This is the first installment of my "Draft Do-Over" series, articles that will recap the last 10 years of the NBA draft, and the selections that should have been made in hindsight. We start with 1997, a year that a lot of NBA GM's would probably be willing to forget.
The criteria for these lists are simple. We look at the entire career of the players involved, and if given the choice, what order you would want them to have played for your team. Injuries, off the court behavior and all other variables will be taken into account. Let's get started...
1. San Antonio Spurs
Actual Pick: Tim Duncan, F. Wake Forest University.
Who it Should have been: Tim Duncan, F. Wake Forest (1st Overall to San Antonio)
Tim Duncan was considered to be one of the more sure-fire NBA prospects to emerge from the NCAA over the last 15 years, and he’s lived up to that billing and then some since breaking into the league in 1997.
Duncan’s personality (or lack thereof) and simple yet effective style of play (read: boring) have prevented him from reaching the echelon of superstardom that some of his peers enjoy, but Duncan has a resume that arguably trumps any other active players in the game today.
Four NBA championships, two league MVP awards, three Finals MVP trophies, an All-Star Game MVP nod, and 10 trips to both the All-NBA team and the All-Defensive squad respectively. Duncan let’s the other cats do the commercials – He just collects hardware.
2. New Jersey Nets
Actual Pick: Keith Van Horn, F. Utah.
Who it Should have Been: Tracy McGrady, G. (9th Overall to Toronto)
In defense of the Nets, and the seven other teams who let T-Mac slide down to the nine spot in the draft, this was before the era where high school seniors were being handed the keys to NBA franchises every June at the draft. Nevertheless, McGrady has become one of the more prolific scorers in the league and sold approximately a zillion jerseys over the past decade, while the number of Van Horn jersey owners could probably fit inside a min-van.
KVH actually had a better career than people give him credit for (16.0 ppg and 6.8 rpg averages over 9 seasons), but he never lived up to his vast potential coming out of Utah. Fans seemed to have a hard time warming up to him too. Maybe it was his penchant for poor playoff performances, or maybe it was because he had the charisma of a ball-rack. Who knows.
McGrady on the other hand has seven trips to the all-star game, two scoring titles and has more youtube hits than the Star Wars Kid. He was also one of the first athletes to get one of those hyphenated nicknames like A-Rod, D-Wade, etc, so I guess he gets some credit for that too. Or maybe we should punish him for starting such a stupid trend. Either way, T-Mac is our number two guy.
3. Boston Celtics
Actual Pick: Chauncey Billups, G. Colorado.
Who it should have been: Chauncey Billups. (3rd Overall to Boston)
Once cosidered a dissapointment, Billups bounced around between four teams during his first four seasons before finally making a permanent home in Detroit. Since then, he’s become one of the better two-way point guards in the NBA.
A three time all-star, Billups has helped the Pistons become one of the more consistent franchises in the league since the turn of the century, with the highlight being a memorable upset win over a loaded up Lakers team in 2003 – a postseason that saw Billups snag the Finals MVP trophy and finish 5th in MVP voting.
4. Vancouver Grizzlies
Actual Pick: Antonio Daniels, G, Bowling Green.
Who it Should have been: Stephen Jackson. (42nd Overall to Phoenix.)
Daniels would start 50 games for the Grizzlies in his first and only season in Vancouver, posting modest numbers in his rookie campaign. Traded to San Antonio the following summer, he’s enjoyed a decent career since then but has only eclipsed the 10 ppg plateau once, and has never averaged more than 5 assists a game.
I’m moving Stephen Jackson all the way up from the number 42 spot, which is a credit to Jackson’s impressive play in recent years, but also a good indication of how much this draft falls off after the first three picks.
Drafted out of tiny Butler Community College in 1997, Jackson has managed to turn around a once volatile career to become the leader of the Golden State Warriors. No one will forget SJ’s role in the infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills while a member of the Pacers, or the strip club shenanigans that ultimately sealed his dismissal from Indiana, but Jackson has been a model citizen since reaching Oakland and has played great too. Also, unlike a lot of the players from this draft, Jackson is still getting better - evidenced by his career high 20.1 ppg in 2007-08 at the age of 30.
He’s probably not back on David Stern’s Christmas card list just yet, but he’s good enough for fourth on our list.
5. Denver Nuggets
Actual Pick:Tony Battie, F, Texas Tech.
Who it should have been:Brevin Knight. (16thoverall to Cleveland)
Brevin Knight has flown under the radar for his entire career, but sneaks into the 5 spot on our list regardless. Knight’s been unfortunate in the sense that he’s never played with a good team, save for the late 90’s Cavs squad that featured Shawn Kemp (prior to the 400 pound mark), but has still landed in the top 10 for assists four times during his career (including a 2ndplace finish in 04-05 with 9.0 apg, and a 3rdplace finish the next year with 8.8 apg).
Overall, Knight’s played with a who’s who of terrible franchises, including the Grizzlies, the Hawks, the Bobcats, the Bucks and now the Clippers. Yikes. I think the fact that Knight hasn’t murdered a teammate yet is a testament to his character.
Battie was a double-double machine at Texas Tech before entering the NBA, but could never find the same success while in the pros. He averaged 6.7 points and 5.6 rebounds over his career before retiring prior to the 2007 campaign. Sorry Tony, but you’re sliding down the list.
6. Boston Celtics
Actual Pick: Ron Mercer, G. Kentucky.
Who it Should have been: Bobby Jackson. (23rd overall to Minnesota)
One of the best sixth men in the league between 2001 and 2006, Jackson grabs the number six spot from Ron Mercer – the Kentucky product who had a promising career derailed by injuries after only a handful of seasons.
Jackson enjoyed his best years as the leader of the ‘Bench Mob’ (Lawrence Funderburke anyone?) in Sacramento, on a team that flirted with championship glory. He won the NBA’s sixth man of the year award in 2003, and has provided a spark off the bench for Memphis, New Orleans and Houston since leaving the Kings.
Mercer’s career started with a bang, nabbing a first-team all rookie honor during his initial season in Beantown, and topping the 15 point per game mark in each of his first four seasons. A string of injuries robbed Mercer of much of his athleticism, and limited him to only 119 games between 2002 and 2005. He retired during the Sonics training camp in 2006 due to a back ailment.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
Actual Pick: Tim Thomas, F. Villanova.
Who it Should have been: Keith Van Horn (2nd Overall to New Jersey)
We’ve already touched on the career of KVH, who finds himself sliding five spots down from his original draft position – mainly because of his early retirement due to injuries, and to a lesser extent, his terrible knee socks.
8. Golden State Warriors
Actual Pick:Adonal Foyle, F. Colgate.
Who it Should have been: Tim Thomas. (7th overall to Philadelphia)
Blessed with all the potential in the world, Thomas will likely always be remembered as a perennial underachiever during his career. After signing a huge contract with the Bucks in 2001, Thomas unveiled the one game on/one game off style that has become his calling card.
Career averages of 11.8 ppg and 4.2 rpg may not seem like a complete disaster, but Thomas was a legitimate 5-tool guy who couldn’t be bothered to use more than one or two of them at a time. He played the best basketball of his career during a Phoenix Suns playoff run in 2006, but will ultimately be stuck with the lazy tag that has marred his run in the pros. Thomas usually looks like he’d rather be playing Grand Theft Auto than competing in an NBA game.
Foyle has floundered in the league, providing a physical presence (read: he’s fat) and six fouls a game to his team, and not much else. In his defense, he was an above average shot blocker from 2000-04, but that doesn’t warrant a top 10 selection on our list. Sorry Adonal.
9. Toronto Raptors
Actual Pick: Tracy McGrady, G. Mount Zion Academy (HS).
Who it Should have been: Derek Anderson (13thoverall to Cleveland)
In what’s becoming a theme for the 1997 draft, Anderson was a slick-shooting swingman who has seen his run in the NBA diminished by injuries.
Anderson had his best year with San Antonio in 2000-01, starting 82 games for a Spurs team that went to the Western Finals, averaging 15.5 ppg along the way. Relegated to Jail Blazer duty during the following years, Anderson would post four more solid seasons in Portland before injuries began to take their toll.
Anderson played in only 28 games for the Bobcats last season, with minimal success and has probably played his last games in the NBA.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the Raps got a serious steal here with McGrady.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
Actual Pick: Danny Fortson, F. Cincinatti.
Who it Should have been: Tony Battie (5th overall to Denver)
Mr. Battie finds himself back in the top 10, edging out Mercer, Fortson, Austin Croshere, Anthony Parker and Jacque Vaughn. Quit the honor Tony. Quit the honor indeed.
Fortson had as much of an up and down career as anyone on this list. He was fantastic some seasons (16.7 ppg and 16.3 rpg in 2001!) and dismal in others. However, the deciding factor for keeping him out of the top 10 was his repeated knucklehead behavior. Perhaps the leagues most infamous flagrant fouler during the last seven years, and an all around bad teammate - Fortson wore out his welcome at every one of his stops, while his stats slipped to Adonal Foyle-like levels of mediocrity.
1997 will be remembered as a draft that provided two superstars in Duncan and McGrady, one star in Billups, an enigma in Stephen Jackson, and a whole bunch of role players after that.
Stephen Jackson, F. 43rd overall.
Tracy McGrady, G. 9th overall.
Antonio Daniels, G. 4th overall.