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Art Garcia

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Although Elton Brand averaged a double-double his rookie season, the Bulls were a dismal unit.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Some of the best rookies have come from the worst teams


Posted Nov 23 2010 5:53PM

Is it possible to be the best if you're on the worst? NBA history says, "Sure, why not?" At least when it comes to Rookie of the Year.

Blake Griffin is making up for lost time, putting the league on notice with a dunk-a-palooza start to his delayed debut season. He's soared to the top of NBA.com's Rookie Ladder with little regard for human life or Timofey Mozgov.

The Clippers, though, remain ... well, the Clippers. Los Angeles' other team is off to its all-time worst start at 2-13, even after Monday's surprise win over New Orleans. Yes, the Clippers are easily the league's worst team despite employing possibly its best rookie.

It only makes sense that poor records and good rookies go hand-in-hand. After all, the worst teams from each season get the best choices from the following drafts. Of the previous 61 Rookie of the Year recipients, 37 played for squads with losing records, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Some improvement is expected, though, with those top picks. That doesn't always happen. Elton Brand captured ROY for the 1999-2000 season, but his Chicago Bulls had the worst record (17-65) in the Eastern Conference.

Emeka Okafor, the 2004-05 winner, wasn't being asked to rescue the Charlotte Bobcats when he entered the league. The expansion franchise went 18-64 its first year, a mark that was only better than Atlanta. The losing, at least initially, wasn't as bad as you'd think.

"That first year, you're just trying to find your way," said Okafor, now the Hornets' starting center. "It's a lot of adjustments being made both on and off the court. And when your team isn't doing that well, you're just playing. You're just trying to win every game, but it doesn't come off as bad as it seems because each game is a battle in itself for you to get better."

The Clippers are on a pace to win just 11 games. If that keeps up and if Griffin becomes the first Clipper ever named top rookie, it'll set a dubious double. The previous low for wins on a ROY team is 16 and winning percentage is .207. (The Buffalo Braves did have three ROYs before relocating to California and changing their nickname to the Clippers.)

Griffin is leading all rookies in scoring (18.9) and rebounding (11.0), while averaging 35.2 minutes and shooting 50.5 percent. Okafor offered up some advice for the Clippers' latest franchise player.

"Just keep doing what you're doing," he said. "There's nothing else to do. Just pay your dues and keep on trucking. Develop your game and take each game one at a time, and try to improve yourself the best you can.

"Just because things are bad now doesn't mean they will be in the future."

Here's a look at Rookies of the Year from the five worst teams, in terms of percentage, in league history (courtesy of Elias):

Elton Brand (1999-00) -- Chicago Bulls 17-65 (.207)

The lead-off hitter in the 1999 Draft actually shared ROY honors with Houston's Steve Francis. Unlike the somewhat decent season put together by the Rockets, the Bulls were still in the midst of their post-Michael Jordan wretchedness.

Brand, yet, managed to stand out. Coming out of Duke, the 6-foot-8 power forward put up numbers -- 20.1 points and 10.0 rebounds -- that announced his arrival in the Association. Brand played only one more season in the Windy City before being shipped to the Clippers. He's in Philadelphia now.

Emeka Okafor (2004-05) -- Charlotte Bobcats 18-64 (.220)

The first draft choice in franchise history was a double-double machine right off the bat. Second to only behind Dwight Howard in the draft, the Connecticut product averaged 15.1 points and 10.9 for the last franchise to enter the league.

Okafor basically flatlined after that first year. He never averaged more points and only bettered that initial rebound figure just once, and the Bobcats never made the playoffs during his five-year North Carolina stint. Charlotte traded Okafor to New Orleans before the 2009-10 season, and he's a major contributor in the Hornets' strong start this season.

Sidney Wicks (1971-72) -- Portland Trail Blazers 18-64 (.220)

The Blazers got the best player in the draft with the second pick, but it was because Cleveland whiffed on the 6-foot-8 big man from UCLA. Portland paid the Cavaliers $250,000 not to draft Wicks. (Cleveland, instead, selected Austin Carr.)

It proved to be money well spent by the Blazers, as Wicks averaged 24.5 points and 11.5 rebounds. The Blazers, though, were actually 11 games worse than the season before. Wicks played five seasons in Oregon before being traded to Boston before the 1976-77 campaign. Portland won the title that year.

Ray Felix (1953-54) -- Baltimore Bullets 16-56 (.220)

The good times in Baltimore didn't last long for just the second African-American in league history to make the All-Star team. The No. 1 pick out of Long Island University made his presence known averaging 17.6 points and 13.3 boards for the worst team in the league.

The Bullets folded early in the 1954-55 season -- the last NBA team to disband -- and the 6-foot-11 center finished that year with the New York Knicks. Felix enjoyed a solid nine-year career that ended with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1962.

Walt Bellamy (1961-62) -- Chicago Packers 18-62 (.225)

Bellamy began his career as the top selection from Indiana and didn't disappoint, putting together one of the greatest rookie seasons ever. His numbers -- 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds -- were in Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell territory, as far as rookies go.

The Hall of Famer also led the league in shooting percentage as a rookie (51.9) before going on to play 14 years. Bellamy's first year also included a stellar All-Star Game effort of 23 points and 17 rebounds. He also set a record in 1968-69 thanks to a trade from New York to Detroit that probably won't ever be broke with 88 regular-season games played.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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