Looking back at the Number 6 draft picks in NBA history

Sam Smith gives us his ranking of the Number 6 picks in NBA history

The NBA draft lottery is May 15 in the Palmer House Hilton. That drawing will determine the order of teams who pick 1 through 14 in the draft, the teams that missed the playoffs. Though some also traded their draft picks. The lottery will give all 14 teams in a descending order of odds the chance to get the first, second or third selections in the draft. After the first three are determined, the teams then are placed in order. For example, if the team with the ninth most odds—as the Bulls did in 2008 to get Derrick Rose—draws the lottery selection to move up and no other teams do, then No. 9 would pick first. Then the next 13 teams are in order of the poorest record. So then under this example, Phoenix would select second. Then Memphis, Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando and the Bulls No 7.

The Bulls are hoping to get lucky and move into the top three for the 2018 draft. But if no team gets fortunate and moves up, the Bulls are slated to pick No. 6. Thus their chances in the draft are to draft Nos. 1, 2 or 3, or 6, 7, 8 or 9. The most likely scenario is the Bulls will have the No. 6 overall selection in the draft.

This draft is considered strong perhaps through the top 10 picks in the draft. But there is uncertainty in each draft, especially in this era, because most of the top players in the draft still are teenagers. There is a list below of the No. 6 picks in each NBA draft back through the early days of the NBA. It's clear there is no certainty that a team will be able to acquire a great player with the No. 6 pick.

There are three players drafted No. 6 who were enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Larry Bird, Adrian Dantley and Lenny Wilkens. But none since Bird was drafted in 1978. There have been many more failures than successes, especially in the last two decades. But there are stars to be procured, like Damian Lillard, and recent top contributors like Marcus Smart and Danilo Galliari.

Here's a look at the best No. 6 picks in NBA history and the most disappointing:

The Best No. 6 Picks:

  1. 1978: Larry Bird. Bird had started at Indiana U., didn't feel comfortable, quit and almost quit basketball before going to Indiana State. Even with his high scoring and NCAA championship game duel with Magic Johnson, there still was some doubt about a relatively slow player who was scoring so much in a small conference against weak competition. Mychal Thompson was the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft. He had a good career, but teams in that era still mistrusted rookies. Plus, Bird decided to play his fifth year and would not be available to the NBA for a year after being drafted. Red Auerbach always was the sharpest for talent and patient. He was willing to wait for Bird, who went on to become one of the best players in NBA history.
1981: Larry Bird #33 of the Boston Celtics shoots free throw during an NBA game circa 1981.
  1. 1960: Lenny Wilkens. The first round was just eight picks then. So Wilkens was barely a first round pick going to smaller Providence and often overlooked, personally most upset about not even getting a chance to try for the 1960 Olympic team. Oscar Roberston and Jerry West were the top two picks. But Jackie Moreland of Louisiana Tech and Lee Schaffer of North Carolina went right before Wilkens, who went on to the Hall of Fame as a player and coach.

  2. 1976 Adrian Dantley. Bad day for the Bulls, also, who had the No. 2 overall selection and took Scott May, the Indiana U. star. John Lucas from Maryland was a transcendent guard from Maryland and the consensus No. 1. If not for drug problems, he would have continued a remarkable career. May was leading scorer with the undefeated Indiana title team. He had injury issues, but also was a bit too slow for NBA stardom. He went on to play seven years in Europe. Dantley was a super scorer at Notre Dame, but there also were pro questions given he was about 6-5 and playing forward. Plus, he wasn't a great athlete. But Dantley became one of the elite scorers in NBA history, leading the league in scoring twice and averaging just under 30 points per game in seven seasons in Utah. He averaged more than 24 in his career with a powerful post game at his size and a knack for getting free throws. He was traded from Detroit for Mark Aguirre just before the Pistons went on to win two titles.

  3. 1954. Johnny "Red" Kerr. He should and presumably will eventually be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, probably the Hall of Fame's greatest oversight to date. Kerr helped lead Syracuse to a championship as a rookie and became the NBA's inaugural ironman man playing 844 straight games, every game in his career until late in his final season. He was a multiple All-Star despite being in the same conference with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. He remains the only coach of an expansion team, the 1966 Bulls, to make the playoffs and be named Coach of the Year. He was the ABA executive who brought George Gervin and Julius Erving into pro ball and the longtime Bulls broadcaster who was analyst for the Bulls six championships.

1960: Johnny Red Kerr #10 of the Syracuse Nationals drives to the basket for a layup against Ft. Wayne during an NBA game in Syracuse, New York in 1960.
  1. 2012. Damian Lillard. Another disastrous Nets draft move. They traded the pick Portland used to select Lillard for Gerald Wallace, in part, because they didn't want to upset Deron Williams. They were bury trying to resign Williams. Lillard has gone on to become one of the premier point guards and scorers in the NBA, averaging more than 20 points per game the last five years and about 27 per game the last two seasons combined.

Honorable Mention No. 6 picks: Fred Brown, Bob "Bingo" Smith, Brandon Roy, Scott Wedman, Chris Kaman, Danilo Gallinari, Shane Battier, Wally Szczerbiak, Ron Mercer, Tom Gugliotta, Hersey Hawkins, Kenny Smith, Jim Washington, Lionel Hollins.

The Worst No. 6 Picks:

  1. 2009. Jonny Flynn. It's less that he had an unsuccessful career than when he was selected. He was picked, the second point guard in a row selected by Minnesota, one pick ahead of future Hall of Famer Stephen Curry. Flynn actually had a decent rookie season, averaging 13.5 points in 81 starts. But he had a serious hip injury and was out of the NBA in three seasons and then played in Europe, Australia and China. By the way, DeMar DeRozan was No. 9 in that draft.
Jonny Flynn #10 of the Minnesota Timberwolves moves the ball up court during the game against the New Orleans Hornets at Target Center on December 9, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  1. 2007. Yi Jianlian. He was a next big thing, another seven footer especially after Yao Ming with big hype. It was a cursed draft with Greg Oden going No. 1. Not that there were Curry-level stars selected after Yi, but he had little impact in five NBA seasons, traded out of Milwaukee after one year. The Bulls got Joakim Noah No. 9 in that draft with numerous contributing players after Yi, including Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young, Marco Belinelli and Wilson Chandler.

  2. 1998. Robert "Tractor" Traylor. Not so much because of his playing career, which was just averaging about five points with four teams in seven seasons. He then played six years in Europe. He was most famous for what his team did, the Bucks swapping him on draft night for the rights to prospect Dirk Nowitzki. Future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce then was selected No. 10 in that draft.

  3. 2011. Jan Vesely. Well, Derrick Williams at No. 2 was a worse pick, but it was a heck of a draft after No. 6 with the likes of Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, the Morris twins and Kawhi Leonard. Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried and Nikola Mirotic came later in the first round. Vesely played three seasons in the NBA, averaging about three points.

Jan Vesely #24 of the Washington Wizards dunks against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game at the Verizon Center on November 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.
  1. 1964. Barry Kramer. Scouting wasn't that sophisticated back then, but he played for NYU and I lived there and was going to some games and there was no way he looked like he could play in the NBA, a good shooter who wasn't very swift. He played one season in the NBA and then later a season in the ABA for old times in New York, where he was popular. But then he went to law school and became a state supreme court judge. Selected after him in that draft were Willis Reed and Paul Silas. Oh, and a third rounder named Jerry Sloan.

Not so honorable mentions: Jonathan Isaac in front of Lauri Markkanen? OK, not quite yet. Dujuan Wagner, Nerlens Noel, DerMarr Johnson, Mel Turpin, Ekpe Udoh, Sharone Wright, Russell Lee, Martell Webster, Tom Hoover.

Number 6 Picks All-Time in NBA Draft:

Year Player, School/Country Team
2017 Jonathan Isaac, Florida State Orlando Magic
2016 Buddy Hield, Oklahoma New Orleans Pelicans
2015 Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky Sacramento Kings
2014 Marcus Smart, Oklahoma St. Boston Celtics
2013 Nerlens Noel, Kentucky New Orleans Pelicans
2012 Damian Lillard, Weber State Portland Trail Blazers *
2011 Jan Vesely, Czech Republic Washington Wizards
2010 Ekpe Udoh, Baylor Golden State Warriors
2000's
2009 Johnny Flynn, Syracuse Minnesota Timberwolves
2008 Danilo Gallinari, Italy New York Knicks
2007 Yi Jianlian, China Milwaukee Bucks
2006 Brandon Roy, Washington Minnesota Timberwolves
2005 Martell Webster, Seattle Prep HS Portland Trail Blazers
2004 Josh Childress, Stanford Atlanta Hawks
2003 Chris Kaman, Central Michigan L.A. Clippers
2002 Dajuan Wagner, Memphis Cleveland Cavaliers
2001 Shane Battier, Duke Memphis Grizzlies
2000 DerMarr Johnson, Cincinnati Atlanta Hawks
1990's
1999 Wally Szczerbiak, Miami (Ohio) Minnesota Timberwolves
1998 Robert Traylor, Michigan Dallas Mavericks
1997 Ron Mercer, Kentucky Boston Celtics
1996 Antoine Walker, Kentucky Boston Celtics
1995 Bryant Reeves, Oklahoma State Vancouver Grizzlies
1994 Sharone Wright, Clemson Philadelphia 76ers
1993 Calbert Cheaney, Indiana Washington Wizards
1992 Tom Gugliotta, North Carolina State Washington Bullets
1991 Doug Smith, Missouri Dallas Mavericks
1990 Felton Spencer, Louisville Minnesota Timberwolves
1980's
1989 Stacey King, Oklahoma Chicago Bulls
1988 Hersey Hawkins, Bradley L.A. Clippers
1987 Kenny Smith, North Carolina Sacramento Kings
1986 William Bedford, Memphis State Phoenix Suns
1985 Joe Kleine, Arkansas Sacramento Kings
1984 Mel Turpin, Kentucky Washington Bullets
1983 Russell Cross, Purdue Golden State Warriors
1982 Trent Tucker, Minnesota New York Knicks
1981 Orlando Woolridge, Notre Dame Chicago Bulls
1980 Mike O'Koren, North Carolina New Jersey Nets
1970's
1979 James Bailey, Rutgers Seattle Supersonics
1978 Larry Bird, Indiana State Boston Celtics
1977 Kenny Carr, North Carolina State L.A. Lakers
1976 Adrian Dantley, Notre Dame Buffalo Braves
1975 Lionel Hollins, Arizona State Portland Trail Blazers
1974 Scott Wedman, Colorado Kansas City-Omaha Kings
1973 Ed Ratleff, Long Beach State Houston Rockets
1972 Russell Lee, Marshall Milwaukee Bucks
1971 Fred Brown, Iowa Seattle Supersonics
1970 Jim Ard, Cincinnati Seattle Supersonics
1960's
1969 Bobby Smith, Tulsa San Diego Rockets
1968 Otto Moore, Pan American Detroit Pistons
1967 Al Tucker, Oklahoma Baptist Seattle Supersonics
1966 Walt Wesley, Kansas Cincinnati Royals
1965 Jim Washington, Villanova St. Louis Hawks
1964 Barry Kramer, New York University San Francisco Warriors
1963 Tom Hoover, Villanova Syracuse Nationals
1962 Leroy Ellis, St. John's L.A. Lakers
1961 Ben Warley, Tennessee State Syracuse Nationals
1960 Lenny Wilkens, Providence St. Louis Hawks
1950's
1959 John Richter, North Carolina State Boston Celtics
1958 Connie Dierking, Cincinnati Syracuse Nationals
1957 Len Rosenbluth, North Carolina Philadelphia Warriors
1956 Ron Sobie, DePaul University Fort Wayne Pistons
1955 Johnny Horan, University of Dayton Fort Wayne Pistons
1954 Red Kerr, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Syracuse Nationals
1953 Jim Neal, Wofford College Syracuse Nationals
1952 Bob Stauffer, University of Missouri Boston Celtics
1951 Ed Smith, Harvard University New York Knicks
1950 Irwin Dambrot, City College of New York New York Knicks

Source: Basketball Insiders

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls 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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