Blaming the Doctors is a Cop-Out

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
4:49
PM ET

DeJuan Blair, drafted 37th overall despite projecting to be one of the best players in this draft, nabbed 19 rebounds in his first preseason game for the San Antonio Spurs. 

NBA general managers not named R.C. Buford are reportedly bitter at those smarmy doctors who wouldn't let them draft the Big East player of the year because of concerns about his knees. (Learned about this from Kevin Pelton's fascinating post about young rebounders.)

My response to those GMs: Boo freaking hoo.

DeJuan BlairLet's be clear: There is a long history of players getting poor medical assessments and then playing extremely well in the NBA. (Carl Landry comes to mind as one of a recent example.) Every team has such stories.

I heard one GM say last year that, because so many players go on to produce heavily after being red-flagged by doctors, he never lets doctors veto a player acquisition.

Consider that the doctor's job is to identify problems -- not build title-winning rosters.

In other words, a doctor can look at an MRI and rule a player out. But a GM, with a draft pick, has to pick somebody else instead. The job, then, is to choose between a lesser player with good health and a better player with medical questions.

They don't teach anything remotely like that in medical school.

That's the GM or owner's call.

It's simply a question of how much risk they can stomach. If they can't take the risk ... then the safe thing is to step into the shadows and let the doctors decide.

On the other hand, I'd argue that grabbing a player like that is the exact kind of big risk, big reward play that title-winning teams tend to make. Will Blair be injured? It's unknowable. I'd say it's even money, however, that he or his opponents will be in pain. 

In this particular case, Blair's ACL operations -- the subject of all the worry -- were in high school! So all that amazing rebounding he did over the last two years in college were on the same knees he has now.

Rebounding has been shown to be one of the things that carries over best from college to the pros. Which means, on draft day it was already likely that DeJuan Blair, one of the best rebounders in the NCAA, would do some good rebounding in the NBA. Now that it's happening (even just a little, in preseason), the general managers who passed on Blair apparently need somebody to blame.

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) 

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