2011 NBA Draft Grades: How Many Clubs Earned a Failing Grade in Round 1?
Larry Bird was indeed a legendary force as a Hall-of-Fame forward for Indiana State in college and then with the Boston Celtics in his NBA days.
But as a president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, the Hick from French Lick (what a god-awful nickname for one of the best players of all time) is anything but a star.
And in the 2011 NBA Draft, he lived up to his weak reputation as a front-office master by making yet another foolish decision, dealing away former San Diego State star Kawhi Leonard (who he picked No. 15 overall) in exchange for the Spurs backup point guard, George Hill.
The Pacers are destined for mediocrity once again, as has become routine under Bird's watch in Indianapolis.
But Larry Legend wasn't the only GM who downgraded his franchise's roster on Thursday night. Here's a look at the five teams whose front offices failed in the first round of this year's NBA draft:
1. Indiana Pacers
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Larry freaking Bird is calling the shots for Indiana, a state that adores him more than any other sports figure ever.
What are they gonna do to him for continually failing as the president of the Pacers? Fire him? Highly unlikely.
After making what appeared to be a strong pick by taking the 6'7” Kawhi Leonard with the No. 15 pick, Bird immediately traded away Leonard (a serious athlete and sound defender) for the Spurs backup point guard, George Hill.
And it seems as though Hill will continue in that second-string role, as the Pacers already own a starting point guard in the young Darren Collison.
While Kawhi Leonard, 19, is not a top-tier scorer, he can do just about everything else on the court, including providing a strong rebounding presence.
Hill averaged just 11.5 points and 2.5 assists last year for San Antonio, and that is probably his ceiling.
Indiana, you are the biggest failure of the first round.
2. New York
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No surprise here, as the New York front office rarely makes the right decision in the draft, no matter who is in charge (even the well-liked outgoing NY president Donnie Walsh doesn't have the strongest rep in the draft).
This time the Knicks snatched up Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert, who many experts believed was a fringe first-rounder at best, more often projected for the beginning of the second round.
Shumpert is a gunner who cannot shoot.
At 6'6”, he is a strong leaper and rebounder, but he shot just 28 percent from beyond the college three-point arc and only 40 percent from the field overall.
And despite playing 32 minutes per game, switching between the point guard and shooting guard roles, he came through with under four assists per contest.
There were so many better options on the board at that point (Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried, Jordan Hamilton), it made the Shumpert pick look even worse.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
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OK, so the Kyrie Irving pick was nearly a no-brainer, as the Cavs were in desperate need of a young floor general to build the franchise around.
And while Irving will prove to be a steady, efficient and productive starting point guard in the NBA (perhaps a Mike Bibby level PG), he doesn't have the explosive scoring and leaping abilities of Derrick Williams, the former Arizona star whose game is built for entertainment.
Nonetheless, Irving was a solid pick, and he should have a strong career in the NBA,
The real issue is with who the Cavs took at No. 4.
Tristan Thompson played one decent year at Texas, but he didn't display an all-around game worthy of anything close to a top-five pick in the NBA draft.
At 6'8”, the Canadian-bred Thompson doesn't have great size or athleticism for what he's going to be asked to do in the NBA.
In his only college season, he averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 boards as the Longhorns flamed out in the second round of the NCAA tourney.
To me, he seems very Anderson Varejao-like, a solid rebounder and defender, but nowhere near good enough to be a lottery pick.
4. Phoenix Suns
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With so many positions of need to fill, the pickup of former Kansas power forward Markieff Morris, who was surprisingly picked ahead of his twin brother, was something of a reach by the Suns and their GM, Lance Blanks.
Down low, the Suns already own a glut of players (although several are better suited for the center spot than the power forward) who are as good or better than the lesser of the two Morris brothers.
That list includes: Robin Lopez, Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye, all of whom should see more minutes in the post than Morris, leaving him buried deep in the rotation.
What the Suns needed was an explosive perimeter player, as Vince Carter is aging and there isn't much in the way of talent at the off-guard spot behind him.
So instead of giving Steve Nash another offensive option to turn into a star (perhaps Jordan Hamilton or Marshon Brooks), they went with a guy who was far from the go-to option in his last year at Kansas.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
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Nolan Smith is not going to be an impact player at the NBA level, making this a wasted pick for the Blazers.
While he was solid in the Duke system, he would not have gotten the opportunity for nearly the amount of minutes he received had Kyrie Irving been healthy for the bulk of the season.
He doesn't do any thing particularly well, his athleticism is average at best and his range is nothing to be scared of for the opposition.
And though he does deserve credit for what he was able to do after being thrust into the starring point-guard role for Duke, he disappeared with the season on the line for the Blue Devils, putting up his worst game of the season in the Blue Devils' blowout loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16. Smith posted just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting in that contest.