In the midst of a fascinating, if occasionally bafflingly awful, finals series between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, a rather significant event which is due to take place two days after the hypothetical Game 7 was scheduled is becoming rather forgotten about: the 2012 NBA draft.
Part of the reason for that is that few people believe that there are many interesting prospects once inevitable first overall pick Anthony Davis is taken off the board by the New Orleans Hornets (and how convenient for a team going nowhere in a city that doesn’t care about them managed to get the first overall pick JUST BEFORE they were sold to a new owner). This is perhaps a little harsh on guys like Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, even the fake Andrew Sanders (Tyler Zeller). Guys like Harrison Barnes, however, are a little less exciting for fans given the lack of clarity on exactly how effective these less-than-stellar college players are likely to be in the NBA.
Part of the charm of the draft, along with the hyped picks of the lottery who end up being busts, are the college big guys (inevitably well short of seven feet tall) who end up being perfectly serviceable NBA power forwards. Tyler Hansbrough, DeJuan Blair, Paul Millsap, Carlos Boozer were all relatively unheralded coming into the league (although Hansbrough was still a lottery pick) but have all been able to fill a role. In this years draft, I’m going to put Draymond Green (currently predicted to drop to the bottom of the first round, although concerns over Jared Sullinger’s back might see them swap places if a team is looking for a combative big man) from Michigan State in that role this season. He has improved year on year in college and comes from the Tom Izzo production line of hard workers. If he can adopt the Kevin Love approach and get his weight under control, he could be the steal of the draft.
In advance of next week’s draft, The Courtside Collective will take you for a walk down memory lane to visit the ghosts of drafts past…
We’ll begin in 2000. That year, the first overall pick was Kenyon Martin and the lottery picks were filled out with household names like Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Mike Miller, DerMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm, Jerome Moiso, and Mateen Cleaves. The second round featured players who went on to have significant European careers like Igor Rakocevic and Pete Mickeal. Arguably the best pick was the 43rd overall: when the Milwaukee Bucks selected Michael Redd.
In 2001, the Washington Wizards picked Kwame Brown first overall, selecting him ahead of Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Gilbert Arenas and Mehmet Okur. One could certainly argue the virtue of any of these players against the steal of that particular draft, Tony Parker.
2002 was not a particularly great draft class. Yao Ming, sadly out of the league with serious foot problems, went first ahead of Jay Williams (who never recovered from a motorcycle accident), Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden, Dajaun Wagner, Nene and Chris Wilcox before the Phoenix Suns picked troubled 19-year old High Schooler, Amar’e Stoudemire. Further down the draft order came Carlos Boozer and Argentinian star Luis Scola.
Of course, 2003 was the draft that history might well remember as the greatest ever, bringing Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into the league. You could even cite draft class alum like Chris Kaman, Kirk Hinrich, Mickael Pietrus, Nick Collison, David West, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, James Jones, Matt Bonner, Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Walton and Jason Kapono, not to mention 47th overall pick Mo Williams as ample reason to support this as the greatest ever draft. Of course, the presence of Darko Milicic at second overall rather spoils the picture, but anyone who has ever seen Darko play in the flesh cannot help but note that he’s not that bad. Certainly no worse than Michael Olowakandi, anyway. Darko will forever be cursed with Sam Bowie syndrome, the “I can’t believe they picked him instead of him” discussions which permeate all draft conversations after the fact, but particularly so when you end up getting picked ahead of Michael Jordan or any of those guys above.
In 2004, there was some debate as to which big man would be picked first: raw high schooler Dwight Howard or polished UConn centre Emeka Okafor. Ben Gordon went third, before Shaun Livingston (I still cringe even thinking about what happened to his knee), Devin Harris, Josh Childress and Luol Deng. Deng was part of the Phoenix Suns attempt to totally butcher the final years of Steve Nash’s career, particularly when we consider that Childress, a player who makes no tangible contributions to the Suns, was the one of these two who ended up playing alongside Nash. Deng was traded to Chicago. Further down, Andre Igoudala, Kris Humphries (before he became a total joke thanks to his marriage to…even though only a few people will read this, I refuse to give someone who is only famous for being in a sex tape any publicity…you know who), Al Jefferson, JR Smith, Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, Anderson Varejao, even Chris Duhon have all become serviceable professionals.
2005 saw more poor decision making. Although Milwaukee have been rather unlucky with the way Andrew Bogut’s career has panned out, Marvin Williams over Deron Williams AND Chris Paul is unforgivable. What Atlanta could have been with either player… Andrew Bynum went tenth and Danny Granger went 17th but there are other players who have arguably had just as impressive careers as Marvin Williams in Lou Williams (45th), Monta Ellis (40th), Brandon Bass (33rd), or David Lee (30th). Other players who failed to set the league alight included Williams’ UNC colleagues Sean May and Rashad McCants.
2006 was another bad draft year. Andrea Bargniani went first to Toronto ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge. Then came Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, Patrick O’Bryant, Mouhamed Sene, Hilton Armstrong…although these picks were broken up by those of Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and JJ Redick. Rajon Rondo dropped to 22nd. Steve Novak was also drafted by the Houston Rockets (interestingly a pick that was originally New York’s). Down at pick 47 was Utah’s Paul Millsap.
In 2007 all the hype was about Oden or Durant? Portland took the gamble on the Ohio State big man who apparently had one leg longer than the other over the precocious talent of the Texas…well whatever position you would say Durant is. Other picks in this draft included Joakim Noah at nine, after Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer and Brandan Wright. Were any of these guys better picks than the super-athletic Rudy Fernandez? Aaron Brooks and Arron Afflalo at 26 and 27? Big Baby Glen Davis at 35? Way down at 48 came Marc Gasol. I’ll stick my neck out and say that every team who picked after Mike Conley Jr. came off the board at four would probably take their pick back to get Gasol.
The following season came another serious debate which is hard to comprehend in hindsight. This time it was Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley? The Chicago Bulls famously won this draft lottery and selected the lightning fast Memphis guard who may or may not have attended any classes during his time in Conference USA. Another who was in the first-pick conversation early on was O.J. Mayo, a player who deliberately went to USC in order to “develop his brand”. After Mayo came Russell Westbrook, then Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari and Eric Gordon, all guys who have developed highly promising NBA careers already. There then came a bit of a retrospective lull, with Milwaukee making the classic mistake of picking an athletic white guy in Joe Alexander (out of the league already), followed by a series of competent but unspectacular picks like DJ Augustin, Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson, Brandon Rush, Anthony Randolph and the Lopez twins, who seem unable to grab significant rebounding figures despite both being seven feet tall. Down at 18 came Roy Hibbert, a guy who surely played his way into a more-than-he-deserves contract either this summer or next when he enters unrestricted free agency. The second round of this particular draft was actually fairly typical, with very few guys ever making an impact on the NBA. Forty-fifth pick Goran Dragic being one notable exception to a rule where Australian big Nathan Jawai flattered to deceive along with jumping jacks Bill Walker and James Gist. Smarter picks were evident, such as the Trail Blazers’ selection of Omer Asik, and Minnesota’s pick of Mario Chalmers at 34 (both men were of course traded).
Another debate occurred in 2009, except it was over who would go AFTER Blake Griffin was taken first overall. Griffin of course missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, which he has exploded back from in a way many feared would not be possible. Memphis picked UConn giant Hasheem Thabeet who has ended up averaging fewer than three rebounds a game and a disappointing 0.8 blocks per game. Slightly better selections were James Harden at three and Tyreke Evans at four before Minnesota went PGCRAZY (this was an impressive draft for guards, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison were also taken) picking Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with successive picks, then taking Ty Lawson at 18. Bizarrely, they traded Lawson, who had arguably been a more impressive point guard in college than Flynn, as impressive as Flynn was in that crazy Syracuse season (which included that six OT game in the NCAA tournament), to Denver and were unable to secure Rubio’s release until roughly a year ago. Golden State took Stephen Curry after Flynn was off the board and, ankle issues aside, Curry has impressed with his accurate shooting. Jordan Hill, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Terrence Williams and Gerald Henderson were all then picked before UNC star Tyler Hansbrough was picked by Indiana. The second round saw some very effective NBA players drafted. Would teams trade DeJuan Blair, Jonas Jerebko, Jodie Meeks, Chase Budinger or Danny Green for Christian Eyenga, Victor Claver or BJ Mullens? Probably. Would Memphis take anyone over Thabeet? Well, maybe, but that’s the luck of the draft. And that’s why you do your research, NBA execs!
Given the fact that Blake Griffin’s rookie year was delayed a full season, the draft class of 2010 was enhanced by Griffin’s rookie season, which probably robbed John Wall of the rookie of the year award. The Kentucky guard was taken first by the Washington Wizards before Buckeye Evan Turner. This draft class was, however weakened but the strength of those players who left a season earlier. Once you get past the promising Derrick Favors at three and Greg Monroe at seven you could easily make the argument that the Celtic’s Avery Bradley (19th) or possible Eric Bledsoe (18th) were the next best selections. Among those taken in the lottery were the entirely underwhelming Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh, Al-Farouq Aminu, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry (who had been in the first overall discussions well in advance of the draft), Patrick Patterson and Larry Sanders. DeMarcus Cousins still promises about as much as he threatens to totally lose the plot.
And so we arrive at the 2011 draft. Again, there was debate: Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams. Not really a debate we would have even three months into the lockout-shortened season. Irving featured in the all-rookie team along with Ricky Rubio (who eventually made it across the Atlantic to great success), Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Iman Shumpert and Brandon Knight. Would teams give back their selections of guys like Williams, Enes Kanter (3rd), Tristan Thompson (4th), Bismack Biyombo (7th), Jimmer Fredette (10th and who was usurped by 60th overall selection Isaiah Thomas by the end of the season) or the Morris twins? Leonard in particular fell to 15th and Faried was taken by Denver at 22nd. Both had impressive seasons which extended into the playoffs. Then again, perhaps if they’d been given a worse situation than the San Antonio Spurs or the Nuggets, they would have struggled as well. We are still to see the likes of Jonas Valančiūnas, who is coming off a FIBA European Player of the Year award, so perhaps we might yet look back fondly upon the 2011 draft.