“You can’t teach height”
It’s a time honored Basketball adage, and one that have made fools of NBA Coaches and General Managers since the beginning of time, seduced into drafting tall, talentless lunks over actual skilled players. Sure, sometimes these kind of decisions are made out of need, but often times these players of obviously limited skill are taken by teams who are POSITIVE they can mold them into stars.
This almost never happens.
Instead, for every Rik Smits, you get a dozen Yinka Dare’s (or Stinka, as he was known around the league) and Priest Lauderdale’s.
Don Nelson has always done his best to stay away from these types, mainly due to the idea that, well, they can’t play basketball, buy also because he believes that big guys play the game because they are big, not because they love it.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the most notable examples of teams being suckered into taking a giant, and usually passing up one or more studs in the process. Starting from 1985, in chronological order.
BENOIT BENJAMIN 3RD PICK IN 1985 DRAFT- TAKEN AHEAD OF: CHRIS MULLIN, KARL MALONE
Also known as “the guy who once told another player that the “C” on a players jersey stood for Caucasian. Benoit was taken out of a small college by Elgin Baylor (not the first time this would happen) with a world of promise and well, he didn’t live up to it.
Sure, his stats were respectable (11 pts, 8 rbs per game lifetime), but he is a prime example of a player who could have been special, if only he gave a shit. Also known as one of the all-time space cadets, and struggled to keep his weight in check for his entire career.
CHRIS WASHBURN 3RD PICK IN 1986 DRAFT- TAKEN AHEAD OF: RON HARPER, CHUCK PERSON
The poster boy for the distastrous 1986 draft (Cocaine is a helluva drug), which included 3more players who were kicked out of the league for substance abuse (Roy Tarpley, Willliam Bedford, Dwayne “the pearl” Washington) and the cocaine overdose death of Len Bias.
Washburn, despite being dogged by rumors of Coke abuse in college, was deemed too big a prospect to pass on with the 3rd pick. Well, he lasted as grand total of two years before being turfed out of the league at the tender age of 22, and was given a lifetime suspension in 1989 for a third positive drug test. Named the #3 biggest draft bust in NBA history by Sports Illustrated.
OLDEN POLYNICE 8TH PICK OF 1987 DRAFT- TAKEN AHEAD OF: REGGIE MILLER, MARK JACKSON
Basically a journeyman Center in the NBA, Polynice’s career highlight was being arrested for
impersonating a police officer by pulling someone over for reckless driving.
Two different times.
Oh, and he was also dealt for this guy
on draft night.
PERVIS ELLISON, #1 PICK OF 1989 DRAFT- TAKEN AHEAD OF: SEAN ELLIOT, GLEN RICE, TIM HARDAWAY
Known as “Never Nervous Pervis” for his exploits in leading Louisville to the 1986 NCAA Title as a Frashman, the poor guy earned the rather dubious moniker “Out of Service Pervis” in the NBA by missing over 400 games in his pro career. Sort of a Sam Bowie, 2.0.
On the bright side, he had some
pretty cool hair.
SHAWN BRADLEY, 2ND PICK IN 1990 DRAFT- TAKEN AHEAD OF: PENNY HARDAWAY, ALLAN HOUSTON
Oh, now we’re getting to the fun part.
Seriously, Shawn Bradley is the ultimate example of NBA talent evaluators falling love with the size of a player, despite overwhelming evidenc that the guy doesn’t have what it takes.
Bradley came into the league at 7’6, 225 pounds, and more or less played at that size his entire career. Sure, he could block some shots, and actually had a decent short range set shot, but man, homeboy was softer than Egyptian Cotton.
Matter of fact, during most of his career, dunking on bradley was considered to be an un-official rookie initiation league-wide. Don’t believe me? Well,
check this out. Better yet, try searching "Shawn Bradley dunked on" on youtube OR google. Hours of entertainment await you.
TODD FULLER 11TH PICK OF THE 1996 DRAFT TAKEN AHEAD OF- EH, NOBODY SPECIAL REALLY
I’m sure you’re thinking “who???”, and I can’t say I blame you. Short answer is, Fuller was a four year player at North Carolina State, who looked something like a confused mummy for the first two years but by his Senior season was averaging 20-10 in what is widely acknowledged as the toughest League in College basketball. Pretty impressive turnaround for a guy who could hardly walk and chew gum at the same time four years earlier.
The big irony here is that the team that drafted him, (Golden State) was in year two of the post-Don Nelson phase, and thus not interested in the Ex-coaches lessons regarding Big (Stiff) guys. Sadly, it’s a little tougher scoring on the Shaq’s and Olajuwon’s of the world than it is against 6’8 Economics majors, and after 2 years of setting picks (and missing lay-ups) Fuller was sent packing. Remarkably, he managed to collect NBA paychecks for another 3 seasons before finally being cut by the Heat in 2001.
I’m sure by this point, you’re wondering why I’ve spent so long talking about this guy, right?
Well, take a look at the players Golden State passed on to take him:
Jermaine O’ Neal.
You read that right, my friends.
And this, THIS, is the ultimate example of teams taking a big player when a good one will suffice.
part 2 coming soon…