Today I put the powerful forward from Pittsburgh, DeJuan Blair, under the Tbird microscope. This is the 4th analysis of this 2009 draft series, the first three were PG Ty Lawson, SG Gerald Henderson, and PG Jrue Holiday. You can find those profiles elsewhere on this site if you are interested.
Blair is the favored selection of the Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, and a preferred selection of many of you as well I am sure. Blair had a very nice season playing for Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh Panthers, and because of the exposure of the Big East and the highly rated matchups Pitt played in all season long, Blair has been one of the most watched players available in this draft by the viewing public.
Like most players, Blair has his strengths and weaknesses as a player. This thread will hopefully end up being a good discussion avenue of the advantages and disadvantages to having him on your roster, and how, if selected by the Pacers, how he could fit it.
Let's go with his biggest positive attribute first, which is clearly evident.
Let us all go ahead and say the obvious: Blair is an absolute MAN, a beast, a stud, a force, or whatever adjective you want to use as a rebounder. He has the single best attribute I as a fan or coach can give to a player as a rebounder: He is RELENTLESS. He adds toughness, attitude, and a physical power to a team whenever he takes the floor.
Blair is a rebounding *** kicker, an intimidator at the college level, as many guys he played against wanted no part of him. Just ask Hasheem Tabeet, who Blair WWE slammed to the floor in a game during the Big East conference season during a loose ball scrum. I remember smiling broadly when I saw that play live, and I smiled again when I watched it on film while preparing this review. Blair's style harkens back to a bygone era, where real men stalked the painted area...guys like Charles Oakley, Rick Mahorn, and other enforcers of a past time. I like Blair if for no other reason that he lets me remember time in NBA basketball that I really enjoyed.
But that was then, and this is now. Now we are in the era where physical play is frowned upon, and the old time unskilled enforcers are no longer walking the earth in baggy shorts and tank tops. Blair would have easily fit into the culture of the league a few years ago, but now is a different time. Can he still be a useful player in this more finesse type of game?
I certainly hope he can, because you can tell that I really enjoyed watching him play.....and indeed I think he can be a role player on most teams and play some regular minutes in the league. He will be a fan favorite where he ends up I think, and his teammates will likely really be glad he is with them instead of against them.
I think it is obvious that a player with such a dominating singular skill can play in the league for a long time. But does he have any real upside, any chance to become something more than what he appears to be?
Looking at his offensive game, it doesn't appear so at this time. he clearly will have some developing to do at the NBA level. You can't blame him for not developing a mid range jumper in college...drifting outside then would have been stupid, when he could just overpower people under the rim at that level. But in the NBA he won't have such a strength advantage every night (although he will sometimes), so he will have to be able to stick a face up 10-15 foot baseline jumper from time to time I think to be at maximum effectiveness. Right now he can't make that shot, we will see if he can develop it.
Blair is too heavy and too short, we all know that, to be considered an "elite" player. But his limitations have also helped him develop his game to a degree. When you can't jump, you have to develop good footwork to get position and leverage, and Blair does have nimble feet inside while posting. He lacks moves once he actually gets the ball of course, but in college he had such deep position it made no difference. Watch Blair's feet against taller guys and you'll notice that he does a very nice job of driving one of his feet between the feet of his defender while posting up, then driving that leg back into his man, which creates one of 2 scenarios: either his man gives ground, or his man takes a shot to the groin or midsection. Trust me, most defenders back up! Blair gets big props from me for very good footwork inside. At 6'11 or so he'd be unstoppable, but at 6'5 or 6'6 his height is a big hindrance to being a reliable post scorer at this level, and that is an issue that is uncoachable.
Blair is a very nice screener, and really seems to relish the role of screening, which I enjoyed watching on film. He really clobbers people with his size, causing many defenders to want to avoid him altogether, meaning guys on Pittsburgh and more room to get shots off when coming off a Blair screen. He moves some while screening, and occasionally he will deliver a forearm shiver to people as they pass by, possibly just for his own amusement. He will need to tone it down in the NBA game, because the dirtly little secret to college basketball is thta is actually more physical than the NBA. Blair will be a very effective baseline screener for a team that plays alot of offense that way.
Can you post up Blair as a primary option? Not at all, nor can he really be an effective player out of a ballscreen situation. Most NBA teams will just trap the ballhandler when he is in a ballscreen play with someone and dare the player with the ball to feed it back to Blair. Blair can't handle the ball, nor would you want him to really, so he isnt going to drive and create anything. A very clever coach will still be able to build offense with Blair in the game though....the easiest idea to use a guy like Blair is to havign him ballscreen for someone at the top, and then when his man leaves to trap the ball, instead of having Blair pop back or roll to the bucket, instead have him SCREEN DOWN AGAIN for another player who CAN score to come up and recieve a pass. This using of Blair as a screener 2 different times gets him closer to the bucket to offensive rebound and creates a situation where there is no help defender available to help on Blair's screen the second time.....smart coaches like Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan, Rick Carlisle, Greg Popovich, and others who already play half court basketball alot will be able to use Blair offensively more than other teams will.
Blair will need to improve his ability to pass as well. He particularly needs to learn to make the very accurate 2 handed overhead outlet pass. He needs that because he needs to be able to rebound and start fast breaks, instead of just holding it like he does now most of the time. He will also need to do that after he gets offensive rebounds, because even though I think he will be very good at GETTING offensive rebounds, I don't think he will be able to FINISH them all that often. Plus, the game is evolving in such a way that most teams want you to throw the ball backout to spotted up shooters in those cases anyway. Blair will give you extra possessions, just not extra POINTS necessarily, that will be up to others on his team.
Defensively, there will be some teams that he can match up with, but he will be a liabilty in todays more perimeter, more free flowing NBA. Blair would be useless against a team like Orlando for instance,as he would have no ability to cover the perimeter 4's the league has today. His other defensive attribute of delivering physical pain to cutters that cross his face will be called fouls in today's league....where 20 years ago they would have been ignored.
Blair will struggle big time in screen/roll situations defensively. He is a bit slow and crosses his feet when trying to slide them, and he will have a tough time staying in front of even average speed guards. His lack of closeout ability and conditioning means he will struggle to recover back to his man if he pops to the perimeter for jumpers as well. As long armed as Blair is, he isnt really projecting to be a big NBA shotblocker, and he plays with his arms down when contesting shots too often....add that to his lack of leaping ability and elite conditioning, and he is going to struggle defensively all over the floor, unless he is guarding a player trying to post him and play with his back to the basket. And even those type players will be able to launch over him. Blair will be a defensive liability, not because of effort exactly but just because of his limitations.
Blair projects as the 4th big man in a big man rotation, capable of playing 15 to 20 minutes a night on average for a team that values his skillset and that plays a style where he can help them.
I want to say that Blair would be a good fit in Indiana, since so many people I know like him and since I myself enjoy his tough guy image and bad *** attitude. Unfortunately, I cannot. In fact, i think Blair is one of the worst fits for the Pacers current style in the entire draft, and Ill be shocked beyond belief if they take him and keep him.
Blair is a bad "fit" with us because his weaknesses hurt us more than his strengths help us. What we need in a big man I think, more than anything Blair can give us, would be one of two types of players:
1. A bigger guy with enough athleticism to guard and shut down more perimeter oriented bigs....someone who can drift between playing the wing and the low post depending on matchups. Not a star, but someone who can help us in many different ways.
2. And we also need, probably even more than the above, a big player who can play with EITHER Murphy or Hibbert, so we can use Foster as our 4th big man, and McRoberts as our 5th. We already know that Hibbert/Foster isn't a good defensive combination, so we need someone who can compliment both players, so we can avoid those 2 playing together so much. In a "perfect" world, we'd draft a player who can start over either of those guys and help us....basically, we need today's version of Dale Davis...and that player isn't in this draft.
I'm not sure exactly who I think will draft Blair, but I'm almost positive it won't be Indiana. I can however see a team trading UP to get Blair to around Indiana's selection, as he is the only player in the draft who plays like he does...Blair's "uniqueness" and fan appeal will make him a draft day target of someone's front office.
I've heard New Jersey as a destination for Blair, but I think he would fit terribly in their current "dribble drive motion" offense. I think he gets past the Nets. I can see Charlotte picking him to use as a screener and role player, but who would he be screening for? Plus, I think they need a scorer more than Blair at this point.....but I can still see him landing there despite the fact I think they will take Henderson instead. I can see Milwaukee and Scott Skiles valuing Blair the most, along with Chicago. I'll go out on a small limb and say the Bucks and Bulls are his most likely destinations, although if he gets past 16 its anyone's guess.
NBA comparables are easy for Blair I think.
Current day: Reggie Evans, F from the 76'ers.
Past day: Tyrone Hill.
Sepite the protests and criticisms likely to come from our local newspaper columnist, I predict the Pacers would/should pass on Blair, even if he is available when we select. I think he will have a long NBA career as a rebounder/tough guy specialist, but I think we need to go in another direction.
As always, the above is just my opinion.