Sam Smith: Star players can be found all over the draft

While it's better to have a higher draft selection, NBA history shows you can find stars outside the Top 10.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
Draft 2020 | AT&T Bulls Draft Coverage

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Sam Smith takes a look back at the top Draft Picks in the past

In this political convention season, perhaps it’s appropriate for the Bulls facing the 2020 NBA draft to paraphrase James Carville’s pithy advice to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential campaign: “It’s the scouting, stupid.”

The Bulls hope Thursday in the NBA Draft Lottery, 7:30 p.m. ESPN, to draw a lucky combination and at least get into the top four from their current No. 7 position. They have a 7.5 percent chance to get the No. 1 overall pick.

And it’s certainly better to have a higher draft pick.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t get a star player. And especially in this draft with so much uncertainty because players have not been able to work out for teams and the NCAA tournament was cancelled because of the coronavirus.

 Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans goes up for a basket against Richaun Holmes #22 of the Sacramento Kings during the first half of an NBA basketball game at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 6, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Zion Williamson

NBA history, especially recently, is filled with franchise star players who weren’t even lottery picks, like Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash weren’t top 10 picks in 1996, the Spurs built their post David Robinson years with Tim Duncan and future international picks late in the first and in the second round. And Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas was part of the Denver braintrust that built the current contending Nuggets with second round pick Nikola Jokic.

So there’s value to be found. It’s up to the team to unearth.

While many top picks are obvious, like LeBron James in 2003, Duncan in 1997 and Shaquille O’Neal in 1992, having the No. 1 pick doesn’t guarantee success.

Kings general manager Vlade Divac probably just lost his job because he had No. 2 while the No. 3 pick in that draft was Luka Doncic, who is becoming a top NBA star. The consensus in 2007 was to select Greg Oden No 1. Kevin Durant at No. 2 became one of the great stars in league history as Oden had a short career with injuries.

Zion Williamson was everyone’s favorite last year. But many are already saying with Williamson’s injuries and body type that Ja Morant at No. 2 will be the better player in the long run. The decisions become even more complex because players now come into the NBA so young. And this year because many players didn’t even have one full college season or a post season tournament. Some of the top prospects, like James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball, barely played at all or overseas.

So consider the gems that perhaps were a combination of bad lottery luck and good scouting.

cottie Pippen #33 of the Chicago Bulls shoots the ball against the Washington Bullets on April 27, 1997 during Game One of the NBA Eastern Conference First Round at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois

Scottie Pippen shoots.

Scottie Pippen, of course, whom the Bulls long chased and only managed to get on draft night in a trade with the Seattle Supersonics for the Bulls No. 8 pick. Plus the Bulls got a little lucky when the Clippers selected Reggie Williams No. 4. The Supersonics wanted Williams. When he wasn’t available, only then they agreed to the swap of draft picks. Sacramento at No. 6 in that draft also was seeking Pippen. They selected Kenny Smith. Future All-Star point guard Kevin Johnson was seventh. Who would the Bulls have taken if they stayed at No. 8? Olden Polynice as Seattle did?

Consider some recent drafts, and perhaps it’s a clue to what works in the NBA and what scouts tend to ignore.

Some of the best recent players from the lottery were selections out of the top seven, like C.J. McCollum, No. 10 in 2013, Klay Thompson No. 11 in 2011, Devin Booker No. 13 in 2015 and Donovan Mitchell No. 13 in 2017. Talk about your lucky 13. You can add No. 13 Zach LaVine to that list from 2014. All are shooting guard/wing player types who can also make plays, which has been the emphasis in the constantly downsizing NBA.

Look at some of the other best players leading teams these days, like Doncic with the Mavericks, Jayson Tatum with the Celtics, Jimmy Butler, James Harden and until his injuries Victor Oladipo.

Scouts often still hold onto the belief of the dominant big man. And if you can find Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal, take him. But there are few like them. With examination and information, it appears more often these days a clever team can identify a talented player who doesn’t appear to have exceptional skills or size and develop a team leader. Perhaps LaVine can take that final step under new management. Or that new management can discover even outside the top four picks, if it comes to that, the kind of talented player to join the underachieving talent the Bulls may just have. Those players are there to be uncovered. Perhaps one just needs to look more carefully.

The best players from the lottery.

Year Players
1985 Patrick Ewing No. 1, Chris Mullin No. 7
1986 Brad Daugherty No. 1, Chuck Person No. 4
1987 David Robinson No. 1, Scottie Pippen No. 5
1988 Mitch Richmond No. 5, Danny Manning No. 1
1989 Glen Rice No. 4, Sean Elliott No. 3
1990 Gary Payton No. 2., Kendall Gill No. 5
1991 Larry Johnson No. 1, Dikembe Mutombo No. 4
1992 Shaquille O’Neal No. 1, Alonzo Mourning No. 2
1993 Chris Webber No. 1, Penny Hardaway No. 3
1994 Jason Kidd No. 2, Grant Hill No. 3
1995 Kevin Garnett No. 5, Rasheed Wallace No. 4
1996 Allen Iverson No. 1, Ray Allen No. 5
1997 Tim Duncan No. 1, Tracy McGrady No. 9
1998 Dirk Nowitzki No. 9, Vince Carter No. 5
1999 Elton Brand No. 1, Richard Hamilton No.7
2000 Kenyon Martin No. 1, Jamal Crawford No. 8
2001 Pau Gasol No. 3, Joe Johnson No.10
2002 Amar’e Stoudemire No. 9, Yao Ming No. 1
2003 LeBron James No 1, Dwyane Wade No. 5
2004 Dwight Howard No. 1, Andre Iguodala No. 9
2005 Chris Paul No. 4, Deron Williams No. 3
2006 LaMarcus Aldridge No. 2, Rudy Gay No. 8
2007 Kevin Durant No. 2, Al Horford No. 3
2008 Derrick Rose No. 1, Russell Westbrook No. 4
2009 Stephen Curry No. 7, James Harden No. 3
2010 Paul George No. 10, John Wall No. 1
2011 Kyrie Irving No 1, Klay Thompson, No. 11
2012 Anthony Davis No. 1, Damian Lillard No. 6
2013 Victor Oladipo No. 2, CJ McCollum No.10
2014 Joel Embiid No. 3, Zach LaVine No. 13
2015 Devin Booker No. 13, Karl-Anthony Towns No. 1
2016 Ben Simmons No. 1, Brandon Ingram No. 2
2017 Jayson Tatum No. 3, Donovan Mitchell No. 13
2018 Luka Doncic No. 3, Trae Young No. 5
2019 Ja Morant No. 2, Zion Williamson No. 1

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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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