NBA's 20/20 Hindsight: Ekpe Udoh Was Golden State Warriors' Best Draft Option

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NBA's 20/20 Hindsight: Ekpe Udoh Was Golden State Warriors' Best Draft Option
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The NBA draft can be quite the crap shoot. Unless a LeBron James or Dwight Howard happens to fall in your lap, projecting a player's ability to compete at the next level is more of an educated guess than anything.

Just ask the Warriors: they've missed early in the draft—badly—with flops like their top selection in 1995 of Joe Smith, or using the third choice of the 2002 draft on "sharp-shooter" Mike Dunleavy.

At the same time, they've struck relative gold with draft day steals like second rounders Monta Ellis (40th overall in 2005) and Gilbert Arenas (31st overall in 2001).

So, forgive the rampant skepticism surrounding the organization's ability to handle the sixth overall pick in a five player draft. Even with the club out of the running for the draft day "can't miss" collection of John Wall, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnson and DeMarcus Cousins, the organization's fan base found another player to love: Georgetown's 6-11, 250-pound Greg Monroe.

Monroe was thought to possess the exact skill set that the Warriors coveted: a young, versatile big man who crashed the glass and who had the passing ability of former Warrior Chris Webber.

The Warriors fan base held their collective breath as David Stern approached the podium, preparing to announce the missing link in an offense that had turned into—as Warriors beat writer Marcus Thompson so eloquently put it—Fresh Prince basketball, with Monta Ellis dominating the ball while his teammates stood around to watch.

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Gasp. Stern either grossly mispronounced Monroe's name, or the Warriors just selected Ekpe Udoh—a defensive-minded bruiser out of Baylor—thought to be out of the lottery until his value skyrocketed in pre-draft workups.

Monroe was snatched up by the next team on the board—the Detroit Pistons—and the criticism was almost instantaneous. NBAdraft.net's Adi Joseph gave the Pistons draft an 'A' rating, while the Warriors earned a 'D'. Joseph added that "The Warriors took the 20th best player in the draft with the sixth pick."

Then the un-thinkable—or was that foreseeable—happened: the man who had never missed a game in 103 collegiate contests injured his wrist before the start of summer league games and was scheduled to miss at least half of the season.

In other words, Udoh became a true Warrior.

As he quietly faded into the distant files of the injury report, Monroe met the league with mixed results. He had his first double-digit rebounding effort in just his second professional game, grabbing 10 in 18 minutes against the Celtics. It would take him another 20 games to record his second, however, despite playing more minutes in 14 of those contests.

Then came reports that Udoh was ahead of schedule and would make his appearance on a nationally televised game with the Miami Heat on Dec. 10. Commentator Bill Simmons missed that memo apparently, as he did not stop what he was saying to mention that Udoh was approaching the scorers' table and about to make his debut in garbage time of a 22-point Warrior loss.

Udoh's debut was worthy of the lack of any set-up by Simmons, as he managed to shoot 1-for-2 from the field, finish with a line of two points, no rebounds and a foul in three minutes. His next two games were more lackluster efforts, and he had a DNP-coach's decision to follow.

But then, Udoh finally had a chance to show what he could do when Smart gave him 24 minutes in their Dec. 20 game with the Rockets. Udoh embraced his chance and finished with seven rebounds, five points and three blocked shots. That game was the first of three-consecutive games where Udoh sent away three shots—a feat yet to be accomplished by Monroe for the record.

It remains to be seen which of the two players will have the better NBA career. But it's hard to argue that Monroe would have filled more of a need than Udoh already has.

Udoh is still a work in progress. He still shows moments that you would expect from a player with a whopping 13 NBA games under his belt. But he was absolutely the right choice for this Warriors club.

He's earning minutes as the season goes on and is already the team's best defensive presence in the post. He's shown more offensive post moves than scouts said he could ever develop. And another knock on Udoh was his age—at 23, he's just the fourth-youngest Warrior—has actually helped him step in and contribute out the gate.

He's also part of a new—and very welcomed—trend in the continued makeover by the front office and new ownerships. A makeover in which the Warriors seem to be making all of the right calls.

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