In Retrospect: Examining the 2003 NBA Draft First Round

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.


2003 First Round Picks

  1. Lebron James SF Cleveland
16. Troy Bell PG Boston (traded to Memphis)
2. Darko Milicic C Detroit 17. Zarko Cabarkapa Phoenix
3. Carmelo Anthony SF Denver 18. David West PF New Orleans
4. Chris Bosh PF Toronto 19. Sasha Pavlovic F/G Utah
5. Dwyane Wade SG Miami 20. Dahntay Jones SG Boston (traded to Memphis)
6. Chris Kaman C Los Angeles Clipper 21. Boris Diaw PF Atlanta
7. Kirk Hinrich PG Chicago 22. Zora Planinic G/F New Jersey
8. T.J. Ford PG Milwaukee 23. Travis Outlaw SF Portland
9. Michael Sweeney PF New York 24. Brian Cook PF Los Angeles
10. Jarvis Hayes F/G Washington 25. Carlos Delfino SG Detroit
11. Mickael Pietrus G/F Golden State 26. Ndudi Ebi SF Minnesota
12. Nick Collison PF Seattle 27. Kendrick Perkins C Memphis (traded to Boston)
13. Marcus Banks PG Memphis 28. Leandro Barbosa SG San Antonio (traded to Phoenix)
14. Luke Ridnour PG Seattle 29. Josh Howard F Dallas
15. Reece Gaines F/G Orlando


All Stars

Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh , Chris Kaman, Dwayne Wade, David West, Josh Howard, Mo Williams, Kyle Korver


Notable Role Players


Kyle Korver, James Jones, Mo Williams, Matt Bonner, Keith Bogans, Zaza Pachulia, Mickael Pietrus, Willie Green, Steve Blake, Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa, Carlos Delfino, Brian Cook, Travis Outlaw, Boris Diaw, Dahntay Jones, Luke Ridnour, Marcus Banks, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Jarvis Hayes, T.J. Ford, Chris Kaman, 


Bust (top 5 draft pick who never became an All Star)


Steal of the Draft: Lebron James. Again, it is difficult to call a number one pick a steal in any draft, but if you consider the effect this pick had on the city and the franchise (and consider the number of lottery picks that would not work out for Cleveland over the next decade and a half), then you understand why I chose Lebron for steal of the draft. Lebron brought Cleveland its first championship in half a century and made the Cavaliers (and the city of Cleveland) relevant in the sports world. James will get a statue out in front of Cleveland’s basketball arena and will go down as one of the top 10 players to ever lace them up. 


Notable Undrafted


Marquis Daniels, Josh Powell, Matt Carroll, Jose Calderon


NBA Champions


Carlos Delfino (2004), Chris Bosh ( 2012,2013), Lebron James (2012,2013,2016), James Jones (2012,2013,2016), Dwayne Wade (2006,2012, 2013), Dahntay Jones (2016), Kendrick Perkins (2008), Darko Milicic (2004), Luke Walton (2009,2010), Leandro Barbosa (2015), Boris Diaw (2014), Matt Bonner(2007,2014), Mo “Man, I thought we was Thundercats” Williams (2016), David West (2017,2018) Zaza Pachulia (2017,2018)


Draft Notes

  • Darko Milicic the accidental muse, birthed a movement of basketball writers to name a writing collective after him. Had Detroit any player in the top ten, I think they would have won more titles during their reign as the top dogs in the Eastern Conference. I’m not entirely convinced the Pistons would’ve traded for Rasheed Wallace in 2004 had they drafted CarmeloAnthony (or that Melo and Larry Brown would’ve been able to co-exist). But I do think Chris Bosh (or even Chris Kaman) surely would’ve bolstered their already stout front line ( I don’t think Dwayne Wade would’ve flourished in such a crowded backcourt with Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton at the helm. I’m sure Wade himself has no bones to pick about getting drafted by Miami instead of Detroit.)
  • Lebron James and Kyle Korver are the last remaining players from this draft to be on an NBA active roster.
  • The Phoenix Suns would come up short again and again in the Western Conference during the “:07 Seconds or Less” era. If you notice their pick at #17, they went with Zarko Cabarkapa. It is hard not to wonder how players like Josh Howard (the last pick of the round) or David West (who went next at the 18th pick) would’ve fit in on those early small-ball Suns teams, and wonder if that would’ve been enough to get them over the hump against the Lakers, Spurs, or Mavericks (who actually drafted Josh Howard). Of course, chances are that Robert Sarver would’ve traded them for peanuts, once their rookie contracts ended; or just let them walk for nothing. 
  • At one point, #8 draft pick T.J. Ford was known as the fastest player in the league. An absolute joy to watch at the University of Texas (see College Basketball chapter), Ford’s career was short by a degenerative spinal injury that was aggravated for good by a dirty pick by the Nets Kenyon Martin. Ford had actually declared early for the 2003 draft after a decorated sophomore season where he led to Texas Longhorns to their second Final Four in school history. After the season was over, Ford bruised his spine in a pickup game on campus and it was adios to Austin and hola to the NBA. While we’re talking about it (and as much as it hurts to say this), the Bulls took the wrong point guard in Kirk Hinrich, but I understand why they made that pick (Hinrich was a midwestern white guy who could hoop, and there is a large University of Kansas alumni contingent in Chicago.) In hindsight, I think that was a pick made more for getting butts in the seats than winning games–not that it would’ve made a huge difference; there were a lot of teams better than the Bulls in that decade (and the decade after that). Who knows? Perhaps having a true point guard in T.J. Ford (always felt like Hinrich should’ve been playing at the 2 instead of  the Bulls forcing him play point after Jay Williams near fatal motorcycle crash) would’ve been worth 10 wins and instead of finishing eighth in their division, they finish sixth.


And the Winner of the 2003 draft is: The Miami Heat.

In 2011,  the Heat signed free agents, Lebron James and Chris Bosh to play alongisde Dwayne Wade in their primes. This was effectively having the #1, 3, and 5 draft picks from that draft. They went on to win–not one, but–two NBA titles in a run of four straight NBA Finals.



profile pic b mick  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


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