Larry Bird is known to make some grand proclamations about NBA draft picks – and the Pacers president has earned the benefit of the doubt. He drafted raw prospects Paul George and Lance Stephenson and saw them develop into a star and a near-star.
But Bird’s track record is far from perfect, as he admits.
DeAndre Jordan – the No. 35 pick by the Clippers in 2008 – turned out to be a tremendous steal, making the All-NBA first team last season and the All-NBA third team the year before. But Bird thought the Clippers reached.
When he came in here to work out the first time, I couldn’t believe the kid was even thinking about coming out. He was tall, he could run and he could jump. But basketball (skills)? Had none. And I am amazed, I am truly amazed how this young man has developed his game from where he was to the point he’s at today. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve seen guys get a lot better, but when he came in there that day, we had Roy Hibbert, we had some other big guys in here. I really felt sorry for the kid. I thought there’s no way in hell this kid will ever make it in this league. And I don’t know who got with him, or what he did, but to watch him play and perform on a nightly basis the way he does is just breathtaking to me. After everything I’ve seen, I always go back to that. It’s pretty amazing. And this wasn’t this year; this happened five years ago. And just watching him, he was in here the other night and I thought, boy, I’m so proud of that kid. It’s amazing. I’ve never really met him other than that day he was in here. But just watching kids like that come in, and here I’m thinking they have no chance, there’s no way in hell they’ll play in this league, and to accomplish some of the things he’s done, to me, that’s worth it all. And I had nothing to do with it. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. But that’s the kick I get out of it.
Bird’s assessment was reasonable. Jordan was so raw coming out of Texas A&M after only one year, and he remained rough around the edges in his first couple NBA seasons.
Maybe there’s a lesson here about taking risks on players whose physical skills are so impressive. If you hit, you hit big.
But really, this is a great opportunity to appreciate how hard Jordan has worked and how far he has come.