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Cracking the DeJuan Blair Code

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With Chicago out of the way and workouts beginning in earnest, the Bucks' list of potential prospects is beginning to narrow. As always, let us know in the comments what you think.

Vital Stats

Pittsburgh / PF / Sophomore / 20 years old
6'5.25" no shoes / 6'6.5" with shoe / 7'2" wingspan / 8'10.5" standing reach / 277 pounds
No Step Vert 26" / Max Vert 33" / Bench Press 18 / Lane Agility 11.50 s / 3/4 Court 3.45

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2008 - DeJuan Blair 35 27.3 6.5 10.9 59.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.8 4.6 60.5 5.6 6.8 12.3 1.2 1.3 1.5 1.0 2.7 15.7

"Expert" Mock Sampling

ESPN Insider: 11
DraftExpress: 11 21
Hoops World: 8
Rotoworld/NBC Sports: 11

Recommended Reading

DX Interview
DX Chicago video interview

DX Situational Stats

He posted the highest FG% (59%) and the highest PPP (1.12) of any player on our list in back to the basket situations. Standing 6’7, Blair displayed incredible strength in overcoming his height disadvantage, on a nightly basis. However, he would be well served to improve his jumper to help compensate for the issues he’s bound to run into trying to score against bigger and more athletic players in the NBA on a nightly basis, which could be tough given that his .2 jump shots per game rank last in our sample. He also isn't a great finisher around the rim on non-post up situations, ranking 4th worst in that category.

Bucks Diary:

If Blair is average then, he will be a very productive, above average professional. What's more, he was a tremendous offensive rebounder, and those numbers almost always translate directly to the NBA. There is almost no precedent for him being underproductive in the pros. That said, he's not going to be a scoring machine, but he should be a big time win producer. He's might be closer to a Charles Oakley. But couldn't the Bucks use one of those?

Chad Ford Workout Report

As far as his weight goes, Blair looks considerably better than he looked at Pittsburgh. He has lost about 15 pounds during the first two weeks of training. His physique is much more chiseled. And most importantly, his athleticism has improved greatly because he has lost that weight and improved his conditioning.

Where that should help Blair the most is on the defensive end of the floor. A lot of teams are concerned that Blair won't have the foot speed to defend the pick-and-roll in the league. What I saw at his workout suggests he does.

NBA Comparables

If Blair put up his outrageous numbers with a 6'10" / 250 frame he'd be a lock for the top three. But as a short PF with a history of weight issues, Blair has become a rather polarizing prospect--either you think his motor and uncanny rebounding make it impossible for him not to be a productive NBA player, or he's doomed to being nothing more than a role player who will struggle to score and defend against NBA athletes. To make sense of what he might become, he's been compared to every undersized and/or rotund big man in the NBA. But some make a lot more sense than others. Let's start with this quote from Charles Gardner's article on Blair last week:

Blair welcomes comparisons with Charles Barkley and said he hopes to emulate current NBA players Paul Millsap, Craig Smith and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, all outstanding rebounders despite being undersized.

First off, Smith and Davis were't even average rebounders last year, ranking 58th and 59th, respectively, among 77 qualifying PFs in rebound rate (the percentage of all possible rebounds they get). In other words, those two get minutes in spite of their rebounding, not because of it. In fact, most of the preferred comparables for Blair have some notable differences.

Glen Davis: While Davis had some moments in the playoffs, his numbers over two seasons are mediocre at best. Like Blair, he has tipped the scales close to 300 pounds, but after that the similarities mostly end. He's two inches taller than Blair, though it should be noted that Davis' wingspan/reach aren't listed in the DX measurements database (Blair's length is a definite asset). As much as he's a non-factor in the rebounding department, Davis was a good rebounder in college, averaging 10.4 rpg in 35 mpg as a junior. That's not close to Blair's league (12.3 rpg in just 27 mpg), but you could have reasonably expected Big Baby to be a better rebounder than he's been. Either way, I wouldn't touch Blair with a 10-foot pole if I thought I was getting another Davis.

Craig Smith: Smith has become a serviceable NBA rotation player thanks mostly to his ingenuity as a scorer, but you wouldn't have wanted to spend a lottery pick on him. He measured out at the same height as Blair in 2006, but his wingspan was a full 4.5 inches shorter and his standing reach three inches shorter. In spite of that, he was actually an above-average rebounder as a rookie (16.2 rebound rate), but since then his RR has fallen to just 13.2 and 11.4 the past two seasons. Teammate Mike Miller (yes, the floppy-haired swingman) actually pulled down a bigger share of possible rebounds last year than Smith, who instead earned his time on the floor by shooting 56% from the field for the second year in a row. Looking back at Smith's college career, his fg% has basically held steady since entering the NBA, not exactly a typical experience but providing some hope that Blair might retain his scoring efficiency as he moves on to the NBA. Smith was also a good but not spectacular rebounder at BC, with 9.4 rpg in 36 mpg as a senior.

Paul Millsap: Millsap is the comparison which does get me more excited. While Millsap is far from a household name, he finally had a chance to shine while Carlos Boozer was injured this year and responded with 17.5 ppg and 11 rpg in December and January. He's now a restricted free agent and the Jazz will probably keep him and let Boozer go, which says a lot about the 24-year old former Louisiana Tech star. If I thought Blair was going to be the next Millsap I'd take him without hesitation, but I'm not sure that's the case.

Millsap measured .75" taller than Blair in shoes, but both his wingspan and standing reach were shorter. Like Blair, Millsap was an exceptional college rebounder and has been a very good rebounding PF in the NBA, ranking 10th among qualifying PFs with a 17.0 rebound rate, which is a good sign. That said, Millsap carries about 20 pounds less than Blair and has always appeared quicker and more explosive (their respective shot-blocking numbers bear this out a bit). They were similarly mediocre college free throw shooters, though Millsap has improved marginally in the NBA while maintaining a high fg%.

Jason Maxiell: The Maxiell comparison could prove especially important given John Hammond was with the Pistons when they selected Maxiell with the 26th overall pick in 2005. At that year's combine, Maxiell measured a quarter inch shorter in shoes and 20 pounds lighter than Blair, but with a tremendous 7'3.25" wingspan and solid 8'11" standing reach. In the NBA, Maxiell's been a good role player but not much more. He wasn't a particularly good college rebounder (7.7 rpg in 31 mpg as a senior) but has been respectable the past two seasons (14.7 and 13.7 rebound rates). Thanks to his wingspan and explosiveness he was a very good collegiate shot-blocker and continues to block shots and a good clip in the NBA, which Blair probably won't do. Overall, if Blair is nothing more than another Maxiell I'd tread carefully. While useful, you'd certainly hope to get more from a 10th overall pick.

Reggie Evans: DX and others have used Evans as a possible "worst case" scenario for Blair, reflecting concerns that Blair's lack of offensive polish might make him purely a rebounder in the NBA. Evans was among the nation's best rebounders at Iowa, averaging 11.1 rpg in 34 mpg as a senior in addition to 15.4 ppg. Physically they're not that similar, as Evans is two inches taller with a half inch longer wingspan and inch better standing reach to go with a fairly chiseled 250 pound frame. However, they share a less quanitifable knack for getting to loose balls and doing the dirty work on both ends.

In the pros Evans has been a tremendous rebounder, regularly leading all PFs in rebound rate (19.0 last year) but showing next to no ability on the offensive end. He's a poor finisher, turns the ball over way too much and his high free throw rate is as much a reflection of teams' willingness to make him miss free throws as it is his own knack for drawing fouls. Blair certainly appears to have more finishing ability than Evans, but the the former Pitt star won't have an easy time matching Evans' incredible rebounding numbers, either.

The Bottom Line: I don't see Blair being a Tractor-like bust, but there's also no exact precedent for a guy of his size becoming a great player in the modern game, either (sorry, he's no Charles Barkley). Millsap offers the best hope of Blair becoming a very good player, but most of the other guys commonly mentioned are role players who also didn't produce on the same level as Blair in college. They also typically weighed less, while comparably heavy guys like Glen Davis and Kevin Love were also a couple inches taller (Love was also considerably more skilled), allowing them to play center. That makes me especially concerned about Blair's potential on defense, where the changing face of the NBA could hurt him unless his length allows him to get burn as an undersized center too. Considering Skiles' willingness to play small lineups, that would probably happen at least occasionally with the Bucks.

Part of the argument for Blair is premised on the Bucks need a bruising PF to pair with Andrew Bogut, but let's take a step back for a moment. The Bucks were one of the top rebounding teams in the league while Bogut was healthy and still finished 9th and 11th in offensive and defensive rebound rates, respectively. So while a lunchpail type at PF wouldn't hurt, it's not like they're starting from scratch on the boards.

If I was going to draw up an ideal complement to Bogut, I'd probably prefer someone with a jumper given that Bogut does all his damage close to the hoop (if Sessions is back it would be even more important given his lack of consistency from deep). Right now that's not in Blair's arsenal, though he just turned 20 and could develop it. I'd also want someone capable of defending mobile power forwards in addition to helping on the glass, as Bogut can handle more offensively gifted post PFs. So is Blair really the perfect guy for the Bucks? Maybe not as a long-term PF solution, but he'd still be useful as a rotation guy. With Charlie Villanueva in free agency, the Bucks have no true power forwards this side of, gulp, Malik Allen.

Which begs the eternal question of how much the Bucks' existing roster situation should impact the draft in the first place. The reality is that the Bucks' financial constraints make the draft more important than usual, and they aren't making a secret of their need for one or two players from this draft to contribute next year. Considering how few players seem to have superstar potential in this draft, it's not likely the Bucks will have their choice of future studs at 10 anyway, which makes a "safe" pick like Blair a bit more palatable. But history tells us there will be at least a couple future all-stars selected outside the top ten, and the Bucks aren't in a position to pass on a player they think is better just because it takes him a year or two to get there (DeMar DeRozan or Jrue Holiday come to mind).