Looking Back at the Biggest Steals of the 2009 NBA Draft

Matt GelfandCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2010

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 21:  Marcus Thornton #5 of the Louisiana State University Tigers reacts after a basket against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 21, 2009 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On July 25, 2009 at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, 60 talented young men fulfilled their dreams of making it to the NBA

On the other end of the spectrum, 30 NBA teams had the opportunity to get better.  Months of planning, debating, watching game tape, evaluating workouts, and crunching numbers all led up to the one night where all the analyzing would pay dividends, allowing each team to gain a chip that could bring them one step closer to a title.

The results left me dumbfounded, and wondering why NBA executives remain oblivious to the talent passing them by, and how someone like Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace (Hasheem Thabeet, No. 2 overall) still has a job.

It still amazes me that people who get paid to evaluate talent for a living—these mathematical geniuses and lifelong scouts—can let such undeniably skilled, NBA-ready players fall through the cracks.

As the season winds down, I believe it's time to take a look back at the players who arguably should've been drafted with the top 10 picks, how far they fell, and why.

No. 4 Overall: Tyreke Evans—Kings.  20.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG

Blake Griffin gets a pass here, but Thabeet and James Harden do not.  Neither player is in the same league, let alone the same stratosphere as Evans, whose numbers rival LeBron James' rookie campaign. 

Granted, the Grizz are already guard heavy, and the Thunder have that Durant guy, so neither would've been a good fit for a scorer like Evans, but you have to think GM's would be smart enough to take the best player available so early in the draft. 

Forget about the years Thunder fans will now miss watching Durant and Evans become the 'aughts version of Jordan and Pippen—only if Pippen was a more prolific scorer and the Bulls had an immensely more talented supporting cast. 

But whether or not Griffin fully recovers (which, seeing as he's a Clipper, seems doubtful), Evans has made it quite clear who the No. 1 pick in the draft should've been, and after he polishes off his Rookie of the Year trophy, he'll be making the sorrowful Clippers fans pay for at least the next decade.

No. 7 Overall: Stephen Curry—Warriors.  16.2 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.8 SPG

The wiry, sweet shooting son of Hornets sharpshooter Dell Curry looks like he should still be in high school hunched over a backpack 20 lbs too heavy for him and being stuffed in lockers. 

But anyone who watched this display of basketball wizardry knows that Curry is clearly a man amongst boys. 

He undoubtedly inherited his father's long distance skills (41.7 percent from 3), and is carrying a Warriors team made up of me-first scorers (Monta Ellis, Corey Maggette) and D-Leaguers on his back, keeping them competitive night-in and night-out, and probably earning the Warriors revenue in the process. He's what the fans pay to see every night. 

Unfortunately for T-Wolves fans, many of them don't have the funds for a plane ticket to Spain to watch their point guard, No. 5 pick Ricky Rubio, dribble his way around lesser Spanish talent for the next three years.

No. 10 Overall: Brandon Jennings—Bucks.  15.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG

Another talented point guard overlooked by GMs, Jennings went from unknown Euroleague prospect to ROY candidate before Knicks fans could say "Jordan Hill."   

Despite being Scout.com's No. 1 ranked college freshman heading into 2008, Jennings traveled overseas and averaged a pedestrian 5.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 17.0 minutes per game. 

So when his name was announced on draft day, a collective wave of "who 'dat?" came over the crowd. 

Those questions were quickly put to rest after Jennings recorded 17 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists in his first NBA game, and eventually dropped 55 points in early November, breaking the team record for most points by a rookie, previously set by Lew Alcindor in 1970.  

No. 18 Overall: Ty Lawson—Nuggets.  9.0 PPG, 3.3. APG, 2.1 RPG, 0.8 SPG

Despite slowing down significantly in the second half, mainly do to injuries, Lawson has become the clear heir-apparent to Chauncey Billups in the Nuggets backcourt. 

Teams like Detroit (Austin Daye) and Indiana (Tyler Hansbrough) are kidding themselves if they thought Lawson wouldn't help them immediately.  Lawson continued the trend of "the overlooked point guard" in this year's draft.

No. 21 Overall: Darren Collison—Hornets.  11.0 PPG, 5.2 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG

Snagging Collison this late—a four-year starter out of UCLA—was not only highway robbery, but it also gave some much needed insurance to Hornets fans should Chris Paul eventually (gulp) ask to be traded from the meddling franchise.

Paul's unfortunate injury gave Collison an outlet to display top-10 value that a team like Utah (who drafted Eric Maynor with pick No. 20) would certainly prefer. 

Collison's numbers from Feb. 1 onward: 20.0 points, 9.3 assists, 1.8 steals.  And that's NOT including a 17 point, 18 assist performance from Jan. 30.

No. 23 Overall: Omri Casspi—Kings.  11.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 36.9 percent 3PT

Despite dealing with inconsistent teammates (Hawes, Spencer) and a constantly shuffling lineup, the 21-year-old Israeli has managed to post modest numbers in his first full NBA season. 

Despite noticeably losing steam down the stretch, Casspi joins Evans and Carl Landry as a promising young nucleus for a Kings team in desperate need of an identity.

No. 26 Overall: Taj Gibson—Bulls. 8.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.2 BPG

Gibson was chosen after the likes of Jeff Teague (19), Victor Claver (22), and Byron Mullens (24). Only Teague is currently logging any NBA minutes right now, although quite insignificant. 

Gibson has consistently logged 25-30 minutes for a Bulls team in desperate need of frontcourt production.  Brad Miller hasn't been relevant since 2007, and Joakim Noah's been M.I.A during the second half due to ongoing issues with plantar fasciitis.

Gibson isn't flashy, but he has 13 double-digit rebound games thus far, and, because of his consistent production, made former Bull Tyrus Thomas expendable, freeing up some much needed cash in the Bulls wallet. 

If LeBron James becomes a Bull in 2011, GM John Paxson should send Gibson a hearty gift basket.

No. 39 Overall: Jonas Jerebko—Pistons.  9.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.8 SPG

Aside from being the first "Jonas" to step foot on NBA hardwood, Jerebko is far and away the most successful foreign import from this year's draft class, and certainly the most successful foreigner the Pistons have drafted in recent years (Darko who?). 

The 6'10'' Sweed has found minutes on a decimated Pistons team, and has stepped right into the fire and produced.  He'll only improve, and should be a solid cog in the re-vamped Pistons frontcourt for years to come.

No. 43 Overall: Marcus Thornton—Hornets.  13.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.7 SPG

If Collison was highway robbery, then Thornton was like committing grand theft auto, selling the parts for cash, and making a clean getaway without the police ever catching a whiff. 

The Hornets already solidified their backcourt for years to come with Collison, and grabbing Thornton as his running mate midway through the second round when most teams were seemingly grabbing names out of a hat was just icing on the cake. 

He's shown a knack for the long ball (89 of 220—good for 40 percent), and is averaging 23.5 points over his last 10.  This is clearly one of those "how did we not see that coming" moments for every other NBA team.


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