Temple Owl Guards in the NBA: How Will Dionte Christmas Fare?
Quite a few Temple University guards continued their careers at the highest level of professional basketball these last two decades. Some became first round draft picks while others signed after going undrafted.
With the 2009 NBA Draft finally coming Thursday, June 25, Dionte Christmas has completed all of his pre-draft workouts including an invite to the draft combine in Chicago. Toronto, Washington, Houston, Oklahoma City, Detroit, San Antonio, Milwaukee, and Chicago all invited Christmas for personal workouts.
Much like his Owl predecessors, Christmas has been projected all over the draft board. He could go late in the first round or drop well into the second.
Though this history of Temple guards in the NBA is a celebrated one, not every player achieved their anticipated success after draft night. Dionte Christmas' career could go either way.
The following is a brief history of former Temple guards and their time in the NBA since 1990.
Mark Macon 1991-1998 | 1st round pick by Denver
(Photo by John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated)
Macon is the most distinguished guard in Temple history. He remains the school's and Atlantic 10's all-time leading scorer with 2,609 points.
Macon was an All-American as a freshman during a season that saw Temple rise to No. 1 in the nation.
The Denver Nuggets drafted Macon eighth overall in the 1991 draft. Potential and high hopes became unfulfilled expectations for Macon in the NBA. Macon started 67 games in his rookie campaign, but his ability to get to the rim in college became a challenge at the professional level. He shot poorly from the field (38 percent) and did not show any adept shooting from long range, hitting only four three-pointers all season.
As the starting point guard, he turned the ball over a staggering 155 times, good for over two-a-game. Macon was, however, a reliable on-the-ball defender.
Injuries limited his playing time the following season in Denver and would continue to plague him the rest of his career. This allowed Robert Pack and Chris Jackson to see more time at point.
Denver's up-tempo style with Pack pleased the Nuggets' organization and they became wary of fans seeing the eighth overall pick coming off the bench. In November of 1994, the Nuggets traded Macon after two lackluster seasons and only 7 games into his third. He would stay in Detroit until the 1998-1999 season.
Macon would go on to play in Europe and South American leagues. He returned to Temple as John Chaney's assistant and has since moved on to other assistant coaching stints in the NCAA ranks. Macon and his Temple teams will perhaps be considered the best in the school's history largely due to having three stellar NBA talent guards. The other two were Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie.
Eddie Jones 1994-2007 | 1st round pick by LA Lakers
Of the recent Temple guards to play in the NBA, Jones had the most successful NBA career in terms of statistical and team success. He played the most games (954) and most seasons (13). Jones also saw the most playoff action, playing nearly a whole NBA season in his postseason career (81 games).
While at Temple, the 6'6" guard became a prototype for the style of play John Chaney wanted on North Broad Street. He was a big guard who could get up and down the floor quickly and play tenacious defense.
Jones saw an increase in his offensive output each year, eventually averaging nearly 20 points a game in his junior season. That year he was the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year.
Jones could also rebound well, averaging a collegiate career-high of seven rebounds his sophomore season. His shooting was efficient from all areas of the court, shooting a career 46 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.
But most importantly for Chaney, Jones became a great defender. He could match-up out of Chaney's signature 3-2 zone and pressure smaller, quicker ball-handlers as well as bigger wings. He was a menace on the backside and anticipated reversal well.
Jones' game continued to improve on the professional level. Drafted tenth overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, he ended up playing for five different teams but remained a reliable commodity taking each of his teams to the playoffs.
His career averages over 13 seasons are more than respectable: 14.8 points, 1.7 steals, 2.9 assists, 4 rebounds, while starting in 902 out of his 954 career games. His playoff numbers are not much different, averaging nearly the same amount all the while shooting the ball better than his regular season percentages.
Aaron McKie 1994-2006 | 1st round pick by Portland
Aaron McKie was Atlantic 10 Player of the Year the year before Eddie Jones won it. Like Jones, McKie opted for the NBA after his junior year in 1994. Portland drafted McKie with the seventeenth overall pick.
McKie served as quite the "tweener" for Chaney's Owls. At 6'5", he could play a wing position and defend bigger players. But McKie also was a reliable ball-handler with exceptional court vision.
McKie handled the ball much more and gave out more assists than Jones did. He averaged over three assists a game in every season at Temple. He also averaged nearly 21 points in his sophomore campaign. That season, McKie and Jones carried Temple to yet another Regional Final, losing to eventual national runner-up Michigan, 77-72.
McKie played in a total of 12 NBA seasons and nearly 800 games making the playoffs with each of his teams. His most successful time came with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers between 2000 and 2002.
The NBA awarded McKie with the Sixth Man of the Year trophy for his efforts in the 2000-2001 season. He also recorded back-to-back triple-doubles in that season. The 76ers won the East but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. McKie played a major role in those playoffs, averaging just over 14.5 points a game, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He became the team's second leading scorer in the playoffs behind Allen Iverson and emerged pivotal in Philadelphia's brief resurrection as NBA title contenders.
The years following 2002 saw a dramatic drop in McKie's numbers. Philadelphia released him in 2005. He later signed with Los Angeles Lakers for two seasons, playing in only 24 games. McKie spent a brief period as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers but has since left the league.
Rick Brunson 1995-2007 | Signed by New York
Brunson became an NBA journeyman and turned out an almost unrecognizable nine-year career. While at Temple between 1991 and 1995, Brunson's consistency at the guard position attracted NBA scouts. He averaged nearly 17 points per game his senior season and, similar to his previous seasons, averaged about four assists to go along with nearly six rebounds.
Brunson's best year in the NBA came with the Los Angeles Clippers. He played in 80 games and averaged 5.5 points per contest. He also dished out a little over five assists a game to go along with two rebounds.
The Clippers released Brunson after the season to make way for Cuttino Mobley. Brunson never found the success he had with the Clippers.
Brunson moved on to coaching with a brief stint with the Nuggets and at the University of Virginia. He now serves as the assistant coach for the University of Hartford where John Chaney's former top assistant, Dan Leibovitz, serves as head coach.
Pepe Sanchez 2000-2002 | Signed by Atlanta
The oft referred to "crafty" Argentinean honed his skills with the likes of Manu Ginobili while playing for the youth team Club Bahiense del Norte in his native country.
While playing point guard in North Philadelphia, Sanchez took the Owls to a regional final in 1999 where they eventually lose to No. 1 seeded Duke, 85-64. Sanchez averaged nearly three steals a game every year while at Temple. He currently sits third all time in NCAA men's basketball in steals with 365, behind John Linehan (Providence) with 385 and Erik Murdock (Providence) with 376.
He only averaged double digits in scoring once (10 points a game his freshman year) but slowly developed into a playmaking point guard. His senior year saw his assist average rise to a collegiate career high eight a game.
As successful as Sanchez and Temple were in the late 1990s, he never found a permanent home in the NBA. He only played in 38 games in two seasons and never averaged more than 7 minutes a game.
Sanchez's limited offensive arsenalcontributed to his NBA demise. A great basketball mind, but not necessarily the athleticism to finish or create his own shot if defenders forced him.
Sanchez now plays his professional basketball in Spain.
Lynn Greer 2006 | Milwaukee
The left-handed point-guard was lightning quick, but had to be considering he stood only 6-foot-2. He had the ability to blow by his defender off the dribble and consistently attacked the lane to create for all teammates.
Big man Kevin Lyde thrived playing for Greer. Scouts considered Lyde a second-round pick after his junior year, but he returned for a lackluster senior season on North Broad Street. He never made it to the NBA.
Lyde is, however, a perfect example of what a competent point guard Greer was. The scouts loved Lyde because he became so proficient at flattening out and making precise moves to the basket on assists from Greer. The tandem of Greer and Lyde ended up being one of the best for John Chaney while at Temple. The Owls made it to the Regional Final in 2001 where they lost to No. 1 seed Michigan State.
Somehow, Greer's talent did not translate itself into NBA success. No team drafted Greer in 2002. He took his game to Europe for a few years until Milwaukee signed him in 2006. He ended up playing just half a season. He continued to take care of the basketball with only 18 turnovers in 41 games while also handing out 1.2 assists.
Since his short stint as a Buck, Greer decided to take his game back to Europe and has thrived with Greek powerhouse, Olympiacos.
Mardy Collins 2006-present | 1st round pick by New York
Mardy Collins remains the lone Owl still active on an NBA roster. In college, Collins earned the reputation as a point guard who shot well from the field, could create for teammates and himself, and handle pressure in half or full court. He abused smaller guards with his back-to-the-basket approach much like Magic Johnson. He also displayed athleticism and versatility to get by and finish against bigger guards.
Big, athletic, and quick for a guy well over 200 pounds, Collins seemed like an NBA point guard in the making. Plus, he came with four years of college experience.
The NBA experts put him very high on their boards, some even going as high as fifteen. They all agreed that he would translate well to NBA play and would be a steal for whoever selected him. Collins barely stayed in the first round, falling to the Knicks at No.29. After a few not-so-stellar years in New York that saw little playing time, Collins ended up being dealt to the Clippers with Zach Randolph and his monstrous contract.
Collins' move to the Clippers could be a blessing in disguise. Since arriving there and battling a nagging foot injury, Collins has seen his numbers increase in every category. He has shot extremely well from the field (43 percent, 46 percent from 3-point range) during extending playing time.
If the Clippers decide to re-sign him, he could flourish as their point guard. As long as Baron Davis sticks around, Collins will continue to assume a role off the bench. However, between Davis' injuries, a large contract, and still some demand in the league, Collins could find himself as the only point guard should Davis depart.
Dionte Christmas 2009-?
The next Temple guard to have his name called on draft night will be Dionte Christmas. The four-year player certainly has had his share of illustrious collegiate highlights.
He led the Atlantic 10 in scoring for three straight seasons averaging nearly 20 points. He led Temple to back-to-back Atlantic 10 tournament titles the past two years. Unfortunately, those titles remained the only accolade as the Owls were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament each time.
Christmas, a John Chaney recruit, transitioned the Temple program into the Fran Dunphy era. He saw little time his freshman season, then needed to adjust from Chaney's matchup zone to Dunphy's man-to-man defense.
Dunphy played him right away and Christmas thrived. He became the unquestionable go-to-guy who possessed deep shooting ability from beyond the arc. Often referred to as having an unorthodox release, Christmas was difficult to stop when his shot was on.
Fans often overlooked his defense. He was the best off-the-ball defender the Owls had; he could extend and defend passing lanes far from the basket and was a menace as a backside defender reading reversals and skip passes. He averaged 1.5 steals a game to lead the Owls in 2009 as well as nearly six rebounds, most of which came on the defensive end.
In order for Christmas to be successful at the NBA level, he will need to improve and become more than just a shooter. He had exactly as many assists as turnovers his senior year. His ball-handling leaves much to be desired, especially when pressured.
Perhaps his biggest fault was his reluctance to attack the basket when his jump shot wasn't falling. Christmas could be extremely stubborn in trying to shoot himself out of a slump rather than penetrating and creating something for himself or a teammate.
Regardless, Christmas' work ethic has shown that he can improve year after year. More than likely, he will be drafted by a team that is in desperate need of a legitimate outside threat. He will probably go to Detroit in the second round with the No. 35 pick or even fall to San Antonio at thirty-seven.
The question will not be if Christmas gets drafted, but how long and successful his NBA career will be. Many Temple guards fell short of expectations after stellar careers in North Philadelphia. Christmas can certainly be another Macon or Greer. If he remains consistent with his shooting ability, he may have a career like Brunson and move from team to team depending on who needs a shooter.
But Christmas has the build and talent to contend with the careers of Jones and McKie. He'll most likely never reach their level, but a ten-plus year career in the NBA should not be out of the question.