[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.
1996 First Round
||16. Tony Delk G Charlotte|
|2. Marcus Camby C TOR||17. Jermaine O’ Neal F Portland|
|3. Shareef Abdur Rahim Van||18. John Wallace F New York|
|4. Stephon Marbury G Mil (traded to Minnesota)||19. Walter McCarty F New York|
|5. Ray Allen G, Minnesota (traded to Milwaukee||20. Zydrunas Ilgauskas C Cleveland|
|6. Antoine Walker F Boston||21. Dontae Jones F New York|
|7. Lorenzen Wright C Los Angeles Clippers||22. Roy Rogers F Vancouver|
|8. Kerry Kittle G New Jersey||23. Efthimios Rentzias C Denver|
|9. Samaki Walker F Dallas||24. Derek Fisher G Los Angeles|
|10. Erick Dampier C Indiana||25. Martin Muursepp F Utah (traded to Miami)|
|11. Todd Fuller C Golden State||26. Jerome Williams F Detroit|
|12. Vitaly Potapenko C Cleveland||27. Brian Evans F Orlando|
|13. Kobe Bryant G Charlotte (traded to Lakers)||28. Priest Lauderdale C Atlanta|
|14. Peja Stojakovic F Sacramento||29. Travis Knight C Chicago|
|15. Steve Nash G Phoenix|
Zydrunas Illguaskas, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakic, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Antoine Walker, Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Ray Allen
Notable Role Players
Malik Rose, Othello Harrington, Jermaine O’Neal, Erick Dampier, Lorenzen Wright, Derek Fisher, Kerry Kittles, Marcus Camby, Peja Stojakovic, Samaki Walker, Tony Delk, Zydrunas Illgauskas, John Wallace, Jerome Williams
Erick Dampier, Marcus Camby
Draft Day Steal:
Kobe Bryant with the 13th pick is the easiest choice; considering the players who were chosen before him (only five of the twelve players taken before Bryant made an All Star Game). Although Steven Nash went two spots after Bryant, Nash never won a title, and actually left Phoenix for a spell, before returning back to the Suns during the peak stretch of his career. Draft lore reads that Kobe leveraged his way down the draft by refusing to work out for certain teams and informing others that if they drafted him, he would sit out rather than play. Some teams took his bluff seriously while behind the scenes, Jerry West was working the Hornets to draft and trade Bryant in exchange for Vlade Divac.
Notable undrafted players
Erick Strickland, Chucky Atkins, Adrian Griffin, Darvin Ham
Kobe Bryant (2000,2001,2002,2009,2010), Ray Allen (2008, 2013), Derek Fisher (2000, 2001,2002,2009,2010), Darvin Ham (2004), Peja Stojakovic(2011) , Samaki Walker(2002), Travis Knight (2000), Malik Rose (1999, 2003), Antoine Walker (2006)
- In 2016, Kobe Bryant was the last player from this draft to retire.
- This was my generation’s version of the 1984 draft. Kobe Bryant went on to become a poor man’s Michael Jordan (which I guess makes Nash this generation’s John Stockton[Stockton of course was a much better defender. He still leads the league in All Time steals and assists.])–winning more titles than anyone else in his draft class. No one knew this yet, but the Lakers GM Jerry West’s draft day trade with the Charlotte Hornets would shift the power of the NBA back to the Western Conference (and subsequently , back to Los Angeles). We all know what followed next; as the Lakers signed Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent, and paired the two with Phil Jackson. The Lakers under the direction of Bryant and Jackson would win five titles in a 10 year period (Shaq would contribute to the first three titles before taking his talents to South Beach).
- The East would only win 3 titles during this decade run: Detroit (2004), Miami (2006) and Boston (2008). The Spurs were the only other team from the Western Conference to win championships in this period (2003,2005,2007).
- Derek Fisher won 5 chips but I’m sure that had something to do with playing with Kobe. One of the beauties of the Triangle Offense is that it found a way for players like D. Fish to have an impact on the game despite being the 9th or tenth best player on the court at any given time.
- To be fair, there is no evidence to support that any of the franchises (save Indiana) that passed on Kobe Bryant would’ve been able to put Bryant in the position to be the winner that we know today. Most of these franchises were in the lottery for a reason. Although it is frightening to imagine (both on and off the court) a Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett led Timberwolves squad.
And the Winner is………..
The Los Angeles Lakers, of course; with five Finals wins in seven appearances during Bryant’s entire career. Not that every other team drafted poorly, on the contrary; this is one of the best in NBA history. It just shows you how dominant Kobe’s Lakers were during his peak years. There were five franchise players picked in this round, but only Ray Allen came close to sniffing the post season success that Kobe Bryant achieved (R.I.P.) as a Laker; winning two titles of his own late into his career.
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