Many people (myself included) get great amusement out of making fun of draft picks gone awry, such as former No.2 pick Darko Milicic and the classic No. 1 bust of all-time, Kwame Brown. Something about witnessing GMs make terrible mistakes (i.e. Hasheem Tha-bust) and seeing injuries derail potential stars’ careers (insert Greg Oden joke here) makes it easy to poke fun.
It’s funny to think that the Portland Trail Blazers passed up on Kevin Durant, who’s now arguably the best pure scorer in the world. Well, at least the Oden pick worked out…he played in part of two NBA seasons and has had five knee surgeries. That’s a success, right? You really can’t help but feel bad for the guy.
There’s a lot of second-guessing in retrospect and the “I-knew-it-all-along” phenomenon comes into play, as fans get restless, coaches get fired, and GMs lose sleep (and their hair).
Sometimes they get it right. Picking Dwight Howard over Emeka Okafor would elicit a “You made…a good deal!” from Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel. But Mandel’s praise of a “good deal” isn’t thrown out too often when it comes to No.1 and No. 2.
Picking players is kind of like picking fruits and vegetables. A tomato may be juicy and succulent and appear to have a lot of potential, but it may not translate well in a different climate (Milicic). You may think you find the perfect apple in the orchard full of thousands of delicious apples, yet that apple may not ever ripen (or mature) and may develop a nasty, unfortunate bump (Jay Williams). Let’s just say Gregor Mendel’s pea plant theory is more dependable and bulletproof than a Howie Mandel-approved good deal guarantee when it comes to selecting a superstar.
I think now is an ideal time to look back at the No. 1 and No. 2 picks of the past 12 years and see which crops have survived the long winters (alright, the fruit and vegetable analogy is probably rotten at this point). I’m going to compare the best lineup of No. 1 picks from the past 12 years to that of the No. 2 picks. Here it goes.
Center: No. 1 Dwight Howard (2004) vs. No. 2 Tyson Chandler (2001)
Center is a terrific matchup. You have Superman, Hannah Storm-captivating and 59% from the line Dwight Howard on one side of the ring. Drafted first overall in 2004 from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, Howard was the National High School Player of the Year and Co-MVP of the McDonalds All-American Game. He didn’t skip a beat, becoming the eighth player in NBA history to average a double-double in his rookie season. Howard is now arguably the most explosive, unguardable center in the league.
On the other side of the ring (no but seriously, how good of an actual fight would this be?) you have Tyson Chandler. Chandler is an NBA champion, a title Howard cannot claim (pun intended). Ten years after being drafted No. 2, he was the backbone to the Mavericks’ defense in their championship run. Now he has “transformed the defensive culture” in New York. Though that term is hackneyed, it is somewhat applicable and accurate for what the Defensive Player of the Year brings to the table.
I give the slight edge to Howard, mostly because of his physical prowess, but Chandler is a beast and very rarely lets his opponent dominate a game.
Power Forward: No. 1 Blake Griffin (2009) vs. No. 2 LaMarcus Aldridge (2006)
At power forward, it’s another diaper-dandy matchup. You’ve got No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin up against No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge. If you combined Griffin’s explosion and Aldridge’s 14-16 footer, you’d have the best power forward in the league, hands-down. Each player brings something different to the table. With Griffin, you can count on “Lob City” being in full effect every time he steps out on the court. Aldridge wears you down and plays his way into a game. He’s much less flashy, but is equally effective and you can count on 22 and eight from him night in, night out.
LA (LaMarcus Aldridge) gets the slight edge over the other LA (the actual city LA) in my book, mainly because of his experience and multi-faceted game. Griffin is still improving his inconsistent jump shot, while Aldridge is one of the most underrated superstars in the NBA.
Small Forward: No. 1 LeBron James (2003) vs. No. 2 Kevin Durant (2007)
You already know what matchup is coming at small forward: 1) Because it’s written right above this line, 2) Because it features arguably the league’s two best players. It’s Marvin Williams vs. Andrea Bargnani (actually an eligible matchup under these circumstances)! Pause, nahhht. It’s LeBron and Durant. It’s weird that LeBron has a ring now. The jokes about not having a fourth quarter and the phone not ringing are still hilarious, but they’re less amusing now that LeBron has a title and put on one of the best playoff performances of all-time, including in the fourth quarter. LeBron was one of the few players in the past decade that attracted more hype than consensus No.1 Anthony Davis is getting this year. Scouts knew that LeBron’s game would translate immediately to the NBA, and many people are projecting that Davis will excel right away with the New Orleans Hornets. Many consider James the best player in the game, but there’s another man who will have something to say about that for the next 10-15 years: Kevin Durant.
Basketball fans are in for a treat. It may not be Magic-Bird or Wilt-Russell, but LeBron-Durant could be a tremendously entertaining rivalry for the next decade. Both players are extremely efficient and have pizzazz. GMs have spent hours analyzing which player out of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, Brad Beal and Harrison Barnes has that “it” factor after Davis.
I give the edge to LeBron here, based on what he did in the Finals, but it’s always quite a matchup, and one we’ll get to see for years to come.
Shooting Guard: No. 1 John Wall (2010) vs. No. 2 Evan Turner (2010)
Though Wall is customarily a point guard, the No.1 picks lack a legitimate two and he has the scoring ability and strength to step in quite nicely. Let’s take a look at Wall and Turner. Wall is 6’4” and weighs 195, while Turner is 6’7” and weighs 205. Wall has averaged 16.3 ppg, 8.2 apg and 4.6 rpg over two seasons in the pros; Turner, meanwhile, has posted 8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 2.4 apg. Despite Wall’s superior numbers, you have to take into consideration that Wall is the 1a option in Washington, while Turner is a C option on a very balanced 76ers team. Turner emerged in the playoffs against the Celtics and has an explosive, unpredictable first step.
More food for thought: Wall is only a 41.6 career shooter, whereas Turner is at 43.6%. Though it’s only 2%, it shows that Turner’s shot selection (though not stellar) is better than that of Wall’s. Having said that, I give Wall the slight edge, because he has everybody “doing the John Wall” and it’s no secret that he knows how to ball.
Point Guard: No. 1 Derrick Rose (2009) vs. No. 2 Jay Williams (2002)
Sadly, this is not a joke. Williams is the only point guard picked at No. 2 in the past 12 years. His No. 22 jersey was retired at Duke, as he finished his career as the sixth leading scorer in school history and won the Naismith Award and Wooden Award. He averaged close to 10 points and five assists in his rookie season with the Bulls, but his career swerved off track when he suffered severe injuries in a motorcycle crash. He was never able to recover, spending some time in the D-League and eventually disappearing.
Derrick Rose was the next Jay Williams. The 2011 MVP was drafted first overall in 2009 and has not disappointed. His 22 points, eight assists and three rebounds per game have sparked the Bulls to three straight terrific seasons. Rose is a class act and gets where he wants to with ease. He suffered a torn ACL against the 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, but doctors say he is progressing and should be able to make a return sometime next season. It’s safe to say Rose wins this one.
There are the matchups. Honestly, I think it would be a classic, down-to-the-wire game. There are four great matchups and Jay Williams would have the unenviable task of staying with D Rose. I would take the No. 1 picks in a close game. Durant would have a tough time staying with LeBron and the Rose-Howard combo would be lethal.
That raises the question: Do No. 1 picks actually have more success than No. 2 picks, or is that a myth? Though there are busts like Oden and Brown, I believe that No. 1 picks are generally more successful because they have been scrutinized as much as any other athlete in the country and people know their games inside and out. It’s easier to spot a dud when everyone is watching the same player. Plus, for players like James and Rose who are so intrinsically motivated, all of the pressure increases their level of play and motivates them to dominate.
In this year’s draft, I believe that there will be a drop-off between Davis and whomever is picked next, whether it’s MKG, Robinson, Beal, or Barnes. Though I believe that all of these players have a chance to be starters for years to come, none of them have what Davis has. He may very well overtake Howard in the role of No. 1 center of the past 12 years. Davis has all the intangibles necessary to be a star. The fact that he was 6’3” and a point guard in high school isn’t even fair.
NBA Mock Draft specialist Chad Ford says that Davis’ ceiling is as high as that of Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett, and that his floor is as low (or high, really) as that of Marcus Camby, which is saying something. Stephen A. Smith has already compared him to Bill Russell…but that’s Stephen A. Smith for you. I’d be shocked if Davis was a Brown or Oden-esque flop. I think he’ll be a superstar for years to come and will be an elite No.1 pick.