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There was one overriding factor in Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond's decision to take 19-year-old point guard Brandon Jennings in the first round of last week's NBA draft.

Despite the unknowns surrounding Jennings after he skipped college and rode the bench in Italy for a year, Hammond is convinced the quicker-than-quick former prep scoring machine has a chance to become a special player in the NBA.

As we shall see, that was sound thinking on Hammond's part because it takes a special player - or players - to win an NBA championship and right now the Bucks don't have one.

Guard Michael Redd is a premier scorer and center Andrew Bogut is a solid all-around player when healthy, but there is no A-list NBA star on Milwaukee's roster. Jennings has a chance to give the Bucks that type of player in time.

Given the questions about Jennings' ability to make good decisions in a half-court offense, compensate for his slight build and curb an attitude that goes well beyond confident, there are no guarantees of that happening. Jennings could end up being a bust, an average player or, worse, a problem player. But he has a chance to become a great player, and those are few and far between in the NBA.

Of course, Hammond will take the hit if Jennings doesn't live up to his potential. Some have already labeled Jennings the biggest reach in the draft. But while Hammond could have made a safer pick, he deserves kudos for rolling the dice when presented with a rare opportunity to draft a player who almost everyone agrees has the upside to become an elite NBA player.

In most drafts, there are a precious few players who have a combination of size, skill, athletic ability and feel for the game that give them a chance to become a transcendent player, one capable of carrying a team all the way to the title. Some drafts have five or six such players, some have none.

In my estimation, this year's draft had three players with that kind of potential: Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans and Jennings. Griffin was taken with the first pick, Evans the fourth and Jennings the 10th.

That's not to say Jennings will become a great player for the Bucks , only that he has a chance to become a great player. But if he does develop into one, the Bucks will have a chance to finally become the title contender Hammond hopes to build. In fact, it's the only way that will happen.

A glance through the history books confirms that all-time greats are necessary to win NBA titles.

In 1996, the league employed a select panel to determine the 50 greatest players in its first 50 years. It was a good list, but the only player on it who is still playing is Shaquille O'Neal. A generation of stars has emerged since then.

I'm going to add 13 modern players to the all-time list for the 13 seasons that have passed since the top 50 were chosen. It is open to argument, of course, but the 13 I've chosen are: Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade.

For the purposes of this discussion, those 13 - plus the NBA's previous top 50 - are the 63 best players in NBA history.

Starting with the 1949-50 season, which is when the NBA's two forerunners formally merged, there have been 50 champions crowned. All but three of those champions had one of the 63 greatest players on its roster. Most of the title-winning teams had more than one.

The only teams that didn't have a superstar were the 1950-51 Rochester Royals, the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics and the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons. The Royals won their title largely because Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan injured an ankle during their semifinal series. The Supersonics and Pistons were deep, balanced teams with multiple players who fell just short of great.

But those teams are the exception, not the rule. In general, great players are needed to win an NBA title.

When Hammond justified the selection of Jennings by saying he just couldn't pass on a player who has the potential to be special, his reasoning was grounded in history. There are a lot of very good players in the NBA but very few great ones.

The Bucks don't have a great player yet, but in two years they might. That's something they couldn't say a week ago.

Contact Tom Oates at or 608-252-6172.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: June 30, 2009


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