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Sergio, Taurean, Petteri, Rudy, Freeland, Jack

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Guess what the names listed above all have in common:

1. They're all associated with the Trailblazers.  (Duh!)

2. They are all late first or second round picks.

Sergio 27th overall
Taurean 52nd
Petteri 30th
Rudy  24th
Joel F.  30th
Jarrett 22nd

3.  At various times, for various reasons, they've had (and still have) people jumping on their bandwagons, hoping they're legit players, maybe even stars.

Guess what?  Never going to happen.  It's late at night right now so I'm going to duck out of doing the statistical analysis of how many players picked 22 or later actually end up with significant careers in this league but I feel safe saying there are far more misses than hits.

OK, I chugged a Vault Zero and went to work on a small sample.  Here you go:

Of the 9 first round picks at 22 or later...

1997  2 names you'd recognize, both journeymen
1998  5 names you'd recognize, 4 journeymen (Al Harrington)
1999  3 names you'd recognize, 2 journeymen (Andre Kirilenko)
2000  3 names you'd recognize, all journeymen (at best)
2001  4 names you'd recognize, 2 journeymen (Jamaal Tinsley, Tony Parker)
2002  4 names you'd recognize, 2 journeymen (Nenad Krstic and Tayshaun Prince)

More recent than that is hard to judge.  And I tried to be pretty generous in my "journeyman" definition.  Some guys I counted are more like vagabond hangers-on.  Even so there was only one year where more than half the guys even made that kind of impact.  In six years and 54 draft picks counted only 6 turned out to be more than mediocre.  Those aren't great odds.

Of course it's always in the purview of fans to assume that their own players are exceptions to the rule and maybe somebody on our list is.  But that's the operative word:  somebody.  The chances of it being somebodIES is smaller, and the chances of multiple somebodies making a significant impact is infinitesimal.

I know people will say, "Well we drafted these guys young" or "They're from overseas" as a reason why they went so low.  It's tempting to think that we got the jump on a lot of other teams and that had these guys tucked a couple years in the U.S. under their belts they would have been lottery picks.  It's overwhelmingly likely that we didn't.  The days of the early adopters are long gone.  Any GM that doesn't have an extensive European scouting system at this point is probably asking to be fired.  And anyone who wants to argue that young guys slip under the radar hasn't followed the NBA draft in the last...oh...decade.  Had any of these guys been bankable stars--or even suspected of being bankable stars--they would have gone earlier.  I have no problem believing that we found a diamond in the rough somewhere, but six diamonds in three years?  That's a little much to swallow.

It's almost certain that four of these guys won't make it very far in the league.  Five wouldn't surprise me either.  We'll be doing well to get one real, solid contributor from the bunch.

What's the point?  Well a lot of the discussion that surrounds the team (and almost all the argument and angst) involves exactly these guys.  It's good conversation, sometimes fun and interesting, but chances are it doesn't matter much in the long run.  What does matter?  Our top 5-6 players and especially our top 3 matter.  What happens to Roy, Aldridge, and Oden seriously impacts the future of this team.  I hope Martell can someday also go on that list. Using our free agent money wisely in 2009 also matters.  Koponen and Freeland probably don't as much.  Truth be told Sergio and Jack might not either, nor Taurean.  There's a ton of hype surrounding Rudy Fernandez right now too.  I've seen many pencil him right into the starting lineup.  We should count ourselves very lucky if he lives up to that, or even half that.

It's great to ride your horse.  That's what fandom is about and when you end up being right it feels dang good.  But be careful how fast and far you ride it, because more than half the time that horse runs right off a cliff.  When all is said and done Brandon Roy's heel may have more of an impact on our future than all six of those guys put together.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)