NBA: Draft top picks produce epic flops as well as legends

AFP , Wednesday 21 Jun 2023

French teen giant Victor Wembanyama, considered the greatest NBA prospect since LeBron James two decades ago, has some cautionary tales among players who became top picks in the NBA Draft.

LeBron James
FILE - Four-time NBA champion LeBron James, shooting over Denver's Nikola Jokic, was the 2003 NBA Draft top pick while Jokic, a two-time MVP who led the Nuggets to this year's NBA title, only went 41st in the 2014 NBA Draft. Photo: AFP

 

History has proven there are no sure things among those selected first overall, as the versatile 7f 4in (2.24m) Wembanyama is expected to be on Thursday by the San Antonio Spurs.

There have been epic flops selected ahead of eventual legends in the NBA Draft as well as superstars going first overall such as James did to Cleveland in 2003.

The Cavaliers also chose forward Anthony Bennett first overall in 2013 and he played on four teams in four seasons before exiting the NBA for stops in Turkey, Israel and Taiwan. The same year, Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo went 15th in 2013 and became a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player who helped Milwaukee win the 2021 crown.

Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan went third overall to Chicago in 1984 after two-time NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon went first to Houston and Portland selected center Sam Bowie, who was undone by leg and foot injuries over 10 NBA seasons before retiring in 1995.

Portland also saw 2007 top pick Greg Oden limited by chronic knee injuries, the center playing only 82 games for the Trail Blazers and 23 more in a brief comeback with Miami.

The second pick in 2007 was Kevin Durant, a future 13-time All-Star forward, NBA MVP and two-time champion.

Wembanyama arrives as the past five NBA MVPs have come from beyond US borders, none of them top picks.

Serbian center Nikola Jokic, a two-time MVP who led Denver to the title last week, went 41st in 2014, the same year Cameroon's Joel Embiid, the reigning MVP with Philadelphia, went third.

The 2014 top overall pick was Andrew Wiggins, who helped Golden State win last year's NBA title. He's one of five top picks since James to win a title, although three of them -- Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Kyrie Irving -- did so as a James teammate.

The other was Australian Andrew Bogut, the 2005 top pick by Philadelphia who helped Golden State's 2015 title run.

Only Irving, Cleveland's top pick in 2011, won a title with the club that drafted him.

San Antonio, however, has a solid history with top draft picks, the Spurs taking big men David Robinson in 1987 and Tim Duncan in 1997 with their past two.

Duncan helped the Spurs win five titles from 1999 through 2014, the first two of them alongside Robinson and the last four as a teammate of French guard Tony Parker, taken 28th overall by San Antonio in 2001.

The Spurs were 20-62 in the season before Duncan arrived. Duncan was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1998 and the NBA Finals MVP in 1999.

San Antonio went 22-60 this season so Duncan's history might be a road map for Wembanyama.

The 19-year-old Frenchman is a big man with passing and ballhandling skills who hits outside shots while serving as a forceful defender and shot blocker.

High pick flops abound

Top NBA pick flops includes Jordan's choice in 2001 while overseeing the Washington Wizards.

Jordan went with 7-foot-high school center Kwame Brown, who was never an All-Star and played on seven teams before his 2013 farewell.

In 2009, Memphis made 7-foot-3 Tanzanian Hasheem Thabeet the second overall pick ahead of future MVPs and scoring champions Stephen Curry and James Harden. Thabeet started only 20 games over five NBA seasons with four clubs.

Nigerian center Michael Olowokandi went first overall in 1998 at 23 to the Los Angeles Clippers even though the 7-footer didn't begin playing basketball until age 18.

Olowakandi was never an All-Star in 10 NBA seasons but he was selected before future stars Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter.

Golden State traded up with Boston in 1980 to make 7-footer Joe Barry Carroll the top pick. He had one All-Star season in 10 NBA campaigns.

The deal resulted in the Celtics obtaining Hall of Fame forward Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who helped win three NBA titles.

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