are both from the 2002 championship team – Blake and Wilcox.
Who are yours?