By Brian Spencer
It feels like there’s a lot going on in the sports world at the moment. The baseball season began this week, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament recently wrapped, the NHL playoffs start next week, and of course Tiger Woods still wants to know what turns you on besides a DP.
Exciting, but for some reason it feels like the NBA has gotten lost some in the shuffle. Understandable, it’s a long fucking season and aside from a little last-minute jockeying for playoff seeding, we pretty much know who’s in and who’s been relegated to ping-pong ball dreams. Most reasonable fans (myself not included in this group, I’m going to miss watching the Warriors get blasted at 12:45am a few days a week) just want to get on with it already and fast forward to the playoffs, which start on Saturday, April 17.
Soon enough, soon enough, and I have a feeling the wait will be worth it this year. For the first time in awhile, the field seems pretty open in both conferences and we could very well see the likes of the Charlotte Bobcats and the Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA doormats as recently as last season, pull first-round upsets. I wouldn’t put it past either team, and with the Lakers not exactly looking invincible in recent weeks, the West, especially, is up for grabs. It’s going to be interesting.
But for fans of the NBA’s 14 teams whose seasons end next Wednesday, the playoffs will be at least somewhat of a footnote to the May 18 draft lottery, when the aforementioned ping-pong balls will determine who gets a shot at this year’s elite amateur talent. He’s yet to declare, but everyone expects Kentucky freshman PG John Wall to go pro and be the first-overall pick. We of course won’t know where he ends up until the June 24 draft, but in the meantime, you can have fun playing with this toy and refreshing until your favorite team comes up a winner.
For now, let’s take a quick look back at the NBA’s last 10 top-overall picks: how they’ve progressed, what they’ve accomplished, and in the erotic words of Tiger Woods, “if [they’ve] ever had a golden shower done to [them].”
2000: Kenyon Martin, F, New Jersey Nets – A career good-not-great player, Martin has spent the last six seasons with the Denver Nuggets, where he’s never suited up for more than 71 regular-season games and has averaged somewhere around 12 points, 7 boards, 1 steal, and 1 block. He’s not a great shooter and has limits to his overall offensive game, but on defense he can be very effective and the team has missed his energy, hustle, and rebounding since he was sidelined by a sore left knee on March 5. He’ll turn 33 years old in December, and would be foolish not to exercise his ridiculous $16.5 million player option for next season. He could be expiring-contract trade bait next February.
2001: Kwame Brown, C, Washington Wizards – A big man with mysteriously small hands, that’s Kwame. So much has been written about him over the years that at this point I almost feel bad for the guy, except that I don’t; I’m just indifferent. Currently in and mostly out of a Pistons’ frontcourt rotation sorely lacking in size (consider yourself indicted, Kwame), the 6-11 Brown has averaged just 6.7 points, 5.4 boards, and, perhaps worst of all, 0.5 blocks per in nine NBA seasons. He’ll latch on somewhere for depth as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Woo.
2002: Yao Ming, C, Houston Rockets – He came into the league amidst a global media frenzy, with many questioning his ability to adapt to and thrive in the NBA, especially in terms of toughness. All he did was play in all but two regular-season games over his first three seasons while averaging 16.4 points, 8.5 boards, and nearly 2 blocks per and turning the Rockets into a perennial playoff contender. If not for injuries derailing his career over the past three seasons—let’s hope he can come back strong next year—we could be looking at a future Hall of Famer. Who knows, we still might be. Yao has done wonders for the globalization of NBA basketball, and has done so with humility and hard work. Hard to root against him.
2003: LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers – He’s the greatest player of his generation, and when it’s all said and done, he could end up as the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball. By the way, he’s still only 25 years old. Let’s move on.
Dwight Howard to Blake Griffin after the break…
2004: Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic – Raise your hand if you’re souring on Dwight? I am, and I’m sure there’s a few of you out there who’ll rake me through the coals for saying so. Whatever—I respect his shot-blocking abilities, his rebounding talents, his help defense. He is the most effective center in the Eastern Conference, maybe in the entire league. I’m not questioning his impact on the game.
What I’m disappointed in is his increasingly poor attitude and that he’s starting to trot out that lame, lazy line we’ve heard from Shaquille O’Neal for so many years: “The refs call me differently because of my size.” Boo hoo. Can it, Dwight. Nobody feels bad for you, especially when the power dunk is still where your offensive game begins and ends. And for all that talk about concentrating on improving his free-throw shooting, he’s still shooting under 60% on the season, just like he has every year since his rookie campaign.
2005: Andrew Bogut, C, Milwaukee Bucks – He has his fair share of critics, and though if the Bucks knew then what they know now they’d have taken Chris Paul or Deron Williams instead, Bogut has gotten better and better and could yet make an All-Star game or two. Injury concerns remain—he’s played in all 82 regular-season games just once, his rookie year—but this season was easily his best one, leading the Bucks to a surprising playoff berth in averaging a career-high 15.9 points (52% FG), 10.2 boards, and 2.5 blocks in 69 games. A real shame that a broken wrist and dislocated elbow will keep him out of the playoffs and likely submarine his team’s chances.
2006: Andrea Bargnani, F, Toronto Raptors – I covered Bargnani last June in assessing his draft class, so if you don’t mind, let’s fill this blank in with that: The jury’s still out on Bargnani, one of the NBA’s least-marketable and least talked-about top picks of the last decade. The 2008-09 season was his best one, when he averaged a career-high 31:30 minutes per to the tune of 15.4 points (45% FG), 5.3 boards, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 1.5 triples. The unique, Dirk Nowitzki-like skillset that made him this draft’s top pick is still very much there; improved consistency, conditioning, and toughness are the next crucial steps in this kid’s development.
2007: Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers – Will we ever find out? We’ve gotten tantalizing glimpses here and there, like this past November when in 16 games he averaged 12.9 points, 7.8 boards, and 2.1 blocks per in just 24:48 minutes a night. But the big picture is still, obviously, very much fuzzy. He’s played in exactly 82 regular-season games out of a possible 246, and though it’s strange to say the clock is ticking on a 22 year old, well, the clock is ticking, at least on his status in Portland. Get better soon, Greg, we’re pulling for you.
2008: Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls – Last year’s Rookie of the Year can (almost) do it all, and it’s great to see him making strides to shore up his shaky outside shooting. At some point, he’ll have to develop some semblence of a three-point shot—he’s attempted just 49 on the season and has only made 13 of them—but he’s so adept at getting to the hole and scoring easy buckets that for now it doesn’t really matter. At 21 years old Rose has the look and feel of the Bulls’ leader for the next decade, and he’s not yet come close to hitting his ceiling. It’ll be interesting to see how and in which directions he develops.
2009: Blake Griffin, F, Los Angeles Clippers – Griffin suffered a broken left kneecap in the tailend of the preseason, and though he was originally expected to miss just 6 – 8 weeks, his recovery was slow and he was ultimately shut down for the season. Zach broke down what the injury meant for the league and its fans shortly after the injury happened.