Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Number One Pick: A Gift, or a Recipe for Disaster (continued)

In my last post I covered which first overall picks in the NFL draft ended up not producing like a number one pick should. For this post I am going to shift my focus to the NBA.

Along with the NFL, the NBA draft is a huge primetime production. There are hundreds of draft experts and websites dedicated to non stop coverage of June's NBA draft. These people log countless hours studying the draft eligible players, trying to determine where they fit on the draft board, and attempting to speculate on which NBA franchise will draft them.

As I studied past drafts and the stats of the top picks in those drafts, there was a theme that was very interesting to me. In all of the drafts prior to 1984, the number one overall pick in each of those drafts ended up having a good career with good production across the board. It makes me wonder what changed within NBA franchises to cause them to make some very questionable picks. Is it that they are willing to take a chance on an unproven, raw prospect in the hopes that he may be the next superstar? Or maybe the talent pool to pick from has dried up to the point where all one would need to do is put on a blindfold and point in the direction of a player, and the person closest to their finger is the pick. It seems that both of the scenario's I mentioned are very possible with some of the picks that have been made over the last two decades.

Here are my worst Number one overall NBA draft picks:
(starting from 1984 to the present)

1. Sam Bowie, 1984 - Trailblazers
Bowie was not a number one overall pick, but the rammifications of this pick were so monumental I just had to mention it. The only reason Sam Bowie is on this list is because a guy synonymous with the number 23 and the word greatness was taken right behind him. Everyone always wonders what Portland was thinking when they took Bowie over Jordan in '84, and I will tell you why. First of all, Portland was a good team to end the '83 season and received that number two pick from a previous trade with Indiana, so they weren't looking for a franchise changer like Chicago was; they had needs, and they were looking to fill them. Portland also had very good guard play at both positions with Terry Dehere at the point and Clyde Drexler at the two, so at that time, they felt drafting Jordan would crowd their back court and cause a rift among the guards.
Let's do a little background on Sam Bowie. He was a 7-1, 240lb. center at the University of Kentucky, in his three years in college, Bowie averaged 13.4 ppg, 9 rpg, and 1.5 blocks per game. He was an extremely good outside shooter for his size, he was an underrated passer, and he had a very high basketball IQ.
The Trailblazers had a desperate need for a big man. They had former number one overall pick Mychal Thompson on the inside, but he lacked a physicalness in the paint that Portland so desperately needed. When draft time came around, the Blazers and everyone knew that Houston was going to draft Olajuwon, so, Portlands hierarchy had a choice to make, take Bowie a very gifted and multifaceted big man, or take Jordan an athletic and dynamic guard with questionable outside shooting. Portland chose Bowie and the rest is history.

2. Joe Smith, 1995 - Golden State Warriors
Having only played two years of college basketball and the Universtiy of Maryland and being named the NCAA Player of the Year after his sophomore year, Joe Smith was tagged as the next big thing. The Golden State Warriors had the first pick in the 1995 NBA draft, and they used it to select the highly touted Smith. In his first four years as an NBA player, Smith was an above average performer with averages of around 16 ppg, 7 rpg and just over a block per game. To most people, Joe Smith was underachieving, but for a player his size, 6-10 225 lbs, he was more of a perimeter big than one who could go in the post and bang with the seven footers.
Smith was traded to the 76ers mid way through the 1997-98 season, and it seemed to ruin his confidence, from that point on, Smith's production greatly declined. For a player who showed so much upside in the beginning of his career, to finishing his career with averages of 11 ppg and 6.5 rpg in 13 different stops, Joe Smith went from number one overall pick, to draft bust journeyman.

3. Michael Olowokandi, 1998 - LA Clippers
Leave it to the Clippers to make, in my opinion, the worst pick in NBA draft history. Olowokandi went to the Universtiy of the Pacific, a college not known for it's competitive sports. The Kandi Man only played 77 games in college, averaging 13.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg against below average competition. During his senior year, Olowokandi averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds, those stats combined with his size (7' 260lbs) and good footwork around the basket caught the eye of the Clippers.
What makes this pick even worse is the quality of players taken after Olowokandi in the 98 draft, here is a list: Mike Bibby, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Al Harrington and Rashard Lewis. The Kandi Man's best season was in 2002-03 when he averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds per game, not exactly what one would expect from the top pick in the draft. After the best season of his career, Olowokandi hit the free agent market, and Minnesota picked him up for a healthy 5.5 million per season. The Timberwolves envisioned the Kandi Man teaming alongside KG to form a twin towers tandem in the paint, that never worked out. Olowokandi was then traded by the Wolves to the Celtics and eventually played his way right out of the NBA. When it was all said and done, this draft bust averaged 8.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg for his dismal career.

4. Kwame Brown, 2001 - Washington Wizards
In Michael Jordans first draft as a partial owner of his own basketball team, he made a horrific pick. Drafting a player directly from high school is always a gamble, and drafting one with questionable work ethic, no post or mid range game, and tiny hands is definitely a recipe for disaster. Kwame Brown has tremendous size and strength, at 6-11 270lbs., Brown should have been a force in the paint, but that didn't work out.
The pressure of being Michael Jordan's first draft pick might have doomed Kwame's career and development. He came into a terrible Washington Wizards team and was expected to take them on his back and turn them into something they would never be. When the Wizards only played Brown in 57 games at 14.1 minutes per game in his rookie year, everyone knew that he wasn't what we thought he was. Kwame Brown's career went from potential big man superstar to journeyman draft bust with one flick of MJ's magical wand. You know your career is in shambles when your greatest accomplishment is being traded to Memphis for Pau Gasol, helping to create a new Laker dynasty. Kwame's career numbers are as follows: 6.7 ppg on just 48% from the field, 5.4 rpg and about a half a block per game.

5. Darko Milicic, 2003 - Detroit Pistons
Like Sam Bowie, Darko was a number two pick, but this pick ended up being so terrible that I felt inclined to mention it. Milicic is a 7 footer out of Yugoslavia. As a 17 year old, Darko was playing in the top tier Euroleague and put on some of his best performances in the presence of NBA scouts. The scouts would rave about his shooting, passing, ball handling and NBA style game. He was drawing comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, Darko even compared himself to Kevin Garnett in an interview with Chad Ford back in January of 2003(
In the 2003 NBA draft, the Cavs selected Lebron James with the top overall pick, the Pistons then selected Milicic number two overall, despite the fact that Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade were available. The Pistons saw something they liked in Milicic, but what they saw must have been lost on one of his international flights. In his first three years in Detroit, Darko hardly shed his warmups. Milicic played in only 96 games those three years and averaged about 5.8 minutes per game averaging only 1.6 ppg and 1.2 rpg. So what happened to Darko Milicic? He lost all the confidence he showed in that Chad Ford Interview. There is no doubt that Darko has the skills to be a really good basketball player, but the Pistons drained whatever confidence he had left right into the sewer outside the Palace at Auburn Hills, and now Darko is there for some team to take a chance on, we'll see if Minnesota gives him a legitimate shot.

6. Greg Oden, 2007 - Portland Trailblazers
Oden's short career has been derailed by injuries, so I cant go too in depth as to why he is a draft bust. The Blazers knew he struggled throughout his life with chronic knee problems, but based on his size, length and hype, Portland took a chance on him, passing on the sure thing in Kevin Durant. If Oden can come back healthy and have a productive career, he will be wiped right off of this list.

7. Blake Griffin, 2009 - LA Clippers
Griffin is on this list because the Clippers drafted him, and we all known the Clippers are the worst drafting franchise in major sports history. Griffin was a monster in his two seasons at Oklahoma and was easily the best player in the 2009 draft class, but unfortunately for him, the Clippers won the lottery. As soon as Griffin stepped foot on anything Clipper related, he hurt his knee and was out for his entire rookie season. Let's hope and pray the Clipper Curse does not put a hex on Blake's career, so, Donald Sterling if you are listening, please trade Blake Griffin so we can watch him evolve into an NBA star.

1 comment: