In response to a request from one of our loyal--yet Yankee--readers, we will provide reasons why Kevin Durant is a legitimate number one pick. But first, we must defend the honor of college baseball, which is a great and undervalued American sport.
Let's compare college baseball to another marginalized NCAA sport with only regional interest: hockey. Here you'll find the attendance statistics for college baseball in 2006, and here are the hockey attendance numbers. Now, the top few hockey school in terms of attendance (Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota) have much higher numbers by virtue of greater stadium capacity than the top few baseball schools (LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi St.). However, through the rest of the list the numbers are very even. Furthermore, the baseball list includes only the top 50 schools in terms of attendance; there are another 200+ schools playing D-I baseball. The hockey list includes all 58 colleges that even play the sport in Division I. So few schools play hockey, in fact, that the game can't even use traditional college conferences to organize itself. On the other hand, baseball, as a popular college sport, is played under the auspices of the SEC, Big XII, Big 10, Pac-10, ACC, etc. etc.
This is not to mention the fact that EA Sports makes a College Baseball video game, and we have yet to see a College Hockey X-Box phenomenon. We will not dispute that college baseball is a regional pastime, popular mostly in the Southeast, Deep South, Southwest, West, and a couple of outposts in the Midwest. But, most important, it's popular in Texas. So it'll stay a major focus on these pages.
As for Kevin Durant: we were thinking about presenting our top 5 reasons why KD should be the #1 pick in the draft but we didn't because Chad Ford already did it. But, here are our thoughts in brief anyway. We will not sit here and make the argument that no reasonable person would draft Oden first. Oden may be the best shot blocker since Bill Russell, especially due to his ability not only to block shots but to block them to his teammates. 80% of most defenders' blocked shots end up back in the hands of the offense, either by going out of bounds or deflecting into their hands. Oden has the ability to keep the ball in play and direct it to his own guards, which is an example of what a smart, heads-up, and extremely talented ballplayer he is. Oden would be a smart #1 pick because he as close as you'll find to a sure bet to be a very solid player you can build a team around in the NBA.
But Durant is the number one pick because, while less of a sure thing than Oden, he has more of a chance to be an absolute superstar. Today's NBA is about big offensive playmakers who score a whole lot of points and do it in spectacular fashion. Oden's range is about a 6-8 foot perimeter around the basket, which is fine for someone with his type of game. Durant's range extends beyond the 3-point line. Oden was in foul trouble throughout the NCAA Tournament, rarely playing more than 23 minutes a game. Durant stayed out of foul problems most of the season. You can expect more minutes early on from KD, and a lot more explosive offense than Oden will ever be able to provide.
The big question marks everyone has about KD right now are his defense and size. In our opinion, these are very related issues, and a year or two with an advanced NBA training program should bulk him up without sacrificing any speed or flexibility, and in so doing will help him to improve his defense--which already saw marked progress in Austin.
Reasonable people can disagree, and there is certainly no reason to believe that a team can go wrong with either of these guys. But for a GM who believes in higher risk, higher reward, there's no contest: KD's your guy.
Oh, also: he looks dreamy in his orange Texas jersey.