Historically speaking, the #2 pick in the NBA Draft is the Booby prize (and that's not a good thing)

Two is not one.

In the recent history of the NBA draft, the number two pick has been a rather treacherous spot to land in, and not only because it means you missed out on the big prize. Fact is, there have been so many bad picks from the #2 spot that the list almost reads as if all these teams were so grief stricken they just blurted out any old name (“we’ll take…Thabeet!) in lieu of actually making a rational decision.

Of course, This years’ draft sets up the same way, what with Anthony Davis ticketed to New Orleans at #1 and a whole list of guys who could end up going next, and since the Bobcats own said #2 pick, I’d say it’s a good bet they snag the wrong guy. As soon as the words “The number two pick belongs to…The Charlotte Bobcats” were uttered, it was pretty much set in stone that not only would they not get a franchise savior in Davis, they’d probably end up with a guy who will make a list like this one about five years from now.

Anyway, I’ve put together a list of the 10 worst booby prizes in the draft in the last 30 years, if for no other reason than to prove that in the NBA, it’s a thin line between franchise savior and total bustoid, between turning your whole team around and turning it on it’s head.


Who went #1?: Andrew Bogut

Who should they have taken? Chris Paul or Deron Williams.

Ah yes, Marvin Williams. Seven years ago, The Hawks were a young, emerging franchise that was likely a strong point guard away from making serious noise. Instead, they took a college freshman with a load of potential. Seven years on, Williams has been paid 40 million dollars to average 11 points and 5 rebounds a game while Paul and Williams have gone on to become two of the top guards in the league.

Oh, and if you are keeping track of these things, the Hawks have just now secured the services of a halfway decent point guard in Jeff Teague.

What’s the best thing you can say about Marvin Williams? Um, that he’s not afraid to show his feminine side?


Who went #1? LeBron James

Who should they have taken? Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh. Really, anyone of those guys would have been nice.

This one is quite the story, actually. You see, in the summer of 1997, the Grizzlies traded their 2003 #1 pick to the Pistons for a washed-up Otis Thorpe. Thorpe played a grand total of 44 games with the Grizz before being moved on to Sacramento for Bobby Hurley. Of course with decisions like these, it’s no wonder the Grizzlies were still in the shitter when 2003 rolled around, and thus the Pistons, fresh off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, were holding a pick that was only #1 protected, meaning that it was all theirs unless the Grizzlies won the lottery.

Of course, we all know Cleveland won the LeBron sweepstakes, and that left the Pistons as the proud owner of the #2 pick in one of the most loaded drafts in NBA history.

Talk about your windfalls.

Ah, but the bad news is the NBA was in the throes of Euro Fever (thanks to the incredible success of Dirk Nowitzki), and so it went that Detroit could not pass up on the immense talent of a teenage Darko, even with a sure-fire superstar in waiting like Carmelo Anthony on the board. Two and a half miserable seasons later, Darko was shipped to Orlando for a draft pick that turned into Rodney Stuckey, which means they still got a good deal for Thorpe, even if it was nowhere near what it should have been.

What’s the best thing you can say about Darko Milicic? That’s easy. His name (and his game) inspired the late, great hoops blog freedarko.com. Anyone who ever read it knows it contributed 10 x more to the sport than poor Darko ever will.


Who went #1? Blake Griffin.

Who should they have taken? James Harden, Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Pavel Podkolzin, your mom.

Every year, my friends (and my brother) and I take the trip to Vegas for the NBA Summer league. It’s a good opportunity to see the top draft picks up close, and we have a whole lot of fun debating their futures. Three years ago we saw Thabeet, all limbs and left feet, getting push every which way by guys who are likely warming the bench in the Ukranian league as we speak. What you usually learn about high lottery picks in the summer league is either:

A) This guy is going to dominate at the pro level because he’s just eating up the summer league comp.

B) Whoever drafted this dude made a huge fucking blunder.

Guess which category Thabeet fell into?

Hey, it’s certainly not the first time a team was seduced by the sheer size of a prospect, but it’s easily one of the most egregious examples. I mean, the writing was already on the wall if you saw the way he got beasted by DeJuan Blair in college. Crazy thing about it is, the Grizz could be that much better if they had ended up with anybody but Thabeet. Imagine Harden, Curry or Rubio on that team.

What a drag.

What’s the best thing you can say about Hasheem Thabeet? Beats the fuck out of me, really. He didn’t murder anyone, I guess.


Who went #1? Hakeem Olajuwon

Who should they have taken? Michael Jordan.

Alas, there can be no bigger example of the #2 pick as booby prize” theory than sorry Sam Bowie and his brittle legs. Instead of getting Hakeem Olajuwon, a two time champion and Hall of Famer, they got a guy who averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds a game over 10 unremarkable seasons. While Michael Jordan was becoming the greatest player the NBA ever saw and revolutionizing the marketing game for professional athletes, Bowie was missing 271 games over his first five seasons.

Eventually, he became a serviceable big man with the Nets, but the damage was done.

Even now, when you think of busts, Sam Bowie is the one that stands out.

What’s the best thing you can say about Sam Bowie? If it wasn’t for him, my blog would be called something else.


Who went #1? Tim Duncan

Who should they have taken? Keith Van Horn.

This one gets a little tricky.

Yeah, Keith Van Horn has a decent (if rather short) career, averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds a game and appearing in two NBA Finals, but he deserves to be mentioned here because Tim Duncan was the #1 pick this year, and Van Horn ain’t Duncan.

In fact, this was Philly’s pick, only they were so devastated by losing the Duncan sweepstakes that they traded the Van Horn pick for Jim Jackson, Tim Thomas, Eric Montross and Anthony Parker, making a bad situation that much worse. jackson was shipped out months later for Joe Smith, and Thomas lasted slightly longer before being dealt for Tyrone Hill. When all was said and done, the drop-off between what San Antonio got with the #1 pick and what the Sixers ended up with can best be measured by the respect franchises championship win total since then: San Antonio 4 (and counting), Philly 0.

Oh, and here’s a helpful thing to mention while the basketball world once again celebrates the genius of Gregg Popovich. The difference between those four titles and the last 15 years of Sixer history largely hinges on a ping-pong ball. Just ask Rick Pitino. He took the Celtics job in large part because the Celtics had the best chance to land Duncan, only Boston ended up with the third pick and Pitino was out on his ass after  three and a half years of misery.

More proof positive that in the NBA, sometimes luck really is the key ingredient. Nobody is saying Popovich isn’t arguably the greatest basketball mind og this generation. I’m merely positing that he might have a had a tougher time building a four-time champion around Van Horn or Chauncey Billups.

Don’t think anyone could argue against that.

What’s the best thing you can say about Keith Van Horn? Well, how about this? Picks 4-8 of this draft were Antonio Daniels, Tony Battie, Ron Mercer and Adonal Foyle. All things considered, New Jersey could have done alot worse.


-John Hathwell


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