by Hayden Alfano
Tim Duncan and Derrick Rose are very different basketball players, but before all is said and done, they may well end up inextricably linked.
Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs' veteran power forward, is an 11-year veteran, a ten-time All-Star, and has twice been named the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Most Valuable Player. Rose is barely 19 years old, the newly-minted Chicago Bulls point guard, and the top overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
Once upon a time, back in 1997, Duncan was the No. 1 pick. But to understand his connection to Rose, you have to first know a little bit about how the NBA determines its draft order.
Unlike other sports leagues, the NBA doesn’t set its amateur draft order based on reverse order of finish from the previous season. Instead, the 14 teams that miss the playoffs are entered into a lottery. The worst teams, on the basis of overall record, are given the most chances to win, and the lottery is conducted for the first three picks. After those three teams are selected, the rest of the picks are given out, with the fourth pick going to the remaining team with the worst record.
In the 1996-1997 season, the Spurs stumbled to a 20-62 record, third-worst in the league. That was in large part due, however, to injuries that kept star center David Robinson out of all but six games. They won the lottery, nabbed Duncan, and two years later — with a healthy Robinson — won the title, the first of four banners they’d take home on Duncan’s back over a nine-season stretch.
The Bulls, as currently constructed, are similarly “undeserving” of the league’s overall pick. Chicago missed the playoffs with a 33-49 record, and won the lottery with the right to pick Rose on about a 50-to-1 shot.
The Bulls are better than their record. Coming off a 49-win season and a first-round playoff sweep of the defending champion Miami Heat in 2007, Chicago was tabbed in the preseason as one of the contenders in the Eastern Conference. With a budding superstar on the wing in Luol Deng, an explosive scorer off the bench in Ben Gordon, a solid young point guard in Kirk Hinrich, and several key role players, they seemed poised to take the next step and make a run. Rose gives Chicago a legitimate star to add to an already talented group that suffered an anomaly of a poor season.
Like the Spurs of a decade ago, this fortunate set of circumstances has Chicago set to become a real threat for the next several years. If a title is in the future, it won’t come as quickly or as easily as it did to San Antonio in the late '90s; the league has better teams now than it has had in years, while those Spurs won their first title the season after Michael Jordan retired for the second time. The Bulls will also need to be active in the trade market, moving some quality backcourt depth for an upgrade in the post.
Duncan is considered by many to be the best power forward who has ever played. Odds are that Rose will not achieve that level of accolade for a point guard. But he is a similarly transcendent talent with the ability to transform a team.
That may be enough for Chicago.
(To see a video recap of the 2008 NBA Draft, please check below. This video is provided by the NBA.)
San Antonio Spurs
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by Hayden Alfano