Re-Drafting the NBA Draft: Top 10 Players From Recent YearsPosted by EJacoby on June 25th, 2012
The 2012 NBA Draft takes place this Thursday, June 28 in Newark, and now that the NBA Finals has come to an early conclusion (just five games), New Jersey becomes the center of the basketball universe. No other professional sports amateur draft can have as much immediate impact as the NBA’s, witnessed by Oklahoma City’s rise to prominence with a core consisting of four first-round picks from the previous five years. While we await Thursday’s selections, the words ‘upside’ and ‘potential’ run rampant, as teams are selecting from a pool filled with unrefined prospects. Lottery picks (top 14 selections) are mainly underclassmen who scouts hope evolve into long term superstars, and that’s why the draft presents so many early busts and late sleepers that evaluators miss out on. The NBA Draft is more art than science, and that is no more evident than when you look back at many of the selections made in previous drafts.
Today we take a look at four recent NBA Drafts to give you a clear idea of how difficult it is to nail the top picks. We wanted to choose mostly older drafts whose players’ careers have longer sample sizes to evaluate, but also included a more recent draft since the implementation of the current ‘one-and-done’ rule that disallows high school players from the pool. Here are our revised top 10 picks from 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2006, with each player’s original selection in parentheses. Who ended up becoming the best players from drafts of the 2000s, and where were they selected?
- Tony Parker (28, San Antonio)
- Pau Gasol (3, Memphis)
- Joe Johnson (10, Boston)
- Zach Randolph (19, Portland)
- Gilbert Arenas (31, Golden State)
- Gerald Wallace (25, Sacramento)
- Jason Richardson (5, Golden State)
- Tyson Chandler (2, LA Clippers)
- Shane Battier (6, Memphis)
- Richard Jefferson (13, Houston)
A fairly strong draft, 2001 is also scarred by the fact that #1 overall pick Kwame Brown was an enormous bust. Brown, selected first by Michael Jordan out of high school, is a great example of why it’s risky to draft young, unproven bigs. But that was also during the era when high school players were eligible for the draft, which is no longer the case today. Even though the current ‘one-and-done’ rule makes it difficult to assess young prospects, at least we get a full season to watch players compete at the highest level. The 2001 draft was full of quality sleepers late in the draft, highlighted by the three-time All-Star, Arenas, and three-time NBA champion and four-time All-Star, Parker, both falling past pick #27. Parker likely fell because he was such a young, foreign player; yet Gasol was a similar prospect who scouts nailed with the #3 overall selection. The 2001 draft proves how difficult it is to differentiate players of varying positions, ages, and levels of play.
- Amar’e Stoudemire (9, Phoenix)
- Yao Ming (1, Houston)
- Carlos Boozer (35, Cleveland)
- Tayshaun Prince (23, Detroit)
- Nene (7, New York)
- Caron Butler (10, Miami)
- Mike Dunleavy (3, Golden State)
- Luis Scola (56, San Antonio)
- Matt Barnes (46, Memphis)
- Drew Gooden (4, Memphis)
A draft with few All-Stars, 2002 was another complete crap shoot. This time, the unproven high school big man in the top 10 became the draft’s best player in the six-time All-Star, Stoudemire. The more experienced college bigs (Melvin Ely, Chris Wilcox) instead became disappointing lottery picks. Even more fascinating was the fate of the foreign players. Yao Ming had a great career (before injuries) as the #1 pick, as did Brazilian center Nene at #7. But just two picks earlier was Nickoloz Tskitishvili, a massive seven-foot bust. Meanwhile, scouts missed badly on two experienced college players who were overlooked come draft day in Prince and Boozer. But Dunleavy and Gooden were just as prominent college stars and didn’t pan out nearly as well in the lottery. There’s no underlying theme from 2002 other than the fact that so many similar prospects produced such different pro careers. It’s great evidence of the gamble that is the draft.
- LeBron James (1, Cleveland)
- Dwyane Wade (5, Miami)
- Carmelo Anthony (3, Denver)
- Chris Bosh (4, Toronto)
- David West (18, New Orleans)
- Mo Williams (47, Utah)
- Kendrick Perkins (27, Memphis)
- Chris Kaman (6, LA Clippers)
- Nick Collison (12, Seattle)
- Boris Diaw (21, Atlanta)
One of the most loaded drafts of all time, 2003 produced the superstars-turned-teammates James, Wade, and Bosh, all of whom were properly evaluated as top-five picks despite being at very different ages and levels of productivity. Anthony was also nailed by scouts as the classic ‘one-and-done’ prospect who thrived in college while displaying tremendous upside. Williams is the rare example of a second-round All-Star, though his 2009 Eastern Conference selection was as a replacement. He’s still had a productive career despite coming off the board in the late second round at #47. Scouts generally did well with West and Collison, who both landed in the mid-first round as college seniors. The 2003 draft featured a strong mix of talented youngsters, veteran collegians, and international players, but the #2 overall selection (Darko Milicic) was another massive bust as the young Serbian forward struggled to develop in the pros. Evaluators did fairly well during this draft but the same principles apply that there’s a fine line between a bust (Darko) and a star (Bosh) amongst similarly-rated players at the same position.
- Rajon Rondo (21, Boston)
- Rudy Gay (8, Memphis)
- LaMarcus Aldridge (2, Portland)
- Brandon Roy (6, Portland)
- Andrea Bargnani (1, Toronto)
- Kyle Lowry (24, Memphis)
- Paul Millsap (47, Utah)
- Randy Foye (7, Minnesota)
- J.J. Redick (12, Seattle)
- Thabo Sefolosha (13, Chicago)
This draft’s narrative is dominated by the top two players who both fell further than expected on draft night and wound up becoming All-Stars. Though Gay still went #8 overall, he was considered a top prospect at UConn who had underperformed in two seasons and drove scouts away from a top-three selection. Those select few teams that passed on him paid a hefty price. Meanwhile, Rondo displayed tantalizing athleticism and passing skills at Kentucky but dropped to the late-first round due to concerns about his attitude and poor shooting. He’s now one of the NBA’s premier players for the Celtics. The rest of the draft was evaluated fairly well, as seven of our revised top 10 were lottery picks. Millsap was a massive oversight, as the Louisiana Tech forward dropped to the late second round because scouts were turned off by his ‘tweener’ status and limited upside. He’s the classic example of a productive collegian that falls due to questionable long term potential. At the same time, Adam Morrison was selected #3 overall because of his impressive college performances, and yet he never fit in with the pro game.
Overall, there’s a great variety of properly identified stars (James, Wade, Yao, etc.), and wildly overlooked prospects (Rondo, Parker, Boozer, etc.) on these lists. The trend shows that every draft is ultimately still a crap shoot, even when we have more years of tape to evaluate players. As we countdown to the 2012 NBA Draft, the same questions remain for scouts. Should the Charlotte Bobcats at #2 select the polished, veteran forward (Thomas Robinson) or the 18-year-old freak with greater long term upside (Andre Drummond)? The right selection in the lottery can quickly lead a franchise back to prominence (see: Wade) , but a swing and miss in the top 10 can set it back for years (see: Morrison). Stay tuned this week for more interesting analysis on previous drafts before this year’s version commences on June 28.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanjacoby.