Well before Dikembe Mutombo was an eight-time NBA All-Star, the 7’2″ native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a top prospect out of Georgetown going into the 1991 NBA Draft. While he ended up being chosen by the Denver Nuggets at No. 4, if it was up to Denver columnist Mark Wolf, the Nuggets would have picked Missouri power forward Doug Smith, not Mutombo.
In a Rocky Mountain News column published on the day of the draft titled “Nuggets eye Mutombo with No. 4 pick and that’s a mistake,” Wolf wrote, among other things, that at 25 years old, Mutombo’s age is a reason why the Nuggets should look elsewhere.
“That’s a lot of candles on a top draft pick’s cake, especially as the average age of players entering the NBA is getting younger with more underclassmen leaving college.
By comparison, Kenny Anderson is 20, Doug Smith is 21, Steve Smith, Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson and Mark Macon are 22.
You’ll hear that Mutombo has “young legs” because he has only been playing basketball a few years and his knees haven’t taken much of a pounding.
Fine, but do you really want to spot every other first-round pick three years off the top?”
Wolf then advocated for the Nuggets to take Smith…
“The potential upside to a player with such size and speed is considerable, but the Nuggets need basketball players. Missouri’s Doug Smith will be available. Take him and watch him give you a career at forward for a decade.”
Smith ended up spending much less than a decade in the league. The Mavericks chose him with the sixth pick, and after playing four decent seasons in Dallas and a forgettable one with the Celtics, he was out of the league by 1995. Mutombo became a star with Denver, although he signed with the Hawks as a free agent after the 1995 season, and ended up playing for five additional teams before retiring in 2009.
Mutombo was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.