NBA Draft: Best Active Player Selected In Each First Round Draft Slot
I've said it many times in this space -- we are all dorks.
I don't mean we all have pocket protectors and pull our trousers up to an unreasonably high waist level (or even use the word "trousers" instead of the hipper, cooler "pants"), I mean that we all obsess over something, obsess to an extent that it minimally makes those close to us poke fun at us, and possibly even make them feel a little uncomfortable around us.
At various points in my life, I may have dorked out (or still do) over Star Wars, WWE wrestling, baseball statistics, Seinfeld, and The Sopranos.
But my "dork out" item I am here to discuss today, since the 2013 iteration of it occurs this Thursday, is the NBA Draft.
One of the most underrated television experiences for an NBA Draft dork is the annual ritual of spending an entire Sunday on the sofa watching reruns of old drafts gone by on NBA TV. The suits (or in
Akeem Hakeem Olajuwon's case, the tux), the haircuts, the changing faces of David Stern, the entourages, and the analysis (nothing quite like remembering why taking Kwame Brown first overall made sense in 2001) all make that day long case of beer that Sunday go down that much smoother.
I love the NBA Draft, past, present, and future, and someday I want to do a show in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 style where me and my buddies Brian Geltzeiler and Coach Key from HBU just sit there on a coach and riff on old drafts, wisecracking and making fun of Peter Vecsey's woefully inept scoop breaking and insider tidbit dropping skills. (Go watch the 1986 NBA Draft sometime. Vecsey makes CNN's reporting of the Boston Marathon attacks look Emmy Award winning by comparison.)
But until the NBA (or ESPN or Comcast or anybody with an iPhone and a YouTube channel) wakes up and gives us that show, I'm left to get nostalgic here, in this blog. So for today's trip down NBA Draft Memory Lane, let's go through the best current active players for each draft slot, 1 through 30. (Or to build suspense, 30 down through 1.)
For fans of NBA teams in draft purgatory, that terrible middle portion of the first round where you're not a lottery team but you're not a championship contender either, it'll be a fairly sobering reminder of just how little help the draft has been historically, never mind the fact that this year's crop is considered the weakest in years anyway.
So without further ado, here are the best active players selected in each draft slot, with snarky comments and honorable mentions where necessary:
30. DAVID LEE, New York Knicks 2005 Lee is a weird player. A career 15/10 guy who finally made an All-Star game this season after signing a max contract a couple years ago with Golden State, but you could argue Golden State didn't skip a beat without him in the lineup in the playoffs, getting to the second round before falling to San Antonio in six games. (By the way, sadly, that's the order oftentimes -- max contract then selected to the All-Star Game, if some max guys even make it at all.)
29. JOSH HOWARD, Dallas Mavericks 2003 Classic case of a guy whose productivity in college should have spoken for itself. Viewed as a tweener coming out of Wake Forest, he fell all the way to 29th in the draft and wound up becoming an integral part of the Mavs team that made the NBA Finals in 2006, and was an All-Star in 2007. He also wound up really liking weed, which come to think of it, could also explain his fall in the draft. Also, a "wearing braces on their teeth in their prime" Mount Rushmore member, alongside Dwight Howard, Faith Hill, and [fill in name of Brady Bunch child here].
28. TONY PARKER, San Antonio Spurs 2001 The poster child for "picks that make everyone jealous of the San Antonio Spurs," alongside getting Manu Ginobili late in the second round the year they took him.
27. KENDRICK PERKINS, Memphis 2003 (traded to Boston) It pains me to put Perkins here, but hey it's the 27th pick. Ain't much there. Also, Perkins was a fairly important cog in the Celtics team that won it all in 2008. Of course, he's evolved into the worst rotation player in basketball on the Thunder, but that's besides the point.
26. GEORGE HILL, San Antonio 2008 Hill is the strongest of a weak crop at 26, largely because San Antonio was able to flip him for the 15th pick in 2011 which became Kahwi Leonard. When you secure it spot in this breakdown because of what you brought back in a trade? Um, yeah, weak crop at 26. (Literally, Aaron Brooks might be the second best 26th pick, but I don't know if he technically counts as "active.") 25. NICOLAS BATUM, Houston 2008 (traded to Portland) An overpaid streak shooter is the best active 25th pick in the draft. He edges out Tony Allen, who might have secured this spot except he's really evolved more as a Memphis Grizzly than as a Celtic (the team that drafted him).
24. SERGE IBAKA, Oklahoma City 2008 As out of sorts as he looked once Russell Westbrook went down in the playoffs, this spot goes to Ibaka, edging out Andrei Kirilenko (Utah 1999), who mysteriously went from an All-Star in 2004 to a guy barely averaging double digits once he got his big contract extension. Weird, I know. Kirilenko is still a first teamer on the "players who look like they could be a really ugly chick" All-Stars.
23. TAYSHAUN PRINCE, Detroit 2002 Fourth wheel on a championship team is good enough for Prince to edge out Wilson Chandler (New York 2007). Woo hoo.
22. KENNETH FARIED, Denver 2011 A lot of fans and experts more recently point to Faried as an example of how teams can really help themselves picking in the 20's, as if it's very common and easy to do. Um, the next best active former 22nd picks? Jared Dudley (Charlotte 2007) and Courtney Lee (Orlando 2008). Not common, not easy to do.
21. RAJON RONDO, Boston 2006 It's at about this point that you realize Boston had some decent drafts back when they were really shitty in the middle part of the decade -- Perkins in 2003, Allen in 2004, and Rondo, who was edging into first team All-NBA conversation before his knee injury this past season, in 2006. Add in Al Jefferson in 2004, who they flipped for Kevin Garnett, and you can see why I cringe when people put the 2008 champion Celtics in the same "stars collaborating" bucket as the Miami Heat. Danny Ainge (with a little help from Kevin McHale) actually built the Celtics championship team through drafts and trades.
20. JAMEER NELSON, Orlando 2004 This was a death spot, number 20. It's Jameer Nelson, and nobody else.
19. ZACK RANDOLPH, Portland 2001 Ditto pick number 19. Zack Randolph, and his four different employers, his big ass gut, his weed, his headband, and his 17 points a game, lap the field at 19.
18. DAVID WEST, New Orleans 2003 We actually get into a few interesting arguments in these next couple picks. I gave the nod to West because his overall resume (two time All-Star, second best player on some good Hornet teams) trumps the stock arrow pointing way up for Ty Lawson (Denver 2009). Not a huge debate there, but this one is interesting....
17. JERMAINE O'NEAL, Portland 1996 This one was a subject of huge internal debate, and by internal debate I mean "me staring at my computer screen by myself holed up in a studio." With O'Neal, Josh Smith (Atlanta 2004), Danny Granger (Indiana 2005), and Roy Hibbert (Indiana 2008), this is like the wayward home for borderline All-Stars. I decided on O'Neal, even though he did most of his damage as a Pacer not a Blazer, because his six All-Star appearances trumped everybody else.
16. RON ARTEST, Chicago 1999 Elton Brand and Artest (both Bulls first rounders in 1999) should have been the foundation for something good in Chicago, but then Marcus Fizer showed up the next year, then it was Eddy Curry and then Brand got traded for Tyson Chandler, and Ron was Crazy Ron... 15. STEVE NASH, Phoenix 1996 Nobody is close to Nash, a two time MVP during his second go round with the Suns, but Al Jefferson (Boston 2004), Larry Sanders (Milwaukee 2010), and Kahwi Leonard (San Antonio 2011) are all really good players.
14. KRIS HUMPHRIES, Utah Jazz 2004 Troy Murphy (Golden State 2001) is the closest competitor to Humphries, and even with my Notre Dame background, I've still derived way more hours of enjoyment from Humphries (yes, I count making fun of him on that Kardashian show as "enjoyment", don't judge me) than Murphy as a pro.
13. KOBE BRYANT, Charlotte Hornets (traded to Lakers) Corey Maggette (Orlando 1999) and Richard Jefferson (New Jersey 2001) are the only other mentionables at 13, which when you factor in that Kobe is the winner, is a little like mentioning the tag team of Bob Holly and Bart Gunn alongside "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
12. THADDEUS YOUNG, Philadelphia 2007 Yes, Thaddeus Young is the best active 12th pick in the league, with apologies to Nick Collison (Seattle 2003). Picking 12th this year? Oklahoma Ciity, thanks to the James Harden deal.....BWAHAHAHAHA!!!
11. KLAY THOMPSON, Golden State 2011 ...J.J. Redick (Orlando 2006) is second best. Yeah, 11th is the new 12th.
10. PAUL PIERCE, Boston 1998 I have no idea why it is, probably coincidence, but teams picking tenth (and ninth, as you'll see in a moment) have done astoundingly well. Pierce is an easy choice, but not because the competition doesn't have players: Jason Terry (Atlanta 1999), Joe Johnson (Boston 2001), Caron Butler (Miami 2002), Andre Bynum (Lakers 2005), Brook Lopez (New Jersey 2008), Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee 2009), Paul George (Indiana 2010).
9. DIRK NOWITZKI, Milwaukee 1998 (traded to Dallas) And the crop at 9 is just as robust, if not more so: Tracy McGrady (Toronto 1997), Shawn Marion (Phoenix 1999), Amare Stoudemire (Phoenix 2002), Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 2004), Joakim Noah (Chicago 2007). But then.....
8. RUDY GAY, Houston 2006 (traded to Memphis) ....back to reality at number eight. It's Rudy Gay and almost nobody else. Brandon Knight (Detroit 2011) is probably next. Yuck.
7. STEPH CURRY, Golden State 2009 My first and only "I told you so" of this post (mostly because I pretty much get everything wrong and there are no other "I told you so's"), I said in 2009 that Steph Curry was the best and most NBA ready player in that draft, and even as good as Blake Griffin and James Harden have been, I still feel somewhat vindicated. Curry could still wind up being the gem of that draft. Other seventh picks, by the way: Rip Hamilton (Washington 1999), Kirk Hinrich (Chicago 2003), Luol Deng (Chicago 2004), Eric Gordon (Clippers 2008), Greg Monroe (Detroit 2010)
6. DAMIAN LILLARD, Portland 2012 This was Brandon Roy's spot, signed, sealed and delivered a few years ago, but we know too much now. Through no fault of his own, Roy washed out from knee injuries. The unknown (and slightly gaudy resume, Rookie of the Year this past season) is enough to give Lillard the nod here. So congrats Portland, you lost Roy forever because of a catastrophic knee injury, but you kept a meaningless spot on a Houston area blogger's inane draft jerk off exercise. Way to go!
5. DWYANE WADE, Miami 2003 Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade....Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade....it's really hard to imagine someone edging out Kevin Garnett, who spent virtually his entire adult life getting 20 points and 10 rebounds a night. He is a fifteen-time NBA All-Star. Kevin Garnett, by any measurement, is a Hall of Famer and a top 20 player of all-time. But two things sway it for Wade (and just know, I am personally a much bigger Garnett fan than I am a Wade fan) -- three titles as opposed to one for Garnett, and Wade has done all of his damage for the team that picked him. Garnett didn't reach his apex as a champion until he was dealt. Still, really close.
4. CHRIS PAUL, New Orleans 2005 This one? Not nearly as close. Paul lacks the team accolades that some of his peers have, but he was never surrounded by much in New Orleans. These next couple years, assuming he re-signs with the Clippers, are huge for Paul. Hand picked coach (Doc Rivers), another perceived elite star next to him (Griffin), if he doesn't make a couple deep playoff runs, history will be less than kind to him when he is discussed alongside other pantheon level point guards. Chris Bosh (Toronto 2003) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City 2008) are the other names in the conversation here.
3. CARMELO ANTHONY, Denver 2003 The theme with the third pick? A bunch of guys who are playing (or played) their best ball on teams that didn't draft them: of course, there's Melo balling out in the Big Apple, but also consider Chauncey Billups (Boston 1997, won title with Detroit in 2004), Pau Gasol (Memphis 2000, won title with Lakers in 2009 and 2010), Deron Williams (Utah 2005, now an All Star in Brooklyn), and James Harden (Oklahoma City in 2009, now an All-Star in Houston). A weird phenomenon. Also, what's weird is that the third pick's history obliterates the second pick.....
2. KEVIN DURANT, Seattle 2007 Next closest: Tyson Chandler (Chicago 2001), Emeka Okafor (Charlotte 2004), and LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland 2006). Let's move on.
1. LeBRON JAMES, Cleveland 2003 Dwight Howard (Orlando 2004) and Derrick Rose (Chicago 2008) both are good enough to win a handful of other high spots, and the selection of LeBron will have Spurs fans (all three of you who read my stuff here) rolling down I-10 (after a stop at Buc-ee's for a wheel of cheese) with pitchforks (and actual plastic forks for your cheese) to come destroy me, but it's LeBron.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.