Looking back on NBA drafts

The NBA draft is hardly an exact science. Yes, usually there are a handful of can’t-miss prospects coming into the league each year, but a team has just as much chance of getting it wrong as they do of getting it right. Today I thought I might look at how different certain teams may be today had they drafted knowing what we know now…

With Blake Griffin a sure thing to go number 1 overall in the 2009 NBA draft and Memphis set on taking 7’3’’ center Hasheem Thabeet to sure up the defence, it was pretty open after that, with Oklahoma City holding the third pick. They went with shooting guard James Harden from Arizona State, a fine player no doubt, but one wonders how different things might had gone if they had selected Tyreke Evans to play in the backcourt with Russel Westbrook. With the Thunder already having Kevin Durant and Jeff Green along with Westbrook, adding Evans would have formed one of the most formidable young teams the league had ever seen.

One can also wonder how different things might have been had New York selected Brandon Jennings instead of Jordan Hill in ’09. I tend to think that the Knicks would be more competitive, the trade with Houston may or may not still happen and free agents would be more eager to go there with a gun young point-guard running things. Then again, that didn’t work out so well for Chicago…

Another one that is often up for discussion nowadays is whether Portland messed up big-time when they grabbed 7’ center Greg Oden number 1 overall in the 2007 NBA draft. With the debate raging at the time over whether to take him or Texas freshman sensation Kevin Durant, the Blazers opted for Oden and his freakish athleticism. Then-GM Kevin Pritchard said at the time:

‘We think Durant is so good he’s going to be a 10-time All-Star, but we think Oden might win 10 championships’.

And so Pritchard and Portland did what every other team in the league would have done, they opted for the center with the immense potential to anchor championship teams. They felt that Kevin Durant would not mesh with Brandon Roy given both players are natural scorers. And if the decision had gone the other way, we wouldn’t be talking about adding Evans to the Westbrook-Durant core.

Speaking of Brandon Roy, let’s offer sympathy to the long-suffering fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves. After 5 teams (Toronto, Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta and even Portland) had passed on him, Roy was available, and selected, at pick 6 in the 2006 NBA draft. However, the Wolves promptly traded him to the Trailblazers for 7th overall pick Randy Foye. Currently, Brandon Roy is enjoying a max-deal playing at an All-NBA level in Portland, while Foye just signed a 2 year/$8.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Blazers don’t always get it right, however.  In 2005, they traded down from pick 3 overall to pick 6 in order to grab Seattle high-schooler Martell Webster. The guy who was picked 3rd? Deron Williams. Imagine a Portland team now with a Deron Williams/Brandon Roy backcourt. That’s pretty dangerous. 2005 was an interesting draft class to see just who got passed over. We can no longer say Milwaukee erred with their selection of Australian star Andrew Bogut, but how different would the Atlanta Hawks fortunes be now if they had selected Chris Paul over Marvin Williams? And I wonder how the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Bobcats feel now after passing on Danny Granger twice each to select Raymond Felton and Sean May (Charlotte) and Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham (Toronto)? Those 4 players are now, respectively, in New York, Sacramento, Detroit and Cleveland, while Granger is putting up All-Star numbers in Indiana, who actually did end up drafting him. While we’re talking about ’05, some guy named David Lee was the final pick of the first round, 30th overall. Bet the Knicks were delirious to make that pick.

That’s not all, however. One wonders how different things would have been in Toronto had they drafted Andre Iguodala to play alongside Chris Bosh in the 2004 NBA draft. An athletic wing that could defend and score on occasion was always missing in Toronto (and is why they nabbed DeMar DeRozan in the ’09 draft) and Iguodala is exactly that. It would have made Toronto a far more dangerous team and they might have even improved enough to not have the number 1 overall in 2006 and fall in love with Andrea Bargnani’s game…

We wouldn’t even be talking about Chris Bosh in Toronto, however, if Detroit had made a wiser choice in the 2003 NBA draft. After LeBron James was selected number one overall, Detroit, coming of an Eastern Conference finals appearance, has the number two pick. Instead of adding Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh, they went with Darko Milicic. Sure, they went on to win the championship in 2004, but one has to wonder how many more they could have won if they’d added either of those talents.

I guess the general theme here is that you should always draft for talent, rather than need, and let the rest sort itself out. However, that’s far easier said than done. And drafting is still an incredibly complex and often random task. We’ll have to wait and see whether team regret passing on DeMarcus Cousins this year. Stay tuned.

Cheers guys.

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