Counting down the six best No. 6 picks in recent NBA history

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Like many of the top 10 selections of the NBA draft – including the prized No. 1 spot – the recent history of the sixth pick is a mixed bag. When the New Orleans Pelicans select at No. 6 on June 23, they’ll hope to find a player who eventually makes All-Star appearances, as several “6s” have done over the past three decades, as opposed to washing out of the league (no No. 6 from the 2009-11 drafts is currently on an NBA roster).

Over the past 30 years of NBA drafts, a countdown of the six best players picked sixth overall:

6) Shane Battier, 2001

Battier’s arrival in the NBA coincided with the Grizzlies’ debut season in Memphis; the forward helped that franchise reach the playoffs for the first time in 2004. The Duke product eventually won two NBA championships with Miami a decade later, in 2012 and 2013. In between, he was a frequent thorn in the side of New Orleans, spending five productive seasons with Houston (2006-11). Although he never garnered an All-Star nod, Battier was the consummate role player. The New York Times once dubbed him “The No-Stats All-Star.”

5) Wally Szczerbiak, 1999

An integral piece for the best team in Minnesota franchise history – the ’04 Timberwolves were a top seed and reached the Western Conference finals – Szczerbiak rose from relative obscurity after emerging as a high-scoring force in college at Miami (Ohio). Individually, his NBA career was highlighted by a single All-Star berth as an injury replacement in 2002, at a time when the West was loaded with talent (some things never change). Coincidentally, like Battier, he became a TV broadcaster following his playing days.

4) Tom Gugliotta, 1992

Like Szczerbiak, Gugliotta made one All-Star appearance with Minnesota (1997), the season that the Timberwolves reached the playoffs for the first time. The North Carolina State product’s pro career is probably a bit underappreciated despite averages of 13.0 points and 7.3 rebounds, partly because he suited up for so many bad teams. Gugliotta only reached the playoffs four times (1997, 1999, 2001, 2003) in his 13 NBA seasons.

3) Antoine Walker, 1996

The prototypical high-volume scorer, Walker famously was once asked why he shot so many three-pointers. His response? “Because there are no fours.” Walker may have been ahead of his time, because his propensity to fire at will from beyond the arc has become commonplace in today’s NBA. Walker parlayed his big scoring numbers – he averaged 20-plus points in five different seasons – into three All-Star appearances (1998, 2002, 2003).

2) Brandon Roy, 2006

One of the gems of a 2006 draft that was mostly forgettable, prior to knee injuries bringing a premature end to Roy’s career, he was one of the NBA’s premier shooting guards. The University of Washington product only played six seasons in the league, but made three straight All-Star appearances (2008-10) and earned Rookie of the Year honors, all with Portland. He was an All-NBA second-teamer in 2009 and also finished ninth in MVP voting that season.

1) Damian Lillard, 2012

Only four seasons into his NBA career, the Weber State product could be headed to the Hall of Fame someday. Lillard has made two All-Star appearances (2014, 2015) and probably should’ve been in this year’s game, considering he wound up eighth in MVP voting. The point guard is exceptionally clutch – he drained a series-clinching three-pointer to eliminate Houston in just his second pro season – and carries a huge load for Portland. Despite the Trail Blazers losing four starters to other teams last summer, Lillard led them to the second round of the playoffs this spring.

Honorable mention: Chris Kaman (2003), Danilo Gallinari (2008). The three most recent No. 6 picks were Willie Cauley-Stein (2015), Marcus Smart (2014) and Nerlens Noel (2013).

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