By Scott Tibbs, June 25, 2009
Sports Illustrated has a feature on NBA draft busts, including Shawn Bradley, the #2 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Here, draft position means everything. Even on draft night, many people scratched their heads and wondered why Philadelphia would choose Bradley over Anfernee Hardaway. If the 76ers wanted to go big, Vin Baker would have been a better choice. But was Bradley truly a bust?
As the #2 pick in the draft, he certainly was a poor choice. But Bradley had a solid career in the NBA, averaging at least 3 blocks per game for five full seasons and the lockout-shortened 1999 season. He was also a decent rebounder, especially when you consider his per-minute average. Had he been chosen toward the end of the first round, the perception of his career would be very different than it is today. The problem is that Philadelphia took a gamble on Bradley instead of taking a much safer pick. Bradley certainly can't be faulted for Philadelphia's bad choice.
Joe Smith is another player whose reputation was harmed by his position in the draft. He also had a solid career, but was a step behind Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess. While we can look back with hindsight and see that Kevin Garnett was the best player in that draft, he was an unproven player and had only played in high school. There was no guarantee he would be able to handle the pressure of playing at an NBA level with the intense schedule and heavy travel. Clearly, he adjusted very well, and is an obvious pick for the Hall of Fame.
The most memorable draft bust is Sam Bowie, who was infamously chosen ahead of Michael Jordan. Jordan led Chicago to 6 NBA championships and would have formed an amazing duo with Clyde Drexler, much like his dominating partnership with Scottie Pippin in the 1990's. Portland drafted for need instead of taking the best player available, which is fine toward the end of the first round or in the second round, but foolish for a lottery pick.
The 2009 draft is tonight, and it will be interesting to see in a few years which picks were bad choices and which picks wind up being a great find. San Antonio has scored a couple times with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both of whom were key pieces to world championships. It may be a cliché, but hindsight is always 20/20. What looks like a safe pick may not be, and a player chosen late may turn out to be the best player in the draft. Tonight's decisions will have a big impact on what the NBA looks like a few years from now.