What If... 10 Defining Moments in Warriors Draft History
If you’re a Golden State Warriors fan, two things about you must be true. You have a high tolerance for pain, and can sustain yourself on a steady diet of hope for the future.
We, as Warriors fans, can’t help but dream of landing the player who will lead our team to greatness.
Some say that the best way to predict where you’re heading is to reflect upon where you’ve been.
If you dare to venture down memory lane, you’ll likely be left with this recurring thought:
…we drafted Kobe Bryant?
…or Kevin Garnett?
…or Dirk Nowitzki?
…or Amar’e Stoudemire?
The truth is, we could’ve had ‘em all. Any one of these players could have been our Messiah.
But this is the Warriors we’re talking about. They’ve passed on Hall of Fame players and perennial All-Stars. They’ve drafted some of the biggest “busts” in NBA history.
Don’t get me wrong, Warriors fans-- it hasn’t been all bad. We did land Gilbert Arenas and Monta Ellis in the second round. And there has certainly been plenty of talent in Golden State over the years.
But imagine how great this franchise could have been, how many titles could have been won, if only things had been different.
Imagine the possibilities. Imagine what if…
NOTE: this list includes draft-day transactions-- and may not include defining trades or signings, such as the infamous Billy Owens-for-Mitch Richmond trade which altered the future for the team, but did not occur on draft-day.
10. Mike Dunleavy Jr. 2002
In one of their most unpopular draft decisions to date, the Warriors used the third overall pick of the 2002 draft to select Mike Dunleavy Jr., a 6-9 forward out of Duke University.
Amar’e Stoudemire was still on the board. So were Caron Butler, Nene Hilario, and Tayshaun Prince.
Dunleavy was a stand-out player at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to a national title in 2000. In his final season, Mike earned first team All-American honors.
Unfortunately, like many other Duke alumni, Dunleavy was an NBA flop when he brought his game to Golden State.
In four and a half years with the Warriors, Dunleavy struggled to shoot with any consistency. He played terrible defense, and failed to establish himself as a long-range threat.
He quickly lost favor with fans, and was often booed for his poor performances.
After receiving an inexplicable five-year contract extension, Dunleavy was dumped in the 2007 blockbuster trade with Indiana.
After his departure, the Warriors’ play dramatically improved. “We Believe” was born, and the Warriors made their improbable playoff run into the second round.
But how far would the Warriors have gone in those playoffs if Amar’e Stoudemire was donning a Golden State jersey?
Seemingly a perfect fit for Don Nelson’s up-tempo system, Amar’e has plenty of brawn to man the middle, while allowing his team to keep a furious pace.
Just ask the Phoenix Suns. Or better yet, just watch a few of his games vs. the Warriors. Amar’e has killed Golden State with inside scoring and rebounding, while running with one of the fastest teams in the league.
Amar’e was rookie of the year in 2002-03. He started 71 games for a playoff team that went 46-36. Dunleavy started three games for a Warriors team that finished 38-44, and wound up in the NBA’s draft lottery yet again.
Had the Warriors drafted Amar’e Stoudemire, they would have landed a perennial All-Star. They would have a rare combination of power and speed, and they would have the strength to compete down low.
Paired with Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, Amar’e and the Warriors would have been a dominant force in the Western Conference.
If only the Warriors had drafted Amar’e Stoudemire….
But, they didn’t.
9. Jamaal Wilkes 1974
With the 11th pick in the 1974 draft, The Golden State Warriors selected Jamaal Wilkes, a 6’6 small forward out of UCLA. Known as “Smooth as Silk Wilkes,” Jamaal had a fantastic mid-range jumper that Lakers’ announcing great Chick Hearn would call a “20-foot layup.”
Although UCLA teammate Bill Walton was the No. 1 pick in the ‘74 draft, it was Jamaal that had the best rookie season, averaging 14.2 ppg and 8.2 rpg, the second highest total for his career.
He was selected Rookie of the Year for the 1974-75 season, and helped the Warriors win their only NBA championship.
Jamaal played just three seasons in Golden State, signing with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 1977.
Many Bay Area fans felt betrayed by Jamaal’s defection, having already lost the great Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers (by way of Philadelphia) in the 1960’s.
After winning two national titles at UCLA, Jamaal won four NBA championships with the Warriors and Lakers.
8. Chris Webber 1993
One of the biggest draft day trades in Warriors history occurred in 1993, when the team traded the rights to No. 3 overall pick Anfernee Hardaway to the Orlando Magic for No. 1 overall selection Chris Webber.
C-Webb had just led his Michigan team to a second consecutive run to the NCAA championship game.
At 6-10, 250 pounds,Webber instantly gave the Dubs a powerful presence in the middle. C-Webb had a major impact as a rookie, averaging 17.5 ppg and 9.1 rpg.
He led the Warriors back to the playoffs, despite season-ending injuries to stars Tim Hardaway and Sarunas Marciulionis.
Webber was awarded Rookie of the Year honors for his spectacular efforts.
Of course, very few stories in Warriorland have happy endings, and this one is no different. C-Webb and Nellie couldn’t see eye-to-eye, and Webber was traded to the Washington Bullets the following year for Tom Gugliotta (who?) and three first-round draft picks.
What began as a fantastic acquisition for the Warriors ended in disaster, as Golden State would flounder once again upon Webber’s departure.
7. Chris Mullin 1985
One of the most fruitful draft-day decisions in Warriors’ history was made in June 1985, when the team used the seventh overall pick to select shooting guard Chris Mullin.
Mullin had starred at St. John’s University, earning All-American honors three times. He was voted Big East Player of the Year three times, won the Wooden Award in 1985, and was a gold-medal winner with the U.S. Basketball team in the 1984 Olympics.
With the Warriors, “Mully” eventually established himself as a lights-out shooter, and for five straight seasons he averaged 25 ppg or higher.
He led the Warriors to five playoff appearances, and was the glue of the organization for 12 seasons.
Mully’s style was a perfect fit for Don Nelson’s up-tempo, transition-style offense.
Together with Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond, the three formed the legendary “Run TMC,” which dazzled audiences in the Bay Area and across the nation.
Mullin was a five time All-Star with the Warriors. He was voted All-NBA first team in 1991-92. He was a two-time second team selection as well.
Mullin’s value to the organization didn’t end with his playing days, as his affiliation with the team brought him back as a special assistant and eventual VP of Basketball Operations.
He swung deals that landed Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington and Baron Davis, enabling the franchise to ascend to their historic playoff run of 2007.
6. Nate Thurmond 1963
One of greatest players in Warriors history was drafted in 1963, when the San Francisco Warriors selected Nate Thurmond with the third overall pick.
The 6’11 center would be feared and respected by some of the NBA’s greatest big men, including Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“Nate the Great” played 11 seasons by the Bay. He represented the Warriors in seven All-Star games, and led the team to the playoffs seven times.
Known as a fierce shot blocker and rebounder, Thurmond could also score. He averaged 20 ppg or higher in five of his 11 seasons with the Warriors.
Nate once grabbed 18 rebounds in one quarter, an NBA record that stands to this day. His season average for rpg in 1966-67 was 21.3; he averaged 22.0 rpg the following year. These season averages have been bested only by the legendary Bill Russell.
Thurmond was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1985.
5. Joe Smith 1995
Ahh...This one might hurt the most.
In fairness, it’s hard to blame the Warriors for their lack of foresight. Joe Smith was voted College Player of the Year in 1995.
So, with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft, the Warriors picked themselves a super athletic power forward.
Only, they drafted the wrong one. Go figure.
That year, a high school phenom by the name of Kevin Garnett had decided to forego his college career and enter the NBA draft. He would be the first player drafted directly out of high school in 20 years.
I guess the Warriors had their reservations. They went with the “sure bet” in Smith, who actually was impressive in his rookie season, averaging 15.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg.
He earned a spot on the All-Rookie team and finished second to Damon Stoudamire for Rookie of the Year honors.
Despite Smith’s fast start, the Warriors traded him to Philadelphia in his third season. Since then, his career has been mired in mediocrity, as he’s bounced around the league as a bona fide NBA journeyman.
On the other hand, Kevin Garnett is a sure fire Hall of Famer. He’s a 12-time All-Star, a league MVP, and he’s won a championship with the Boston Celtics.
He’s the big man the Warriors have been missing all these years.
In fact, the Warriors were ready to trade the farm to get Garnett in 2007, when the Timberwolves finally agreed to listen to offers.
Imagine if the Warriors had made the right call on draft day. Rather than missing the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, the Warriors would likely have been perennial playoff contenders.
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda… Didn't.
4. Todd Fuller 1996
All right, this one’s downright embarrassing.
In 1996, a year after passing on Garnett, the Warriors outdid themselves by drafting Todd Fuller with the No. 11 overall selection. Kobe Bryant went No. 13.
Sure, Kobe’s agent Arn Tellem was scaring NBA lottery teams that year, saying that Kobe wouldn’t play for any team but the Lakers.
But talk is cheap. If the Warriors did draft Kobe, they would have had his draft rights, and he would have wasted his greatness playing in Europe if he refused to report for duty.
The Warriors should have called his bluff. But they didn’t.
Instead, they went with Fuller, a 6’11 power forward out of North Carolina...State, that is.
There’s really no nice way to say it. Fuller was a bust. He was terrible. He was worthless to the franchise, one of the most forgettable first-round selections of all time.
He played on four teams in five seasons, and was out of the league in 2000. He averaged 3.7 ppg for his “career.”
There’s no need to cite Kobe’s resume; the fact that he’s arguably the greatest player of all time says it all. I’m sure Warriors fans enjoyed watching as he led his team to yet another NBA championship this season.
“Well” you say, “I can see how they’d pass on Kobe. It’s a big risk to draft a guy in the first round who says he won’t play for your team.”
Ok, fine. Then how do the Warriors explain passing on Steve Nash and Jermaine O’Neil?
They don’t. Because they can’t. The Warriors missed so badly in 1996, it’s beyond explanation. Two Hall of Famers and a six-time All-Star. And we drafted Todd Fuller.
3. Joe Barry Carroll 1980
And the hits just keep on coming.
If you have the strength to continue, brace yourself for what has been unanimously regarded as the worst draft-day trade in history.
Not just Warriors history--We’re talking NBA history.
In June of 1980, your Golden State Warriors traded future Hall of Famer Robert Parish and the number three overall pick to the Boston Celtics for the first and 13th picks.
The Celts ended up with Parish and Kevin McHale, and three championship rings.
The Warriors drafted Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown. Then they missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons.
In a television interview following the trade, Parish joked that leaving Golden State for Boston was like “going from an outhouse to the penthouse.” Ouch.
So what did the Warriors get for their departed star, a nine-time All-Star selection and Hall of Fame inductee?
Enter Joe “Barely Cares” Carroll, a 7’1 center who many believed to be a “can’t miss” prospect entering the draft. Oh, they also got Rickey Brown. He was out of the league in five years.
Carroll was an adequate performer, but he never lived up to his own hype. Although he did have some decent seasons in Golden State, (he even earned an All-Star bid in 1987) his name has become synonymous with “NBA draft bust.”
Carroll probably deserved a little better based on his play. But somebody’s gotta pay when one of the unluckiest sports franchises of all time trades away two future Hall of Famers and three NBA championships.
Sorry it had to be you, Joe.
2. Rick Barry 1965
In 1965, the Warriors landed themselves a gem, drafting Rick Barry with the second overall pick. The “Miami Greyhound” led the Warriors to their only NBA championship in 1975.
Known for his iron will and his unorthodox “granny shot” free throws, Barry put together one of the finest NBA careers of all time in the Bay Area.
Barry was honored as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1966, averaging 25.7 ppg and 10.6 rpg. During his sophomore season, he led the Warriors to the NBA finals, where they fell to Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers.
In all, Barry played eight seasons in Golden State. He never averaged less than 21 ppg. In 1966-67, he averaged a career best 35.6 points per contest.
Barry is the only player in history to lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring. He won an ABA championship in 1969 with the Oakland Oaks.
Rick Barry was an eight time NBA All-Star, a five time All-NBA first team selection, and was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1987.
1. Wilt Chamberlain 1959
The Philadelphia Warriors drafted perhaps the greatest big man of all time in 1959, using the NBA’s “territorial draft rule” to select native son and NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.
“Wilt the Stilt” played five and a half seasons for the Warriors, posting his highest statistical totals while with the franchise.
Any knowledgeable fan knows about Wilt. We’re all aware of what he’s achieved in the game.
Unfortunately for Warriors fans, most of Chamberlain’s greatest feats were accomplished in other teams’ uniforms.
Wilt won two NBA championships. His first one came in 1967, two years after he was traded from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Chamberlain beat his former team as the 76ers clipped the Warriors in a six-game series.
The Warriors had traded Chamberlain due to financial struggles. The trade marks the only instance in NBA history that the league’s leading scorer has been dealt mid-season.
Well done, indeed.
Overall, Wilt was a four time MVP, a 13 time All-Star, and was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1978. He still holds 24 all-time NBA records for scoring and rebounding.
It’s not all bad for Warriors fans. He did score 100 points in a single game wearing a Warriors jersey. He was Rookie of the Year and league MVP in 1960.
Warriors fans will always wonder what heights could have been achieved had Wilt Chamberlain stayed in Golden State.
But that’s okay, we’ve become quite accustomed to wondering what if…