Denton: Historical Analysis of No. 2 Draft Picks

By John Denton
May 29, 2013

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic missed out on landing the top pick in the June 27th NBA Draft, but they managed to salvage the NBA Draft Lottery by securing the No. 2 overall selection.

Or did they?

Save for superstars Kevin Durant, Jason Kidd, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and Isiah Thomas, No. 2 picks since 1980 have mostly been a wasteland of missed potential, outright flops, perpetual injuries and tragic endings. In fact, each of the past five No. 2 picks – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012), Derrick Williams (2011), Evan Turner (2010), Hasheem Thabeet (2009) and Michael Beasley (2008) – were seemingly the incorrect pick after getting dramatically outplayed by athletes chosen much lower in those drafts.

Forced to pick who is thought to be the best remaining player following the No. 1 pick, teams with the No. 2 pick have missed on some of the greatest players in history with the second selection. The most notable whiff, of course, came in 1984 when the Portland Trail Blazers selected oft-injured center Sam Bowie and passed on Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton.

Not far behind the infamous pick of Bowie in 1984 was the mess that the Detroit Pistons made out of the 2003 NBA Draft. Already armed with guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton and needing a power forward before they ultimately traded for Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons followed Cleveland’s picking of LeBron James by drafting Darko Milicic at No. 2. The problem, of course, was that they passed on Carmelo Anthony (No. 3), Chris Bosh (No. 4), Dwyane Wade (No. 5) and David West (No. 18). Pistons GM Joe Dumars, a player himself once passed over with the No. 2 pick in 1985, has seemingly never recovered from that draft gaffe.

Bill Russell is, of course, the best all-time No. 2 pick in the history of the NBA Draft, while Jerry West, Bob Pettit and Earl Monroe made the Hall of Fame from the second draft spot and Bob McAdoo won three scoring titles.

Some of the all-time greats passed over with the second pick in the past 33 years include: Dominique Wilkins (1982); Clyde Drexler (1983); Chris Mullin, Karl Malone and Joe Dumars (1985); Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller (1987); Dikembe Mutombo (1991); Penny Hardaway (1993); Grant Hill (1994); Kevin Garnett (1995); Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash (1996); Chauncey Billups (1997); Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce (1998); Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson and Tony Parker (2001).

Cleveland won last week’s NBA Draft Lottery and will select first overall for a second time in three years. The Magic will be second, while Washington and Charlotte will follow. The Magic had the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick going into the lottery, but dropped to No. 2. Washington made the biggest climb, going from the eighth-best odds to the No. 3 pick, while Charlotte dropped from the second-best odds to No. 4.

The Magic have been on a roll of late when it comes to evaluating young talent, and they hope to continue that success in the upcoming draft. Magic GM Rob Hennigan traded for Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless and deftly drafted Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn in the later stages of the first and second rounds of last June’s NBA Draft. That group of young players, combined with the haul from next month’s NBA Draft, should form the foundation of the re-tooling Magic for years to come.

But the Magic must find a way to side-step what has been some downright miserable luck when it comes to players being selected with the No. 2 pick. Here is a look at some of the No. 2 picks who never panned out for their teams because of a variety of reasons:

  • When Clyde Drexler unexpectedly fell to Portland with the No. 14 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, the Blazers opted for Sam Bowie with 1984’s No. 2 pick – ahead of Jordan, Barkley and Stockton. Bowie, a supremely talented 7-footer at Kentucky, struggled with leg injuries while in college and only recently admitted that he lied to the Blazers about feeling pain in his leg in pre-draft workouts. Bowie missed most of his final three seasons in Portland because of injuries, while Jordan went on to win six NBA titles – his second in 1992 against the Blazers.

  • When the Cleveland Cavaliers took center Brad Daughtery with the top pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics were delighted to nab Len Bias with the No. 2 pick. It was thought at the time that Bias would add some much-needed youth to the Celtics’ roster and extend the life of the franchise’s dynasty for several more years. But Bias infamously overdosed on cocaine a day after being selected No. 2 and died.

  • In 1989, Danny Ferry made it known that he did not want to play for the Los Angeles Clippers and owner Donald Sterling, but the Clippers still chose him second in the draft. Ferry responded by heading to Italy to play for Il Messaggero where he averaged 23 points and six rebounds. The Clippers ultimately dealt him to Cleveland, along with Reggie Williams, for Ron Harper. Ferry, now the GM for the Atlanta Hawks, signed a 10-year deal with the Cavs, but he never materialized into the star player that Cleveland was hoping for.

  • Over a period of three years from 1995-97, teams at the top of the draft took the safe route by picking college standouts and passing on high school phenoms making the jump from the preps to the pros. In 1995, Golden State picked Joe Smith and the Clippers selected Antonio McDyess, while Kevin Garnett (the No. 5 pick) proved to be the best player in that draft. In 1996, Allen Iverson went first and Marcus Camby was second, but Kobe Bryant proved to be the top prize at No. 13. And in 1997, Philadelphia drafted Keith Van Horn and traded him to New Jersey rather than take a stab at an 18-year-old Tracy McGrady.

  • In 2002, Yao Ming became the first international player with no U.S. college experience to go first overall. That left Jay Williams, college basketball’s Player of the Year, to go second to the Chicago Bulls. But his promising start in the NBA was ruined when he was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident in 2003. Not only did he violate the terms of his NBA contract by riding a motorcycle, Williams severed the main nerve in his leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three ligaments in his left knee. Williams never returned to NBA game action and instead has become a college basketball analyst for ESPN.

  • Coming off a 13-69 record in the 2004-05 season, the Atlanta Hawks needed the king of difference-maker of a player who would send a jolt of life into the franchise and the city of Atlanta. Despite badly needing a play-making point guard, the Hawks passed on Deron Williams and Chris Paul and took University of North Carolina freshman forward Marvin Williams. While Paul went on to become a five-time all-star and Deron Williams has been a three-time all-star, Marvin Williams averaged just 11.5 points in seven seasons with the Hawks.

  • From the looks of things, the last five players to be chosen No. 2 – Charlotte’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Minnesota’s Derrick Williams, Philadelphia’s Evan Turner, Hasheem Thabeet and Michael Beasley – could go down as monumentally bad picks.

    Chicago got it right in 2008 by drafting Derrick Rose first overall, but the mercurial Michael Beasley was a bust in Miami as the No. 2 pick. It’s fun to wonder now if the Heat had drafted Russell Westbrook (No. 4), Kevin Love (No. 5), Brook Lopez (No. 10), Roy Hibbert (No. 17) or Ryan Anderson (No. 21) instead of Beasley if they would have wound up getting LeBron James and Chris Bosh to pair with Dwyane Wade.

    2009’s No. 2 pick, Hasheem Thabeet, is considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history after completely flopping with the Memphis Grizzlies. Thabeet, now a bench player with Oklahoma City, lasted just a second-and-a-half with the Grizzlies and never averaged more than 3.1 points and 3.8 rebounds. He is already on his fourth team and could soon be out of the NBA. Meanwhile, players chosen behind Thabeet – James Harden (No. 3), Steph Curry (No. 7) and Ty Lawson (No. 18) – have evolved into stellar players.

    Turner is a man without a position in Philadelphia, while others in the 2010 NBA Draft – Paul George (No. 10), Larry Sanders (No. 15) – have shown much more promise.
    Williams has failed to fit in in Minnesota, while lower-drafted players such as Klay Thompson (No. 11), Kawhi Leonard (No. 15), Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (No. 16), Orlando’s Tobias Harris (No. 19), Kenneth Faried (No. 22) and Jimmy Butler (No. 30) have made much greater impacts.

    Charlotte, which had the NBA’s all-time worst winning percentage in the 2011-12 season, was devastated when it missed on landing the No. 1 pick and Anthony Davis last June. Instead, they chose Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the No. 2 pick. Beyond 3 feet from the basket, Kidd-Gilchrist made just 27 percent of his shots last season and he seems to be miles away from becoming a go-to player the Bobcats so desperately need. Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes (No. 7) shined in the playoffs, Bradley Beal (No. 3), Andre Drummond (No. 9), Orlando’s Maurice Harkless (No. 15) and Andrew Nicholson (No. 19) had solid seasons and Damian Lillard (No. 6) won the Rookie of the Year award.

    As it turns out, the last No. 2 pick to become a superstar was Durant in 2007. That year’s top pick, Greg Oden, missed his rookie season, most of his third season and each of the past three years with injuries to both of his knees. Between 2007 and ’12, he played just 82 games for Portland before being waived in March of 2012. Durant won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award in 2007 and became the youngest player in league history to win a scoring title two years later. He’s since won two more scoring titles and he’s been an all-NBA performer each of the past five seasons.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.




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