Re-Drafting the 2001 NBA Draft Class

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 3, 2020

Re-Drafting the 2001 NBA Draft Class

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    The 2001 NBA draft was a watershed event for the league, marking the first time a high school player occupied the top slot. Everyone remembers Kwame Brown's selection and subsequent flameout with Michael Jordan's Washington Wizards, but it's often forgotten that none of the 2001 draft's first four picks attended college.

    Brown won't come off the board first in our re-draft. Rather, it will be the guy who will helped usher in a focus on international scouting that shaped future drafts just as much as the preps-to-pros phenomenon.

    With few exceptions, fit won't factor into the draft order. It's almost always a mistake to prioritize positional need over raw talent, so this will basically be a hunt for the best player available at each pick.

    Another fiction we'll embrace in this exercise: A player's draft value considers his entire career. Both longevity and peak years matter. In reality, free agency and trades almost always mean teams don't keep their draftees forever. But acting as if a player will stick with the team that picks him is the only way to sensibly organize our reordering.

    One strange note before we start: This redone first round will only have 28 picks. There were 29 teams at the time of the 2001 draft, and the Minnesota Timberwolves had to forfeit their first-rounder because of salary-cap violations. Cheaters never prosper.

1. Washington Wizards: Pau Gasol

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    Pau Gasol is the runaway choice as the top pick in this re-draft.

    If that's at all surprising, it's probably because the 7-foot Spaniard's immense skill allowed him to last two decades in the league. A swath of younger fans might only know the lumbering, ground-bound version of Gasol from the past several seasons—not the spry, flaw-free star who entered the league ready to dominate immediately.

    Gasol became the first international player to win Rookie of the Year and joined David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Chris Webber as the only rookies in league history to average at least 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks. A professional in Spain at the age of 16, Gasol didn't face a learning curve in his initial NBA season.

    Most of the time, he was the one doing the teaching.

    With six All-Star nods (he deserved closer to 10), four All-NBA honors, a pair of rings in his career's second phase with the Los Angeles Lakers and ridiculous counting stats, Gasol would warrant consideration for the first pick in almost any season.

    He leads the 2001 field in career points, rebounds and blocks while ranking third in assists. Gasol, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal are the only players in NBA history with at least 20,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 1,900 blocks and a true shooting percentage above 56 percent.

    Case closed.


    Actual Pick: Kwame Brown

    Gasol's Actual Draft Slot: 3rd, Atlanta Hawks (traded to Memphis Grizzlies)

2. Los Angeles Clippers: Tony Parker

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    A full-time starter for the San Antonio Spurs as a 19-year-old rookie, Tony Parker went on to match Pau Gasol's six All-Star and four All-NBA honors. The point guard's peak came from 2011-12 to 2013-14, when he made the All-NBA Second Team three straight times.

    He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in four different seasons and won Finals MVP in 2007.

    Among the fastest end-to-end players in the league, Parker overcame a suspect outside shot with unguardable change-of-pace trickery and one of the best floaters the league has ever seen. That shot made it common to see the 6'2" guard rank among the top 10 in points in the paint.

    It didn't hurt that he had the Spurs system in which to operate, and Tim Duncan's textbook screens were another added benefit. But a player with Parker's speed and savvy would have been a star anywhere.

    He finished his 18-year career with 7,036 assists, over 2,000 more than Joe Johnson, who ranks second among 2001 draftees in the category. His 19,473 points and 1,053 steals each rank third in the class.

    If Parker hadn't spent the early part of his career being constantly reined in by Gregg Popovich, or the later portion under San Antonio's liberal rest policy, there's a good chance he would have topped all 2001 picks in scoring and steals.


    Actual Pick: Tyson Chandler (traded to Chicago Bulls)

    Parker's Actual Draft Slot: 28th, San Antonio Spurs

3. Atlanta Hawks: Joe Johnson

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    Joe Johnson's seven All-Star trips are the most among players picked in 2001. Though he got those nods partially because he played his prime years in the thinner Eastern Conference, his overall resume is strong enough to justify making him the first wing off the board.

    Johnson averaged at least 20 points per game every year from 2005-06 until 2009-10, and before he became more of a volume scorer with the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets, he thrived as a three-point specialist for the Phoenix Suns. He hit an absurd 47.8 percent of his threes in 2004-05, by far the highest conversion rate of any player who attempted at least 200 treys that year. He finished his career at 37.1 percent from deep, fifth all-time among players with at least 5,000 tries from beyond the arc.

    Johnson was a third-team All-NBA selection in 2009-10, and his ability to create his own shots off the dribble helped him score 20,405 points, second to Gasol in the 2001 class. Only Parker topped his 5,001 assists.

    Nobody made more than his 1,978 threes.

    Though he was a defensive negative for the vast majority of his career, Johnson's ability to get buckets on his own or off the catch sets him apart from the other scorers in this draft.


    Actual Pick: Pau Gasol (traded to Memphis Grizzlies)

    Johnson's Actual Draft Slot: 10th, Boston Celtics

4. Chicago Bulls: Zach Randolph

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    Zach Randolph might be the player the Chicago Bulls were hoping they'd get when drafting Eddy Curry in this spot. Though not quite center-sized, Z-Bo delivered conventional big-man stats better than anyone else in his class.

    The 2001 draft produced exactly five individual seasons in which a player averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Randolph had all of them.

    The term "bruiser" usually applies to rugged defensive players, but Randolph delivered his punishment on offense. There weren't many opponents who could hold up against his lowered right shoulder, and though he was quick in face-up situations early in his career, an older Randolph got to the front of the rim by battering his man into submission.

    Though he didn't have the lift to block shots or the quick-twitch reach to snag steals, Randolph deserves credit for being a key part of some defensively dominant Grizzlies teams during the second half of his career.

    Twice an All-Star, Most Improved Player in 2003-04 and a third-team All-NBA selection in 2010-11, Randolph collected hardware the hard way—with physicality and relentless work on the offensive glass.

    You wouldn't build a franchise around him, but that's probably true of everyone other than Gasol in this class. As high-end starting bigs go, Randolph is easily the best available.


    Actual Pick: Eddy Curry

    Randolph's Actual Draft Slot: 19th, Portland Trail Blazers

5. Golden State Warriors: Gilbert Arenas

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    Durability is a factor in this exercise, and Gilbert Arenas was short on it. Knee troubles effectively ended his time as a productive NBA player after his sixth season in the league.

    His exceptionally high peak offsets his short career, though, as Arenas' three-year run from 2004-05 to 2006-07 dwarfs the prime seasons of anyone else in consideration for this slot.

    The 6'3" lead guard was a precursor to modern-day James Harden.

    Arenas was shooting deep threes off the dribble way before it was in fashion, and he was similarly deadly attacking the rim. Crowd him in isolation to deter deep heaves, and he was by you, probably drawing a shooting foul with extreme craft in the lane.

    He averaged 25.5 points per game in 2004-05, 29.3 in 2005-06 and 28.4 in 2006-07, earning All-Star and All-NBA recognition in each of those years. Though he never shot better than 44.7 percent from the field in any of those three prime seasons, a high proportion of threes and tons of foul shots resulted in true shooting percentages well above the league average.

    Arenas attempted at least 6.0 threes and 8.0 foul shots per game every year from 2004-05 to 2006-07. Kobe Bryant was the only other player in the league to post those averages in that span, and he only did it once, in 2005-06.

    You can't really quantify the way a player moves, but transport him to today's league, and Arenas would fit in perfectly. Agent Zero was a player way ahead of his time.

    If the Golden State Warriors had drafted Arenas here instead of 31st, they might have kept him around for his best seasons. In 2003, they lost him to a Wizards offer sheet they couldn't match because they were over the cap. The new collective bargaining agreement of 2005 included a rule allowing teams to exceed the salary cap when matching offer sheets to second-rounders.

    It's now commonly known as the Arenas provision.


    Actual Pick: Jason Richardson

    Arenas' Actual Draft Slot: 31st, Golden State Warriors

6. Memphis Grizzlies: Tyson Chandler

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    As you'll see in the next several selections, a ton of quality wings could have gone in this spot. But there's value in a defensive anchor too, and Tyson Chandler is the best in this class.

    Chandler is the only guy still playing from the 2001 draft, which is partially because he joined the NBA at age 18. But it also owes to the fact that he made a habit of occupying key roles on winning teams, bringing defensive heft, intelligence, committed work on the offensive boards (love those patented back taps) and reliable roll-man gravity wherever he went.

    Though an All-Star just once, and though he topped out at just 11.8 points per game in 2007-08, Chandler made three All-Defensive teams, was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12 and started at the 5 for the title-winning Dallas Mavericks in 2010-11.

    His offensive game was limited, but there's something to be said for a full-time starter who's content to score almost exclusively on lobs and putbacks. He has shot over 60 percent from the field in 10 separate seasons, and his career 59.7 field-goal percentage is the second-highest in NBA history among players who took at least 5,000 shots in their careers.

    Third among 2001 draftees in career win shares, Chandler is proof that value doesn't have to be flashy.


    Actual Pick: Shane Battier

    Chandler's Actual Draft Slot: 2nd, Los Angeles Clippers (traded to Chicago Bulls)

7. New Jersey Nets: Jason Richardson

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    One of the most electrifying dunkers (in-game and contest format alike), Jason Richardson made the impressive transition from throwdown artist to long-range specialist over the course of his 13 seasons. During the middle portion of his career, when he still had some bounce but could also stripe it from deep, he was a true handful for opposing defenses.

    Among 2001 picks, only former teammate Gilbert Arenas tops J-Rich's career average of 17.1 points per game, and Richardson's 1,608 made triples are second to Joe Johnson in the class.

    As a 25-year-old in 2005-06, the shooting guard had his best season, finishing with averages of 23.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals while hitting 38.4 percent from downtown. Two years later, in his first year with the Charlotte Bobcats following a trade from the Dubs, Richardson led the league with 243 made threes. At the time, that was the fourth-highest single-season total in history.

    Not bad for a dunker.


    Actual Pick: Eddie Griffin

    Richardson's Actual Draft Slot: 5th, Golden State Warriors

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Shane Battier

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    It's fitting that the NBA player most associated with the early emphasis on analytics and the man dubbed the "no-stats All-Star" lands in the top 10 on the strength of metrics that don't show up in most conventional box scores.

    Shane Battier made his team better when he was on the floor in 12 of his 13 seasons, overcoming a pedestrian scoring average of 8.6 points per game by playing excellent individual and team defense while devoting a large percentage of his shot attempts to high-value areas. Starting in 2006-07, he never took less than 52.5 percent of his shots from deep. In 2012-13 with the Miami Heat, 87.3 percent of his field-goal attempts were threes.

    That shot profile would have made sense for a lot of players, but it was especially smart for a guy with a career accuracy rate of 38.4 percent from distance.

    That's not to say Battier failed to contribute in conventional ways. He averaged at least 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals in three different seasons. Draftmate Gerald Wallace also did that, but those two are the only 2001 picks with even one such season.

    And talk about ready to play! The four-year collegian out of Duke logged 3,097 minutes as a rookie, the most of anyone picked in 2001 and the fifth-highest total of any rookie in the last 19 years. As the above photo indicates, Battier stepped into the league and immediately bodied up every team's most threatening scorer.


    Actual Pick: DeSagana Diop

    Battier's Actual Draft Slot: 6th, Memphis Grizzlies

9. Detroit Pistons: Richard Jefferson

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    Richard Jefferson came into the league and almost immediately found himself playing major minutes in a high-stakes setting. After coming off the bench for the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets as a rookie, he started 80 games in 2002-03 as the Nets returned to the Finals.

    His best season came in 2005-06 when he averaged 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists, producing a career-high 3.1 box plus-minus. He was one of only seven players to average at least 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists that season, and his 60.3 true shooting percentage topped the efficiency rates of the other six on an illustrious list that featured LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Chris Webber and Tracy McGrady.

    With numbers like that, it might seem unfair to slot him behind Battier. But Jefferson's teams had higher net ratings with him off the floor in nine of his 17 seasons. Plus, Battier tops Jefferson in blocks and steals despite playing four fewer seasons.

    There's a case to be made for Gerald Wallace here (spoiler: he's next), but Jefferson's superior shooting and extra 9,562 minutes give him the edge.


    Actual Pick: Rodney White

    Jefferson's Actual Draft Slot: 13th, Houston Rockets (traded to New Jersey Nets)

10. Boston Celtics: Gerald Wallace

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    It's a little surprising Gerald Wallace only made one All-Defensive team in his career (2009-10), considering he's remembered as one of the most intense and reckless competitors of the last couple of decades.

    "Crash" made one All-Star team and led the league with 2.5 steals per game in 2005-06. His 2006-07 campaign produced a 3.7 box plus-minus, which ranks 10th among any player season produced by a 2001 draftee. He's the only guy in the top 10 not named Pau Gasol or Gilbert Arenas.

    As his nickname suggests, Wallace's style of play produced plenty of nicks and bruises. He missed an average of 23 games per season (lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign excluded). Even as he aged, he never relented.

    He couldn't shoot the ball, as his 31.2 percent hit rate on over 1,300 career three-point attempts indicates, but Wallace affected the game in every other way. He tops 2001 picks with 1,200 career steals, ranks eighth in total rebounds and sits in sixth with 681 blocks.

    If floor burns were a stat, he would lead that too.


    Actual Pick: Joe Johnson

    Wallace's Actual Draft Slot: 25th, Sacramento Kings

Late Lottery

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    11. Boston Celtics: Mehmet Okur

    When Okur averaged 4.2 three-point attempts per game in 2006-07, it was the highest such figure by a center to that point in league history. He was on the vanguard of a movement that would sweep the league and make three-point range a must at every position.

    In addition to his trailblazing, perimeter-focused style, Okur was flat-out effective. He shot 37.5 percent from deep for his career and averaged 13.5 points and 7.0 rebounds over 10 seasons, topping out in 2005-06 at 18.0 points and 9.1 boards. He was an All-Star the next year and, not to be forgotten, won a ring earlier in his career with the 2003-04 Pistons.


    12. Seattle SuperSonics: Troy Murphy

    Murphy's spacing was slightly less valuable than Okur's because he played power forward rather than center, but the 6'11" Notre Dame product was even deadlier from deep. He shot 45.0 percent on 4.9 long-range shots per game in 2008-09. That's still the highest accuracy rate ever recorded for a player 6'11" or taller who qualified for the three-point leaderboard, and Murphy finished his career at 38.8 percent on threes.

    If you're familiar with Murphy's game, you can close your eyes and see him hit trail triples from the top of the arc.

    He couldn't guard a folding chair, but Murphy averaged a double-double in five different seasons, which ties Gasol for second-most among players picked in 2001.


    13. Houston Rockets: Samuel Dalembert

    Dalembert played 13 seasons and blocked more total shots than any 2001 pick other than Gasol, and the 192 shots he swatted in 2007-08 represent the highest single-season total by anyone picked in this class. His durability made him valuable, as the Haitian center played at least 80 games seven different times, including a four-year run from 2006-07 through 2009-10 in which he never missed a contest.

    He ranks eighth in games played for this class and is also the only 2001 draftee we can confirm completed the cookie challenge.


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    14. Golden State Warriors: Vladimir Radmanovic

    Radmanovic was an All-Rookie second-teamer, largely on the strength of a 42.0 percent season from long distance. The deep ball would define his career, as he finished second among 2001 picks with a 37.8 percent hit rate (of those who shot at least 2,500 treys).

    Strictly a role player who started just 213 of the 737 games he played, Radmanovic still averaged double digits in three seasons. This is a tough break for the Warriors, who nabbed the superior Murphy at this spot in the real 2001 draft.


    15. Orlando Magic: Jamaal Tinsley

    Tinsley was a New York point guard to his core, defined by showy ball-handling and the every-possession goal of embarrassing a defender and slinging a slick dime. His career 37.8 assist percentage and 6.1 assists per game are both first in this class.

    An inability to score beyond layup range prevented Tinsley from becoming a complete player. His 47.1 true shooting percentage ranks last among the 21 players drafted in 2001 who took at least 3,000 career shots.


    16. Charlotte Hornets: Brendan Haywood

    Some might balk at ranking Haywood ahead of a few upcoming centers, but what the 13-season vet lacked in flash, he made up for with contributions that produced wins. His teams had break-even or better net ratings higher net ratings with him on the floor in his first nine seasons (and 11 of 13 overall). Fourth among 2001 draftees in total blocks and seventh in rebounds, the 7-foot center got his role-playing reward as the backup 5 on the 2010-11 title-winning Mavs.


    17. Toronto Raptors: Bobby Simmons

    We're far enough down the draft order to justify prizing short primes over longevity, and Simmons definitely fits the bill. He was only a high-end NBA player for two of his 10 seasons, but Simmons' work in 2004-05 and 2005-06 deserves recognition.

    He was one of three players in that two-year stretch to average at least 14.0 points and 5.0 rebounds while hitting at least 100 threes at a clip of 40 percent or better. The other two: Dirk Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic.

    At 39.6 percent, Simmons' three-point percentage is highest in his class among players who took at least 50 treys in their careers.


    18. Houston Rockets: Earl Watson

    A pure, pass-first point guard and one of the most accurate lob-throwers of his era, Watson had a game-managing style that made him a coach's favorite and then a coach himself. The career backup played 13 seasons for six teams and is the only 2001 pick to average over 4.0 assists and under 2.0 turnovers per game.


    19. Portland Trail Blazers: Eddy Curry

    Curry played 527 games over 11 seasons, and his 12.9 points per game rank eighth in the 2001 class. So while his game didn't justify going fourth overall in the real-life draft, he's not the complete washout many assume.

    That said, Curry's stats were largely empty and accumulated on bad teams. Take the 19.5 points and 7.0 rebounds he averaged as an 81-game starter for the 2006-07 Knicks, both career highs, as an example. New York's overall net rating was minus-3.4 that year, but it was minus-7.3 with Curry on the court.


    20. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kwame Brown

    Brown slides to 20th in our re-draft, quite a tumble from his actual selection at No. 1. Like Curry, though, he stuck around for quite a while after failing to meet the expectations of his draft slot, playing a dozen seasons and developing into a solid defensive backup.

    His 20.8 career win shares rank 17th among players picked in 2001.


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    21. Boston Celtics: Trenton Hassell

    Hassell averaged 28.0 minutes a night for the best team in Minnesota Timberwolves history, the 2003-04 squad that won 58 games and reached the conference finals. It was representative of his low-usage game that he averaged just 5.0 points in a significant role that saw him start 74 games.

    Of the 17 players drafted in 2001 who collected over 16,000 career minutes, Hassell attempted the fewest total field goals. He stayed on the floor for so long (428 starts in 644 career games) by defending multiple positions and getting out of the way on offense.


    22. Orlando Magic: Jarron Collins

    Collins played three fewer seasons and over 6,000 fewer minutes than twin brother Jason, but he comes in one spot ahead by virtue of superior scoring (8.8 points per 36 minutes; Jason was at 6.3) and efficiency (45.5 percent from the field; Jason shot 41.1 percent).


    23. Houston Rockets: Jason Collins

    This Collins started for the Nets teams that reached the Finals twice in the early aughts and is probably best remembered as the guy with the unenviable task of defending the lane against prime Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan in those series.

    Collins' legacy as the first openly gay active male athlete from any of the four major team sports will outlast anything he accomplished on the floor.


    24. Utah Jazz: Steven Hunter

    The best season of Hunter's eight-year career came in 2006-07 with the Sixers when he averaged 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 22.9 minutes per game. Hunter was mobile enough to offer consistent help defense and capable shot-blocking (career 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes), but his suspect hands and lack of touch (48.5 percent from the foul line) made it difficult for him to stick around as his athleticism declined later in his 20s.


    25. Sacramento Kings: Brian Scalabrine

    Probably best remembered for his work as an end-of-bench hype man, Scalabrine topped out with averages of 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds for the 2004-05 Nets. He played 48 games for the Celtics during their title run in 2008 and played 11 seasons overall despite shooting 39 percent from the field for his career.

    As a reminder of how gifted even the least productive NBA players are, a retired Scalabrine roasted amateur opponents in the 2013 "Scallenge" one-on-one tournament.


    26. Philadelphia 76ers: DeSagana Diop

    Diop comes off the board as the final 2001 pick to play at least 10 seasons, but as his career average of 2.0 points per game reveals, he didn't last that long because he could score. The 7-footer finished second in the league among qualified players with a 7.4 block percentage in 2005-06, and his career rate of 5.7 percent is tops among players picked in 2001.


    27. Memphis Grizzlies: Eddie Griffin

    An immensely talented big man, Griffin averaged 8.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 made threes per game as a 19-year-old rookie with the Rockets. He's the only first-year player to ever post those averages.

    Sadly, Griffin's career was beset by substance abuse. He missed the entire 2003-04 season and died in a car accident in 2007.


    28. San Antonio Spurs: Rodney White

    The Pistons selected White ninth in 2001 after the 6'9" wing averaged 18.7 points per game in one season at UNC Charlotte. His rookie year only included 16 games, but White played 72 contests for the Denver Nuggets in 2002-03 and averaged 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 21.7 minutes.

    That was as good as things got for him, as his career came to an end after the 2004-05 season. White's 3,354 minutes rank, appropriately, 28th in the 2001 class. This late, any pick that played decent minutes for a handful of years is a good one.