The quirks of the NBA Draft
A great deal is made of having the first overall selection in the NBA Draft. It can alter the fortunes of franchises in a much more meaningful way in professional basketball than it can in the other major sports; elite talent is hard to come by. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the most successful franchises in the NBA are usually the ones who don’t miss when they’ve hit a rough patch and end up with the top overall pick.
The Los Angeles Lakers have had the number 1 pick in the NBA Draft three times. The Los Angeles Clippers have also held the top selection three times.
The Lakers took: Elgin Baylor (1958), Magic Johnson (1979), and James Worthy (1982). All three are Hall of Famers.
The Clippers took: Danny Manning (1988), Michael Olowokandi (1998) and Blake Griffin (2009). Griffin has the chance to become a Hall of Famer (potentially), Manning was a perennial All-Star but never developed into a superstar, and Michael Olowakandi was… well, Michael Olowokandi.
Speaking of the Clippers, the five best draft choices they have ever made as determined by career Win Shares are as follows: Adrian Dantley, Terry Cummings, Hersey Hawkins, Bob McAdoo and Tom Chambers. All of them were top-8 selections the year they were drafted. Dantley and McAdoo are Basketball Hall of Famers, and Cummings, Hawkins and Chambers were each All-Stars. There’s just one minor problem…
Hawkins never played a minute in a Clippers uniform; Dantley played one season, Chambers and Cummings two apiece, and of the group, Bob McAdoo spent the longest time with the team at four and a half years. All were traded early in their careers for far inferior talent – a hallmark of a terribly run franchise.
The Atlanta Hawks drafted Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Pau Gasol. Pretty good, right?
All were dealt away before playing a single minute for the franchise.
The Utah Jazz have selected three future Hall of Famers in the Draft in their franchise’s history. Stockton and Malone are the ones everybody knows, but the third was none other than The Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins.
Before Stockton (16th overall in 1984) or Malone (13th overall in 1985) the Jazz picked ‘Nique with the third overall selection in the 1982 NBA Draft. They immediately shipped his rights to the Hawks for the declining John Drew (who would only play three more years in the NBA after the trade) and the drug-addled Freeman Williams, a former high draft pick who was waived three and a half months later.
Imagining a team with an unselfish facilitator like Stockton, a dynamic combo guard like Wilkens and an inside presence like Malone gives me goosebumps. And to think… if the Jazz could have talked Dominique into coming to play in Salt Lake City (his reluctance to go there, in part, led to the trade) the Jazz might have challenged the Lakers throughout the late 80s for Western Conference supremacy.
The Toronto Raptors have only made 27 draft selections in the 17 drafts they have participated in, which is odd because teams are automatically granted two picks per year. Clearly, though they’ve been parting with choices in trades, it hasn’t helped them any – the franchise’s winning percentage since their inception is a paltry .406.
What is particularly odd about the Raptors is that they have never had a second round pick turn into any sort of a success story by any stretch of the imagination – at least, not yet. While the NBA’s later picks do not pan out with the same regularity that the NFL’s do, most teams can at least point to a Paul Millsap, Rashard Lewis or Lou Williams-type story somewhere in their history.
Not so the for the lowly Raptors. Only one of their second round picks has played in more than a season’s worth of games – Roko Ukic, who now lives at the end of the bench for the Milwaukee Bucks. Again, it’s not a condemnation of their overall drafting ability (which has been less than stellar, also), but more of a quirky observation.
When it comes to Draft tidbits, many people know about the Milwaukee Bucks’ 1998 gaffe: they drafted some lanky German kid named Dirk Nowitzki and shipped him off to Dallas for Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor.
What many people do NOT know is that the Bucks also selected Julius Erving, once upon a time – 1972, to be exact. The move would have paired the young phenom with Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – another ‘Big Three’ lost to the shadowy netherworld of ‘what-ifs’. Erving was already under contract with the ABA’s Virginia Squires, and instead of going back there, or to Milwaukee, he signed a contract with whomever he damn well pleased – the Atlanta Hawks. A legal injunction followed, etc, etc, Erving wound up with the Nets, then the Sixers, and the rest is history.
Oh, the chaotic times prior to the NBA-ABA merger…
The New York Knicks had, quite possibly, the worst six year run of drafts in the history of organized team sports from 1999 through 2004. (I haven’t done the requisite research to turn the previous sentence into a positive statement, though it’s now on my to-do list.)
Here are the Knicks picks from 1999 through 2004, with anecdotes attached.
|Year, Round, Pick||Player||Notes|
|1999, 1st Round, 15th overall||Frederic Weis, France||0 career games. Team bypassed Ron Artest, who was from New York and played at St. John’s. Weis’ most famous moment came when he was ‘posterized’ by Vince Carter at the 2000 Summer Olympics.|
|1999, 2nd Round, 46th overall||J.R. Koch, Iowa||0 career games|
|2000, 1st Round, 22nd overall||Donnell Harvey, Florida||205 career games, 0 with the New York Knicks. Traded on draft night to the Mavericks for Erick Strickland.|
|2000, 2nd Round, 39th overall||Lavor Postell, St. John’s||61 career games (all with the Knicks): 7.3 minutes, 3.2 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.3 APG|
|2001, 2nd Round, 38th overall||Michael Wright, Arizona||0 career games|
|2001, 2nd Round, 42nd overall||Eric Chenowith, Kansas||0 career games|
|2002, 1st Round, 7th overall||Nene, Brazil||566 career games, 0 with the New York Knicks. Traded on draft night to the Nuggets for Marcus Camby and others. Now plays in Washington.|
|2002, 2nd Round, 35th overall||Milos Vujanic, Serbia||0 career games|
|2003, 1st Round, 9th overall||Mike Sweetney, Georgetown||233 career games, 119 with the Knicks. 16.8 minutes, 7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.5 APG.|
|2003, 2nd Round, 30th overall||Maciej Lampe, Poland||64 career games, 0 with the Knicks.|
|2003, 2nd Round, 39th overall||Slavko Vranes, Montenegro||1 career game, and it came with Portland.|
|2004, 2nd Round, 43rd overall||Trevor Ariza, UCLA||499 career games, 116 with the Knicks.Now under contract with the Washington Wizards.|
In six years, the Knicks drafted 12 players. Those 12 combined for 296 total games played with the franchise, or fewer than 25 per draftee. The team went 279-541 from 2001-09, a .340 winning percentage. The one solid player the Knicks stumbled upon (Nene) was immediately traded; the one who became a serviceable role player (Ariza) did so elsewhere. Not only was the team unable to identify talent in the draft pool, but once they had some, they didn’t hold on!
The team went 279-541 from 2001-09, a .340 winning percentage.
Coincidence? I think not.
Check out the site later in the week for more on the NBA Draft. That’s all for today. Thanks for reading!
BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!