Monday, June 22, 2009

Right Article, Wrong Occasion

I love the Sports Illustrated Vault. One of today's featured stories is this piece by Jackie MacMullan from June 1997 on that year's NBA Draft. Jackie Mac argued 12 years ago that, "The reality of the 1990s is that the draft is nearly irrelevant when it comes to building a franchise for the long term." She cites the case of the Orlando Magic who scored two top picks in the early nineties. Shaq and Penny took the Magic to the 1995 Finals before Shaq left for L.A. and persistent injuries hampered Penny's rise to superstardom. Likewise, MacMullan recalls the Charlotte Hornets, led by top early 1990s picks Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The Hornets seemed poised to be contenders for the next decade, but—as with the Magic—one star left and the other succumbed to injury. She also notes:

Consider the drafts of 1987 through '94. Only two of the eight No. 1 picks from those years remain with the clubs that drafted them (chart, page 54): San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, a seven-time All-Star and the league's '95 MVP; and Milwaukee Bucks forward Glenn Robinson, a mildly disappointing performer whom the Bucks have considered trading. Also, of the first 10 selections from each of those drafts—a total of 80 players—only 17 have performed solely for the franchises that drafted them.

And the case of the ever-hapless Clippers:

From 1987 through '90, the Los Angeles Clippers' lottery picks were, respectively, a No. 4, forward Reggie Williams, who was a bomb; a No. 1, forward Danny Manning, who repeatedly asked for a trade and was finally granted one, to the Atlanta Hawks, in '94; a No. 2, forward Danny Ferry, who played a season in Italy rather than don a Clippers uniform and was eventually traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers; and a No. 8, Bo Kimble, who was a bust and played only 105 career games before falling out of the NBA.

All good points.

Here's the problem: The title of the article was, "Why Bother? Even if your team gets a stellar player like Tim Duncan in the NBA draft, it probably won't make any difference in the long run." Tim Duncan—whom the Spurs selected first in 1997—was the exception among 1990s top draft picks. Duncan has spent all 12 of his seasons with the Spurs (and won't be leaving any time soon); he's picked up two league MVPs and two Finals MVPs; and (with considerable contributions from the likes of David Robinson, Sean Elliot, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli) has been largely responsible for the Spurs being title contenders for as long as he's been in the NBA (and winning four championships along the way).

Had this article been written about the 1998 NBA Draft, in which the Clippers took Michael Olowokandi with the first pick, the article would have been very appropriate. But as it were, Tim Duncan did make a lasting difference—a difference more lasting than any number one pick since Magic Johnson in 1979.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is always dangerous to look back at what sports types predict or say before the fact.

One of the great joys of watching "Around the Horn" is watching those folks - including Jackie Mac - shift wildly from day to day in what they think about a given team or playoff series or whatever.

As I was reading your post, I was thinking - Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant. Sometimes the draft does matter it seems.

6:55 AM  

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