The Curse of the No. 2 Pick

Mon, 06/15/2009 - 5:57am



Hasheem Thabeet
By definition, the Los Angeles Clippers are "on the clock" with the first pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, but they might as well have introduced Blake Griffin immediately after they won the draft lottery.

Aside from possibly LeBron James in 2003, there hasn't been this much certainty about a top pick since San Antonio won the Tim Duncan sweepstakes 12 years ago. Even the Clippers can't screw this one up.

Memphis, who sits at No. 2, isn't so lucky.

In a draft with only one sure-fire prospect, the Grizzlies have narrowed their choices to two high-risk, high-reward prospects - Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio and Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet.

Either could be a star. And either could just as easily flop.

Unfortunately for the Griz, history isn't exactly on their side. The Memphis-Vancouver franchise has held the No. 2 pick three previous times and come away with next-to-nothing.

In 1998, after the Clippers settled on Pacific center Michael Olowokandi (we'll save that discussion for another day), the Grizzlies grabbed Arizona point guard Mike Bibby, who played three mediocre years in Vancouver before being shipped off to Sacramento. The Grizzlies passed on a franchise player, Vince Carter, and a career 20-point-per-game scorer in Antawn Jamison to select Bibby.

The ping-pong balls bounced Vancouver's way again in 1999, and the Grizzlies snatched up Maryland guard Steve Francis, who was vehemently opposed to ever donning that odd-colored Vancouver blue.

And he never did. Francis was traded to Houston for Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Antoine Carr and Brent Price before the season began. He went on to share Rookie of the Year honors with Chicago's Elton Brand and was one of the brightest young guards in the game before injuries took their toll.

The Grizzlies hit jackpot again in 2000 - one of the weaker drafts in history - and selected LSU big man Stromile Swift, who never played a full season and averaged double-figures in just two of his five years with the franchise.

Memphis/Vancouver isn't the only franchise misfiring with the No. 2 pick, however. In fact, in the past 20 drafts, players selected No. 2 overall have experienced significantly less statistical success than players drafted at any other position in the top five:

No. 1: 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists
No. 2: 13.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists
No. 3: 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds , 3.4 assists
No. 4: 14.4 points, 5.8 rebounds , 3.2 assists
No. 5: 14.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists

So, what gives? Where have the mistakes been made? Here's a quick breakdown of the recent blunders at No. 2:

Jay Williams to Chicago, 2002: Williams was one of the more dominant college basketball players of the last decade, but, after an underwhelming rookie campaign and a horrific motorcycle accident, the former Duke star is now relegated to doing color commentary for ESPN.

LaMarcus Aldridge to Chicago (then traded to Portland), 2006:
What the Bulls should have done following their pick: Tied up GM John Paxson in a windowless room with no telephone and absolutely no chance of any communication with the outside world. And, just in case someone happened to walk by that room, putting a muzzle over Paxson's mouth to drown out desperate cries of "TRADE" wouldn't have been a bad idea.

What the Bulls did: Allowed Paxson to function like a normal human being, which, of course, led to him trading Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas.

Marvin Williams to Atlanta, 2005: Prior to this draft, the Hawks - and their lethal backcourt combination of Tyronn Lue and Salim Stoudamire - were in desperate need of a point guard. So, what did they do? Pass on Chris Paul, the best point guard in the NBA, and Deron Williams, the third or fourth best point guard in the league.

Darko Milicic to Detroit, 2003: This whole debacle can be summed up in six words: Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh. Hell, you can even throw Chris Kaman into that discussion.

But that's not even the worst part. After Milicic bombed in Detroit and showed brief flashes (and that's being generous) in Orlando, the Memphis Grizzlies felt the need to ink him to a three-year, $21 million deal.

Now, Memphis is in an interesting position. Milicic hasn't provided them the inside force that a $21 million contract suggests. Marc Gasol is the current starter and has been decent, but offers limited athleticism and defense, so drafting Hasheem Thabeet with this year's No. 2 pick seems to be the most plausible option.

The 7-foot-3 center improved by leaps and bounds each year at Connecticut and is arguably the most dominant shot-blocker to enter the NBA draft since Shawn Bradley in 1992. If Thabeet returned to UConn for his senior year, he was on pace to finish his career with 556 career blocks, which would have ousted the NCAA career record of 536, set by Wojciech Mydra of Louisiana-Monroe (1999-2002). Offensively, however, Thabeet is very raw and probably won't contribute much on the offensive end right away.

That leaves Ricky Rubio, a flashy, 18-year-old point guard with ball skills and intelligence far beyond his years. A few problems though: Memphis recently invested a top-five selection in Mike Conley Jr., a 21-year-old floor general who improved his numbers in every single category from his rookie to sophomore campaign. In addition, Rubio is in the midst of a buyout squabble with DKV Joventut Badalona, his current Spanish club team. There is a chance he may not be able to join the NBA until 2011-2012. To complicate the situation even further, Rubio can pull a Steve Francis and refuse to sign with the Grizzlies and return to Spain if he is unhappy with the situation.

Those question marks open up the possibility that Memphis could go in another direction. Arizona State guard James Harden, a crafty left-handed scorer and reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year, is the most NBA-ready player available aside from Griffin. But, because the Grizzlies already have two blossoming swingmen in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay, they may not see Harden fitting their team.

How about Arizona's Jordan Hill? After he averaged 18.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game as a junior at Arizona, it's clear that the 6-foot-10 Hill has the length (a 7-foot-1 wingspan), athleticism and energy to be a terror in the NBA. He's still rough around the edges, however, and would be an even greater gamble at No. 2 than Thabeet.

And if all else fails, Memphis can explore trade options. In a draft marred with such uncertainty, should Memphis opt for the proven veteran? Or should they take their chances on a wild card like Thabeet?

At this point, who knows?

Whatever they end up doing, the Grizzlies can only hope that the fourth time is the charm with the No. 2 pick.
sheltwon3
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Bibby was good for the Grizzlies

He could not do it by himself. Bibby was like the only good player and he forced a trade kinda because he did not want to be there. The did not start winning until Pau Gasol and Hubie Brown came along. My mistake Shareef was there too and wasted his best years for the Grizz.

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4 of the Last 5 Taken 2nd Were Solid Draft Choices

Kevin Duffy wrote an interesting article. However, it appears as if this so called curse was essentially turned around the past 5 years. In my opinion, 4 of the 5 players chosen second the past five years turned into pretty good players. Beasley hasn't yet produced big numbers, but I think in time he will become an excellent player. We can't always judge someone by his rookie season, some guys need a little more time.

And of course Kevin Durant is the star of this group. Prior to the actual draft, my brother and I both thought he should have gone number one. It looks as if we were right.

In sum, I think any team in the league would be happy to have the following group of guys taken second in the NBA Draft.

2004 – Emeka Okafor
2006 – LaMarcus Aldridge
2007 – Kevin Durant
2008 – Michael Beasley

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not really that bad

I think there have been a lot of players overdrafted at #2, but that's not the same thing as them being bad players. Also, the fact that the Grizz had trouble with certain players not wanting to play for them is not the same thing as the players being failures.

Going back 20 years, the vast majority of #2 picks have been very good players:
stars: Gary Payon, Alonzo Mourning, Jason Kidd, Steve Francis,
above-average starters: Antonio McDyess, Marcus Camby, Mike Bibby, Tyson Chandler, Emeka Okafor, LaMarcus Aldridge,
solid starters: Kenny Anderson, Keith Van Horn, Marvin Williams
mediocre, but useful: Danny Ferry, Shawn Bradley
pretty awful, or worse: Stromile Swift, Jay Williams, Darko Milicic
jury still out: Kevin Durant (likely star); Michael Beasley (likely solid or above-average starter).

Now, some of those picks, even the better ones, clearly should have been used on other players (Marv Williams and Darko being the two most obvious), but that doesn't mean that the guys actually drafted at #2 have been busts. It's hardly a curse to produce that number of average or better NBA starters at any draft position, even #2.

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wrote a piece

wrote about the uncertainty with the pick here - http://nbadraftdaycountdown.com/2009/06/06/unpredictable-your-2009-nba-d...

I think Memphis has to be looking to trade down... Maximize value and get Hill a few picks down.

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how can u say Jay Williams is awful.

Jay Williams is one of the best guard when playing for Duke. it just so happen that he got injured and opted not to try to comeback to play in the NBA.
And I think Memphis should just try and trade the 2nd pick to Sacramento which really like Rubio to be in their team. While having the 4th pick they should pick Hill to play alongside Gasol and Gay at the Frontcourt. And plus they should get Garcia with the trade that could be their 6th man.

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I Agree ch13f23

Draft and trade down. Both Hill and Rubio will fit perfect on those teams. But what the fans see NBA GM don't.

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...

They must pick James Harden!! he's ready for stats like 15 ppg, 4 apg, 5 rpg!!

AlexBoii
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Tough Luck

It is some shame that they only received the second overall pick. Though not all of the second round picks haven't been awful players, it just ultimately did not work for the Grizzlies with these players. Only Stromile Swift was actually a bad player. Guys like Shareef Abdul-Rahim and Mike Bibby were pretty good, just always not enough talent in the team. And yes, they did just miss out on getting LeBron in '04. I would of liked to see Bibby along with Battier and Gasol together to create a foundation for this team, but Bibby was traded too early.

In terms of this draft, they need to make every effort to trade this pick. Not just because of this "curse," but true value and major uncertainly lie at this #2 pick. James Harden, the safest amongst players at this slot, won't work after the team just selected Mayo. That rumored Kevin Love and filler for the #2? That seems intriguing. But settling on a guy like Thabeet without making and listening to a few offers for this pick would be a terrible mistake for the Grizz.

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couple things

1. Mike Bibby has had a solid career. Not nearly as good as some in the '98 draft, but pretty good nonetheless. He was performing well when they traded him, and don't forget the guy they traded him for, Jason Williams, had the best years of his career as a Grizzly.
2. Hindsight is 20/20 for the 2000 draft. That draft was so awful it produced a total of 3 one-time all-stars: Michael Redd, a second-rounder and the draft's best player; No. 1 pick Martin, who didn't deserve it; and Jamaal Magliore, easily one of the 2-3 worst all-star selections in history. Only Redd and Hedo Turkoglu have had above-average careers.
3. "Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league and Deron Williams is the 3rd or 4th best." Huh? Who's better than Williams? Maybe Paul, but that's it.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge may be better than Tyrus Thomas, but that's not saying a whole lot. You seem to imply that Aldridge is some kind of beast. He is far from it.

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#13 - Henderson ok... not

#13 - Henderson ok... not only do the Pacers have Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy and Marquis Daniels, they drafted Brandon Rush last year to play early, and they run with a two point guard look at times with Jarrett Jack and T.J. Ford. When would he ever see the floor? Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, or hell even the infamous Mullens would be a better pick here.
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#19 - Hansbrough is not a

#19 - Hansbrough is not a pick that I would argue with, however they could help themselves more by picking up a wing player such as Ellington or once again I won't even say it because you know he shouldnt fall this far. Josh Smith and Earl Clark could be the freak athlete version of Turkoglu Lewis at the 3/4. They could also grab Lawson to strengthen the second unit and be Bibby's understudy.
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Tied up GM John Paxson

What the Bulls should have done following their pick: Tied up GM John Paxson in a windowless room with no telephone and absolutely no chance of any communication with the outside world. Thank you very much...

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Nobody Knows

It is hard to predict whether the No. 2 draft or even the No. 1 draft will turn out to be successful. It could be the No. 3 or even No. 20 who could become the dominant star.
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