In Retrospect: Examining the 1996 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.

 

1996 First Round

  1. Allen Iverson G PHI
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

 

All Stars

 

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

 

Busts

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

 

NBA Champions

 

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)

 

Draft Notes:

  • 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.

 

 

BM

 

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 thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

Before He was the GOAT: Excerpt from Tao of The Passing Big Man, and other Essays

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. 

 

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“When I first saw Michael play, I recognized there was a different era coming in. In my time, I believe the best all around player has been Magic Johnson. The best defensive player has been Michael Cooper. And in a few more years Michael Jordan will be the best player there ever was.”

Larry Bird excerpt from his autobiography, “Drive”

Even though Michael Jordan spent his final two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards, many fans’ lasting impression of number 23 is his jump shot over Bryon Russell as a Chicago Bull. It is easy to get blinded by the flashy dunks and dizzying highlights. Sure MJ had the Gatorade commercials, and the Nike and McDonald’s advertisements because he was such an exciting player to watch, but the reason Michael Jordan is held in such high reverence is because he really was the “Greatest of All Time”.

We can talk about his 6-0 record in the NBA Finals and six Finals MVP’s, his five regular season MVP’s, his ten scoring titles, and 14 All-Star appearances, but many people forget that he was also the best defensive player at his position. Jordan made First Team All-Defensive in nine of his seasons, led the league in steals three times, and during his 1988 campaign when he averaged 32 points per game, he was the defensive player of the year.

Before Michael Jordan’s ascent, the NBA was ruled by big men. Giants like Lew Alcindor, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain (and George Mikan before them) dominated the game. It was a conventional belief around the league that in order to win NBA titles consistently, you had to have a fixture at the center position to anchor your team. At 6’6, Jordan not only defied these conventions, he changed the league entirely; sparking the shift to a league full of wings and guards beating their defenders en route to gravity defying dunks.

Before he was hitting iconic game winning shots against Utah and Cleveland, he was hitting game winning jumpers to win NCAA games against Georgetown, Duke, NC State, and Maryland.

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Jordan himself says that there would be no Michael Jordan without Dean Smith. Jordan says that after his parents, Dean Smith left the biggest imprint on who he became. Many ignorantly say that Dean Smith was the only man who could hold Jordan under 20 points, but he averaged 20 his sophomore year in college, and his junior year he hit 19.6 points per game (There was no shot clock or 3 point line back then either for what it is worth).

 

Early criticisms of Jordan’s NBA career was that he was a great scorer, but couldn’t get his teammates involved. Although this was warranted, looking back it was hard to blame him. Jordan had a better basketball coach, and better teammates (even better workout facilities) at Chapel Hill than he did during his early years in the NBA. At North Carolina, Jordan played with future Hall of Famer James Worthy (the 1982 NCAA Tourney Most Outstanding player with 28 points in the championship game on 13 of 17 shooting), Jimmy Black, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Kenny Smith (2 time NBA Champion), and Brad Daugherty (5 time NBA All Star). 

At Carolina, Jordan had arguably most talent he’d ever play with in the 1982 and 1984 seasons, and his passing skills really showed– he almost always made the correct basketball play even back then. It was at North Carolina where he mastered the fundamentals of passing, rebounding, moving without the ball, and defending. Not only did Jordan have Dean Smith as his head coach, but during the Jordan era, Coach Smith had an impeccable roster of assistant coaches in Eddie Fogler, Roy Williams (the man credited with recruiting Jordan), and Bill Gutheridge.

The Media and today’s fans like to debate, who was the greatest MJ, Kobe, or Lebron like hip hop fans used to argue Biggie, Jay-Z, or Nas. But there is no debate. Kobe Bryant (R.I.P.) was a notorious ball hog (who was actually a really good passer when he wanted to be one) who could be goaded into taking a slew of bad shots under the right circumstances (shooting the Lakers out of the 2004 and 2008 Finals). Although Lebron will amass many gaudy stats and break a lot of records, many fans will point to his six losses in the NBA Finals, and proclivity to play “too passive” in key situations early on in his playoff career (we might be having an entirely different conversation today about Lebron if not for a historic collapse by the Golden State Warriors in 2016, and a Ray Allen clutch 3 pointer in 2013).

In short, Kobe may have been too selfish offensively and Lebron may not have been selfish enough. Michael (if I may be so bold to call him by his first name) was the perfect balance of the two, as one can point to his willingness to take over games when needed or make the game winning pass; as seen in the 1993 and 1997 Finals to John Paxson, and then Steve Kerr.

There was no weakness to Jordan’s game. He was a prolific scorer, a lockdown defender, and an underrated passer. He could drive to the basket and smack the ball into the defender’s face after posterizing them, or stop short and loft a floater in the lane, or he could just beat people by shooting over them from long distance.

Looking at both Lebron and Kobe’s careers, it makes you wonder what would their careers been like had they even played at least one year in college. Kobe would’ve played at Duke for Coach K, instead of Del Harris, and Lebron would’ve played for Thad Motta at Ohio State instead of the legendary Paul Silas. It seems petty to even speculate how much “better” two of the most elite players of their generations could’ve been (as I write this, I’m actually realizing that Kobe went to 7 NBA Finals in the span of a decade), but its necessary to illustrate the gap between those two first ballot HOF players and Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

It is a completely different conversation (for what it is worth, Kobe came pretty damn close) when you are talking about Jordan, and if you weren’t around to see him play in the 90’s then its not easy to understand. Statistics won’t tell the whole story about how truly dominant Jordan was and why he is is the elite among the elite. I think the biggest difference between Jordan, Kobe and Lebron, is that neither Lebron; nor Kobe had the tutelage of Dean Smith and Jordan did.

Jordan’s early development at the collegiate game was a direct testament to picking the right college and the right college coach in Dean Smith; who many consider the best teacher of the game in his time. Jordan most certainly would’ve still been the athletic freak that you see in his vintage highlight clips, but mentally and fundamentally, he may not have hit his apex had he gone to any other school in the country.

Former Tarheel, Kenny Smith, once said that “Michael Jordan was Dean Smith if Dean Smith still played basketball” and “that rarely do you see a player be the best athlete in a sport and be the most fundamentally sound.” Jordan was both. Oh yeah, (Kenny) Smith said that Jordan never took a bad shot. Think about that for a minute.

Quite often people reference the game winning jumper that Jordan hit during the 1982 championship game against Georgetown as if that told the whole story. Michael Jordan had 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting, but he also had 9 key rebounds, 2 steals and 2 steals. Even then, Jordan was focused on becoming a complete player. If he were just a scorer, he would’ve found it hard to even get off the bench during a championship game as a freshman, making it highly unlikely for a young player in that situation to find himself taking the game winning shot.

As for that game winning jumper, even Jordan admits that is when everything changed for him. He is quoted as saying “after that shot, he went from being Mike, to Michael Jordan”, and the rest as they say, is basketball history.

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Illustration by “Sweet” Lou Eastman

 

 

BM

 

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 thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

 

How to Age As A Fan: Jordan Paladino

 

When Kobe Bryant announced his retirement, part of me felt as resigned as Mr. Bean Bryant. Growing up as a Celtics and Blazers fan, there shouldn’t have been any way I’d feel bad for Kobe. He was the guy who handed the Trail Blazers the worst Western Conference Finals loss I can remember and the overall worst loss in my life as a sports fan (2010 NBA Finals Game 7).

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Kobe is just one of the guys who made sports what it is to me today. When Kobe is gone, it’ll just be Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan left for me to cling to as a late 90’s NBA fan. Garnett is going to retire after this season, Ray Allen hasn’t played anytime recently, and likely won’t. Living in the listicle era, everyone has been posting their top 10 NBA players of all time, and many people have Kobe as the second best shooting guard of all time, behind Michael Jordan. As an overall player, I don’t how why Duncan isn’t ranked ahead of Kobe, but that’s ultimately semantics.

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Kobe was a player I’d hated my whole life, until he tore his Achilles ’13. I had started to respect Kobe after the 2012 Olympics though. Seeing what intangibles a player needed to win the way Bryant did coincided with my turn from being a fan of teams, to being a fan of players and the sport itself.

Kobe was gutsy. He was arrogant. He took Brandy to prom. In hating him and spending so much time thinking about Bryant, I realized that I respected him, and wished he’d been on any team I’d rooted for. How could you not want a guy who wanted the ball in the last :45 seconds of a game?

 

Kobe Bryant in the 2015/2016 season, however, isn’t that guy. I can’t honestly remember seeing someone so good be so bad. I’d say I feel bad for Kobe, but I respect the guy too much to feel bad. Rather, I feel sad. This is the first time I can recall in my sporting fan life where I’ve seen someone lose it so hard. It’s hard not to be affected by it. It is like seeing your father forget that he just asked you what the movie you just saw was, or when your grandparents send you the birthday check they’d meant to send to your other cousin who’s birthday is nowhere near yours.

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As we get older, our capacity for empathy and how we see life changes and softens. No longer are we hardwired to hate basketball players for any reason other than spousal abuse or latent homophobia. If sports is a microcosm of greater society, seeing someone age should alarm us before it fills us with joy. In seeing Kobe breakdown, let us take a minute to appreciate how special Tim Duncan has been. These guys aren’t going to be around forever, and neither are we.

 

SONG OF THE WEEK:

Kevin Abstract – “Echo”

 

Jordan Paladino is a Portland comedian, rapper, and writer for the show “Who’s the Ross?” He is a staunch defender of all things Lebron James, Drake and Kanye West. He is also a KD hater. I try not to hold these things against him.