Spotlight: DeJuan Blair

The second round has been good to the San Antonio Spurs. In 1999 the Spurs drafted an unknown Argentinian with the 57th pick in the second round. You could say the rest is history.

It seems that a decade later the Spurs have done it again. Taken with the 37th pick of the 2009 draft, DeJuan Blair came to San Antonio with no ACLs and high expectations, and so far the 20-year-old Pittsburgh native has not disappointed.

In his first pre-season game, Blair finished with 16 points and a ridiculous 19 boards against the Houston Rockets. Granted, it was only preseason, but in his first professional game, and probably with butterflies in his stomach, Blair showed his God given ability for rebounding. And as we Spurs fans know, it takes defense and rebounding to win championships.

Blair kicked off his first professional season with a bang, and his first ever double-double,  scoring 14 points on 7 of 10 from the field. My math could be a little off, but I’m pretty sure that’s 70 percent from the field. He also finished with 11 rebounds. Not bad for a forward listed at 6′-7″.

The Spurs have played 51 games so far this season, and Blair has played in every one. He’s also started in 20 games this season averaging 8 points and 7.9 rebounds in those twenty games, which extremly consistent considering his season averages are 7.5 points and and 6.4 boards. One could argue that he is more productive as a starter then as a bench player.

But when it comes to Blair, production is not a question. He is ranked first in offensive rebounds per 48 minutes with 6.3 and eleventh in the league in defensive rebounds per 48 minutes with 10.7. Overall, Blair’s 16.9 rebounds per 48 minutes is good for fifth best in the league. For an undersized forward who apparently has no knees, Blair collects rebounds like Meryl Streep collects Oscar nominations.

However, Blair has had his share of rookie woes. On February 6 against the Clippers, Blair shot 28 percent from the field, going two for seven from the floor. In a January loss to the Bulls,  he went four for 13 shooting a dismal 30 percent in 30 minutes of play. But for every lackluster performance, Blair usually rebounds with a great game, literally. After only scoring two points in his start against the Lakers, Blair had 28 points, 21 rebounds and two blocked shots against the playoff hopeful Thunder. Not to mention he does committ silly fouls which gets him into early foul trouble but that’s expected from a rookie.

Blair wasn’t the only big man to come out of the Big East with high expectations. Hasheem Thabeet, who was named co-Big East Player of the Year along with Blair, was taken with the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, but looking at his stats, it seems Thabeet should have been taken in the second round. The 7″-3′ Thabeet this season is averaging 2.6 points and and 3 rebounds a game. I think it’s safe to say that the Spurs ended up with the better of the two bigs.

Blair came into his first NBA season coming off an All-American year at Pitt where he, along with Tyler Hansborough, were up for the AP College Player of the Year award. In his last season at Pitt, Blair averaged 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting an outstanding 59 percent from the field, similar to the stats of another undersized forward who took the NBA by storm.

At Auburn University, the 6″-6′ Charles Barkley averaged 14.8 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. Surprisingly similar to the collegiate stats of Blair, and like Blair, Barkely was drafted by a veteran team with future hall of famers including Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Barkley averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds his rookie season. A little better then Blair’s averages but not by much. With Barkley under the guidance of Malone, he was able to keep his weight down and learn how to deal with the intense physical and mental pressures that come with a long NBA season.

I know it sounds crazy to compare a young rookie to a hall of famer, but both entered the NBA in very similar situations after coming off a successful college career. If Blair can continue to work hard and learn from our own soon to be hall of famers in Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, then there is no limit to what Blair is capable of doing. He’s had his struggles but at only 20-years-old, he has shown he can play with the big boys. Even in this year’s 2010 All-Star Rookie-Sophomore game he proved his worth and many felt he was robbed of the MVP trophy.

Ten years ago the Spurs drafted Manu in the second round, and helped lead the Spurs to three NBA titles. Hopefully, Blair can help lead the Spurs to another.

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