[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.
2007 First Round
||16. Nick Young SG Wizards|
|2. Kevin Durant F, Seattle||17. Sean Williams PF New Jersey|
|3. Al Horford C Atlanta||18. Marco Bellinelli SG Golden State|
|4. Mike Conley Jr. PG Memphis||19. Jarvis Crittenton PG Los Angeles Clippers|
|5. Jeff Green SF Boston (Traded to Seattle)||20. Jason Smith PF Miami (traded to Philadelphia)|
|6. Yi Jianlin PF Milwaukee||21. Daequan Cook SG Philadelphia (traded to Miami)|
|7. Corey Brewer SF Minnesota||22. Jared Dudley SF Charlotte|
|8. Brandon Wright PF Charlotte (traded to Golden State)||23. Wilson Chandler SF New York|
|9. Joakim Noah C Chicago||24. Rudy Fernandez SG Phoenix (traded to Portland)|
|10. Spencer Hawes C Sacramento||25. Morris Almond SG Utah|
|11. Acie Law G Atlanta||26. Aaron Brooks PG Houston|
|12. Thaddeus Young PF Philadelphia||27. Arron Afflalo SG Detroit|
|13. Julian Wright SF New Orleans||28. Tiago Splitter C San Antonio|
|14. Al Thornton SF Los Angeles Clippers||29. Alando Tucker SF Phoenix|
|15. Rodney Stuckey SG, Pistons|
Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah
Notable Role players Drafted This Round
Ramon Sessions,Glen “Big Baby” Davis,Carl Landry,Arron Afflalo,Aaron Brooks,Tiago Splitter,Rudy Fernandez,Wilson Chandler,Jared Dudley,Daquan Cook,Rodney Stuckey,Nick Young,Thaddeus Young,Spencer Hawes,Corey Brewer,Jeff Green,Joakim Noah, Marco Bellinelli,
First Round Busts
Greg Oden, Wright, Javaris Crittendon, Brandon Wright, Yi Janlian
Steal of the draft: Marc Gasol with the 48th pick. Gasol turned into an All NBA defender, and was a key mid season trade acquisition for the 2019 Champion Toronto Raptors. He along with Mike Conley became the cornerstones of the “Grit N Grind” era Grizzlies.
Notable Undrafted: Anthony Tolliver, Gary Neal, Joel Anthony
Kevin Durant (2017,2018) Tiago Splitter (2014) Glen Davis (2008) Marco Bellinelli (2014) Corey Brewer(2011) Marc Gasol (2019) Nick Young (2018) Joel Anthony (2012,2013)
Draft Day Notes :
- Mike Conley is one of the few top 5 picks to never make an All Star Team and not be considered a bust. Conley is like a NFL quarterback without any weapons on offense. The only players that Conley ever had to help him on offense have been Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. If I were coaching a young point guard, I would make them watch countless hours of Mike Conley game footage to help them understand how to run an offense. There are few point guards in the league who can control an offense as efficiently as Mike Conley Jr. Conley also had the misfortune of playing in the West (why isn’t Memphis in the Eastern Conference?) during the point god renaissance and was always overlooked in favor of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Steph Curry, Tony Parker, and Chris Paul. Now pretty much washed, Conley may never get his true due as a high level point guard.
- Portland–not understanding they were doomed to repeat team history–passed on a generational talent in the draft to select a player based on need–and again it was a big man who never got his career off the ground in the way a number one draft pick is expected to perform. Greg Oden didn’t even stay in the league as long 1984 pick Sam Bowie. Oden had 3 micro-fracture surgeries on his knees in a five year period and was unable to stay healthy enough to make an impact on his Blazers’ teams success. He played fine when he could play, averaging almost a double-double in his first two seasons. Durant of course became an all world player, winning Olympics medals, scoring titles, ten All star game appearances, a league MVP, and 2 Finals MVP’s on the way to two championships–not to mention millions of dollars in endorsements.
- If it were true what Portland apologists say–that the Trailblazers didn’t need another wing player; they needed a rim protector in the paint, then the proper selection of that particular draft would’ve been Al Horford (in hindsight). Portland could’ve easily swapped picks with the Atlanta Hawks and still gotten Horford without paying him as the number one pick in the draft. Who is to say that anyone could’ve foreseen Oden having injury problems? I certainly didn’t, but I’d watched enough ball that season to see that Oden’s body might not be able to handle his frame. Even I could see that there might be some problems, especially with him already missing most of his freshman year with a broken hand. Although, to be fair, he was a monster on the defensive end of the court when he played at Ohio State.On the other hand, Portland could’ve had a front line of AL Horford, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum, with Joel Pryzbilla, Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw, and Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench. Oh yeah, by the way, Brandon Roy was the starting point guard. Blazers went 54-28 that season and finished 2nd in the Pacific Division to the West champion Los Angeles Lakers, but maybe they actually make a deep run instead getting knocked out in the first round to the Houston Rockets. There is no telling how far a big 3 of Aldridge, Horford, and Roy would have taken them during that Brandon Roy era. Portland would continue to make the playoffs, only to be formidable playoff opponents that ultimately fell in the first round–their win total decreasing each season. Eventually, head coach Nate McMillan would lose his job, and the Blazers would miss the playoffs two consecutive seasons. In short, that blown lottery pick set the team back half a decade, and it took drafting Weber State’s Damien Lillard (after Brandon Roy’s degenerative knee condition forced him to retire early) to turn the franchise around again.
- Jeff Green got traded to the SuperSonics that night, but Boston came calling again years later, when they broke up their mini-dynasty and traded defensive specialist Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. Boston would never got back to the NBA Finals after trading Perkins; falling again and again to the Lebron James led Miami Heat.
And the Winner is:
Oklahoma City. They pulled off the heist of the century in stealing an entire NBA franchise
(with the help of David Stern) and moving them to the midwest. Kevin Durant would become the face of the franchise, and OKC would end up with two more lottery picks that would become league MVP’s (more on that later). Seattle to this day still doesn’t have an NBA team, and the league is worse off for not having teams in Vancouver and Seattle. Maybe that will change by the time this book is published. One can only hope.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org