Marty Blake, the NBA’s longtime talent scout and evaluator, is proud of being part of his 57th consecutive draft.
But Blake, 81, could also be considered one of the league’s historians. He wastes little time in proving his point.
“Bob Pettit,” Blake said, “was one of the greatest power forwards to play this game. I remember him well.”
Of course he does. Blake was the St. Louis Hawks’ general manger when Pettit, a Hall of Famer – named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996 – led the Hawks to the NBA title in 1957-58. In the sixth and deciding game, Pettit, with his signature center-like power game and guard-like perimeter skills, dropped 50 on Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics to clinch it.
Pettit, Blake said, was considered the game’s first power forward because of his size and ability to shoot as effectively from the outside as in, not to mention his ability to rebound on both ends. He was an 11-time All-Star, two-time MVP and retired in 1965 as the first player to score 20,000 career points.
What had been a three-position game – guard, center and forward – was transformed by Pettit, who at 6-foot-9 had a center’s size and a forward’s skills.
“He was a great one,” Blake said. “The position has certainly come a long way since then. It has evolved to the point where the guys at the four are much more fluid, especially on the perimeter. There are a lot of guys in this draft like that: the kid from UCLA (Kevin Love).
“But this (Michael) Beasley kid, ... he’s something else.”
Yes, the national freshman of the year and Big 12 player of the year from Kansas State is something else. The 6-8 lefthander is the sweetest blend of power and athletic grace as there is in this draft, just as gifted on the perimeter as he is in the post.
And Blake says there are others like Beasley in the draft, although not as good and certainly not as dominating. Still, it’s a skill set seen in guys such as Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani in Toronto. The signs of change came in former Jazz great Karl Malone, whose game reminded many of Pettit’s.
Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett define the position now, power forwards who can hit the 18- to 20-foot jumper without a hitch.
“Duncan’s best shot is off the glass from about 15 to 18 feet,“ Blake said.
The position has grown in fluidity out of necessity. The lack of true centers has forced power forwards to be more versatile.
“Mommies and daddies just aren’t producing the centers anymore,” Toronto Raptors scout Bob Zuffelato said jokingly. “They’re not growing them strong anymore, so these big guys have to be more versatile and you’re seeing that more and more on every team in the league. We’re fortunate in that we have two like that. Chris is a legitimate four that can step out and hit threes, and Andrea is a guy that can shoot with the best of them, but he needs to develop a little more to play down low.”
The 6-9, 240-pound Love, also a freshman, played center for the Bruins, but UCLA would not have reached the Final Four for the third consecutive year without his versatility. He has throwback moves in the post.
He won’t be a center in the NBA, and the fact it wasn’t unusual to see Love handling the ball and shooting three-pointers (he took 82 and made 29, 35.4 percent) ought to make a general manager feel good about him as an NBA power forward.
The gold standard for years to come though could very well be Beasley.
He is a complete offensive player, uses both hands, can drive and create from anywhere on the floor. Beasley averaged 26 points, third nationally, and 12 rebounds, No. 1 in the nation. He had 28 double-doubles to break Carmelo Anthony’s freshman record of 22. He scored in the 30s. He scored in the 40s.
But there were two games in particular in which Beasley showed he was different from the rest, and both came against eventual national champion Kansas, the first on K-State’s home floor, Jan. 30. Beasley didn’t stun the Jayhawks with his 25 points as much as with his 4-for-4 three-point shooting in a Wildcats victory. Kansas won the rematch March 1, but Beasley had the defense off balance again with 39 points, including 4 of 7 from three, and 11 rebounds.
“His deal was that he was so good around the rim and so strong that you had to make sure you utilized him around the rim,” Kansas State Coach Frank Martin said. “But he was so skilled that you had to find ways to get him shots on the perimeter, too. He was so multitalented that he always had you tinkering. ... We ran stuff for him here to get him three-point looks. I mean, that’s how good he was.”