State Of The Hogs:

What will be Joe Johnson's destiny as far as Arkansas products in the National Basketball Association? Will he be the best ever?

Probably not. But he may rival Scottie Pippen as the richest Arkansan to play in the NBA.

Joe is about to enter the free agent market. Based on his performance in Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference title game last week, Johnson is going to make a lot of money. In today's day of the mega contract, he'll probably make more next year than in any of the years Sidney Moncrief played in the NBA.

But will he ever be better than Moncrief? I don't know if he will ever be good enough on defense to take over a game with that part of his game. Moncrief did.

At 6-4, Moncrief may have been as great on defense as any player who ever lived. Scottie Pippen was pretty good and has plenty of championship rings, but I don't think he had to carry his team the way Sidney did. Moncrief was better.

Johnson is a wonderful player and extremely valuable to the Phoenix Suns, but perhaps not as valuable as Amare Stoudamire or Steve Nash. He is a big guard with skills, but he is not as quick or as tenacious on defense as Moncrief.

This is not to say who was the best collegian. That's another argument. I'd give a lot of weight to what Corliss Williamson did in the NCAA tournament with two trips to the title game and one championship.

But that's not what we are talking about here. We are ranking the top Arkansans in the NBA. You'd have to throw in Caldwell Jones and perhaps Derek Fisher on that list, too.

I saw Fisher play one game in high school and didn't realize how good he might be even in college, much less in the NBA. So he took me by surprise.

Jones, an athletic 6-10, was one of the many in a long (and that is the appropriate word) line of Jones brothers who played at Desha Central. All of the Jones brothers went on to star at Albany State in Georgia. I saw a Desha Central team that had three of the Jones brothers. It waltzed through the state tournament at Barton Coliseum with few challenges.

Fisher is still a productive NBA player and was part of championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. His reputation as a clutch performer in big games is large.

However, if I was drafting a team with all of those great Arkansans in the talent pool, I'd take Moncrief first. He was not only talented, but had the biggest heart I've ever seen on any playing field.

Talent is a funny word. There are some who thought Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph were more talented than Moncrief during their playing days at Arkansas. Perhaps they were more talented in certain areas, but not in the ability to lead, defend and impact the game in all areas. No one I've seen is better at that and that is a talent, too.

Pippen? He's one of the greatest of all-time in the NBA, right? Yes, but I'd still take Moncrief first. Perhaps Pippen is more talented in some areas than Moncrief. Certainly, he's bigger.

I remember watching Moncrief take over the assignment of covering Larry Bird in the Elite Eight in 1979. Indiana State looked like a lock until Moncrief asked for the matchup deep in the second half. The Hogs climbed back into the game and looked like winners. But a bad officiating call changed that when U.S. Reed was fouled and tripped in the final seconds.

Except for that call, Moncrief would have taken the Hogs to back-to-back Final Fours and perhaps led them to a title matchup with Magic Johnson in the 1979 Final Four. Could Moncrief have handled Magic? I think the answer is yes.

I don't know Joe Johnson's future in the NBA. We don't know if he will end up with a better team than Phoenix or be a part of multiple NBA titles. Will his skills continue to grow? Will he turn out to be a dominating big-game performer? The answer could be yes.

Still, I bet in 10 years if I write this column again, I'll tell you that I'd still take Sidney Moncrief first.


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