[The following is a chapter from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other essays. Due out if and when we survive this global pandemic.]
The NBA draft is a fascinating social phenomenon. Front offices use it as an opportunity to pitch entice their team’s fan base to renew their season ticket packages (sometimes before the season is even over). Some fans use it as a beacon of hope for their favorite team and some players see the draft as a harbinger of what is to come for their own careers.
A great draft can create a dynasty, a good one can extend it, and a bad draft can set a franchise back five to ten years. The line between bust and boom depends on two important factors: the health of a player and the health of a franchise. Would Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard be the same kinds of players had they landed in Brooklyn or Indiana? Would we think of Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant the same had their careers started in Portland?
Sometimes it really is just a matter of a player landing in the right situation. Successful organizations invest in their draft picks and put them in situations to succeed. Not all superstars come into the league ready made; some need to be developed and coached and polished into the diamonds they eventually become.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Veterans carry value within the locker room as well as on the court. As is in life, sometimes its all about meeting the right people to help steer you in the right direction. But NBA success isn’t guaranteed. For every Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Butler, there are tons of players who eat themselves out of the league, have substance abuse problems, and even cases of mental illness. The NBA draft is a crapshoot, and some organizations were good, some bad, and others were just plain (un) lucky.
In this chapter we examine a few select draft classes–ones which altered the league indefinitely–that were springboards to some franchises success and doomed others to being league doormats. These drafts were full of generational talent that changed the league for years to come. Some teams set themselves up to contend for the decade, while other teams set themselves up for failure. You can take a look and see from the drafts which teams trended where.
2009 Draft First Round Picks
- Blake Griffin PF Los Angeles Clippers
|16. James Johnson SF Chicago
|2. Hasheem Thabeet C Memphis
||17. Jrue Holiday PG Philadelphia
|3. James Harden SG Oklahoma City
||18. Ty Lawson PG Minnesota (traded to Denver)
|4. Tyreke Evans SG Sacramento
||19. Jeff Teague PG Atlanta
|5. Ricky Rubio PG Minnesota
||20. Eric Maynor PG Utah
|6. Jonny Flynn PG Minnesota
||21. Darren Collison PG New Orleans
|7. Stephen Curry PG Golden State
||22. Victor Claver Portland
|8. Jordan Hill PF New York
||23. Omri Casspi Sacramento
|9. Demar DeRozan SG Toronto
||24. Byron Mullins C Dallas (traded to Oklahoma City)
|10. Brandon Jennings PG Milwaukee
||25. Rodrigue Beaubois PG Oklahoma City (traded to Dallas)
|11. Terrence Williams SG Nets
||26. Taj Gibson PF Chicago
|12. Gerald Henderson SG Charlotte
||27. DeMarre Carroll SF Memphis
|13. Tyler Hansborough PF Indiana
||28. Wayne Ellington SG Minnesota
|14. Earl Clark SF Phoenix
||29. Toney Douglas PG Los Angeles
|15. Austin Daye SF Detroit
||30. Christian Eyenga SF Cleveland
Jrue Holiday, James Harden, Jeff Teague, Demar Derozoan, Blake Griffin, Steph Curry
Notable Role Players
Jonas Jerebko, Dejuan Blair, Taj Gibson, Danny Green, Demarre Carroll, Austin Daye, Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph (later Ayres), Darren Collison, Jodie Meeks, James Johnson, Omri Casspi, Wayne Ellington, Patrick Beverly, Toney Douglas, Patty Mills, Chase Budinger, Eric Maynor
Busts of 2009 Class
Tyreke Evans, Thabeet Hasheem, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Brandon Jennings, Tyler Hansborough, Rodrigue Beaubois
Steal of the Draft
Steph Curry not only turned out to be the best player in the league, but one of the most destructive offensive forces the league has ever seen. After he overcame ankle problems (which were a legitimate concern for other teams, Steph proved that players from mid- major colleges could compete at the next level (you couldn’t name another player on those Davidson teams can you?). Steph revolutionized the game of basketball with his other-worldy shooting ability and absurd accuracy from anywhere on the court. Just having Curry was enough to get the Davidson Wildcats to the elite eight in the NCAA Tournament. When I watched him in the 2008 tournament, I predicted to my friends that Steph Curry would be the next Reggie Miller, because of his 3 pt shooting. Boy was I wrong……. turns out he is way better than Reggie Miller.
Joe Ingles,Wesley Matthews, Aron Baynes
Jeff Ayres(2014), Danny Green(2014,2019), Stephen Curry(2015,2017,2018), Patty Mills (2014), Jodie Meeks (2019)
- Its hard to decide who had the worse draft, Minnesota, or the Memphis Grizzlies. Many executives in the league had yet to forgive Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace for trading Pau Gasol for his brother Marc[At the time, the trade looked unbelievably lop-sided as Pau Gasol was a perennial All Star stuck on a well coached overachieving team of role players. No one knew Marc was going to be the beast he grew into becoming]. If you look at the lottery picks that year, you will notice the names of three All Stars (and Olympians) that were picked after # 2 pick, Hasheem Thabeet who played in only 224 games during his career, starting in only 20 of them. Thabeet was selected before James Harden (imagine a backcourt of him and Conley Jr.), Steph Curry and Demar Derozan.
- Minnesota passed on Steph Curry twice, grabbing Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with consecutive picks. They drafted Ty Lawson with the 18th pick (who was better than either player for when he was in the league) but traded him to Denver.
- This was a good draft for finding point guards. Jrue Holiday went on to be a more than serviceable point guard. At one point (before he worked himself out of the league) Ty Lawson was considered the fastest player in the league. Darren Collison, Jeff Teague and Eric Maynor became great role players for their teams.
And the Winner is…..
The Golden State Warriors and the NBA. Three NBA titles and five finals appearances later, there is no argument that Steph Curry has become one of the faces of the league. Every time you’re playing pickup ball and someone takes a crazy heat check jumper from damn near half court, they are channeling their inner Steph Curry. NBA teams go to outrageous lengths to draft players who they hope to be the face of their franchise. Some succeed, most don’t.
Even rarer than drafting a franchise player is the good fortune to nab a player who can also be the face of the league. These sort of acquisitions can carry a franchise for a decade if everything goes right. Seeing all the things that had to happen for Steph Curry to fall to Golden State, only further illustrates this point. Of the six players selected before Curry, none of those players are on the team that drafted them, and three of those players are out of the league (Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet). Hell, go back and look at the first round again, and see if you can name all the players still playing in the NBA. Tyreke Evans was Rookie of the Year, Ty Lawson was at one point the fastest point guard in the NBA, and Steph Curry had weak ankles. A little more of a decade later, and the drafts grades get a bit harsher. Minnesota had three chances to get it right and they didn’t. Golden State had one shot and they made it count. It was the perfect storm.
Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to email@example.com