Is Pitt Better Off Without DeJuan Blair?

Paul SieversAnalyst IJanuary 23, 2010

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 22:  DeJuan Blair #45 of the Pittsburgh Panthers celebrates after defeating the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 22, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I’m want to address something I’ve heard from a number of Pitt fans.

“Can you imagine where this team would be if Blair stayed?”

First off, this is a waste of imagination. DeJuan Blair had more to lose than he had to gain by coming back to Pitt for another year. Blair fell in the draft because of his height and his knees, not because of any part of his game he could develop further at the collegiate level.

Whatever little things DeJuan could have added to his game with another year at Pitt that might have elevated his draft status would not have been worth the risk of injury or regression.

Whether or not another year at Pitt would be beneficial for Blair (obviously it wouldn’t be) is beside the point. Would it really be that beneficial for the Panthers?

On the surface yes, Pitt’s biggest need is a post defender followed closely by a post scorer. Blair was both of those.

But before we go on declaring that Pitt would be a Final Four team with DeJuan in the lineup consider the following.

1) DeJuan has never been by far the best player on his team.

When DeJuan was in high school he played on a team with St. John’s standout D.J. Kennedy, Marshall’s Deandre Kane and Jamal “Onion” Bryant; the cousin of Kobe Bryant. Since Schenley High was by far the best team in Pittsburgh during Blair’s time, chemistry was never an issue.

When he arrived at Pitt, DeJuan had to fall in line behind Sam Young and Levance Fields, two extremely talented upper classmen. While Blair was by no means a cancer or a selfish player, he did have an ego. Listen to these interviews after Pitt won the Big East title in 2008 and notice who the only player using the word “I” is.

Sidenote No. 1: I’m convinced Tyrell Biggs’ biggest role on last year’s team was keeping DeJuan’s ego in check. It was well documented that Biggs was Blair’s best friend on the team and if Biggs was giving up his shots to Blair and Young, he sure as hell wasn’t going to hear any crap from DeJuan.

What happens when Blair is on a team where he is by far the best player and that team struggles? Can we say for sure that he would handle it well?

I don’t think we can. And I think we could safely say that even with Blair this team would have hit some bumps losing three starters. Would young players like Gibbs end up deferring to Blair to the point where it was detrimental to the team?

That brings me to my next point.

2) How would Jamie Dixon run the half court offense?

Last year, Pitt ran the offense primarily through Sam Young. DeJuan got a large chunk of his points off of offensive rebounds.

Going back to my first point, if DeJuan was on this year’s team he would have been the alpha-dog. The last two seasons were the first two seasons in the Jamie Dixon era where the offense wasn’t primarily focused on feeding the post; not coincidentally they were also the best two offensive years Pitt has had under Dixon.

If you run the offense through DeJuan you probably hurt the team. For all of DeJuan’s strengths, interior passing wasn’t one of them and in order to run your offense effectively through the post you need a big man who can master the kick out.

If you don’t run the offense through DeJuan you potentially alienate your best player, putting Jamie Dixon in a lose-lose situation.

3) Pitt doesn’t have much to gain on the boards

DeJuan Blair was the best college rebounder of the decade. I say that without hesitation.

But without Blair, Pitt is still killing their opponents on the boards. Pitt’s defensive rebounding efficiency has actually improved this year.

Offensively, they are shooting more jump shots this season which means more long rebounds and fewer misses Blair could get his big mitts on.

Is this to say I’m happy Blair isn’t back? Of course not, Blair was the most memorable player on my favorite team ever . He is a truly special talent.

All I am saying is that he wouldn’t improve this year’s Pitt as much as many Pitt fans think he would. DeJuan certainly made the right choice for himself, with all of the young players on this years Pitt team gaining valuable big game experience it might have been the best decision for Pitt as well.

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