I’ve never been a fan of the team grades handed out by “draft experts” on the day after the NBA draft. It’s nearly impossible to earn an A unless your team a) had two or more first-round selections or b) made a big draft-night trade. But shouldn’t a team such as New Orleans in 2005 earn an A simply for drafting Chris Paul?
There are also only two ways to get an F: make a big (unpopular) trade or draft someone universally seen as a reach. But shouldn’t Washington have gotten an F in 2001 for taking Kwame Brown first overall? See, that’s what frustrates me the most about post-draft grades: they have no meaning until a player steps on the court and performs. Obviously, half the fun of the draft is discussing which teams did well and which teams didn’t, but we never really know the lasting impact of a draft until several years down the road. Fortunately, it just so happens that we are, at this moment, several years down the road from a whole bunch of NBA drafts. What follows is a look at the five most recent drafts that we can fairly determine the success of (2004-2008) with some notes on what teams in the top 10 could/should have done differently.
Top 10 picks: 1. Dwight Howard, Magic; 2. Emeka Okafor, Bobcats; 3. Ben Gordon, Bulls; 4. Shaun Livingston, Clippers; 5. Devin Harris, Wizards (traded to Mavericks); 6. Josh Childress, Hawks; 7. Luol Deng, Suns (traded to Bulls); 8. Rafael Araujo, Raptors; 9. Andre Iguodala, 76ers; 10. Luke Jackson, Cavaliers
While Howard is obviously the class of this draft now, there was a legitimate debate at the time whether the Magic should have selected the high-schooler Howard or Okafor, who averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in leading UConn to the national title. Okafor wasn’t quite the building block the expansion Bobcats needed, and, unfortunately for Charlotte, Howard was the only franchise cornerstone in this draft (Iguodala is good but you can’t build a team around him).
I always thought it was unfair that the Bobcats were assigned the fourth pick rather than the first (they traded up to select Okafor). Orlando did lose 61 games in 2003-04, but Charlotte’s roster was just awful (in the expansion draft, teams were able to protect eight players), and the Bobcats went on to lose 64 games in their rookie season. I’m not guaranteeing they would have gotten to the Finals as the Magic did, but the Bobcats would look very different today with Dwight Howard as a centerpiece. Gordon had a few quality years with the Bulls, and though Kevin Martin (#26), may have been a slight upgrade, they shouldn’t have too many regrets.
If they could do it again, the Clippers would obviously take Harris over Livingston, though they couldn’t have predicted the massive knee injury that derailed Livingston’s career in February of 2007. Childress was a usable bench player during his time in Atlanta, but looking back, Iguodala or Deng is the pick there, as both could fill the same position as Childress, but with more skill and athleticism. Araujo was out of the league within three years; again, Iguodala is the pick there, or failing that, Josh Smith (#17). Jackson last played in 2008, and I think Cleveland would have benefited from Trevor Ariza (#44) in that spot. Ariza would have taken some defensive pressure off of LeBron James and provided important depth for the Cavs, an issue that contributed to James’ departure.
Top 10 picks: 1. Andrew Bogut, Bucks; 2. Marvin Williams, Hawks; 3. Deron Williams, Jazz; 4. Chris Paul, Hornets; 5. Raymond Felton, Bobcats; 6. Martell Webster, Blazers; 7. Charlie Villanueva, Raptors; 8. Channing Frye, Knicks; 9. Ike Diogu, Warriors; 10. Andrew Bynum, Lakers
It’s hard to imagine at the time, but it was Bogut, not Deron Williams or Paul, who was considered the top prospect in this draft. While Williams and Paul had shown more flash, Bogut was the sure thing, a rebounding, shot-blocking big man that could hold down the paint. The Australian averaged 20 PPG, 12 RPG and 1.9 blocks per game on 62% shooting and almost single-handedly carried Utah to the Sweet 16. That was enough to earn Bogut the nod over Williams, who was the third-highest scoring guard on his own team, and Paul, whose #2 seeded Wake Forest squad flamed out in the second round of the tourney.
Thus, the Bucks elected to fill their gaping hole at center and keep the developing Mo Williams at the point. In retrospect, the draft should have gone Paul #1, DWilliams #2 (why the Hawks failed to draft a PG, a glaring hole on the team for ages, in a strong draft for point guards is beyond me). Bogut has been successful, but not nearly as much as the two PGs. He would have fit right in with Utah at number three. Marvin Williams didn’t even start in college, and could definitely have benefited from an extra year at UNC. You can’t really fault the Bobcats for taking Felton at five because he had just led the home-state Tar Heels to the national title (though I bet they regret Sean May at #13). None of the guys in spots six through nine have really failed on the league, but they’ve shown the production you’d expect from guys in the mid-to-late first round, not the production of a top-10 pick. Monta Ellis, who went at #40 to Golden State, would have been a much better choice than anyone drafted at #6 through #9; same goes for Danny Granger, whom the Pacers landed at #17. Even David Lee (#30), despite his defensive struggles, would have been a better choice.
I don’t have any issues with Bynum at #10 to the Lakers simply because they won two titles with him playing an important role in the middle. My thinking is that if a guy helps you win a title, he’s never a bad acquisition, and you shouldn’t start projecting alternate realities. In this case, I don’t really see the guys behind him (Ellis, Lee, Granger) doing too much to make the Lakers better, and in Ellis’ case, I think he clashes with Kobe and disrupts their system. Bynum may have been injury prone, but he’s been healthy enough to win two titles, and if I’m a Lakers fan, I’m A-OK with that.
Top 10 picks: 1. Andrea Bargnani, Raptors; 2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Bulls (traded to Blazers); 3. Adam Morrison, Bobcats; 4. Tyrus Thomas, Blazers (traded to Bulls); 5. Shelden Williams, Hawks; 6. Brandon Roy, Timberwolves (traded to Blazers); 7. Randy Foye, Celtics (traded to Timberwolves); 8. Rudy Gay, Rockets (traded to Grizzlies); 9. Patrick O’Bryant, Warriors; 10. Mouhamed Sene, Sonics
Though Bargnani hasn’t been a good first overall pick, there really wasn’t much the Raptors could do with that selection. Aldridge is the guy they’d take now if they could do it over, but looking at the rest of the top 10, Bargnani fits in pretty well. The Blazers were an example of a team that wisely used draft-night trades to improve themselves. They were able to flip Randy Foye for Brandon Roy, and Tyrus Thomas and Victor Khryapa for LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s a major win on both accounts; if Sergio Rodriguez, whom Portland traded for at #27, had amounted to anything, we’d be looking at a perfect draft. Morrison is a perfect example of a scorer who feasted on the less athletic defenders of the NCAA.
Suddenly, when he got to the NBA, he was overmatched, and since he couldn’t do much besides score, he was out of the league by 2010. Williams has been a disappointment, while O’Bryant and Sene were both disasters. But as far as the rest of the top 10 was concerned, most of the other guys have enjoyed at least some success from the league. While none of them have realized the dreams that their clubs held for them coming out of college, Thomas, Roy, Foye, and Gay have been good enough that it’s hard to see their clubs drafting anyone else over them in a redo of this weak draft. Rajon Rondo? Yes. Paul Millsap? Yes for Thomas and Foye, debatable for Gay, and no for Roy. (Note: I only lump Roy in this category because of my injury concerns for him. If he stays healthy, he’s a much better player than the other three). Looking at the O’Bryant/Sene spots, if Rondo and Millsap are off the board, those teams are pretty much screwed. The next best available would be either Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Lowry, or J.J. Redick. After that, it gets real ugly. In the end, even though this was a weak draft, the teams at the top did a good job and managed to snag most of the talent early.
Top 10 picks: 1. Greg Oden, Blazers; 2. Kevin Durant, Sonics; 3. Al Horford, Hawks; 4. Mike Conley, Grizzlies; 5. Jeff Green, Celtics (traded to Sonics); 6. Yi Jianlian, Bucks; 7. Corey Brewer, Timberwolves; 8. Brandan Wright, Bobcats (traded to Warriors); 9. Joakim Noah, Bulls; 10. Spencer Hawes, Kings
You’ve got to give credit to the Sonics and Hawks for getting the two best pros off the board within the first three picks. For the Blazers, it’s fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. They ran into a similar situation 23 years earlier with the second pick as they debated between big man Sam Bowie and dynamic scorer Michael Jordan. Their medical staff didn’t think Bowie’s shins would be an issue, even though he missed two college seasons because of them. They were an issue, and after playing 76 games his rookie year, he managed just 64 over the next four seasons. When it came down to Oden vs. Kevin Durant in 2007, they again went with the center over the dynamic scorer. It doesn’t seem like Portland’s medical staff did their homework on Oden, as his knees began failing him almost immediately; he’s played just 82 games in four seasons. Four years later, it’s clear that Durant was the pick, though most pundits will admit at the time that they gave a slight advantage to Oden, arguing that a dominant center is more valuable than a dominant wing player.
The Hawks did great with Horford at #3, and though Conley has been solid for the Grizzlies, had they drafted Marc Gasol at #4 instead, they could have had an intimidating Gasol-Gasol frontline to move forward with. Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, and Glen Davis (circa 2007-2010) would have been better choices than anyone from #5 through #8, especially in the cases of Jianlian and Wright, neither of whom should have entered this draft. I had Noah pegged as a flop immediately after this draft, but he’s surprised me with his intensity and drive and now serves as the anchor of the Bulls’ merciless defense. Again, just like in ’06, there wasn’t a whole lot of talent later in the draft, and while the Jianlian and Wright picks were ill-advised (I’d still like to see Oden get healthy and salvage his career), the top 10 teams did a pretty good job of nabbing the top talent.
Top 10 picks: 1. Derrick Rose, Bulls; 2. Michael Beasley, Heat; 3. O.J. Mayo, Timberwolves (traded to Grizzlies); 4. Russell Westbrook, Thunder; 5. Kevin Love, Grizzlies (traded to Timberwolves); 6. Danilo Gallinari, Knicks; 7. Eric Gordon, Clippers; 8. Joe Alexander, Bucks; 9. D.J. Augustin, Bobcats; 10. Brook Lopez, Nets
The best four players in this draft, Rose, Mayo, Westbrook, and Love were all taken in the top five. My revised order would be 1. Rose, 2. Love, 3. Westbrook, 4. Mayo, but apart from the TWolves (who have larger management issues), each team has benefitted from the guy they ended up with. Beasley blossomed last year in Minny and may yet prove me wrong (I can see him overtaking Mayo, but probably not any of the other guys).Gallinari shouldn’t have gone at #6 (though he was a good fit for D’Antoni’s no-defense system); NY would have been better off with a tough big like Brook Lopez or Serge Ibaka (#24). The Bucks and Bobcats are probably regretting their selections as well; they could have used a guy like Lopez, Ibaka, Roy Hibbert (#17), or JaVale McGee (#18). Overall, Chicago, OKC, Minnesota, the Clippers, and New Jersey would stick with their selection, while the Grizzlies, Knicks, and Bobcats were all at least satisfied with their selection.
Only Miami and Milwaukee can have any real regrets, and for Miami, those regrets would stem largely from giving up on Beasley after two seasons—he would have taken some pressure off the Big Three, and unlike the rest of Miami’s supporting cast, he would start on most teams in the league. Sadly, you can never really tell what will happen with guys like Beasley or Zach Randolph; they can dominate if they stay focused but they regress badly if they get into trouble off the court. It’s the risk any team takes when they select someone like that with a high pick, and it’s clear that the Miami organization didn’t believe it was strong enough to keep Beasley on the straight and narrow.
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5 Worst NBA Drafts Ever
Adjustments to 2004-2008 Drafts
Draft Success of Every Lottery Team
Great Draft of 2012