Top 16th picks in NBA History

Sixteen is a sweet number. For young women. And it worked out well for Joe Montana. Generally not so much in the NBA draft.

The Bulls, assuming nothing significant changes in the next few days, will have the No. 16 selection in the first round of the 2017 draft. Everyone knows you build teams with top picks in the lottery. Or if LeBron James decides to move.

But the making of a team is a delicate and often complex undertaking, and adding players from the first round of the draft is essential. The Bulls these days are at sort of a crossroads with back to back .500-type seasons. They have a league star in Jimmy Butler and veterans in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, who are expected to be with the team one more season.

Though it’s still uncertain because Wade has an option to escape the second season of his two-year contract this summer and the Bulls have an option to buyout Rondo. Unless there is a drastic overhaul or change of the roster this week, which is not expected, the likelihood is both Wade and Rondo return.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the Bulls with a pair of opening playoff wins in Boston were well on the way before Rondo was injured to the Eastern Conference finals, where the Celtics lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It doesn’t mean the Bulls are the second best team in the conference; it also doesn’t mean with Wade and Rondo to support Butler they cannot be.

Because it’s still a developing Eastern Conference.

That seemed apparent with the first big surprise of draft week. It appears the Celtics will swap the No. 1 overall pick, whom everyone believed Boston wanted for Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, for the 76ers No. 3 pick and future picks the 76ers own of the Lakers and Kings. The 76ers are expected to select Fultz to join him with last year’s top pick, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. It’s uncertain if Boston didn’t see as much as expected in Fultz or preferred to join a race with the 76ers for a top core of young talent. Though it all seems unlikely to vastly change the East landscape for next season.

So the Bulls next season likely also will have a similar core with probably a more certain definition of roles for young players like Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser working their way into a regular rotation. Perhaps others with positions a long way from being determined.

Added to them likely will be the No. 16 selection in the first round of the draft.

The NBA draft these days tends to be with rare exceptions a developmental process. Most teams expect the top eight to 10 selections to be college freshman, which means mostly teenagers. More than half the first round picks are expected to be freshman. The Bulls could go that route, as well, since the most talented players in the top 20 are believed to be freshman or sophomores.

So perhaps players like that fit moving forward for the Bulls since the team, again, unless something unexpected occurs this week, is most likely looking toward the summer of 2018 with substantial salary cap space to change the character of the roster.

But what can the team expect this year at No. 16?

I’ll go into more detail later this week on the players most likely available with the No. 16 pick. The early analysis suggests the top talents when the Bulls select probably will be big men like Justin Patton, Jarrett Allen, T.J. Leaf, Bam Abedayo and John Collins. The top talents in this draft expected to be taken in the top 10 are primarily point guards and small forwards.

Though we know, especially with the top picks being so young, that it often is uncertain which players emerge as top NBA players. Heck, you can find one well down in the draft, as the Bulls did with Butler at No. 30. Consider, the champion Golden State Warriors start non top 10 picks Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (Nos. 7 and 11). Among some of the other top stars in the NBA, Paul George was selected No. 10, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo No. 15, Kyle Lowry No. 24, Goran Dragic No. 45 Paul Millsap No. 47, and Isaiah Thomas No. 60. So, no, it isn’t a science or a certainty.

Here’s a look at the NBA’s all-time No. 16 team:

Guards: John Stockton and Rickey Green.

This is how great Green was: The Hirsch High School speedster, as fast end to end as the likes of Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and John Wall in this era, kept Stockton as his backup for the first three years of Stockton’s career. And we know how great Stockton was leading the NBA nine straight seasons in assists, and many in Magic Johnson’s prime. Stockton, of course, is a Hall of Famer and voted one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players. Green was the 16th selection by the Warriors in 1977, but excelled after joining the Jazz in 1980. He led the league in steals and was sixth in assists in 1984, the year Stockton was drafted. But how could you pass on Stockton, selected in the Michael Jordan draft. But after Lancaster Gordon, Leon Wood, Tim McCormick and Terence Stansbury? There were some pretty good guards also taken over the years at No. 16, including onetime Bull Ricky Sobers, Brevin Knight, Darnell Valentine, Dana Barros, Tony Delk, who had a 50-point game and Dean Meminger.

Forwards: Ron Artest and Hedo Turkoglu.

Ron, now known as Metta, made an All-Star team and almost destroyed the NBA when he went into the stands to assault fans in Detroit. He was drafted by the Bulls in 1999, their second pick in the first round after overall No. 1 pick Elton Brand. Artest then went to Indiana in the Jalen Rose trade and then on to infamy. Artest was a heck of a defender and tough guy who often went much too far. And still tries to play. Turkoglu put together a long career that included a key role with the Magic in the 2009 Finals. He was one of the top shooting forwards of his era, averaging almost 40 percent over his career. Other top forwards taken at No. 16 include James Johnson, also a former Bull, Alan Henderson, Chris Gatling, who also made an All-Star team, Terry Mills and Marreese Speights.

Center: Bill Wennington.

OK, I like him, he’s a friend, and it’s not exactly a Hall of Fame class. Bill was a regular for three championship teams and saved Michael Jordan’s comeback double nickel game in New York in 1995. Bill played 13 seasons in the NBA and two in Italy, though never averaging more than 7.1 points in the NBA. So he gets passed, offensively, if not in rings, by Nikola Vucevic and Swen Nater. You can make the case for either as the best ever No. 16 pick center. Nater, the UCLA star, went first to the ABA and then averaged a double/double in six NBA seasons. Vucevic has pretty much been a double/double guy in six seasons in Orlando. This is a big year for young centers likely to be in the middle of the draft, so perhaps the Bulls add one. Jusuf Nurkic, now in Portland from the 2014 draft, has a chance to be a successful center from the No. 16 spot.

The Bulls also have a history with the No. 16 pick. Here’s a look at what they did when they had No. 16.

2014: Jusuf Nurkic. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and everyone agreed, including then coach Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls traded the Nos. 16 and 19 picks to move into the lottery at No. 11 to select college player of the year Doug McDermott. History suggested moving into the lottery was always the right move. Especially in this era for the top shooter in college ball. It didn’t work out. The Bulls ended up trading McDermott this season along with Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City for a package of players built around point guard Cameron Payne. Payne was injured upon his arrival and will get a longer look this season. Nurkic is a promising big man, but lost out to Nikola Jokic in Denver and was traded to Portland this season for Mason Plumlee. Jokic had a nice 20-game run with the Trailblazers, but then was hurt and missed the playoffs. Harris at No. 19 has developed into a solid shooting guard for the Nuggets.

2009: James Johnson. He’s suddenly one of the top free agents this summer on his sixth team (Toronto twice). That’s the biggest issue in this draft era, especially when a team selects a player regarded for his athletic ability. It can take playing through several teams before he develops and learns the game, also like Chauncey Billups. Johnson averaged in double figures scoring this season for the first time in his career and finally began to control his strength with powerful inside play.

2006: Rodney Carney. The Bulls traded the pick and a second to the 76ers for the rights to Thabo Sefolosha. The 76ers used the second rounder for Kyrylo Fesenko, who later had a Bulls tryout. Sefolosha was a good big man defender for the Bulls, who mostly had small guards then with Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon. In his third season with the Bulls, the Bulls traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the draft pick the Bulls used for Taj Gibson. The athletic Carney was out of the NBA after five seasons.

1999: Ron Artest. He had two credible seasons averaging in double figures with the Bulls, though his behavior was exceptionally erratic on a team with the worst three-year run in league history. His famous brawl in Detroit led him to the Kings, Rockets, Lakers, where he did play on a championship team, the Knicks and back to the Lakers last season, though playing little. His endearing personality always clashed with his tempestuous ways as he often asked to be called Tru-Warier, Ron-Ron and the Panda’s Friend. He has a career scoring average of 13.2.

1974: Cliff Pondexter. He helped represent one of the reasons the Bulls fell into anguish until the Michael Jordan draft. The Bulls were a title contender in the early 1970s, but they hadn’t signed a No. 1 pick since 1971 with the ABA bidding wars. They also drafted poorly. In 1974, they traded draft bust Howard Porter to the Knicks for their top pick and selected Maurice Lucas with the No. 14 pick. But they refused to meet his $500,000 price, so he went to the ABA. The Bulls then at No. 16 with their pick selected Pondexter, an athletic forward from Long Beach State, and paid him similarly. Pondexter suffered a stress fracture that summer and missed the entire season. He then played three seasons as a little used reserve for the Bulls and went overseas.

1969: Simmie Hill. He was the first pick in the second round that year and the high school teammate of Bulls legend Norm Van Lier, who was taken in the third round of that draft at No. 34. Van Lier was traded at the draft to the Cincinnati Royals and then back to the Bulls in 1971. Hill, a powerful athletic forward, was yet another Bulls draft pick whom the team declined to bid for and went to the ABA. Hill played four seasons in the ABA with a career average of about 10 points. Two years earlier in 1967, Phil Jackson was the 17th pick by the Knicks. In that draft, the Bulls selected Clem Haskins No. 3 overall and Byron Beck at No. 15. Beck went to the ABA and made two All-Star teams. In the Bulls first ever draft in 1966, they were given the No. 10 pick, last in the first round, and selected Dave Schellhase of Purdue.