Bernard James: Air Force Veteran Isn't a Good Fit for Dallas Mavericks

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 29, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11:  Tyler Zeller #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels fights for a rebound against Bernard James #5 of the Florida State Seminoles during the Final Game of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conference Tournament at Philips Arena on March 11, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When Bernard James' name was called out, he walked up to the draft stage as the inhabitants of the Prudential Center rose to their feet and applauded "U-S-A" chants that echoed through the rafters.

It was a goosebump-inspiring moment for the Air Force veteran and the easy choice for feel-good story of the draft. 

The former Florida State big man's dream of playing in the NBA and making the best of his second career is almost completed. Unfortunately, it didn't leave him in the best situation possible. 

Although the Dallas Mavericks need big men to provide depth on their roster, they should have gone for the upside route here. 

James is a great hustle player and a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end of the court, but at this stage in his career, he's still not a polished offensive player by any means. Moreover, his strength is sometimes negated by his lack of quickness. 

As you would expect from any veteran of the military though, James never stops fighting. 

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 11:  Bernard James #5 of the Florida State Seminoles looks to pass against Victor Davila #14 and Terrell Bell #1 of the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second half in the quarterfinals of the 2011 ACC men's basketball tournament at
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The problem is that he's already 27 years old, the age at which most NBA players are squarely in the middle of their prime. Sure, James didn't spend six years of those 27 playing basketball every day, but it's not like the Air Force doesn't take a bit of a toll on the body. 

Dallas traded away the rights to a high-ceiling big man—Tyler Zeller—for the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers' draft picks, which suggests that Dallas is planning on entering the rebuilding stage for a while. 

But you don't rebuild by selecting players who will be 27 when the season starts and turn 28 before it ends. That is double true when you used the 33rd pick in the draft to do so, spurning a number of high-upside options. 

Here are a couple of quotes from NBA analysts around the web. 

ESPN's Chad Ford has a pretty harsh take on the James pick, and the Mavs as a whole since he gave them a C+: 

I think the Mavs took James to be the poster child for their D-League team -- the Texas Legends. Think this former Iraqi war veteran might sell a few tickets? He can play defense, but at 27 years old, his future in the NBA is pretty limited.

Ford's colleague, Jeff Caplan, has a similar take on the pick: 

The Mavs went for rebounding and defense with this 6-foot-10, 27-year-old, who spent six years in the Air Force before returning to the Seminoles. He easily achieved the feel-good moment of the night as the crowd at the Prudential Center was aware of his service and gave him a rousing ovation. Dallas needs big bodies in the interior. With James they know they've drafted a first-class and fearless person, now they'll see if he can play in the NBA.

Grade: B

You aren't looking to see if the player you picked can make it in the NBA when you draft in the early portions of the second round. 

There's still a lot of hope that he succeeds. It's impossible to root against this man.

The story of his journey to the NBA is incredible and inspiring. 

Even if it appears unlikely, let's hope that journey continues in the same direction.