Majority of past No. 21s are productive role players

Sunday, June 21, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s draft, New Orleans general manager Jeff Bower has often been asked about what caliber of player he’s expecting to land with the 21st pick of the first round. A future star? An immediate starter? A player who can add depth to a Hornets bench that has been among the NBA’s shakiest?

Realistically, if you look at the history of past No. 21 overall picks in the NBA draft over the past 25 years, the term “productive role player” describes the majority of the players taken in that slot. Since 1984 – a landmark year for the draft, with Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton all in that class – only two 21st picks have reached All-Star status. Michael Finley (1995 draft) and Jayson Williams (1990) are the lone 21st picks to do so, totaling three appearances in the All-Star Game.

Conversely, among the last 25 draftees taken at 21 since that historic ’84 class, by my estimation only six players can fairly be considered unmitigated “busts” – players whose stay in the NBA was ultra-brief and disappointing. In this decade, only Pavel Podkolzin (2004) and Qyntel Woods (2002) fit that description.

The remainder of the No. 21 picks over the past quarter-century evolved into either decent starters or quality reserves, including the likes of Rajon Rondo (2006), Boris Diaw (2003), Brendan Haywood (2001), current Hornet Morris Peterson (2000), Jeff Foster (1999), Ricky Davis (1998), Anthony Parker (1997) and current ESPN analyst Jon Barry (1992).

Since Podkolzin’s NBA stint flamed out after just six career games, each of the past four 21s have made helpful contributions to their pro teams. Nate Robinson (2005) averaged 17.2 points for New York this season; Rondo nearly averaged a triple-double during the recent postseason; Daequan Cook (2007) won the NBA three-point contest and has been a productive shooter for Miami; Ryan Anderson (2008) started 30 games for New Jersey as a rookie.