Prior to Wednesday night's game between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, the 27th annual NBA Draft Lottery took place, or, as Rocket fans like to call it, "a tradition like no other." For those Rocket fans, their 0.5 percent chance of coming away with the top pick gave the draft lottery a decidedly similar feeling to the actual lottery: long-shot pipe dreams of the riches that would be showered upon the winner (in this case, Kentucky center Anthony Davis), baseless hope that we might actually win, only to have those hopes shattered almost immediately upon opening the first envelope (which contained the Rockets' logo).
To add insult to injury, the winners of the lottery were the New Orleans Hornets, which meant that the lottery festivities gave the basketball gods one more chance to remind the Rockets a) how fixed the league appears to be in favor of the Hornets (the aborted Gasol-to-Houston trade and now this) and b) how ridiculously difficult the Rockets' division is (Dallas, San Antonio, Memphis and now a Davis-led New Orleans).
So here the Rockets sit, in the spot of the draft that has essentially evolved into "their booth" in the diner that is the NBA -- the 14th pick in the draft, or as my co-host on 1560 The Game John Granato likes to call it, the "stinkhole." Basketball purgatory. Tallest midget. We've discussed this before.
It so happens that in addition to the 14th pick, the Rockets also have the 16th pick (which used to belong to the Knicks), which if history serves as a proper road map tells us that the Rockets will likely come away with two more possibly tradeable assets to pile on top of the rest of their tradeable assets. In other words, a franchise-changing player is likely not on his way, not via those picks, at least.
Or does it tell us that?
Now that we know the Rockets' draft fate, in the first step of preparing for the evening of June 28, let's look back at the history of the 14th and 16th picks going back to 2004 (the first season with 30 teams in the league). And for good measure, let's throw in the 15th pick, since that would in theory be a player available to the team picking 14th and 16th. And, in an effort to squeeze as much hope as possible out of a hopeless situation, let's also take note of some All-Star (or near/potential All-Star players) who were still on the board when picks 14 and 16 came up.
Let's do this:
2004 DRAFT 14th pick (Utah): Kris Humphries, F, Minnesota 15th pick (Bos): Al Jefferson, F, Prentiss H.S. (MS) 16th pick (Utah): Kirk Snyder, G, Nevada Comment: What Humphries lacks in intelligence he makes up for in tenacity on the boards and a thirst for the reality television spotlight; he's evolved into a fringe double-double guy and solid rotation player. Jefferson is one of the most underrated low-post scorers in the league when he's not injured. Snyder quickly became a journeyman, and then a felon, and wound up playing in Russia. Still on the board: Josh Smith (17th), Jameer Nelson (20th)
2005 DRAFT 14th pick (Min): Rashad McCants, G, North Carolina 15th pick (NJ): Antoine Wright, F/G, Texas A&M 16th pick (Tor): Joey Graham, F, Oklahoma State Comment: McCants was a starter early in his career in Minnesota, but things eventually spun off the rails, and he was last seen trying to break into acting. Wright peaked as a part-time starter for the Mavericks in the 2009 playoffs, and is now playing in Venezuela. Graham completes the "out of the league" trifecta, now playing in Erie, Pennsylvania. Still on the board: Danny Granger (17th), David Lee (30th), Monta Ellis (40th)
2006 DRAFT 14th pick (Utah): Ronnie Brewer, G, Arkansas 15th pick (NO): Cedric Simmons, F, NC State 16th pick (Chi): Rodney Carney, F, Memphis Comment: Brewer had his best season in 2008-09 averaging double digits for Utah and is now a rotation player for the Bulls. Simmons currently plays in Spain after an uneventful NBA career. Ditto Carney, just fill in "China" for "Spain." Still on the board: Rajon Rondo (21st), Kyle Lowry (24th) 2007 DRAFT 14th pick (LAC): Al Thornton, G, Florida State 15th pick (Det): Rodney Stuckey, G, Eastern Washington 16th pick (Was): Nick Young, G, USC Comment: Thornton's best season was as a 17 point-a-game guy for a bad Clippers team in 2008-09. He is currently playing in Puerto Rico. Stuckey has been a double-digit scorer as a shoot-first point guard for some bad Piston teams. Young was a key bench player for the Clippers playoff team this season. Still on the board: Aaron Afflalo (27th), Marc Gasol (48th)
2008 DRAFT 14th pick (GSW): Anthony Randolph, F, LSU 15th pick (Pho): Robin Lopez, C, Stanford 16th pick (Phi): Marreese Speights, C, Florida Comment: Four seasons in, Randolph is still a tantalizing talent and an enigma. And on his third team. Lopez is a big body getting good minutes off the bench in Phoenix. Speights is a rotation big for the Grizzlies, giving them some scoring punch off the bench. Still on the board: Roy Hibbert (17th), Ryan Anderson (21st), Serge Ibaka (24th), DeAndre Jordan (35th), Goran Dragic (45th)
2009 DRAFT 14th pick (Pho): Earl Clark, F, Louisville 15th pick (Det): Austin Daye, F, Gonzaga 16th pick (Chi): James Johnson, F, Wake Forest Comment: Clark has been an NBA bit player, now in Orlando. Daye is also a scrub, still with Detroit. Johnson is now a member of the Raptors, averaging nine points a game. Still on the board: Jrue Holiday (17th), Ty Lawson (18th), Darren Collison (21st)
2010 DRAFT 14th pick (Hou): Patrick Patterson, F, Kentucky 15th pick (Milw): Larry Sanders, F, VCU 16th pick (Min): Luke Babbitt, F, Nevada Comment: Patterson is a solid rotation wing/big for the Rockets. Sanders is an afterthought on the Bucks bench. Babbitt has been up and down between Portland and the D League. Still on the board: Eric Bledsoe (18th), Avery Bradley (19th)
2011 DRAFT 14th pick (Hou): Marcus Morris, F, Kansas 15th pick (SA): Kahwi Leonard, F, San Diego State 16th pick (Phi): Nicola Vucevic, C, USC Comment: Morris spent most of his rookie year in the D League. Leonard is a starter for the best team in basketball. Vucevic provided the Sixers with a capable big body off the bench. Still on the board: Kenneth Faried (22nd), Chandler Parsons (38th)
CONCLUSION: So of the 24 players drafted 14 through 16 in the last eight drafts, those players combined for a total of exactly zero All-Star appearances. Four of the 24 average double digits for their NBA careers, led by Jefferson's 16.2 points per game. Exactly one of the two dozen players was extended by the original team that drafted him (Stuckey, $8.5 million per year extension from the Pistons). Seven of the 12 players drafted from 2004 to 2007 wound up playing overseas or in a minor league somewhere.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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