But Duncan had played four years at Wake Forest, and Robinson was even more mature after serving his two-year military commitment following his playing days at Navy. Oden and Durant, on the other hand, were just finishing up high school this time last year.
“I think that would be unfair pressure to put on whatever young kid is drafted in Portland,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of a San Antonio-type jump. “We all can guess what we think is going to happen, but I believe that the two guys you’re talking about are like 18 or 19 years old.
“When David came out, I don’t remember how old he was, but I think he was about 23. He played at the Academy, he played service ball after that. He was very mature already. I think that’s a huge difference, emotionally, physically — and I don’t think those young men can be put in that same category as far as being prepared to go do that.”
Neither Portland nor Seattle has to start over, which could make the transition easier. The Trail Blazers have Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy, another promising first-year player in LaMarcus Aldridge, and Zach Randolph — though he could be moved if Portland goes for Oden. The SuperSonics have All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen, but face losing Rashard Lewis to free agency.
Having a good support system in place can make a difference. Duncan was able to learn from Robinson, while James was familiar with the Cavaliers organization after growing up down the road in Akron. But Kwame Brown had none of those luxuries, and his career never took off the way a No. 1 pick’s should.
Brown was taken first by Washington in 2001. But he was buried under, not inspired by, Michael Jordan’s criticisms, and the Wizards had a winning record only once in his four seasons there.
“I’ve seen a No. 1 pick in Kwame, I wasn’t there when he got there, but he was around a lot of young guys,” said Cleveland guard Larry Hughes, who played for the Wizards. “He wasn’t in the best situation as far as being on a winning team or a winning organization. So I think it makes it tougher.
“LeBron is a talent, I think he was going to make the situation successful anywhere he went. Tim Duncan came into a pretty good situation where he had veteran guys around him, it kind of made it easier, made the transition a little bit easier. So I think anything can happen when you place that No. 1 pick when you’re going to a franchise that struggled.”
Oden and Durant figure to be more successful than Brown. Even though never 100 percent while recovering from a broken right wrist, Oden proved he could dominate while leading Ohio State to the national championship game.
Durant averaged 25.8 points at Texas during one of the most outstanding freshman seasons in NCAA history, so he obviously can score. But so can Kobe Bryant, and he managed only 7.6 points a game in his first pro season.
“I’m realistic of my goals,” Durant said recently. “I just want to be an impact player in the NBA.”
He probably will. It just might take a while.
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