The Best and Worst of The Past Ten NBA Drafts
By Kevin Duffy
On the eve of the 2007 NBA Draft Camp in Orlando, FL, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on past drafts. Maybe taking a look at how teams have drafted in the past ten years will help explain the mysteries of the NBA draft, like why the Spurs continue to get better despite picking 30th every year and signing free agents like Francisco Elson.
The NBA Draft is truly an inexact science. To build their dynasty, the Spurs had to not only make smart picks, but they had to get lucky as well. As smart as it was to pick Manu Ginobili (57th overall in 1999) and Tony Parker (28th overall in 2001), the Spurs were equally lucky to land the top pick in 1997 and draft some guy named Tim Duncan.
To put together a team as disgraceful as the Grizzlies, Memphis (well actually the mess started in Vancouver) was not only stupid, but very unlucky in their past drafts. The Grizzlies sandwiched a wise pick of Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3rd overall in 1996) with two bonehead selections of Bryant "Big Country" Reeves (5th in 1995) and Antonio Daniels (4th in 1997). Granted, Reeves was almost the default selection in '95, considering Kurt Thomas, Michael Finley, and Damon Stoudamire were the only other legit pros taken after Reeves, who was a tremendous college player. Mike Bibby was taken in 1998, a good pick, but at such a young age, he wasn't able to lead a team of underachievers out of the quicksand.
So the fact that they missed out on Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse, who were all drafted in the Top 5 that year, is just bad luck. On the other hand, the fact that they drafted Daniels over Tracy McGrady had nothing to do with luck. The Grizz continued to employ their foundation draft strategy- taking the biggest reach available- into the new decade, when they chose Stromile Swift 2nd overall in 2000. This pick could also be an example of bad luck, however, because the 2000 draft, in which Memphis landed the highest pick in team history also turned out to be the weakest draft in history (its best players are Mike Miller and Pau Gasol). One year earlier, the Grizzlies had a ultimate stroke of bad luck, when they chose Steve Francis 2nd overall and Francis refused to play in Vancouver and demanded a trade to Houston.
Now that I've gone over the complete history of the Vancouver/Memphis franchise, a good place to start would be the worst picks ever. So here they are.
The Ten Worst Picks of the Last Ten Years
10. Mike Dunleavy 3rd overall by Golden State in 2002
The Warriors were looking for a SF, and they should have looked no further than Caron Butler.
9. Everyone except Minnesota in the 2000 Draft
The T'Wolves were the only team to get the 2000 Draft right...they forfeited their pick as every other team should have done.
8. Rodney White 9th overall by Detroit in 2001
25 ppg scorer Joe Johnson was taken with the very next pick. In his one season with Detroit, White scored a total of 56 points.
7. (Tie) Aleksander Radojevic 12th by Toronto and Frederic Weis 15th in 1999
One was drafted with a bad back out of community college and played 12 games in his sorry excuse for an NBA career. The other became famous...for being Vince Carter's jock strap rest.Seattle SuperSonics Drafts
6. Nicoloz Tskitishvilli 5th overall by Denver in 2002
Taken over Amare Stoudemire. Skita was a member of five teams, averaging 3 points per game before David Stern sent him back to the Soviet Union.
5. Rafael Araujo 8th overall by the Toronto Raptors in 2004
With steroid allegations (he was banned from participating in Brazilian competitions) and a general concensus around him that was he was a mid to late first rounder with limited upside, the Raptors drafted for need and took Araujo anyway. Players such as Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith, Andres Biedrins and Al Jefferson were still available.
4. Celtics, Magic, Nets and Jazz all looking for their PG of the future in taking Joseph Forte, Jeryl Sasser, Brandon Armstrong, and Raul Lopez respectively with the 21st-24th picks in the 2001 Draft.
Unfortunately for these teams, the next three point guards off the board were Tony Parker, Jamaal Tinsley, and Gilbert Arenas. Whoops. And it's not like PG was the only position left, Gerald Wallace and Sam Dalembert were taken with the 25th and 26th picks.
3. Mavericks, Warriors and Cavs taking Samaki Walker, Todd Fuller, and Vitaly Potepenko 9th, 11th, and 12th in 1996.
Why was this so bad? Not only did all three of these players turn out to be awful, but 4 of the next 5 picks to come off the board were Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojackavic, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal. Ouch.
2. Darko Milicic 2nd overall by Detroit in 2003
Detroit won a championship in spite of this pick, but imagine if they had taken Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh.
1. Michael Olowokandi 1st overall by the LA Clippers in 1998
Just a rule of thumb...never use the top pick in the draft on a British guy who went to Pacific.
Picks I would term as "unlucky" rather than bad:
5. DaJuan Wagner 6th overall to Cleveland in 2002
Wagner once scored 100 points in a high school game and was one of the best players in the country as a freshman at Memphis. He averaged 13.4 ppg as a rookie with the Cleveland, but his career was shortened by injuries and health problems. After recently undergoing surgery to remove his colon, Wagner is attempting a comeback into the NBA. Had he remained healthy, he would have been a great compliment to LeBron James.
4. Kwame Brown 1st overall to Washington in 2001
OK, it was MJ's first draft. And though Brown turned out to be a disappointment, it's not like there were countless superstars he passed up for Kwame. Unless Jordan decided to draft Pau Gasol with the top pick, pretty much all of the top-rated players turned out to be busts. (Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Shane Battier, DaSanga Diop, Eddie Griffin).
3. Jonathan Bender 5th overall to Indiana in 1999
Like Randy Livingston, Bender showed a great deal of promise in his first few years straight out of high school, but a problematic left knee forced him to retire early. Had Bender continued to develop without the injuries, his career could have taken a much different path.
2. Jay Williams 2nd overall to Chicago in 2002
Williams was one of the most dominant point guards in College Basketball over the last ten years. It's not the Bulls' fault that he decided to give up basketball to become the next Evil Knievel.
1. Shaun Livingston 4th overall to the Clippers in 2004
Livingston showed All-Star potential in his first few seasons. His career likely will be cut short by a gruesome knee injury suffered during the 06-07 regular season.
Ten Best Picks of the Last Ten Years
Carlos Boozer 35th overall to the Cavs in 2002
This certainly would have been on the list if Cleveland held on to Boozer, who is now one of the best power forwards in the game.
Derek Fisher 24th overall to LA Lakers in 1996
Who knew that this pudgy guard out of Arkansas-Little Rock would play a key role in the Laker's three-peat? Fisher will perhaps best be remembered for his desperation game winning shot with 0.4 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2003-04 conference semifinals against the Spurs.
Rashard Lewis 32nd to Seattle and Cuttino Mobley 41st to Houston in 1998
Both ended up being standout NBA players for the past nine years...not something you can say about most second-round picks.
Monta Ellis 40th to the Golden State in 2005, Josh Smith 17th to Atlanta in 2004, and Kevin Martin 26th to Sacramento
All could end up on the list, but it's a little too early in their careers.
10. Josh Howard 29th overall to Dallas in 2003
Mark Cuban and company, normally not shy about taking foreign players, passed up projected first-rounders Maciej Lampe, Sofoklis Schortisiantis, and Zaza Puchilla to draft this All-Star.
9. Tayshaun Prince 23rd overall to Detroit in 2002
While other teams were reaching for upside players such as Qyntel Woods, Jiri Welsch, Bostjan Nachbar, and Marcus Haislip, the Pistons went the conventional route and took a proven college star who fit right into their system. Prince has made the Eastern Conference finals in each of his first five seasons and has a championship.
8. Deron Williams 3rd overall to Utah in 2005
Williams was somewhat of a late-bloomer, catapulting himself into the Top 5 behind a standout NCAA tournament. The Jazz took a lot of heat initially for passing on Rookie of the Year Chris Paul, but Williams had a fantastic second year in Utah leading the team to the Western Conference Finals, and might be the better of the two when it is all said and done.
7. Shawn Marion 9th overall to Phoenix in 1999
At the time, Marion was a freak but a relative unknown out of UNLV. The Suns picked him over some highly-regarded prospects such as Jason Terry, Corey Maggette, Ron Artest, Trajan Langdon, and William Avery. Marion turned out to be a great choice.
6. Tony Parker 28th overall to San Antonio in 2001
Parker made an immediate impact, and has turned into one of the leagues best point guards over the last few seasons. Had the Spurs not taken him here...it would have been Jamaal Tinsley (taken one pick later) that hypnotized and seduced Eva Longoria after meeting her in the San Antonio locker room.
5. Michael Redd 43rd overall to Milwaukee in 2000
Not often do you get a franchise player in the middle of the second round. I'm not saying Milwaukee got lucky, because they obviously did their homework on Redd, but I don't think anyone, even the Bucks, expected him to be this good.
4. Gilbert Arenas 31st overall to Golden State in 2002
Arenas was one of the better second round steals in the last decade. Unfortunately for Golden State, they were caught in a salary loophole and were unable to offer Arenas more than the mid level exception while other teams could offer him the max. Arenas showed great promise, but no one knew he would turn out to be this good in Washington.
3. Amare Stoudemire 9th overall to Phoenix in 2002
A year after Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, and DaSanga Diop all flopped as rookies, picking high school big men was not trendy in the 2002 Draft. Phoenix easily could have gone with a "safe" college player such as Jared Jeffries or Melvin Ely, but they went for the home run with Stoudemire and they nailed it.
2. Dwayne Wade 5th overall to Miami in 2003
At this point, LeBron, Carmelo and Chris Bosh were already gone... To think there was actually some debate between Wade and Kirk Hinrich with this pick. This was a pick that certainly changed the franchise and delivered an NBA title.
1. Manu Ginobili 57th overall to San Antonio in 1999
Ginobili was the second-to-last pick in the '99 Draft and turned out to be a major player on a two-time NBA champion Spurs squad that is currently in the midst of another title run.
Though drafting players has shown to be a great way to improve (or ruin) a franchise, perhaps the biggest impact on draft day has come from trades. Here are the ten trades that have made the biggest impact over the past years, obviously benefiting one team greatly and dooming the other for years.
Most Impactful Draft Day Trades of the Last Ten Years
10. 1998- Toronto Raptors trade the draft rights of Antawn Jamison to Golden State for the draft rights to Vince Carter.
This trade never had to happen as both teams would have ended up with the same player at their respective 4 and 5 spots. The Raptors weren't foolish enough to take Jamison over Carter and they had the Warrior's promise that they would not take Carter, plus $1 million in cash. Not that Jamison, the former National Player of the Year at North Carolina, is a bad pro, but he is not Vince Carter. The Warriors thought they were blocking former and now current coach Don Nelson from trading up for Jamison, but Nelson had other plans in this draft trading up for a certian Geman MVP.
9. 2003- NY Knicks trade the draft rights to Leandro Barbosa to the Phoenix Suns for a future first round pick (which turns out to be #30 David Lee in 2005).
David Lee has been a solid rebounder for the Knicks, but his contribution does not compare to what Barbosa has done for the Suns.
8. 2005- Washington Wizards trade Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laetner, and the draft rights of Devin Harris to the Dallas Mavericks for Antawn Jamison.
Dallas got the better of this one, essentially getting their point guard of the future and the league's best sixth man in Stackhouse for Jamison, a talented player who didn't fit in with the Mavs.
6. 2006- Memphis Grizzlies trade Shane Battier to the Houston Rockets for the draft rights of Rudy Gay.
This is a trade I will never understand. It is evident that Battier will be nothing more than a role player, but Gay has the chance to be special. In Houston's mind they were a solid player away from contending for a championship. But with a chance to add a star like Gay, why trade him away for a average player like Battier? I bet Houston, whose third leading scorer is Luther Head, regrets making this move a year later.
7. 2004- Phoenix Suns trades the 7th pick in the 2004 draft which becomes Luol Deng to the Chicago Bulls for a future first round pick (which turned out to be #21 Nate Robinson of the 2005 Draft).
Phoenix was looking for cap space and it turned out to be one of Bryan Colangelo's few blunders along the way of building their current Suns powerhouse squad. The Suns ended up trading Robinson to the Knicks with Quentin Richardson for Kurt Thomas. The Bulls were the big winners of this trade, getting a 20 point per game scorer and centerpiece in Deng essentially for a 22 pick: Robinson.
5. 2002- The Denver Nuggets trade Antonio McDyess and Frank Williams to the NY Knicks for Marcus Camby and the draft rights to Nene Hilario.
Camby ended up being the 2006-2007 Defensive Player of the Year and Nene has contributed a great deal to Denver despite tearing his ACL two seasons ago. As well all know, McDyess, and particularly Frank Williams, really helped turn around the misfortune of the Knicks.
4. 2002- NJ Nets trade the draft rights of Eddie Griffin to the Houston Rockets for the draft rights to Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins, and Brandon Armstrong.
At the time, the Nets didn't look too smart trading away Griffin, the Seton Hall freshman phenom for a player with suspect driving skills. Five years later, it turns out Jefferson is the All-Star, while Griffin is the one crashing his SUV because he was watching porn.
3. 2001- LA Clippers trade draft rights of Tyson Chandler to the Chicago Bulls for Elton Brand
This trade made sense at the time for Chicago as they decided Brand wasn't enough to build around as a centerpiece. But Brand was established, entering his third year and was one of the league's best young big men. Chandler had the chance to be much better than Brand, but there was a huge risk involved because he had shown questionable motivation and the Bulls didn't know exactly what they were getting with Chandler. They shortly found out, and regret making the trade to this day.
2. 1998- Dallas Mavericks trade the draft rights of Robert Traylor to the Milwaukee Bucks for the draft rights to Dirk Nowitzki .
It's not all that bad...at least Traylor got to train for the National Hot Dog eating contest in the frankfurter capital of America.
1. 1997-LA Lakers trade Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights of Kobe Bryant.