Top Selections by Draft Position (25-20)
Also see: Top Selections by Draft Position (30-26)
As the draft progresses, moving from the 25th to the 20th picks, the selections in this range now come burdened with more hope that the anticipated prospect has the ability to springboard their future team from playoff contender to championship caliber. While picks 27 through 30 are relegated to teams that - barring any trading - were on the cusp of a championship, the subsequent selections are usually for those teams nipping at the heels of their Eastern and Western Conference Finals representatives.
Teams hope that their selections in this range will have the capacity to provide that one missing piece for a championship run. Players like Tayshaun Prince (#23 by the Pistons in 2002) and Sam Cassell (#24 by the Rockets in 1993) epitomize the type of championship linchpins that fringe title contenders are hoping to help put them over the top.
Stars like Michael Finley (#21 by Phoenix in '95) and Reggie Lewis (#22 by Boston in '87) show that star power and potential continues to be more readily available as the numbers lower, but most teams selecting here are more apt to find the likes of Rick Fox (#24 by Boston in '91) and Derek Fisher (#24 by The Lakers in '96) - players that compliment stars already ensconced on championship aspiring teams - than the next big thing. This is a direct by-product of teams being far more prudent and judicious in their selections. GMs drafting here usually view their team as missing just a piece to the championship puzzle, so rather than rearrange the team's tableau of talent, they'd rather just add a new hue, a player they hope completes the championship picture.
While it's a bit more of a mixed bag as to the type of player that a team may covet in this range, depending on how the team views their station within the upper echelons of the leagues, here is a run-down of the best to ever be picked from 25-21, no matter what the team was hoping for:
#25 - Mark Price: Following a woeful 1985-86 season in which The Cleveland Cavaliers went 29-53 and finished fifth in the Central Division, the Cavs' organization made it clear it was time to shake things up. They got the ball rolling with the dismissal of coach George Karl in mid-March of the prior season, followed by an exit for General Manager Harry Weltman. The Cavs then continued the trend as they said goodbye to World B. Free, their leading scorer from the previous season.
As the rearranging of deck chairs continued, the Cavs were then awarded the #1 overall pick in 1986 draft. Following the selection of UNC star Brad Daugherty first overall, and the drafting of a replacement at shooting guard in rangy Miami product Ron Harper, Cleveland persisted by making a draft-day trade with The Dallas Mavericks for point guard Mark Price.
Price was a diminutive, scrappy shooter from Georgia Tech and had been a four-year starter and two-time All-American. With the trade for Price, the Cavs had seemingly solidified their once shaky back court, as it was only a matter of time before Price replaced ineffective, incumbent John Bagley as the starter.
In drafting Price, the Cavs hoped they had found a steadying force at the point position, and an underrated distributer (Price averaged 6.7 assists per game over his twelve years in the league, including a personal best 10.5 in the '91 season). What they ended up getting was that and much more.
Price would spend his first season in the league learning the ropes as the back-up to Bagley. But with Bagley's departure following the '87 season, Price was given the helm and the Cavs were now his to lead. It should be noted that the Cavs kept the pressure on Price with the drafting of Cal star, and fellow point guard, Kevin Johnson - the 7th overall pick in the '87 draft. The drafting of Kevin Johnson made it clear that Price needed to prove to the Cavs' organization that he was the man for the job. Price took notice, and then he took control. In his first full season as the starting point guard, Price was more than just right, he was superb. The tenancious floor general averaged 16 points per game while adding 6 helpers per contest as well. But what made Price's season so incredible was his efficiency as a scorer. For the '88 season, Price shot 51% from the field, 88% from the free throw line and an elite 49% from the arc. By season's end, Price was just two percentage points away at the line from joining the shooting elite in the 50-40-90 club (along with Bird, Nash, Miller, Nowitzki, Durant) - in just his second full season in the league! Price would in fact join the club in '89.
While Price doesn't fit under the category of final piece to a championship hopeful (Price was the first selection in the second round), he did find himself an integral part on a very good Cavs' team. A team that was one Jordan "fade-to-left" jumper away from possibly great things. Price's acknowledgements of brilliance were also mitigated as he played at a time where the league was stacked with great point guards: Hardaway, Thomas, Stockton, Johnson (Magic), Johnson (Kevin), and Gary Payton to name a few, and thusly his accomplishments sometimes go underwhelming noticed.
Price was a four-time All Star and managed to make the All-NBA First Team in '93, despite the aforementioned high caliber competition. What's even more impressive is that for a six-season stretch from 1989-95, Price averaged a staggeringly high 21.64 PER. Price never won a title, but going down as one of the premier shooters, as well as one of the most efficient, isn't a bad reputation for a former 25th pick.
#24 - Latrell Sprewell: At the 24th overall slot, the flashes of greatness of Latrell Sprewell narrowly outweigh the impetuousness of Latrell Sprewell, and keep him as the best 24th selection ever. Sprewell's superstar potential, mixed with several seasons of All-Star caliber play (including an All-NBA First Team selection in '94), give him the edge over the steadying forces of Derek Fisher and Rick Fox, the potential greatness of Serge Ibaka (too shallow a body of work) or the two titles of fellow enigma Sam Cassell.
Following a season in which they finished 55-27 and 2nd in the division, the run-and-gun Golden State Warriors, under Coach Don Nelson, were looking to add more horsepower to their high-revving offense. They found just the choice in an athletic wingman from the University of Alabama by the name of Latrell Sprewell. Sprewell, or “Spree”, was coming off a breakout season with the Tide in which he averaged 17.8 per game. The Warriors were looking to add more athleticism on the wing and Sprewell fit exactly what the Warriors needed, a great open floor athlete and competitive defender.
In his first season as a Warrior, Sprewell took no time making his presence felt, as the rookie started 69 games and averaged an impressive 15.4 points per game on his way to earning All-Rookie Second Team honors. Sprewell's rookie campaign was just a portent of the impressive offensive things to come, as Spree would average over 20 points per game in 3 of his next four seasons with Golden State (including finishing sixth in the league at 24.2 per in '97). Sprewell was on his way to his fourth season of more than 20 points per game, when sixteen games into the '98 season, Spree would infamously choke Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo. An absurd move that would cast a permanent pall over Sprewell's career.
Sprewell's assaulting of Carlesimo, along with the '99 lockout further delaying him from returning to the floor following his suspension, would cost the beleaguered small forward the better part of two seasons (he played 51 games between the '98 and '99 seasons). Questions also remained as to where Sprewell would play, as the combination of his season-long suspension and uncoachable reputation relegated the former star to near pariah status. Fortunately for Sprewell, The New York Knicks were still willing to take a chance on the tempestuous talent.
Following his trade to New York (for Terry Cummings, John Stark, and Chris Mills), Sprewell would take a while to return to his old form (he only started 4 of his first 37 games as a Knick). But by his second season, the Knicks' risky decision began to pay dividends. In 2000, the now 29-year-old Spree, averaged 18.6 and in '01, he returned as an All-Star. Following his success with New York, Sprewell then played an integral part in a Western Conference Finals run in '04. In line with his often unhinged behavior, Sprewell made an unexpected and strange exit from the league with the Minnesota Timberwolves in '05, feeling that he had been slighted by The Timberwolves' contract offers.
While his career may read as a story unfinished, Sprewell was a four-time All-Star, an All-Defensive Team Honoree, and started 95% of the games in which he played (868 of 913). He was, perhaps, as prolific as he was polarizing.
#23 - Alex English: At the 23rd slot, the selection by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1976 (in a draft that included fellow Hall of Famers Adrian Dantley, Robert Parrish, and Dennis Johnson) of a dynamic, yet understated, scorer from the University of South Carolina by the name of Alex English, takes hold over the consistency of power forward A.C. Green at the 23rd slot by The Lakers.
The Bucks found themselves mired in a rebuilding mode following the departure of perennial all-star Kareem Abdul-Jabar. With that in mind, they drafted the former Gamecock with the 6th pick in what was then the 2nd round. English was an established scorer, having averaged nearly 18 per game in his four years in Columbia, yet he struggled to find playing time in his two seasons with The Bucks. After toiling with Milwaukee, English was moved to Indiana and began to show flashes of a scoring punch that would define his career (he averaged 16 points per game in his first season as a starter).
Things then drastically changed for both English and the scoring books when he was moved midway through the '80 season to the high-scoring Nuggets for former star George McGinnis. From that point on, English became a scoring machine (he would score the most regular season points during the '80's). English's 21.5 career points per game is impressive, but the average is brought down significantly by the comparatively humble numbers he posted to book-end his career. Between the '82-'89 seasons, English averaged 27 points per game, shooting an astounding 51%, and averaging a hearty PER of 21.38 during the stretch - one of the most abundant scoring stretches in league history. English was this offensively dominant, all while leading the Nuggets to nine consecutive playoff appearances.
English perhaps goes down as one of the most underrated players in league history. The forward was an eight-time All-Star, three time All-NBA Second Team member, and is still 17th all-time on the NBA scoring list.
#22 - Reggie Lewis: At the 22nd slot, Reggie Lewis's tragically brief brilliance outshines the steady bulldoggish play of the often taciturn, Scott Skiles.
The narrative of the life of Reggie Lewis unfortunately is yet another of potential unfulfilled. It's a story that the Boston Celtics fans had already become far too familiar with, with the passing of former first-round pick Len Bias from a drug overdose just shortly after the Celtics selected the Maryland star 2nd overall in 1986.
In the '87 draft, the Celtics used their 22nd pick to draft Reggie Lewis from little-known Northeastern University. Lewis was a rangy, versatile forward whom the Celtics had hoped would help further solidify one of the greatest compilations of NBA talent the league had seen. The '87 Celtics had just come off of a run of four straight Finals' appearances and featured five future Hall of Famers: Dennis Johnson, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, and Bill Walton (though Walton would not return in '88). With such a high caliber of competition for playing time at both the shooting guard (Danny Ainge started a team-high 81 games in '88 and made his only all-star appearance) and Small forward positions (Larry Bird- enough said) Lewis found it hard to find much on-the-court action in his rookie campaign (he averaged a meager 8.6 minutes per game.) Fortunately the Celtics were fine with bringing along Lewis slowly, as their current roster was stout enough to make another Eastern Conference finals before succumbing to the eventual champion Detroit Pistons
It appeared that Lewis was to be relegated to understudy status once again in the '89 season, until 6 games into the campaign - Larry Bird opted for surgery on bone spurs in both feet. Shortly thereafter, the Celtics traded Danny Ainge to the Sacramento Kings for big man Joe Kleine. With Ainge gone, and Bird grounded, Lewis took off. From the moment he became the full-time starter 27 games into the '89 campaign, until the end of the season, Lewis averaged 21 points per game, and 18.5 per game for the entire season.
When it became obvious that Bird would never quite be capable of returning from a myriad of injuries besieging his body, Lewis soon emerged as the focal point of the Celtics' attack. The versatile wing (he is the only Celtic to record 100+ rebs, assists, steals, and blocks in a season) responded by averaging 19 points per game over his five seasons as a Celtics starter. He also garnered an All-Star appearance in '92 - a difficult feat considering the number of future Hall of Famers playing the same positions in the East at the time (Dominique, Scottie, Dumars, Jordan).
On July 27, 1993, Reggie Lewis tragically died of hypertonic cardiomyopathy. The Celtics have since retired the number 35 jersey of their fallen star. Like Sprewell, Lewis' brief excellence seems tainted with the sadness induced by the feeling of potential untapped and brilliance prematurely dampened. Leaving the feeling that his career, like his heart, gave out before everyone else was ready.
#21 - Rajon Rondo: Few, if any players in the NBA, are more polarizing and frustratingly tantalizing, than the truculent dynamism of Rajon Rondo. The former Kentucky Wildcat has the ability to dominate a game, and subjugate the nerves, of both friend and foe. With that said, his eye-popping assists' number and his dominate defense keep Rondo firmly in place as the best #21 ever taken over the steady professionalism of Michael Finley.
The Celtics pegged Rondo as the future point guard of their rebuilding effort, hoping that the former Wildcat's tenacious D and lighting quickness were enough to compensate for his car accident of a jumpshot - mangled and difficult to look upon. Rondo quickly proved the Celtics' scouts right, at least on the defensive end, as he averaged 1.6 steals per in his inaugural campaign.
Following a complete overhaul of the Cetlics that saw the arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, Rondo was named the starter for a team with championship aspirations. While not quite up to the star level he'd eventually show, Rondo's play was steady and helped the Celtics win the '08 title.
As the play of his soon-to-be Hall of Fame teammates began to diminish, Rondo began to shine. Since the beginning of the '09 season, Rondo has averaged a robust 10.28 assists, including having lead the league in both '12 and '13 in the category. Rondo has also been an All-Star in each of the last four seasons, an accomplishment buoyed by achieving it during a time in which there's been a point guard renaissance. What's more impressive, however, is Rondo's commanding defense. In his seven seasons in the NBA, he's been named to the All-Defensive team four times (two 1st teams and two 2nd teams) and lead the NBA in steals in '10.
Though Rondo may continue to bewitch fans with his combination of stellar play and sulking demeanor, the on-court results are undeniable.
Also see: Top Selections by Draft Position (30-26)
The 76ers were awarded the number one pick in 1986 (via the Clippers), which they could have used to draft Daugherty, but they traded the pick to the Cavs for 6'9" Roy Hinson (Hinson was supposed to be a star alongside Charles Barkley, but he didn't turn into one). Daugherty, Harper, and Price were all great picks by the Cavs because there were a lot of disappointments in the '86 draft, including Len Bias (died of cocaine), Chris Washburn (drugs), William Bedford (drugs).
You had a bit too many commas. It wouldn't bug me as much if it weren't damn confusing where they were placed. Nice list, though. Will I have to wait until Feb for the next piece of this list?