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Bulls Draft Central 2007 | Leaps of Faith


Toni Kukoc It can be argued that at least two of the three best players—including Toni Kukoc at No. 29—of the 1990 Draft came from the second-round.
Leaps of Faith
Blunders or Buried Treasures—
Some Draft Picks Live for Forever

Bulls Draft Central 2007

Posted June 11, 2007 | By Brett Ballantini

Popular belief holds that if your favorite team made the NBA Playoffs—meaning the only way it’ll get a lottery pick is through a trade—you needn’t bother following the NBA Draft. After all, the only true plums are picked well before the lottery choices are exhausted, right?

Well, like most urban legends, this one isn’t always true.

It’s been 22 years since the first NBA Draft Lottery, and with every year the Ping-Pong balls are jostled, there’s more and more hype over tall teens being fitted for starched NBA ball caps and rookie uniform pictures with the Commissioner. While this encourages the idea that it’s lottery or bust, there are still gems to be found at the bottom of the first-round and beyond.

With six decades of NBA Drafts now in the books, it’s a great time to look back over the best Draft sleepers of the past, as well as the goofiest gaffes.

1962: Digging a Hole … Building a Hill

When the pro ranks were first established, they played second fiddle to the more esteemed college game. To take advantage of the popularity of college basketball, the NBA used to offer “territorial picks” to its teams up until 1965. Any club could forfeit its first-rounder and make a pick before the “official” start of the Draft, provided the player came from the franchise’s immediate geographical area.

Thus, in 1962 the Detroit Pistons made the University of Detroit’s Dave DeBusschere a territorial pick, while Jerry Lucas of Ohio State went to the Cincinnati Royals.

No amount of explanation can clarify the next selection, however. With the first non-territorial pick in the Draft, the Chicago Zephyrs took Bill “The Hill” McGill out of Utah, who would go on to play a total of 158 NBA games in only three seasons. Still on the board for the Z’s were future stars Zelmo Beaty (No. 6 overall), Ohio State’s John Havlicek (No. 9), Kevin Loughery (No. 13) and Bradley University standout, Chet Walker (No. 14).

Bill McGill The Chicago Zephyrs passed on the likes of John Havlicek, Kevin Loughery and Chet Walker to select Bill “The Hill” McGill in 1962.
(Photo courtesy of Bob Rosenberg)
Given the lack of administrative expertise possessed by the Z’s front office, perhaps a selection of future Indiana Pacers mastermind Donnie Walsh (taken with the last pick in 1962’s 11th round by the Philadelphia Warriors) would have been a more astute choice over Bill McGill.

1964: Bad News of a Different Kind

In 1964, the NBA consisted of only nine teams. So to call it a gaffe that future journeyman Jim “Bad News” Barnes was taken with the No. 3 overall pick while Hall-of-Famer Willis Reed had to wait until the second-round to hear his name called isn’t quite fair. Besides, the New York Knicks made both picks—and snagged ace defender Emmette Bryant with the 57th selection, to boot.

The Baltimore Bullets, on the other hand, seemed determined to repeat mistakes of the past, selecting Ohio State’s Gary Bradds (44 career NBA games) at No. 5. The choice of Bradds was particularly disappointing given that future standouts Jeff Mullins (No. 7), Mel Counts (No. 9), the aforementioned Willis Reed (No. 10), Paul Silas (No. 12), Happy Hairston (No. 35) and Darrel Carrier (No. 76) were still on the board when it was Baltimore’s turn to select.

1965: No Excuses

Soon the hoops world would explode in size, with NBA expansion and the formation of the American Basketball Association (ABA), which more than doubled the number of players in the pro game. But those excuses couldn’t be used in 1965, when a mere nine clubs scrambled their way through the Draft.

First off, Detroit clearly misfired with its territorial choice. The Pistons selection of Michigan’s Bill Buntin reaped them a grand total of 42 games and 7.7 points per night—not just for his rookie season, but for his entire 1-year pro career. What makes that blunder sting even more is the fact that the 1965 Draft class was loaded with Hall-of-Fame ringers.

Although the Pistons didn’t have an opportunity to select Princeton’s Bill Bradley (HOF ’83) whom the Knicks grabbed with a territorial choice, or UCLA’s Gail Goodrich (HOF ’96) whom the Los Angeles Lakers tabbed as their territorial choice, Detroit’s slip-up cost them fellow enshrinees, Rick Barry (HOF ’87) who headed to the San Francisco Warriors as the fifth overall pick, and North Carolina standout Billy Cunningham (HOF ’86) who went to the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 7.

Rick Barry Rick Barry was one of three future Hall of Famers that Detroit passed on with its territorial choice in 1965.
(Walter Iooss/NBAE/Getty Images)
But the Pistons weren’t alone in bungling the Draft, as the Knicks opted for Dave Stallworth at No. 6 instead of Cunningham, while Cincinnati took Nate Bowman at No. 9, and Boston grabbed Ollie Johnson—who would never play in the NBA—at No. 10, while passing on hard-nosed future All-Stars Jerry Sloan (No. 11) and Flynn Robinson (No. 15).

In the third-round, talented twins Dick and Tom Van Arsdale went No. 18 and 19, respectively. Future Bulls great Bob Love was a fourth-round pick (No. 32) that year, and All-Star Cincy Powell dropped all the way to the eighth-round, No. 66 overall. That’s a potent six-pack that could have given the first-round ringers a real run for their bonus money.

1969: All-Stars at a Discount

Beginning in 1967, and increasingly until 1976, the NBA Draft was complicated by the rival ABA, which instituted a policy of signing underclassmen and drove pro salaries into the stratosphere.

Still, what excuse might the Phoenix Suns have for picking Lamar Green at No. 33 instead of Norm Van Lier, snatched by the Chicago Bulls at No. 34? How could every NBA club take three passes on Bob Dandridge, who eventually landed in the lap of the Milwaukee Bucks at No. 45? And Steve Mix, like Van Lier and Dandridge a future All-Star, lasted well into the fifth-round as the 61st overall pick.

When you look over the Draft rolls from the ABA-NBA era, many players were selected ridiculously low. For example, all-time great Artis Gilmore was a seventh-round pick of the Bulls; however, the reason was by the time the NBA Draft came around, Gilmore had already signed with the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels.

1978: Cheeky Moves in Detroit and Philadelphia

The 1978 first-round class is one of the most underachieving of all-time. That year’s best pick, Boston’s astute selection of Larry Bird (draft-eligible by age but still playing collegiately for Indiana State), wouldn’t play in the NBA until 1979.

Bill Bradley New York took Princeton’s Bill Bradley with their territorial choice in 1965.
(NBAE/Getty Images)
The two teams with the best drafts beyond Boston’s didn’t even have first-round picks. Detroit smartly acquired its forward corps for the next seven years by plucking Terry Tyler at No. 23 overall and John Long at No. 29. Meanwhile Maurice Cheeks, the point guard who would become arguably the second-best player in the Draft, dropped to the Sixers at No. 36.

As you contemplate how the New Orleans Jazz could pass on such players in taking James Hardy at No. 11, or the Nuggets in taking Rod Griffin at No. 17, or the Suns picking Marty Byrnes at No. 19, consider that Wayne Cooper fell to the Warriors at No. 40, while a swingman named Michael Cooper was picked at No. 60 by the Lakers.

Then again, even L.A. saw fit to draft Lew Massey, who would never play a minute in the league, at No. 38—22 picks ahead of its future defensive ace.

1980: New Jersey’s Bounce

The New Jersey Nets have only recently restored some sense to their Draft board, thanks to current GM Rod Thorn. But back in the days of short-shorts and long socks, the Nets were a hapless crew.

Case in point, New Jersey was slick enough to have two top-seven picks in 1980. But in typical Nets fashion, they spent No. 6 on North Carolina guard Mike O’Koren, who would start in barely more than one season’s worth of games for the team, and No. 7 on lumbering-but-serviceable center Mike Gminski of Duke.

Still left on the board were Andrew Toney (No. 8, to the 76ers) and Kiki Vandeweghe (No. 11, to the Dallas Mavericks). In the second-round, the Warriors struck it rich, picking Larry Smith at No. 24 and the Gminski-like Jeff Ruland at No. 25, while Rick (then called “Ricky”) Mahorn went to the Washington Bullets at No. 35. Kurt Rambis dropped to the Knicks in the third-round, at No. 58 overall.

Artis Gilmore Artis Gilmore was a seventh-round pick of the Bulls; however, the reason was by the time the NBA Draft came around, Gilmore had already signed with an ABA team.
(Malcolm Emmons/NBAE/Getty Images)
The last great pick of the 1980 Draft? It was fourth-rounder Rory Sparrow, taken at No. 75 overall by the searching-for-redemption Nets.

1988: Third Is the Charm

The 1988 Draft boasted a strong first-round class, with Danny Manning (No. 1 overall), Rik Smits (No. 2) and Mitch Richmond (No. 5) leading the way. There were even some second-round gems, including the Miami Heat’s Grant Long (No. 33), Denver’s Vernon Maxwell (No. 47), Detroit’s Michael Williams (No. 48) and Phoenix’s Steve Kerr (No. 50).

With 1988 being the last draft of more than two rounds, it’s ironic that Portland’s third-round pick, Anthony Mason (No. 53), proved to be the best of the bunch.

1989: The Lottery’s Not the Ticket

The lottery class of 1989 was solid, including Arizona’s Sean Elliott who went to the San Antonio Spurs at No. 3 overall, Michigan’s Glen Rice at No. 4 to the Heat and Fighting Illini Nick Anderson at No. 11, to the Orlando Magic. But it was the latter half of the first-round that produced the year’s three best players: UTEP’s Tim Hardaway, who went to the Warriors at No. 14; Trinity Valley Community College’s (TX) Shawn Kemp, selected by the Sonics at No. 17; and Euro import Vlade Divac, Los Angeles’s pick at No. 26.

And while he might not be the best of 1989, there’s one player from that Draft class still active in the NBA today—Connecticut’s Cliff Robinson, taken at No. 36 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. That’s right: 35 other rookies that year were judged to be better long-term bets than Uncle Cliffie, who just completed his 17th season in the league.

1990: Role Reversal

It’s rare to find them, but there are some years where the rounds of the Draft appear to be flipped.

Maurice Cheeks Maurice Cheeks, the point guard who would become arguably the second-best player in the 1978 Draft, dropped to the Sixers at No. 36.
(Andrew D. BernsteinNBAE/Getty Images)
That was the case in 1990, when the first-round yielded only one superstar, Seattle’s Gary Payton at No. 2 overall. Five other first-rounders turned out to be solid pros: Derrick Coleman (No. 1), Dennis Scott (No. 4), Kendall Gill (No. 5), Jayson Williams (No. 21) and Elden Campbell (No. 27).

However, the second-round was clearly more fruitful than the first, with Toni Kukoc landing with the Bulls at No. 29, Bimbo Coles going to the Sacramento Kings at No. 40, Antonio Davis to the Indiana Pacers at No. 45 and Cedric Ceballos to the Suns at No. 48. So it can be argued that at least two of the three best players of the 1990 Draft came from the second-round.

1998: The Curse of the Kandi Man

The 1998 Draft was strong, boasting the likes of Arizona’s Mike Bibby (No. 2 overall), North Carolina’s Antawn Jamison (No. 4), and Vince Carter (No. 5), German Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9) and Kansas’s Paul Pierce (No. 10) in the top 10 alone.

But consider the plight of the Los Angeles Clippers, who took a flier on Pepperdine’s Michael Olowokandi before any of those other blue-chippers. Even if we give the Clippers a pass, recognizing that the Kandi Man was the only apparent franchise center in that year’s Draft, it doesn’t excuse the fact that they spent their second pick, No. 22 of the first-round, on power forward Brian Skinner when Al Harrington (No. 25), Nazr Mohammed (No. 29), Ruben Patterson (No. 31), Rashard Lewis (No. 32), Rafer Alston (No. 39), Cuttino Mobley (No. 41) and Greg Buckner (No. 53) were still on the board.

Debate over Draft picks is deliciously arbitrary, but one thing is for sure: GMs who consistently select winning lineups don’t suddenly find that the keys to their office door no longer work one morning. And while the Sword of Damocles that hangs above them can be terrifying, so must the knowledge be that every step NBA Commissioner David Stern takes to the podium on Draft night can often bring a GM one step closer to being fired from—or preserving—his job.