Five Wide Fullbacks: The 30 for 30 Edition

Jim McIsaac

5 questions. 5 answers. Pitching my 30 for 30 documentary idea.

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1. The Cleveland Cavs have won the NBA Lottery again and most expect the team to select Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel with the 1st overall pick. Good idea?

Don't do it Cleveland!

Allow me to push up my pretend glasses and put on my basketball hat for a moment. I'm not saying Noel isn't a great player or that he's probably not the top prospect in what looks like a good but not great draft. All I'm saying is check the history on big guys who aren't great scorers in college.

Noel averaged 10.5 points in 24 games this past season as a true freshman before going down with a knee injury. Now, let's take a look at the modern 1st overall picks who were big men for a comparison.

*Final amateur PPG season in parentheses.

1995, Joe Smith, Golden State (20.8 at Maryland)

Solid early career. 1st-team All-rookie. Never the same after being traded by the Warriors. Averaged 10.9 PPG over a pretty long career. Zero all-star appearances. Tied record for most teams played for at 12.

1997, Tim Duncan, San Antonio (20.8 at Wake Forest)

Maybe the best power forward ever. Enough said.

1998, Michael Olowokandi, Los Angeles Clippers (22.2 at Pacific)

Only played 9 NBA seasons. Huge flop. Averaged 8.3 PPG and 6.8 rebounds per game. Being named to the 2nd team All-rookie squad was the highlight of his career.

1999, Elton Brand, Chicago (17.7 at Duke)

Strong career. Named to a couple all-star teams. Averaged 20.2 PPG over his first 8 seasons in the NBA. His stock has tumbled fairly quickly in his early 30's.

2000, Kenyon Martin, New Jersey (18.9 at Cincinnati)

Okay career. Named to 1 all-star team. Averaged 12.8 PPG over his career so far. Didn't score much more than that in his prime.

2001, Kwame Brown, Washington (20.1 at Glynn Academy)

A bust for all busts. Averaged over 10 PPG in one season only. Just 6.6 PPG for his career.

2002, Yao Ming, Houston (32.4 at Shanghai Sharks)

Great career cut short by injuries. Made the NBA all-star team in each of his 8 seasons. All-NBA team 5 times as well. Averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds over his career.

2004, Dwight Howard, Orlando (25.0 at SACA)

Dominant defender. Averaging 18.3 PPG over his career with 12.9 RPG as well. 7-time all-star and has made the all-NBA team 6 times. His stock isn't as high as though numbers would suggest for a 27-year old.

2005, Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee (20.4 at Utah)

Decent but unspectacular career. Hasn't made an all-star team and his career has faded fast over the past few seasons. Not yet 30 and averaging 12.2 PPG for his career.

2006, Andrea Bargnani, Toronto (10.9 at Benetton Treviso)

Up and down career. No all-star teams. Decent point production (15.2 per game & 21.6 in 2010-11) but a poor rebounder. Production dropped off this past season.

2007, Greg Oden, Portland (15.7 at Ohio State)

Injuries have limited him to just 82 games over 6 years. Averaged 9.4 PPG in his career.

2009, Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (22.7 at Oklahoma)

Very strong young career. Has made 3 all-star teams and is averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

2012, Anthony Davis, New Orleans (14.2 at Kentucky)

Knee injury shortened his season to just 64 games. Still made all-rookie team though. Averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds this past season.

What have we learned? Honestly, I'm not sure but I'd be very skeptical of someone averaging 10.5 points per game in college going on to have a lot of success in the NBA. I've only watched Noel play a few times but the scouting reports aren't too kind offensively: Helpless with the ball at times, doesn't dominate smaller defenders, didn't command double teams, bad free throw shooter, and poor touch around the basket.

Is that worth the top pick in the land---even if it comes with great shot blocking ability, a quick first step, great athleticism, and solid passing? We're going on almost a decade with just one big man having a huge impact (we'll see how Davis' career pans out, he could make it 2) with that 1st overall selection.

2. What's the absolute worst thing that can happen during a video game?

Besides the game freezing?

There can be a lot of terrible things like the game auto-saving when you don't want it to, or when the computer AI decides that no matter how ridiculous the amount of maneuvers it will take you are not winning whatever you're playing. I once had a player move from -8 in Tiger Woods golf to -24 over 4 holes to win a tournament.

Maybe the absolute worst is playing a baseball game and having a Japenese pitcher with one of those 8-second deliveries. That just deflates one's soul. No one should have to play a video game and waste that much time. That's why we have the real-life Major Leagues.

3. Sometimes there songs out there, good songs that have become incredibly popular, that you simply can't stand to listen to anymore. Do you have any you'd like to permanently ban from your ears forever?

Why, yes I do.

"Give a Little Bit", by Supertramp

This includes the Goo Goo Dolls version as well. I'm good with never either the rest of my life.

"Sweet Child O'Mine" by Guns 'n' Roses

Am I the only one? It seems like you can't go anywhere in this country without hearing this song once a day. I've had my fill and I like this band plenty.

"American Pie" by Don McLean

I think it's because it's so long. The song really grinds my gears.

Oh yeah, and anything by Melissa Etheridge.

4. Will Notre Dame rush for more yardage in 2013 than they did in 2012?

My gut instinct is telling me, no.

But I can't help but think that while there are some questions at running back and on the offensive line that the offense will be more explosive this fall. Add in Golson's ability to pick up yards on the ground and I think we could see a few games where the Irish put up 350+ yards on the weaker teams.

Having Atkinson or Carlisle as true home run threats helps too. Even though we might struggle a little more against the Stanford's, Michigan's, and Michigan State's, I think it might equal more yardage than last season. Is that crazy to think?

5. ESPN Films has had great success with their 30 for 30 documentary series over the past few years. What is your pitch for a new doc?

So the latest 30 for 30 "Elway to Marino" gave me an idea. That documentary was great in its own right and pretty much is summed up like so:

Elway's stock was high and Marino's dipped following their senior seasons in college. Elway plays baseball in the Yankees organization, plays well, and threatens to stay there if the Colts (with their awful owner and team) draft him. Colts draft him anyway. Marino falls nearly out of the 1st round. Colts later trade Elway to Denver.

Throw in a bunch of NFL Draft intrigue and it's a great story, right? I enjoyed it immensely.

As the future biographer^ of Eric Lindros I can't think of a better story for a 30 for 30 than his career---one that hits on some themes from the latest ESPN offering but takes things to a whole new level. Here's a rough sketch of the events that took place and really is one of the most dramatic stories in sports history---one largely forgotten and/or oversimplified by the media.

  • Spring 1989: Just turned 15 years old Eric Lindros is already 6'4" and dominating the Junior B hockey circuit in Toronto playing kids several years older. During the playoffs he flashes a combination of skill (48 points in 27 games) and physicality (155 penalty minutes, still a playoff league record) that guarantees he'll be a lock as the 1st pick in the major junior A Ontario Hockey League draft.
  • The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds own the 1st pick of the draft, have had a rough half decade on the ice, and the franchise is on shaky ownership ground. The Lindros family makes it known that their son will not be moving the 13-hour car ride away from home at such a young age. While seeking out other options to play hockey Lindros visits the University of Michigan and is told by legendary coach Red Berenson to play a year for the Junior B Detroit Compuware Ambassadors near Ann Arbor and then to come to UM when he is eligible the following fall.
  • The SSM Greyhounds have a bid for $600,000 from a businessman who is serious about moving the team. After taking Lindros with the 1st pick in the draft another offer comes in taking it to $1 million. To save the franchise from moving the city of SSM cobbles together numerous investors and buys the team. Lindros backs his word and refuses to play for the Greyhounds.
  • September 1989: Playing a manageable 2 hours away from home in Detroit with Compuware, Lindros ascends to the Canadian and North American consciousness by gracing the cover of the prestigious Hockey News. Still just 16 he dominates the game (52 points & 123 penalty minutes in 14 games) like no one before him---all against kids as old as 20. The local OHL club is controlled by Lindros' Compuware team owner and has fallen on financial troubles. As a bonus to sell the team and keep the club in Detroit, the owner promises to line up a game between the OHL club and Lindros' Ambassadors. In that game Lindros nets 4 points, dominates physically, as his team shuts out the higher division team. Weeks later Lindros became the youngest player since Wayne Gretzky to play for the Canadian World Junior Team.
  • December 1989: A week before Christmas the OHL rescinds its rule stating that 1st round selections cannot be traded until a full year after they are picked. Lindros is moved in the biggest trade in league history as the Oshawa Generals send 3 players, 2 draft picks, and $80,000 to SSM in exchange for the young star from London. The move would eventually turn around the SSM program, foreshadowing a similar experience with Lindros at the NHL level.
  • Lindros leaves Detroit, joins the Oshawa Generals in the middle of the season and turns around their season. They eventually win the OHL title and take home the Memorial Cup as the top junior team in Canada ending a nearly 50-year title drought for the club.
  • September 1990: Lindros begins his one and only full season with Oshawa living up to all the hype as The Next One and heir apparent to Wayne Gretzky. With 149 points in 57 games he displays offensive skills like Lemieux but with a nasty mean streak---earning OHL and the CHL MVP awards. That winter he leads the Canadian team with 17 points at the World Juniors, bringing home the gold medal. By the end of his hockey career he'd be the highest scoring Canadian ever in international play.
  • June 1991: The Quebec Nordiques have the 1st pick in the NHL Draft and take Lindros. Again for the second time in 2 years Lindros states he will not play for Quebec citing a lack of commitment to winning, poor ownership, high taxes, and franchise instability.
  • September 1991: Lindros refuses to sign with Quebec and instead makes that fall's Canada Cup team as the only non-NHL player. Dominating physically against hockey's best competition he nets 5 points in 8 games on Canada's 4th line.
  • Winter 1991: Sitting out what would be his rookie NHL season, Lindros spends time back at Oshawa but moves to the Canadian national team where he'd play in the world juniors again as well as the world championship and win a silver medal at the Albertville Olympic games.
  • June 1992: The Nordiques finally agree to trade Lindros---except they make deals with both Philadelphia and the New York Rangers. An arbitrator is brought in and rules that Philadelphia struck a deal first. The result is the biggest trade in NHL history: Peter Forsberg (Philly's 1st round pick from the '91 Draft), Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, 1993 1st round pick, $15,000,000 and future considerations which became another 1st round pick.

Of course the 30 for 30, tentatively titled "The Player Who Would Not Be Drafted" could end there but there was plenty more drama in Lindros' career in the NHL.

*Lindros signed a 6-year rookie deal that paid him more than $2 million a season, second only to Wayne Gretzky. He is credited (or vilified) with getting hockey players to earn more money. Later that year, Mario Lemieux renegotiated his contract to 7 years at $42 million and 5 years later the top stars were making 4 times as much money than before Lindros entered the league.


*Lindros' brand of size, speed, and physicality is credited with changing the way the game was played. Defensemen got bigger. Clutching and grabbing became rampant. The neutral zone trap and other schemes flourished. He's credited with accelerating the Dead Puck era making some of his offensive achievements that much more impressive.

*Due to his reckless abandon style of play Lindros rarely stayed healthy. Scroll down on THIS PAGE to see the list of injuries. When in the lineup he was statistically the greatest Flyer in club history---659 points in 486 games left him 5th all-time in points per game in NHL history following the 2000 season. Even after 5 more seasons in New York, Toronto, and Dallas being a shell of his former talent Lindros remains 19th all-time in points per game. Still not in the Hall of Fame though.

*Lindros' battles with Philly GM Bob Clarke were drama enough. A collapsed lung nearly killed him and drew criticism from many parties. He was stripped of his captaincy in the spring of his final season with Philadelphia while sitting out with a concussion---criticizing the Flyers medical staff for their handling of his injuries. 5 concussions over a 3-year period effectively ended his career as a superstar and forced the Flyers to trade Lindros to New York as he sat out the 2000-01 recuperating from the infamous Scott Stevens hit in the Eastern Finals. Clarke refused to re-sign Lindros after his 1-year deal expired and that was it.

*The initial trade that sent Lindros to Philadelphia set up Quebec for future glory. But of course the team moved to Colorado after the 1994-95 season and the Avalanche would win the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001. Lindros never won a Cup but did take home the 1994-95 NHL MVP and was a big part of turning around a Flyers organization that didn't see the playoff from 1989 to 1994. The current Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia couldn't be built and the Flyers had trouble financing it until Lindros showed up and the club was able to privately finance the building. It was dubbed the "House that Eric built."

*Ultimately the 7 documented concussions he suffered may be Lindros' biggest legacy as hockey (and many other sports) grapple with the mysterious issue and players deal with a culture that worships toughness and staying in the lineup above all else. Upon his retirement his donated $5 million to the London Ontario Health Sciences Center to aid concussion and brain research. His younger brother Brett, a 1994 1st round pick by the Islanders, was forced to retire after 2 seasons and just 51 career games.

Quite a story about a player living and dying by the sword, challenging a conservative sports culture on many levels, and leaving a huge legacy in his wake. Now that's a quality 30 for 30.

^It's a goal of mine

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