I hope to be reviewing 15 years of the NBA Draft throughout the summer. The plan is to review all the drafts from 1997 through 2011. The reason I am doing a somewhat thorough review of recent drafts is because I think we need a better understanding of how the NBA Draft works in the bigger picture of running a franchise.
The draft, in my opinion, is easily the most important part of building an excellent team. It is worthwhile to step back and interpret it from a historical distance. If we can do this, we can hopefully comprehend its importance more clearly, and understand how draft picks can be utilized more effectively.
The main point I am trying to prove is that there is always more depth in a draft than we are initially led to believe. Every single selection in a draft is important. Good players, who can be paid very little by NBA standards, are always available in the second round, and often even go undrafted.
So lets start with the 1997 draft. This is "The Duncan Draft," and is regarded rather infamously in historical context. Lets look at it a little more closely.
We have to start by saying Tim Duncan was the clear number one selection, and he has obviously more than lived up to all the hype that surrounded his arrival in the NBA. Duncan, Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady are the only three players in this draft to make All-Star teams, which we will see is a comparatively low number of all-stars for a draft. Obviously all three were great players, and excellent selections.
Billups was picked third and McGrady ninth, and both took a few years to show any signs of greatness. Keith Van Horn, Antonio Daniels and Tony Battie were the other top 5 selections in 1997, and none of them lived up to expectations, although all three had decent careers.
The rest of the first round of 1997 is decidely uneventful. There were plenty of good players taken (like Tim Thomas, Derek Anderson, Brevin Knight and Bobby Jackson), but no real first round steals after McGrady went off the board.
The second round is more interesting, because this is the part of the draft that we often dismiss, and there were valuable picks made there in 1997. Stephen Jackson was picked 42nd; he has had an excellent career and was a steal with such a late pick (although not for Phoenix, the team that originally picked him.) Other notable second round picks were Marc Jackson at #37, Anthony Johnson at #39, Alvin Williams at #47, and Mark Blount at #54. All these second rounders had relatively good NBA careers and made a lot of money.
Also Troy Hudson, Damon Jones and Mikki Moore went undrafted in 1997 - all three went on to have decent NBA careers, especially given they were not even picked in either round. So 1997 begins to give us an indication of the potential value of second rounders and undrafted players.
A rough approximation of the top ten players in this draft, with their actual pick number in parenthesis:
1. Tim Duncan (1)
2. Tracy McGrady (9)
3. Chauncey Billups (3)
4. Stephen Jackson (42)
5. Keith Van Horn (2)
6. Tim Thomas (7)
7. Brevin Knight (16)
8. Bobby Jackson (23)
9. Derek Anderson (13)
10. Antonio Daniels (4)