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Risky Business

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As we first anticipate and then evaluate the Blazers' performance in this year's draft there's one factor we should take into account that I haven't seen spelled out yet: 

The Blazers don't need this year's draft pick to perform right away.

We are easing past the days when the franchise's whole future--immediate and distant--hung on a single pick.  Most positions are staffed adequately.  The Blazers have depth.  Of course they'd love a guy who could contribute right away but they're not dependent on that kind of performance.

This frees up the team to do something creative with their pick(s).  They can afford to take a risk...even a big one.

Every season we see a half-dozen Fanposts started on the topic of whether Kevin Pritchard has made his first mistake in the draft yet.  "Mistake" in this sense means a player who doesn't pan out.  Each time the poster points out a player like Sergio or Jerryd, saying, "This is the one!"  Each time a host of other people come to KP's defense, saying it's too early to tell or the players are playing about as expected.

I find the whole idea rather silly, myself.  Sometimes the mistake comes in not having the guts to pick a player who may not pan out.  As the number of draft picks approaches infinity the chances of making a mistake that way approach 100%.  I'm reminded of the old admonition to third-base coaches:  "If you never get a guy thrown out at home by waving him through you're not doing your job."

Let's abstract and simplify for a second.  You have two players in question.  One has a potential of 5 out of 10 and is nearly 100% likely to reach that potential, maybe with a small chance of exceeding it.  One has a potential of 8 but only has a 15% chance of reaching that level.  Furthermore he has a reasonable chance of flunking out entirely.   Which is the better pick?

The answer depends on your needs, options, and draft position.  A couple years ago with the team in flux and many positions open the Blazers might have been well-served by taking the "5" player, especially with the 24th pick, especially if he could give them something right away, and especially if he played a position of need for the team.  Right now only the 24th-pick "especially" applies.  A guy who can play at a middling level, even if he's a good value at 24, may not hold as much interest for a team full of guys that good or better already.  This might be precisely the time for the Blazers to swing for the fences, or at least as much of the fences as are apparent late in the first round.

Kevin Pritchard might look better selecting the sure thing.  His draft genius would remain intact.  But the true genius move might be the one with a greater chance of failure here.  The Blazers have not been into drafting hotshots the last few years.  If you see one drop to a level they can attain, look for them to take that kind of chance.  And if they do, applaud it even if the guy doesn't make it in the end.  We have the luxury of making just that kind of move this year.  We need the great success more than we'd be hurt by the great failure.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)