Larry Bird won the league´s Executive of the Year award in 2012 and has largely been applauded for a patient approach to rebuilding that had his team contending for a title. Well, at least until it all fell apart late this season.
Despite the collapse, he built the team well through the draft and is one of the NBA´s top GMs.
Or is he?
The counter evidence: There were some clear in-season missteps (trading for Evan Turner, signing Andrew Bynum) and some questionable additions last summer (trading for Luis Scola, adding Chris Copeland on a team coached by a guy who wouldn´t ever use him).
And of course the George Hill/Kawhi Leonard draft-day decision will loom over everything as long as Leonard is in the league, likely becoming an All-Star Game fixture.
Other than that, however, he has done well in the draft without ever having a top-9 pick. Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and Lance Stephenson were all savvy grabs on draft day. The draft has clearly been a strength for Bird, and the Tyler Hansbrough selection has been the only pick he has had that you can really say he has screwed up.
I suppose, then, to gauge the good with the bad, we need to look at how the other GMs in the league have fared in the draft.
Mark Deeks did exactly that for SB Nation.
He stressed this in his introduction.
The decision makers making the very decisions we overanalyze have trends and biases just like any other human. So if we analyze their bodies of work in all their drafts to date, what conclusions can we draw?
Then he goes on to analyze all the picks made by all the current GMs. It´s a glorious rundown, and includes this entry on Mr. Bird, who is included in a section of executives grouped as ¨Not heavily involved … for now.¨
2013: Drafted Solomon Hill (23) and Colton Iverson (53). Traded Iverson’s rights for cash.
2012: Drafted Miles Plumlee (26). Acquired the rights to Orlando Johnson (36) for cash.
2011: Drafted Kawhi Leonard (15) and Davis Bertrans (42). Traded both along with the rights to Erazem Lorbek for George Hill.
2010: Drafted Paul George (10), Lance Stephenson (40) and Ryan Reid (57). Traded Reid’s rights with cash for the rights to Magnum Rolle (51).
2009: Drafted Tyler Hansbrough (13).
2008: Drafted Jerryd Bayless (11) and Nate Jawai (41). Traded Bayless’s rights with Ike Diogu for the rights to Brandon Rush (13), Jarrett Jack and Josh McRoberts. Trades Jawai’s rights with Jermaine O’Neal for T.J. Ford, Maceo Baston, Rasho Nesterovic and the rights to Roy Hibbert (17).
2007: Traded a future second round pick for the rights to Stanko Barac (39).
2006: Drafted Shawne Williams (17) and Alexander Johnson (45). Traded Johnson’s rights with two future second round picks in exchange for the rights to James White (31).
2005: Drafted Danny Granger (17) and Erazem Lorbek (46).
2004: Drafted David Harrison (29) and Rashad Wright (59).
Bird loves the upperclassmen and built a competitive team without using a top 10 pick to do it. The occasional miss can be seen, but the hits are much bigger than they misses. He is perfectly willing to take a flyer on a redemption candidate, with predictably mixed results (Stephenson yes, Williams noooo-ooo-ooooo), which speaks somewhat to Indiana’s need to maximize limited resources and gambling somewhat to do so.
It will probably will be a quiet night here, though. They can’t get a first rounder with financial clout, and they recklessly gave this year’s one away in the Luis Scola deal, so they might stay at No. 57 only. Which is a shame, because Bird is very good at drafting and the team needs to get younger.
As do most, Deeks considers Bird ¨very good at drafting.¨
That should be clear by the success he has had despite only twice drafting in the lottery (Hansbrough in 2008, Paul George in 2010).
But if you´re not convinced, I encourage you to look through the draft history of the other executives who will be picking tonight.