Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, and Cory Joseph all heard their names called in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft on Thursday night in Newark, the most of any team. While the lack of success in the tournament brought out all the Rick Barnes haters in full force on the evening, the real story is about the three kids who just achieved their dream of playing basketball at the highest level. And Rick Barnes helped them get there.
Thompson, the Canadian product who wowed Longhorns fans with his ability to run the court, finish at the rim, and block and alter shots went higher than expected to the Cleveland Cavaliers with the fourth pick. Knocked by some for his lack of height for the power forward position and lack of range on his jumpshot, Thompson's athleticism and surprising handles no doubt won over the Cavaliers.
And considering that Thompson has a wingspan of over 7-0 and well above-average athleticism, he's a guy who plays bigger than his size. With his overall activity and lack of outside game, Thompson's upside may be that of a more athletic Joakim Noah, but that's still high enough upside to make him a major factor around the rim and in transition in the NBA, as well as worthy of the fourth pick.
For Jordan Hamilton, the wait was slightly longer than expected. Thought to be a top-20 pick by nearly every expert, Hamilton fell to the world champion Dallas Mavericks with the 26th pick, past the Bobcats at 19, the slot for which many had him pegged. Michael Jordan's team chose Tobias Harris instead, another small forward with better athleticism than Hamilton, who often struggled with pretty much every facet of playing defense -- his average athleticism and mediocre lateral quickness combined with a lack of awareness resulted in some terrible defense throughout much of his Longhorn career.
However, it's Hamilton's scoring ability that kept him in the first round. Lacking the conscience of the true pure scorer, the Compton product can light it up from distance in a hurry, as well as score in the midrange and in the lane with a variety of awkward-looking shots he can somehow hit with relative consistency. A born scorer of the basketball, no doubt.
The final Longhorn selected in the first round was by far the most surprising. Thompson's childfood friend and fellow Canadian Cory Joseph never seemed like a one-and-done player entering college, but opted for the NBA against the advice of Barnes, who believed Joseph could improve his stock with another year in college. However, the inability to answer questions about his ability to play point guard with the arrival on campus of heralded point Myck Kabongo likely influenced Joseph's decision and for his part, he helped his stock tremendously by working out well for teams and showing better than expected quickness and overall athleticism.
Called the best defender he's had come through his program by Findlay Prep coach Mike Peck, Joseph snuck into the first round with the 29th selection by the San Antonio Spurs. In addition to his strong defense, Joseph's reputation as a good teammate and hard worker made him a strong fit with the Spurs culture and vindicated his decision to leave early -- criticized by many Longhorn fans and even some draft experts.
Though he could take some time to develop, particularly with his assertiveness that often stems from wanting to involve his teammates, the Spurs organization offers the idea environment for Joseph to grow his game into that of a solid professional.
At the end of the day, whatever tired criticisms of Rick Barnes may find their way into the discussion, the fact of the matter is that the Texas program did play a role in aiding the first-round selections of three former players and that success is what matters on draft night.