Re-Drafting the 2002 NBA Draft Class
The 2002 NBA draft class was light on stars and disturbingly heavy on what-could-have-beens.
Sandwiched between drafts that produced 17 combined All-Stars, this group featured just four future All-Stars, and half of them only made two appearances in the world's greatest pickup game. But when three of the first six picks had their careers shortened by injuries, maybe this crop never had a real shot at producing top-tier talent.
That said, it left a pair of indelible marks on the sport. The game's globalization crested with the selection of Yao Ming, the first international player taken No. 1 overall without having played college basketball in the U.S. The league's shift to small ball can also partially be traced to this class, since our new No. 1 pick starred for one of the first teams to win big by going small.
As we update the draft board with the benefit of hindsight, we'll mostly exclude team fit from this discussion. History almost always favors raw talent over positional needs, so we'll do the same.
We're also looking at entire careers, as if players always stuck with their original squads. That means longevity matters—a key point given some of the high-profile injuries—and it's weighed alongside peak years.
One final note: There are only 28 picks in our first round for a reason. The Association had 29 teams then, and the Minnesota Timberwolves forfeited their first-rounder due to salary-cap violations.
1. Houston Rockets: Amar'e Stoudemire
The first thoughts surrounding Amar'e Stoudemire probably have less to do with his play than they do his many injury issues and his colossal contract with the New York Knicks. That he still stands as a relatively easy choice for No. 1—Yao Ming has an argument, but he loses in longevity—says plenty about this draft.
When upright, Stoudemire offered an intriguing blend of length and athleticism, the latter of which became overpowering once the Phoenix Suns slid him up to the 5 spot. At center, he was too quick and too explosive for the traditional centers he'd eventually help render obsolete.
In 2004-05—not coincidentally, Steve Nash's first season with the Suns and Mike D'Antoni's first complete campaign—Stoudemire helped Phoenix rampage through the West. His scoring output spiked to 26 points per game, and his field-goal percentage nearly enjoyed a double-digit jump (47.5 to 55.9). His 26.6 player efficiency rating was fourth-best in the NBA.
But knee troubles cost him all but three games of the ensuing campaign, and injuries—to his knees, back and even his retina—would follow him for the rest of his career. The 26 points he averaged as a 22-year-old in his third NBA season were never matched again.
Still, he started atop this class as the 2002-03 Rookie of the Year and stuck around long enough to comfortably lead it in win shares (92.5). He had six All-Star selections, five All-NBA honors and four top-10 finishes in MVP voting.
Actual Pick: Yao Ming
Actual Draft Slot: 9th, Phoenix Suns
2. Chicago Bulls: Yao Ming
If we were drafting for global impact, Yao Ming might have a round all of himself. Since we're selecting for basketball reasons, we have to juggle both his incredible ability for a player his size (7'6", 310 lbs) and the fact that size—in conjunction with his high-arched feet—ultimately worked against him.
His career spanned just 486 games across nine seasons, one of which he missed entirely and another in which he suited up only five times. His size-and-skill combo always fascinated most for what it could have become—nothing short of an all-time great.
"If he didn't have those injuries, he probably would've been up there in the top five centers ever to play the game," Shaquille O'Neal said in 2011.
Yao was surprisingly nimble for his size, and unlike some of his 7-foot contemporaries, he was an asset at the free-throw line (career 83.3 percent). His numbers never quite reached the level of generational greatness, but he did have a three-year run with 22-plus points, and only 15 other players matched his per-game marks of 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks (minimum 15,000 minutes).
Granted, some teams might prefer a decade-plus of goodness over what's essentially six seasons of near-greatness, but Yao's peak is too hard to ignore. The eight-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA honoree contributed 0.2 win shares per 48 minutes, and his next-closest draft classmate was Stoudemire with 0.169.
Actual Pick: Jay Williams
Actual Draft Slot: 1st, Houston Rockets
3. Golden State Warriors: Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer played his best basketball alongside Deron Williams on the Utah Jazz. Why does that matter? Because there was a time when you wouldn't get laughed out of a room for comparing that point guard-power forward combo to Utah's most legendary duo, John Stockton and Karl Malone.
It's a comical thought now, but it highlights how Boozer climbed during his brief peak. During his All-Star seasons of 2006-07 and 2007-08, the skilled scoring forward was a nightly source of 21.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
When healthy, his offensive arsenal had a little of everything. He could post up, pop to the mid-range and finish with either hand around the basket. His high-arching shot seemed it might hit the rafters, but he could rainbow them in with ease.
He was the draft's leader in rebounds (by more than 1,500), and he trailed only Stoudemire in points and win shares. Even though Boozer was prone to bouts of defensive indifference, his point production and glass-cleaning netted him the best value over replacement player (23.1) in this class.
Actual Pick: Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Actual Draft Slot: 35th, Cleveland Cavaliers
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Caron Butler
Caron Butler was the best offensive perimeter player in this draft. That's not exactly super high praise in hindsight, but it's still important for our purposes.
He wasn't quite a go-to option, but he booked a pair of All-Star trips for his scoring and secondary table-setting. In 2006-07, he and Antawn Jamison filled the same Robin roles to Gilbert Arenas' Batman, and the Washington Wizards wound up with a No. 3 offense. The Memphis Grizzlies could've hoped for similar success by slotting Butler in as a supporting actor for Pau Gasol.
Butler didn't shine in a single area, but he was above average in most. He had a post game and a mid-range shot when those things still mattered, and he rebounded from some rough early seasons to develop an average-or-better outside shot. He played hard-nosed defense and kept the ball moving at the other end.
Among perimeter players in this draft, he offered the best combination of scoring, distributing and defending. Case in point: He had four seasons with at least 15.0 points, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals; the rest of this class had none.
Actual Pick: Drew Gooden
Actual Draft Slot: 10th, Miami Heat
5. Denver Nuggets: Tayshaun Prince
Tayshaun Prince might have been a time traveler. He shined in the three-and-D role before we knew what to call it, taking the archetype to its optimal level.
His go-go-gadget arms and fleet feet made him a perimeter pest for any opposing scorer. Considering he shot 38.5 percent or better from three in five different seasons, he didn't launch nearly enough (career 1.5 attempts per game), but he kept the floor spaced all the same.
Still, spotlighting only his defense and jumper sells him short. He could slither to the basket when needed and put some helpless defender on a poster. He could back down smaller stoppers and soft-toss an always-on-point baby hook above them. He could find open teammates and feed them. Even as a 6'9" small forward, he paced this draft class with 2,406 assists.
He won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2003-04, and the next year he logged their second-most playoff minutes as they lost the 2005 Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in seven games. He didn't have the scoring numbers to earn an All-Star nod, but the league recognized him with four All-Defensive second-team selections.
Actual Pick: Nikoloz Tskitishvili
Actual Draft Slot: 23rd, Detroit Pistons
6. Cleveland Cavaliers: Nene
Like much of this draft class, Nene has endured frequent run-ins with the injury bug. But he came out on the winning end of those encounters often enough that he was the only player drafted in this class to still be an active NBA player this season (prior to being traded by the Houston Rockets and immediately waived by the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline).
He never made a serious push for stardom, but that's fine for this draft slot. When he made it inside the lines, he was a steady source of energy, rebounding and interior activity.
Early in his career, he caught attention for his wealth of physical tools. A 7'5" wingspan jutted out of his 6'11" frame, and he looked unfairly light on his feet. He could scoot in transition, and he probably has at least one posterizing finish on most of his positional peers. As his motor slowed, he transitioned to more physical play and had more than enough length to keep contributing with rebounding and rim protection.
His All-Rookie first-team selection marked his first and last leaguewide honor, but his numbers are still among the best in this draft. He's one of only three players to tally 10,000 points and 5,000 rebounds, and his 73.3 win shares put him third in the class.
Actual Pick: Dajuan Wagner
Actual Draft Slot: 7th, New York Knicks (traded to Denver)
7. New York Knicks: Luis Scola
For a scorer who never averaged 20 points and only topped 17 once, Luis Scola had a fascinating NBA career.
The San Antonio Spurs drafted him, but they couldn't arrange a buyout of his European contract. After owning his draft rights for five years, they traded him to the Houston Rockets, and he inked his first NBA deal within a week. He'd go on to be included in the commissioner-vetoed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade, and later Scola would be amnestied by the Rockets, who used some of the flexibility to acquire James Harden.
Scola's delayed arrival limited his longevity, but it speaks to his consistency, durability and productivity that he wound up logging the 10th-most minutes in the class. He finished fifth among draft members in points (12.0) and rebounds (6.7) per game.
Had he arrived just a pinch later, he could've been able to tap deeper into his shooting potential. He was always rock-solid from the line (career 74 percent), and after only attempting 60 threes over his first eight seasons, he suddenly splashed 65 of them at a 40.4 percent clip during his ninth.
Even without the stretch role he was born to fill, his footwork, feel and activity yielded more than enough offensive assets to offset any defensive limitations.
Actual Pick: Nene (traded to Denver)
Actual Draft Slot: 56th, San Antonio Spurs
8. Los Angeles Clippers: Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. had a fine, 15-year NBA career. That's a solid return on the draft investment—12th-most win shares among all No. 3 picks since 1985—even if his peak never resembled what teams hope they're getting from a top-three prospect.
His three-ball was his NBA calling card, and it was mostly there when he needed it. He had a few puzzling perimeter years along the way (three seasons with a sub-32 percent conversion rate), but for the most part he was money. He was the draft's only sniper with 1,000-plus triples (1,304), and he was its second-most accurate range shooter (37.7 percent).
Something clicked in 2007-08, and he broke out with personal bests of 19.1 points, 3.5 assists and 2.0 three-pointers. But his bigger selling point as a re-drafted top-10 selection is reliability. He played the second-most games and tied for fourth with 10 double-digit scoring seasons.
He had limitations as a defender, but he knew the game well enough—his father played and coached in the NBA, and Mike Jr. is now the Golden State Warriors assistant general manager—to play solid team defense. He was fine as a rebounder and ball mover, too, but he didn't stand out in either area. Still, this young Clippers club could've benefited from his spacing and complementary scoring.
Actual Pick: Chris Wilcox
Actual Draft Slot: 3rd, Golden State Warriors
9. Phoenix Suns: Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes was both ahead of his time and a walking homage to hoops history.
His career almost derailed before it got going, as he bounced around five teams his first four years in the league. He received a training-camp invite from Golden State, and if it didn't work out, he was planning to try out for the NFL. But he found his footing as a combo forward in Don Nelson's small-ball style, and suddenly, Barnes' career was off and running.
Versatility became his calling card, as Barnes flashed the do-it-all skills forwards are now demanded to have. He didn't offer much shot-creation, but he was aggressive in transition and quick to fire his usually league-average three-point shot. He also played with an edge and tenacity that recalled images of the bad boys of basketball's past.
"I don't even know if there's a word to describe what he does," former Warriors assistant coach Keith Smart told Jonathan Abrams in 2014. "It's that pestability to get beneath someone's skin."
Barnes was equal parts utility player and enforcer, which made him a fascinating blend of NBA eras. For someone who never averaged 11 points, six rebounds or three assists, it's no small feat that he produced the draft's 10th-most win shares and eighth-best value over replacement player.
Actual Pick: Amar'e Stoudemire
Actual Draft Slot: 46th, Memphis Grizzlies (traded to Cleveland)
10. Miami Heat: Udonis Haslem
How perfect is this?
The real Mr. 305—sorry, Pitbull—could not have landed anywhere else. The basketball gods wouldn't allow it. As much as this might seem like a convenient excuse for keeping Udonis Haslem and the Miami Heat together, the numbers justify the selection.
Haslem didn't need to be drafted to emerge as a top-10 player from this class. He worked his way into the fabric of his hometown franchise with solid screens, silky mid-range jumpers, tireless energy, contagious toughness, relentless rebounding and whatever "doing the dirty work" entailed on any given night.
He's the active leader in seasons spent with the same team (17), which doesn't seem possible when he's finished a single campaign with an above-average player efficiency rating. But during his peak, he proved invaluable for the little things. Now, his locker room leadership keeps the Heat welcoming him back.
He has won three NBA championships, and he started 52 playoff games in those three postseason runs. He has contributed 50.7 win shares, which is the eighth-best mark in this class, and 0.113 of them per 48 minutes, which is seventh-best.
Actual Pick: Caron Butler
Actual Draft Slot: Undrafted
11. Washington Wizards: Drew Gooden
Despite inexplicably playing the majority of his rookie season at small forward, Gooden snagged an All-Rookie first-team spot with per-game averages of 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. He'd mimic that production over the next decade, and by its end, he'd join Boozer as the only draft members to average at least 10 points and six boards in each of their first 10 seasons.
Gooden could score inside and out, although back then, outside for a big man meant long twos. He was an active rebounder, too, and posted a top-20 average in three different seasons. He was usually a negative on defense, but he did enough scoring and glass work to usually come out ahead.
12. Los Angeles Clippers: John Salmons
Salmons spent 13 seasons in the NBA, which is a good return on its own for the No. 26 pick. While he spent much of it as a mediocre (or slightly worse) role player, he had an interesting four-year peak. Between the 2007-08 and 2010-11 seasons, the 6'7" swingman averaged 15.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists while compiling a 45.1/38.5/82.5 slash line.
His jack-of-all-trades skill set wasn't much of a needle-mover, and his teams typically fared better without him. But he still ranked among the better wings in this class, and he was one of its four players to post 8,000 points, 2,000 assists and 500 threes.
13. Milwaukee Bucks: Rasual Butler
Butler wasn't quite good enough to be labeled a long-term keeper, but he offered enough spacing and defense that others would covet him. As a result, he suited up for eight different franchises across his 13-year career.
When afforded enough opportunity, he established himself as one of the top snipers in this draft. He averaged 24-plus minutes in three different seasons, and each produced a top-seven three-point total among this draft class, including a then-Los Angeles Clippers' franchise-record 145 in 2009-10.
Butler was tragically killed in a car accident in January 2018.
14. Indiana Pacers: Nenad Krstic
Krstic was a stretch big who didn't quite have the elasticity to make the most of his role. Over his seven-year NBA career, he launched 33.2 percent of his field goals between 16 feet and the three-point arc compared to 34.7 percent inside of three feet and 0.4 percent from deep. He also had his third season cut short by a torn ACL and never returned to his previous form.
But the 7-footer had obvious offensive skills, and they powered him to three consecutive seasons of double-digit scoring to start his career. He didn't have the longest run or highest peak, but he still was one of just eight players in this draft with career averages of 10 points and five rebounds.
15. Houston Rockets: Chris Wilcox
Wilcox had more physical tools than polish, but an athletic, 6'10", 220-pounder can find his way to a productive NBA career. He had length and explosiveness, and he enhanced both with a revved-up motor, although that often made him appear a little rushed.
Without a face-up game or an array of post moves, he lacked the offensive diversity to handle a major role. Averaging 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes for his career probably didn't help, either. But the Seattle Sonics entrusted him with a starting gig in 2006-07 and 2007-08, and he rewarded them with 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds a night.
16. Philadelphia 76ers: Roger Mason
Mason packed a powerful three-point punch. And even if that meant less when he played than he does now, he combined it with defensive intensity to launch a decade-long NBA career.
He could shoot off the catch or the dribble—nearly 20 percent of his career threes were unassisted—and he had just enough handles to dissect defenses on pick-and-rolls. His 38.3 career three-point percentage was the best in class.
17. Washington Wizards: Reggie Evans
The second undrafted player to appear, Evans built a 13-year NBA career out of his insatiable appetite for rebounds. Save for maybe a willingness to scrap on defense, rebounding was basically the only weapon in his arsenal, but he powered it to such an absurd degree that he lands as our 17th selection.
While a dozen draftees logged more than Evans' 15,572 minutes, only three—Boozer, Stoudemire and Nene—corralled more than his 5,765 rebounds. Among all players to ever top 10,000 minutes, Evans owns the fourth-highest career rebounding percentage (21.9).
18. Orlando Magic: Fred Jones
Jones' career sounds more interesting than it was. He won a dunk contest, boasted an above-average three-ball and had an impossibly long 7'0" wingspan branching out from his 6'4" frame. But he also battled inefficiency (career 41.1 field-goal percentage) and didn't always make great decisions. His teams were almost always better without him.
But he's one of the better scorers left on the board, and he gave good effort at the other end. That equated to the 15th-most win shares in this draft, which makes him a value get here.
19. Utah Jazz: Jared Jeffries
Jeffries had the size, length, quickness and hops to be a defensive menace, and while he never reached that level, he was a versatile presence on that end. He produced the 10th-most defensive win shares among non-centers in this draft.
Because this is a shallow class, Jeffries' defense is enough to overlook his unsightly offense here, but it was—statistically speaking—brutal. Among the 17 players to log 10,000 minutes, he ranked dead last in both offensive box plus/minus and true shooting percentage.
20. Toronto Raptors: Dan Gadzuric
Gadzuric peaked early and not in an especially big way. His third season was his best, as he gave the 2004-05 Milwaukee Bucks nightly provisions of 8.3 rebounds, 7.3 points and 1.3 blocks in 22 minutes per game.
He was better on defense than offense, though not a standout at either. But there are worse ways to spend the No. 20 pick than on a reliable big man who spends a decade in the Association.
21. Portland Trail Blazers: Ronald Murray
"Flip" Murray had one of the strongest scoring stretches of anyone in this draft. The only problem was that it didn't even last a month. But when the Seattle Sonics needed someone to cover Ray Allen's starting spot to open the 2003-04 season, Murray sprinted through an 11-game stretch in which he averaged 23.9 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from distance.
Of course, in the 11 games that immediately followed, those averages plummeted to 13.0 and 2.2 with shooting rates of 35.9 and 31.9, respectively, which effectively defined his career. He could heat up unlike few others in this draft (tied for 11th-most games with 20-plus points), but he was a streaky scorer who didn't offer much else.
22. Phoenix Suns: Darius Songaila
The Suns were starting to assemble the offensive nucleus of their run-and-gun teams, and Songaila's pick-and-pop game would've added another wrinkle. Again, this was 2002, so he's only popping out to the elbow extended, but even that could've cleared attack lanes for Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson.
Songaila didn't have great size, athleticism or mobility, so he could get exposed on defense. But his shooting touch, post-up arsenal and passing all made him interesting enough as a 6'9", 248-pounder.
23. Detroit Pistons: Juan Dixon
This was an abysmal draft for backcourt players, but the 6'3" Dixon carved out a seven-year stay in the Association with toughness, tenacity and just enough shooting to compensate for his lack of size. Of the 16 players selected ahead of him, eight played fewer NBA games than his 436.
24. New Jersey Nets: Bostjan Nachbar
A big shooter, Nachbar found his NBA niche a little too late. After four forgettable seasons to his start career, he found new life with the Nets and averaged 9.5 points on 42.7/39.1/79.4 shooting over his two full seasons in New Jersey. But he bolted back to Europe in 2008, during a time in which that was considered a "worrisome trend" among some NBA executives.
25. Denver Nuggets: Smush Parker
Parker is most famous for his public feud with the late Kobe Bryant, as the 6'4" point guard didn't make many waves outside of his two seasons with the Lakers. But in that run, Parker was interesting: 11.3 points, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals; 44.1 percent shooting and 36.6 percent from three. That's enough to make him the third and final undrafted player to crack the opening round.
26. San Antonio Spurs: Kareem Rush
Rush looked the part as a 6'6" scoring guard with a smooth lefty stroke, and if you were seeking backcourt scoring here—as the Spurs were with their actual selection of John Salmons—Rush could've appeared the best player available. He averaged over eight points in three different seasons, shot 35.8 percent from deep for his career and was the re-draft's final 2,000-point scorer on the board.
27. Los Angeles Lakers: Juan Carlos Navarro
If you couldn't tell by our spotlighting of Rush's 2,000 points, we've reached the scrap-digging portion of the process. So, while we could've gone with a forgettable player who played a handful of NBA seasons (like Dan Dickau or Casey Jacobsen), we'll instead grant the Lakers one year of fun with "La Bomba."
Navarro was a Euroleague legend who only played one season in the NBA—alongside his Spanish national team running mate Pau Gasol. In that year, Navarro averaged 10.9 points and 2.2 assists, and his 156 threes were the third-highest single-season total this draft ever produced.
28. Sacramento Kings: Jay Williams
Since we've already broken the one-season barrier, let's finish with Williams. The original No. 2 pick, he seemed on course for a long, productive career after debuting as an All-Rookie second-teamer. But he wouldn't have a sophomore season, as a June 2003 motorcycle accident ended his career.
Still, he authored one of only four campaigns featuring at least nine points and four assists per game that this entire draft class ever produced. The Kings, who were fresh off a Game 7 loss in the Western Conference Finals, could've reasonably concluded he might be their missing piece and been willing to pass up players with longer careers to see what kind of difference Williams would make in his one season.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.