Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The World's Biggest Chalmers Fan

There has been something bothering me about Kansas' Mario Chalmers all year long ... the way people perceive his ability at the next level.

Everything I've read suggests that while he's a clutch player with a great jumper, amazingly quick hands, and a terrific personality, he's a "tweener" who doesn't project as an NBA lead guard.

Boy, people must have short memories.

From 1999 to 2001, Gilbert Arenas was the shooting guard for a loaded Arizona team (featuring the likes of Jason Gardiner, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright, and Loren Woods). He often got lost in the shuffle for the Wildcats, content to jack up threes and finish off fast breaks while deferring to teammates on offense and hounding opposing guards on defense. Arenas averaged 15.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and a mere 2.2 assists per game over that stretch, while also shooting more threes than free throws and racking up an impressive 136 steals in 70 career games.

The consensus among NBA "experts"? Arenas couldn't play the lead guard, he didn't project, he was a tweener, blah, blah, blah.

Nevermind that the guy had a sweet stroke, a charming and likeable personality, tremendous athletic gifts, and the quickest hands in the country, the robotic NBA just couldn't imagine how he might possible succeed.

Of course, thousands of points and millions of dollars later, Agent Zero (in honor of the number of teams that had the guts to take him in the first round of the 2001 draft) has made everyone look stupid.

A few years ago all the same concerns surrounded Monta Ellis. Whoops again. At least in that case, pundits and GM's had the excuse of dealing with an unkown commodity coming straight out of high school.

What excuse will people come up with Chalmers winds up thriving in the NBA? The league is becoming increasingly dependant on players who combine pure speed with controlled skills and regardless of size or natural position, Chalmers has that package. And, as I've mentioned ad nauseum, he also seems like a great kid with leadership abilities, he has ice water running through his veins (clearly), and he could wind up being a First Team All Defense type of starting guard.

Yet everyone has him slotted in the second round of the draft.

Chalmers doesn't score quite as much as Arenas did in college (about 12 ppg), but he rebounds just as well, garners more assists, commits fewer turnovers, shoots a higher percentage (.516 from the field and .468 from deep this year, which is fantastic), and snags even more steals (a whopping 283 in 110 career games). And he did all this while playing a simlar "fourth wheel" kind of role for the Jayhawks.

If I'm running an NBA team with title aspirations and my team needs speed at the guard position, I'm taking Chalmers and never thinking twice about it.

There are plently of quality teams meeting this description (projected draft position in parathesis):

Portland (13) - My personal favorite team really needs an infusion of speed and ball pressure in the backcourt. Blake tries hard but can't handle quick guards and Jack doesn't do one single thing that I like. I desperately wanted them to get Devin Harris earlier in the year, but it was not to be. This time around, I'm praying for another lottery miracle that nets them Derrick Rose or Jerryd Bayless, but am really hoping Russell Westbrook manages to drop to their projected #13 spot. If they can't get one of those three guys, give me Chalmers. Seriously. He would be perfect next to Roy, who has the size to guard two's but prefers to handle the ball like a one. Start the refrain, Blazers fans: Chalmers! Chalmers! Chalmers!

Washington (18) - What better place for Chalmers than under Arenas' wing (provided, of course, that Gil returns)? The Wizards could use some speed off the bench and a guy to bring some defense to pair with Nick Young's emerging offense. Now that Antonio Daniels is officially running on fumes and Roger Mason Jr. has proven that he has no interest in any basketball skills other than hoisting threes, Washington seems to have a clear need for another guard who can play 20-25 quality minutes each night.

Denver (20) - You might think that Denver is a bad place for an undersized guard, since Iverson already logs 42 minutes a night doing the same thing, but I would argue that Chalmers skills make it worth it. He can shoot the three and lock people down on the perimeter, which is Problem 1 and Problem 1A with this Nuggets team. Start JR Smith and give Super Mario the minutes that have been going to Carter and you are in good shape.

Orlando (22) - This might be the perfect home for Chalmers. The Magic are a good team is only going to get better, they like to spread the floor around Howard and rain threes, and they desperately need a Better Dooling. Keyon is supposed to be their fast guy/defensive stopper off the bench, but unfortunately, he's terrible. Chalmers, as I clearly believe, is not. Problem solved. (Of course, if the Magic can get a legit shooting guard - like say, Kansas teammate Brandon Rush - to replace Maurice Evans, they should probably do that.)

Utah (24) - This is another match made in heaven. The Jazz may be inclined to lock up a small forward in light of AK47's constant injuries and sulking (and there might be good ones like Tyler Smith or Earl Clark available), but if they want to shore up their biggest problem, they will introduce (here we go again) speed, shooting, and perimeter defense to their backcourt mix. Williams is a beast and Brewer is a terrific big guard, but they need an answer to tbe Monta Ellises and Leandro Barbosas (the good one, not the guy masquerading in a Suns uniform for most of this season) of the world.

San Antonio (27) - Yes, they have Tony Parker. But lets be honest, this group of dinos needs a young buck with some speed in the backcourt. As someone who is, ahem, tired of the Spurs, I really don't want to see Chalmers returning to the site of his Final Four heroics and dropping playoff daggers for the next five years. Forget I mentioned this one.

By the way, while we're here - why isn't anyone talking about the influx of talent that will be going to the NBA from that title game. We had a blue chipper in Derrick Rose, a probable lottery pick in Darrell Arthur, two more first round locks in Brandon Rush and Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chalmers, likely second round picks in Sasha Kaun (born to be a backup center in the NBA) and Joey Dorsey, and even a fringe second rounder in Darnell Jackson. That's 7-8 guys from that game that will likely be in an NBA uniform next year. And that's before you factor in the players that will likely get drafted in future years, such as Sherron Collins, Robert Dozier, and even Cole Aldrich. That is a ton of talent on one college floor.

(Final note - Kansas was good enough to win it all with the roster they had even after losing transfers David Padgett to Louisville and J.R. Giddens to New Mexico. I guess Bill Self can recruit some athletes.)

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