To (belatedly) continue our series on Draft History, Part VI will look at 10 more draft classes – ranked 11th through 20th. For more detail, please see the first five parts of this series:
- Part I: Stat Rankings and Number Crunching
- Part II: Awards and Accolades
- Part III: First Year Impact
- Part IV: Validating AdjPR100 and the 5-Star System
- Part V: Ranking the Draft Classes – The 10 Worst
In Parts V, VI and VII, I’m going to be ranking the 33 draft classes, from “worst” to first, using a the following point system based on the 5-Star ratings and the Peak Award levels:
20. Class of 1978: 14 Points (-1 Star Points, 15 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Mychal Thompson – Portland TrailBlazers – 15.23
Highest-Rated Player: Larry Bird (#6 Boston Celtics) – 25.00
Rookie of the Year: Phil Ford (#2 Kansas City Kings)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 3 Most Valuable Players (Larry Bird 3x’s), 9 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 2 All NBA Second Team (2 Players), 1 Defensive Player of the Year (Michael Cooper), 11 All Defense First Team (3 Player), 7 All Defense Second Team (3 Players), 21 All Star Appearances (5 Players)
Hall of Fame: Larry Bird
I’m gonna go out on a limb here. Larry Bird > Johnny Davis + Rick Robey. I know that’s controversial, but you gotta stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.
Also, this class had arguably the best player selected late in this sample. Michael Cooper (#60) earned 8 All Defense nods, including 5 times on the First Team and a Defensive Player of the Year award.
Gotta respect a draft class that gives you both a player for the ages and the guy who played the best defense on him.
19. Class of 2004: 15 Points (8 Star Points, 7 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Dwight Howard – Orlando Magic – 25.57
Highest-Rated Player: Dwight Howard (#1 Orlando Magic) – 25.57
Rookie of the Year: Emeka Okafor (#2 Charlotte Bobcats)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 3 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 1 All NBA Third Team, 2 Defensive Player of the Year’s (Dwight Howard 2x’s), 2 All Defense First Team (1 Player), 3 All Defense Second Team (3 Players), 5 All Star Appearances (2 Players)
It will be interesting to see what kind of points this class has in, say, 5 years. The #1 selection, Dwight Howard, has become the most dominant defensive presence in the game, but he’s just one of a collection of pretty decent players taken in this class. At this point, Josh Smith (#17-Atlanta) has probably emerged as the second best player in the class. Other players – Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Devin Harris, Al Jefferson, Kevin Martin – have waxed and waned, but still have an opportunity to have good to very good careers. Orlando has a particular fondness for this draft class, as it brought them both Howard and Jameer Nelson.
The Pacers, on the other hand, got David Harrison and Rashad Wright. I watched this draft from a room in the Hotel Phillips in Kansas City, all the while hoping the Pacers would be able to pull off a rumored trade with Chicago. The gist of it was Al Harrington for the #7 pick, though I don’t recall all the details. Rumors were rampant that Bird wanted to take Luke Jackson, but it turned out later that actually the #3 pick – Ben Gordon – was his target. Chicago would only offer the #7, and no deal was struck. What might have been had the Pacers accepted the deal and taken Luol Deng with that pick. Odds are Danny Granger would have never become a Pacer, but also, they would have never been able to trade Al Harrington for Stephen Jackson.
How different would the last six years look for the Pacers?
18. Class of 1993: 16 Points (-2 Star Points, 18 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Chris Webber – Orlando Magic – 17.40
Highest-Rated Player: Chris Webber (#1 Orlando Magic) – 17.40
Rookie of the Year: Chris Webber (#1 Orlando Magic)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 3 All NBA First Team (2 Players), 5 All NBA Second Team (3 Players), 4 All NBA Third Team (4 Players), 17 All Star Appearances (7 Players)
Plenty of intrigue with this draft…at least with the top of this draft. Just one year prior, the Orlando Magic had won the lottery that brought them Shaquille O’Neal. Despite improving by 20 wins (from 21 to 41), the Magic still missed the playoffs. Orlando entered the lottery with but one chance in 66 – the longest possible odds at the time – but still left with the top pick. The next season, the lottery system was revamped to the current one, but that still left the up and coming Magic with the best help possible from the draft.
It got even better when Don Nelson became enamored of Chris Webber and traded Penny Hardaway (the #3 pick in this draft) and three – one, two, three – future first rounders to Orlando to get him. Within 24 months, Hardaway would have started in the NBA Finals for the Orlando Magic, while Don Nelson had already fallen out of love with Webber and dealt him to the Washington Bullets.
As a whole, this draft class was unexciting, and arguably not as good as the 2004 class we just discussed. It rates out better primarily because of some of the players – Webber, Hardaway, Vin Baker, Jamal Mashburn – performed at a high level for brief periods of time. Outside of the top dozen or so performers, there just wasn’t a lot of production. On a Production Rating basis, Sam Cassell (#24) and Nick Van Exel (#37) finished second and fourth, respectively. I find it unlikely that anyone from this class will make the Hall of Fame.
In any case, I might as well leave you with a picture of the #1 and #2 picks in the draft, as well as the most consistent image in Shawn Bradley’s career.
17. Class of 1995: 16 Points (2 Star Points, 14 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Joe Smith – Golden State Warriors – 11.91
Highest-Rated Player: Kevin Garnett (#5 Minnesota Timberwolves) – 27.18
Rookie of the Year: Damon Stoudamire (#7 Toronto Raptors)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 4 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 3 All NBA Second Team (1 Player), 3 All NBA Third Team (2 Players), 8 All Defense First Team (1 Player), 5 All Defense Second Team (3 Players), 21 All Star Appearances (5 Players)
The 1995 Draft Class is really about one man – Kevin Garnett. It’s important to recognize that of the list of awards above, KG is responsible for all of the All NBA Team awards except for Antonio McDyess’ solitary 3rd Team appearance. He has all of the All Defense First Team nods, and two All Defense Second Teams, and he accounts for 12 of the 21 All Star appearances. His 27.18 Production Rating is over 10 points higher than #2 on the list – Rasheed Wallace. Garnett is a stone cold lock for the Hall.
Still, there were a number of solid pros that came out of this draft. In addition to Garnett, McDyess, and Wallace, guys like Michael Finley, Damon Stoudamire, Joe Smith, Kurt Thomas, and Jerry Stackhouse all put in work for at least a decade. Pacer picks Travis Best and Fred Hoiberg turned in respectable performances – for where they were drafted.
16. Class of 1983: 16 Points (2 Star Points, 14 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Ralph Sampson – Houston Rockets – 10.77
Highest-Rated Player: Clyde Drexler (#14 Portland TrailBlazers) – 19.82
Rookie of the Year: Ralph Sampson (#1 Houston Rockets)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 3 All NBA Second Team (2 Players), 3 All NBA Third Team (2 Players), 1 All Defense First Team (1 Player), 3 All Defense Second Team (2 Players), 16 All Star Appearances (5 Players)
Rather than reminiscing or telling some possibly apocryphal story about the Pacers trying to sell their draft pick to Houston for $750,000 on the night of the coin toss, I’m going to extensively quote a much better writer than me. In his book Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman includes an essay entitled, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Ralph Sampson.” In part, this essay says:
…Had he thrown away his career like Benny Anders, this entire essay would have been about how his failure was beautiful and interesting; as it is, it’s about how being the MVP of the ’85 All Star game is like being a brilliant pool player – sarcastic proof of a wasted life.
We used Ralph Sampson. I am using him now in almost the exact same manner I’m bemoaning. He is the post-playing piñata it’s acceptable to smash. It’s acceptable to fixate upon the things he did not do well enough, because all those personal catastrophes still leave him in a position of power. This is not an example of the media building someone up in order to knock him back down; this take down was far less satisfying. Sampson busted big by succeeding mildly.
This, to me, is a good illustration of the distorted, and often bizarre, lens we view these players through. Just a brief moment of perspective reminding us that we often hold these players to a much higher standard than we’d ever hold ourselves – before I return to doing exactly that.
15. Class of 1989: 16 Points (0 Star Points, 16 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Pervis Ellison – Sacramento Kings – 7.41
Highest-Rated Player: Shawn Kemp (#17 Seattle SuperSonics) – 17.56
Rookie of the Year: David Robinson (#1 in 1987 San Antonio Spurs)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 7 All NBA Second Team (3 Players), 2 All NBA Third Team (2 Players), 2 All Defense First Team (2 Player), 6 All Defense Second Team (2 Players), 21 All Star Appearances (9 Players)
Prior to the 2009 NBA draft, NBATV replayed a whole bunch of old draft telecasts. It just so happens that this was the replay I caught, and it probably gives me a dimmer view of this draft than most. It was a TNT broadcast, and it’s always amazing how cheesy the production values were even into the late ’80’s. This was more than a year ago, so I can’t quite recall who all was doing the broadcast, but I do recall Steve “Snapper” Jones and Rick Barry. I never liked Rick Barry, and that opinion was reinforced when he spent most of the first part of the draft in breathless anticipation of the selection of Stacey King from Oklahoma. I think the next time I heard about Stacey King, he was being referred to as “Burger” King by Michael Jordan.
Of course, the Pacers drafting George McCloud doesn’t exactly brighten my outlook on this class. What I remember about this Draft and the run up is:
- Pervis Ellison was a head scratcher at #1. Admittedly, it was tough to say at the time who should have gone first, but still, I don’t recall many thinking it would be “Never Nervous” Pervis.
- George McCloud was a disaster as a Pacer – shooting 39% in four years and missing a playoff game with an ankle injury supposedly suffered while talking on the phone – but he still managed to play in almost 800 games over 12 seasons in the NBA. He even found fleeting success in 1996, averaging almost 19 points a night for the 26-win Mavs.
- There were some quality players in this draft – Glen Rice, Tim Hardaway, Mookie Blaylock, Cliff Robinson, Vlade Divac – but the best was almost certainly Shawn Kemp. From Concord, Indiana, it’s easy to forget just how good the Reign Man was amid stories of drug arrests, weight problems, and hackneyed jokes about his propensity for fathering children.
- Danny Ferry, the #2 pick in this draft, chose to play in Italy rather than go to the Los Angeles Clippers. This move forced the Clippers to trade him to Cleveland for Ron Harper, two firsts, and a second. This is notable for two reasons. First, despite injuries to Harper in the first two years, you’ve got to admit that this trade was pretty lopsided in favor of the Clippers – a rarity in their history. Second, it allows me to refer to it as the “Harper Ferry” trade for the last 20+ years, and I will continue to refer to it as such until I see at least some glimmer of recognition when I say it.
14. Class of 1988: 16 Points (3 Star Points, 13 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Danny Manning – Los Angeles Clippers – 11.55
Highest-Rated Player: Mitch Richmond (#5 Golden State Warriors) – 15.74
Rookie of the Year: Mitch Richmond (#5 Golden State Warriors)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 4 All NBA Second Team (2 Players),3 All NBA Third Team (2 Players), 4 All Defense Second Team (3 Players), 13 All Star Appearances (6 Players)
I took an English Composition class as part of my core requirements during the first summer session of 1988. One of the compositions was to be persuasive, so I wrote about why the Pacers should take Rik Smits with the #2 pick in the draft. I found it in my attic a few years ago. The upside is that I got an A. The downside is that it was 99 different kinds of crap. It will not be reproduced here.
Other than that, this class may be the most mundane of the ones I’ve included. No Hall-of-Famers, and not really anyone for whom to make a strong case. Danny Manning was clearly the cream of this crop coming out, and – since he was drafted by the Clippers – he promptly injured his knee and missed 56 games his rookie year. Mitch Richmond averaged at or above 22 points per night for his 1st 10 seasons, but his teams were 330-421 when he played during that stretch. This was mostly just a collection of good contributors like Smits, Hersey Hawkins, Rony Seikaly, and “Thunder” Dan Majerle.
And – of course – this:
13. Class of 1981: 20 Points (3 Star Points, 17 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Mark Aguirre – Dallas Mavericks – 14.96
Highest-Rated Player: Larry Nance (#20 Phoenix Suns) – 19.35
Rookie of the Year: Buck Williams (#3 New Jersey Nets)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 3 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 5 All NBA Second Team (3 Players), 3 All Defense First Team (2 Players), 5 All Defense Second Team (3 Players), 31 All Star Appearances (8 Players)
Hall of Fame: Isiah Thomas
This draft class makes me smile – Isiah Thomas notwithstanding. It’s not so much that it has a bunch of great players, or a bunch of players that I liked. It’s just that it has so many players I remember watching. As I think about it now, this was really the year that I fell in love with Basketball…well the two years of 1980 and 1981, my 14th and 15th on the planet.
As a child, my sports passion changed with the seasons – Summer was baseball, Fall was football, Winter was basketball. Up until high school, if you’d forced me to pick one, I probably would have chosen baseball. I spent summers scouring box scores in the papers, but that probably reached its zenith when my childhood heroes Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt led the Phillies to the ’80 World Series.
Basketball had started to chip away more as I began to connect to the roots of the Indiana High School Tournament. In the spring of 1980, I was an eighth grader watching Stacey Toran (later of Notre Dame and Oakland Raider football fame) throw in a half court shot in the afternoon game of the state finals to help the (Broad) Ripple Rockets advance past Marion on their way to a title. In Christmas of ’79, I had gotten a fancy-schmancy all-in-one stereo with a record player WITH AM-FM RADIO (the finest the J.C. Penney catalog had to offer – below a certain price) which let me listen to Don Fischer call all of the IU games on their way to the 1981 NCAA Title and Bob Lamey call every single Pacer game on the way to their first NBA Playoff appearance. (Lamey was/is a miserable announcer, and I thank my lucky stars each and every day that Mark and Slick do Pacer games these days.)
So, what does this have to do with this class? Well, it means I can remember watching the DePaul and #1 pick Mark Aguirre get upset by St. Joseph’s in the first round, 49-48. I can remember sitting slack-jawed as the #31 selection in this draft – Danny Ainge – dribbled the length of the floor in about 5 seconds with almost no resistance in order for BYU to upset a Notre Dame team featuring three players taken ahead of him in 1981 – Orlando Woolridge (#6), Kelly Tripucka (#12), and Tracy Jackson (#25) – as well as John Paxson, who was drafted #19 two years later.
I also watched the Indiana Hoosiers and #2 pick Isiah Thomas open the tournament by completely dismantling a Maryland Terrapins team featuring the #3 pick from this draft (Buck Williams) and the #10 pick from this draft (Albert King). However, my personal favorite on that IU team was the #18 pick in 1981 – Ray Tolbert.
By the time the 1981 NBA Draft was held, my connection to basketball had become permanent. And thinking of these guys, as well as others like Rolando Blackman, Tom Chambers, Larry Nance, and Eddie Johnson gives me a smile that the people currently surrounding me can’t quite understand.
12. Class of 2005: 22 Points (11 Star Points, 11 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Andrew Bogut – Milwaukee Bucks – 15.97
Highest-Rated Player: Chris Paul (#4 New Orleans Hornets) – 23.90
Rookie of the Year: Chris Paul (#4 New Orleans Hornets)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 All NBA First Team, 3 All NBA Second Team (2 Players), 1 All NBA Third Team, 1 All Defense First Team, 1 All Defense Second Team, 5 All Star Appearances (4 Players)
If this class could get healthy – and stay healthy – it could end up providing some all time great players. If there are five players in the world better than a healthy Chris Paul, I can’t name them. Deron Williams has emerged as one of the best players in the league, earning 2nd Team All NBA Honors the last two seasons and closing in on Chris Paul for honors as the best point guard in the league.
The #1 overall pick Andrew Bogut anchored perhaps the biggest feel good story – the Milwaukee Bucks – until his brutal elbow injury cut short his season. Andrew Bynum of the Lakers may be the most intriguing of the bunch, blessed with incredible size and athleticism, but possibly in a body too highly tuned to take the pounding. There were a couple of gems taken later, as well. David Lee was taken with the final pick of the first round, while Monta Ellis was drafted 40th overall.
Pacer fans, of course, look fondly upon this draft. It’s always fun to go back and read Bill Simmons’ 2005 Draft Diary. It’s great fun looking at every team drafting between fifth and sixteenth (with the arguable exception of the Lakers taking Bynum at #10), and thinking, “Danny Granger says, ‘Hi.”’ I must also admit that it’s possible that I get as much joy out of how excited Bill Simmons is about getting Gerald Green one pick after the Pacers took Danny Granger – knowing what we know now.
11. Class of 1986: 23 Points (7 Star Points, 16 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Brad Daugherty – Cleveland Cavaliers – 20.08
Highest-Rated Player: Brad Daugherty (#1 Cleveland Cavaliers) – 20.08
Rookie of the Year: Chuck Person (#4 Indiana Pacers)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 7 All NBA Third Team (4 Players), 2 Defensive Player of Year (Dennis Rodman 2x’s), 7 All Defense First Team (1 Player), 3 All Defense Second Team (2 Players), 14 All Star Appearances (5 Players)
Hall of Fame: Drazen Petrovic
Though there were some very good pros taken in this class, it’s probably better known for the tragedy and self-destructive behavior of it’s members. It started just days after the draft, when the #2 pick Len Bias was found dead of an apparent drug overdose. Years later, Drazen Petrovic’s life was cut short after 28 years when he was killed in an automobile accident in Germany. Top 10 picks Chris Washburn (#3), William Bedford (#4), and Roy Tarpley (#7) all destroyed their careers with drugs.
Even the successes among the Top Ten picks are somewhat muted. Brad Daugherty’s career was over at the age of 28 with recurring back problems. After a fantastic rookie year, Pacer Chuck Person seemingly plateaued. After being poised to become the face of the Pacers’ future, he had been surpassed in importance by teammates Reggie Miller and Detlef Schrempf by the time he was traded to Minnesota in the summer of 1992.
The best player from this draft was probably the #27 pick – Dennis Rodman – though his legacy is probably damaged (fairly or unfairly) by his reputation as something of a nutbar. He is almost certain to join Drazen Petrovic (#60) in the Hall of Fame, meaning that the Hall of Famers from this class will have been taken outside of the first round (only 24 picks in the first in 1986). Other well respected pros taken late in this draft include Jeff Hornacek (#46), Mark Price (#25), and Nate McMillan (#30).
Perhaps the most intriguing might have been Arvydas Sabonis, who was drafted 24th by Portland. Sabonis’ place in history will always be difficult to determine as he spent his prime behind the Iron Curtain – and I say that without a trace of sarcasm. I only saw glimpses of him during the ’80’s, but what I saw impressed. By the time he joined the NBA, he was over 30. However, he was still an excellent player. In the 1998 season, Sabonis averaged 16 points, 10 boards, and 3 assists as a 34-year old Blazer.
Though it pales in comparison to the personal losses suffered by those close to some of these players, NBA fans were robbed of a lot from this class by drugs, tragedy, and the Cold War.
If I understand my 8p9s back story well enough, this picture right here is why a boy from Orono, Maine, became a Pacer fan, started a Pacer website, and asked me to inundate you with lots and lots of words.