Drafting George wasn’t an easy call for Bird
Larry Bird’s selection of Paul George with the 10th pick in the 2010 draft was an obvious home run. It could turn out to be a grand slam, if George fulfills the expectations that go with receiving a max-level contract. But while George might now look like a no-brainer choice, it wasn’t that simple on draft night.
Bird nearly took North Carolina forward Ed Davis.
“When I went down to the draft, I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” Bird said Wednesday, following the press conference to announce George’s five-year, max-level contract. “I had two guys in mind. I had Paul and (Davis).
“When I got down there and started getting into the draft it just hit me, ‘I got to take this kid.’ He looks like a basketball player, he’s long, he’s athletic, he gets in the passing lane, he shoots 90 percent from the free throw line, he rebounds his position very well. I knew he turned the ball over and I knew he took a ton of bad shots in college but other than that, we thought we could clean that up and we took him. I don’t think anyone here knew about him.”
George likely will turn out to be the best call of Bird’s career as team president. He was an NBA All-Star, a second-team all-defensive selection and the league’s Most Improved Player last season. Davis, who was drafted 13th by Toronto, has career averages of 7.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. He was traded to Memphis last season, where he averaged 5.1 points over the final 36 games.
The players drafted between George and Davis haven’t fared particularly well, either. Cole Aldrich, taken 11th, has already played for three teams, averaging 2 points, and will try out for a fourth, New York, this year without a guaranteed contract. Xavier Henry, taken 12th, has averaged 4.5 points for his first three seasons and will be playing for his third team, the Lakers, in the upcoming season if kept on the roster.
As successful as he’s been in building the Pacers into a contender, Bird wouldn’t claim to be the first team president in NBA history to be perfect on draft night. He nearly took Ty Lawson instead of Tyler Hansbrough with the 13th pick in the 2009 draft.
Hansbrough has hardly been a bust, averaging 8.9 points over four seasons and playing well as a starter. The Pacers, however, let him leave as a free agent after last season, and he signed with Toronto. Lawson, who slipped to 18th in the draft because of concerns over an ankle injury and a DUI while in college, has achieved stardom. He averaged 16.7 points and 6.9 assists for Denver last season, and 21.3 points and 8 assists in the playoffs.
Running an NBA draft is a lot like baseball, it seems. You can swing and miss now and then if you hit the occasional home run.