[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.
2011 First Round Picks
||16. Nikola Vucevic C Philadelphia|
|2. Derrick Williams SF/PF MIN||17. Iman Shumpert SG New York|
|3. Enes Kanter C Utah||18. Chris Stapleton SF Washington|
|4. Tristan Thompson C Cleveland||19. Tobias Harris SF Charlotte (traded to Milwaukee)|
|5. Jonas Valanciunas C Toronto||20. Donatas Motiejunas PF Minnesota (traded to Houston)|
|6. Jan Vesely PF Washington||21. Nolan Smith PG Portland|
|7. Bismack Biyombo C Sacramento (traded to Charlotte||22. Kenneth Faried PF Denver|
|8. Brandon Knight PG Detroit||23. Nikola Mirotic PF Houston (traded to Mirotic)|
|9. Kemba Walker PG Charlotte||24. Reggie Jackson PG Oklahoma City|
|10. Jimmer Fredette SG Sacramento||25. Marshon Brooks SG Boston (traded to New Jersey)|
|11. Klay Thompson SG Golden State||26. Jordan Hamilton SG Dallas (traded to Denver)|
|12. Alec Burks SG Utah||27. Jajuan Johnson PF New Jersey (traded to Boston)|
|13. Markieff Morris PF Suns||28. Norris Cole PG Chicago (traded to Miami)|
|14. Marcus Morris PF Rockets||29. Cory Joseph PG San Antonio|
|15. Kawhi Leonard SF Indiana (traded to San Antonio)||Jimmy Butler SG Chicago|
Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Vucevic
Notable Role Players
Norris Cole, Jonas Valuciunas, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson, Cory Joseph, Enes Kanter, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Bismack Biyambo, Kenneth Faried, Brandon Knight, Bojan Bgdanovic, Shelvin Mack, Davis Bertans
Derrick Thompson, Jan Vasely, Jimmer Fredette, Brandon Knight, Derrick Williams, Bismack Biyombo, Jonas Valaciunas, Enes Kanter
Steal of the Draft
Jimmy Butler easily with the 30th pick of the draft.The guard out of Marquette was drafted to be a defensive specialist, but soon worked himself into a viable offensive option and eventually into an Olympian. Now Jimmy Butler is known throughout the NBA as one of the best two way players in the league (considering there may only be ten legitimate two way players left).
Zoran Dragic, Justin Holiday
Kyrie Irving (2016), Klay Thompson (2015, 2017, 2018),Cory Joseph (2014) , Iman Shumpert (2016), Tristan Thompson (2016), Kawhi Leonard (2014, 2019)
- Kyrie was the number one pick out of Duke after playing 14 games entire season
- Of the top 15 players drafted, other than Klay Thompson, can you think of a player who made more of an impact in the league than Kawhi Leonard?
- Klay Thompson best two way player at his position, and won multiple titles at Golden state as one half of the splash brothers. Sacramento can kick themselves for drafting Jimmer Fredette a pick ahead of Thompson, but management would’ve found a way to stunt his growth, or alienate him to the point where he would leave for another team. Then again, a building around a core of Thompson and (pre-injury)Boogie Cousins could change any team’s fortunes–even the Sacramento Kings.
- Isiaiah Thomas, out of Washington, was the last player picked this draft. He worked himself into an all star, and was in line for a massive contract, but that was derailed by a hip injury that he aggravated in the playoffs playing for the Boston Celtics. The next season, he was traded for Kyrie Irving.
- Detroit found another way to shoot themselves in the foot, drafting Brandon Knight one slot ahead of Kemba Walker; a point guard from the northeast who could’ve matched the grit of a blue collar town like Detroit and would’ve certainly been a fan favorite there.
- In hindsight, Klay Thompson probably should’ve been picked at number 2 behind Kyrie Irving (Not even the Spurs knew that Kawhi Leonard would become the player that he turned out to be).
- Three of the best two-way players in the league came from this draft with Thompson, Leonard, and Butler.
And the Winner of the 2011 Draft is…
The Golden State Warriors. Klay Thompson not only became one of the most recognizable faces of the league, but made a name for himself as one the most clutch, earning the nickname “Game 6 Klay”. The Warriors also managed to select one of the best shooting, shooting guards in league history. So far, they have three NBA titles to show for it. No other team in this draft yielded as high a return on their investment as Golden State did (Sorry Spurs fans!). In conclusion, Jerry West knows basketball.
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