As an NBA writer, I spend a lot of time just telling things as they are. Questions like “Who’s Better, Who’s Best?” and “What Does This Regular Season Winning Streak Mean?” I constantly find myself answering. The average fan doesn’t have NBA League Pass and the casual NBA fan doesn’t watch that many regular-season games. I use my dad as a reference for this; he starts getting into basketball when football ends, which I assume is something a lot of people do. On this day, though, instead of giving a history lesson or trying to force my opinions upon you, I’m going to rock the boat a little. There have been four seasons since the 2009 NBA Draft took place, which is enough time tell where the pool of players drafted in ‘09 are headed with their careers (or where their careers went wrong in Jonny Flynn’s case). So, today, I’ll be redrafting the first 10 picks of the 2009 NBA Draft.
Here are the rules:
1. Players will not be completely taken by talent level; some teams will still draft need over talent in certain spots because some teams were looking for quick fixes and some teams were rebuilding.
2. When redrafting, you know what kind of player each guy turned into, but you can’t just expect them to put up the same kind of numbers or have the same kind of impact on each team. This isn’t about mirroring statistics from one team to the next because (if you haven’t noticed) that isn’t how basketball works.
3. These hypothetical, mystic general managers know everything about the futures of each draft prospect, but not about the future of each guy on their roster. Therefore, the Clippers can’t draft Harden first and say, “Well Eric Gordon’s gonna get hurt and we’re getting Chris Paul, anyway.” That would make this less eventful and provide us with fewer “what ifs.”
4. MOST IMPORTANTLY: The ripple effect is in full swing here. For teams that take the same route as they did on draft night, everything will unfold the same way for that franchise (aside from injuries). Inversely, if a team picks a different player, everything that has happened since then changes.
With hindsight being 20-20, it’s always fun to try to rewrite the past and project it into the future. So, without further ado, let the games begin:
(David Stern’s voice comes in as he sheds a sarcastic smile after some deliberate glances into separate parts of the crowd: “With the first pick of the 2009 NBA (Re) Draft….”)
(In parenthesis next to the player’s name is the position where they were actually selected).
1. Los Angeles Clippers- Blake Griffin (1) Original Pick- Blake Griffin: I’m sure some people would have James Harden or Stephen Curry here, but you have to look at how this turned out for the Clippers. They got the best big man in the draft, who has turned into an All-Star caliber player, AND by drafting Griffin, it open the door for the Chris Paul trade. They wouldn’t draft Harden because they already had Eric Gordon (who averaged 16 points as a rookie the year before) and they wouldn’t have gotten Paul if they didn’t have both Griffin and Gordon; no way was CP3 was going to play for a 30-win Clippers team and no way David Stern would have let Paul get traded without a young player coming to New Orleans in return. Despite the lack of playoff success the Clips have had, Blake Griffin turned their franchise around because he brought Paul to the Clips (and David Stern deserves a little credit too). The Clippers are in great position to contend for the Western Conference crown for the next few years, but if they took a guard here, all that would have changed.
2. Memphis Grizzlies- James Harden (3) Original Pick- Hasheem Thabeet: Right after Memphis (hypothetically) drafts Harden, they trade Quentin Richardson for Zack Randolph. Then, Z-Bo revitalizes his career and the Grizzlies add Randolph to their young core of Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol. Wow. Maybe the Grizzlies win the Western Conference in 2010. Maybe they explore trades with Conley and either Gay or Mayo to try to get themselves a franchise point guard. Maybe they keep the entire young core, bring Mayo off the bench and play some small ball with Conley, Mayo, Harden, Gay and either Gasol or Randolph at the 5. If the Grizzlies didn’t botch this pick AND they took Harden (which wasn’t a no-brainer pick at three, many scouts questioned his overall athleticism), Oklahoma City wouldn’t have had the same kind of (note my phrasing here) meteoric rise and Houston would never have gotten Harden or Howard. Memphis is currently a lot like the 2004 Detroit Pistons; great defense, but has trouble conjuring up enough offense to pull away even in games that they’re outplaying their opponent. Much like the ’04 Pistons, Memphis absolutely choked on a second overall choice in the draft (remember Darko Milicic, Pistons fans? I know you can’t forget), and both teams couldn’t sustain success because of that. If Memphis took Harden here instead of Thabeet and they make one major move (trading a young Mayo or Gay), they’re all of a sudden the class of the Western Conference for a handful of years.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder- Stephen Curry (7) Original Pick- James Harden: Remember what I just said about Oklahoma City not having the same kind of meteoric rise? Well, I think Curry compliments their talent better. Offensively, with Westbrook playing his electric brand of basketball, driving full speed through the teeth of the defense, Curry and Kevin Durant could be on both sides of him, running off screens simultaneously; scary thought, right? Curry’s too small to play the 2 normally, but with Westbrook’s size, defensively Oklahoma City would be gravy and their offense would be downright unstoppable. With Harden, they were one of the few dominant, jump-shooting teams we’ve seen in this league in a very long time and if you replace Harden with Curry, I think they beat the Heat in 2012. After beating the Heat, they decide to unload Kendrick Perkins and his contract to make room for Curry’s long-term deal and embrace small ball (but still holding onto Nick Collison as their junkyard dog). All of a sudden, maybe we’re looking at Durant being the new LeBron James and LeBron jumping to another team after losing in another NBA Finals or two. Maybe instead of LeBron starting his Michael Jordan-like legacy after putting two rings on his fingers, he starts getting comparisons to Jerry West. Now, there’s no guarantee that the Thunder would beat the Heat with Curry, but if you watched Curry in clutch moments (2013 playoffs, NCAA Tournament with Davidson), you’ve got to think it’s a distinct possibility.
4. Sacramento Kings- Ty Lawson (18) Original Pick- Tyreke Evans: Even after four seasons have passed, this is a tough choice for the Kings. They’re not going to take Evans again, because they already saw that sad story unfold. So, it comes down to Ricky Rubio, Jrue Holiday or Lawson. If it’s up to me, I’d say that Lawson has had the best career so far and that feeling is not strictly based on statistical output; it’s about winning first, numbers second. Lawson is a floor general and a pass-first guy who can also score the ball. At this point in Sacramento’s history, they still needed a starting point guard to fill Mike Bibby’s shoes (and some may say that they still do), so in this guard-heavy draft, they need to address the 1-spot. It’s unclear whether Lawson elevates them to a playoff team in any of the past four years, but it’s definitely not impossible. Lawson’s impact on Denver is hard to quantify, as the team has gone through a few different stages since his arrival. Without Andre Iguodala, Lawson will have to take on more of a leadership role with Denver, so depending on what he does this coming season, that would indicate what he would have brought to a young Kings team that he would have been handed him the reigns right away.
5 & 6. Minnesota Timberwolves- Ricky Rubio (5) and Tyreke Evans (4) Original Picks- Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn: At this point, Minnesota wasn’t sure what they were doing (some may argue that David Kahn is still clueless). They had drafted Kevin Love a year earlier and Corey Brewer two years earlier, but neither guy had asserted himself as a marquee player. Also, a former lottery pick, Randy Foye, and the prized piece of the Kevin Garnett deal, Al Jefferson, were the two best players on the team. Minnesota was in desperate need of a point guard (shockingly, Sebastian Telfair wasn’t their answer) and they could afford to use the second pick on whoever they thought had the most upside. If Minnesota had Rubio and Evans, they could have planned to start Rubio, Foye, Brewer, Love and Jefferson in two years when Rubio finally came over from Spain; not too shabby. As it turned out, Brewer seemed like a bust before having a career resurgence last season in Denver, while Jefferson and Love didn’t end up being a workable frontcourt. So, even with all the draft-day mistakes up to that point (traded Brandon Roy for Foye, took Brewer over Joakim Noah) and draft-day debacles after this point (took Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and Paul George) adding Evans to the wing position could have given rise to the Love, Rubio and Evans foundation, which would have been insanely exciting.
The book is still open on Rubio and Evans, but for separate reasons. Rubio spent two years in Spain, then suffered the ACL injury in the middle of his rookie year. Rubio has shown flashes of brilliance and there’s no doubt he’s one of the best passers in basketball, but it’s unclear how much his lack of shooting ability will hinder his overall game and the overall effectiveness of the offense he anchors. Evans, on the other hand, had a brilliant rookie season, but then struggled with his basketball identity after being moved off the ball (he played mainly point in his first season). So, if Rubio still spent two years in Spain, that would have given the Wolves two years to play a Foye-Evans backcourt, which could have worked with Foye guarding opposing 1’s, Evans guarding opposing 2’s, Evans playing point on offense and Foye playing on the wing (where his shooting ability would be most useful). Doesn’t this make you realize how poorly run the T’Wolves are?
7. Golden State Warriors- Jrue Holiday (17) Original Pick- Stephen Curry: With Monta Ellis, Jamal Crawford, Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette all on their team at the time, the Warriors needed either a big man or a traditional point guard. Holiday probably wouldn’t have started right away for Don Nelson’s Warriors, but it would be just a matter of time before Nelly realized, “Hey, Ellis and Crawford can’t handle point guard duties at all. I should totally put Ellis at the 2 and let Crawford be a combo guard off the bench!” (Minus the excitement in all likelihood). A foundation of Holiday and Ellis in the backcourt could have been a very good thing, although the jury is still out on whether Ellis can be a positive force at the starting off-guard spot. Holiday’s game looked dramatically different his last season in Philly, as he was given a bigger role in their offense. However, it’s unclear whether Holiday’s increased role was actually detrimental to the team, with the Sixers having their worst season in three years. Whatever the outcome, it’s safe to say that Stephen Curry provided more value at seven spot than Holiday would have, judging by the transformation the Warriors underwent during last season.
8. New York Knicks- DeMar DeRozan (9) Original Pick- Jordan Hill: At this point, the Knicks were deep in their Isiah Thomas-induced doldrums, so they were definitely picking without any restrictions here. After Thomas botched signing after signing and continually took on more and more money from overweight (Eddy Curry), overpaid (Eddy Curry, Larry Hughes), over the hill (Malik Rose) players, he could afford to draft anyone with a pulse with the eighth pick (and it just so happened he drafted Jordan Hill; another screw-up for the king of mistakes). So, DeRozan, a tremendous athlete who has turned out to be a solid wing, would be a good fit here. The Knicks were far from contending and although they weren’t in rebuilding mode because of all the money they had tied up, they were still looking for a young, foundational player to add to the mix. With that being said, Zeke probably would have still traded DeRozan for Tracy McGrady, just like they did with their actual selection, Jordan Hill.
9. Toronto Raptors- Brandon Jennings (10) Original Pick- DeMar DeRozan: With Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh and Shawn Marion (don’t worry if you forgot he was on Toronto for a short spell, it wasn’t noteworthy) all on board, Brandon Jennings could have added some excitement to the young squad. While they desperately needed another wing, would they take Gerald Henderson, who’s a very average player, over Jennings? Say what you’d like about Jennings, but the guy still has some upside. He hasn’t improved his shooting percentages, but he’s a very good slasher who struggled last year playing next to Monta Ellis. Jennings and Jose Calderon could have played together at times for the Raptors, as Calderon is a great spot-up shooter in addition to being a creative and trustworthy passer (on top of being my favorite player of all time). A safer point guard like Jeff Teague wouldn’t provide the upside that Jennings would, so it wouldn’t make too much sense for Toronto to take Teague to play alongside Calderon. Even in the redraft, there’s still teams who think they can change the course of a player’s career… and they’re absolutely right (if Jennings has a successful year in Detroit this season that will directly prove my point. Jerryd Bayless indirectly proved the same point last season with the Grizzlies).
10. Milwaukee Bucks- Jeff Teague (19) Original Pick- Brandon Jennings: With absolute certainty, I could say that if the Bucks had to pick between Jennings and Teague again, they’d go with Teague, which isn’t exactly a revelation; before the Bucks traded Jennings to Detroit, they signed Teague, a restricted free agent, to a lucrative offer sheet, although it was matched by the Atlanta Hawks. Teague, even in his rookie season, would have provided the Bucks will a stabilizing force at the 1; Milwaukee had Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions running point for them the year before. Milwaukee dealt Richard Jefferson for Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas, a baffling move at the time (and an even more baffling move now, despite Jefferson playing poorly since the move), two days before the draft took place. Like Jennings did, Teague would have joined an injury-plagued Michael Redd, who Milwaukee was starting to realize had no chance of staying healthy, a one-way playing Charlie Villanueva and an underachieving Andrew Bogut, who was coming off an injury-riddled season where he played only 36 games. As it turned out, the Bucks rebuilding effort couldn’t revolve around Brandon Jennings because he wasn’t the kind of guy that could anchor a team offensively. However, with Teague, they have handed the team over to him, much like Memphis handed their team over to a young Mike Conley (a left-handed version of Teague), and then they could have built their roster knowing that Teague and Bogut were going to hold down the 1 and 5. Maybe that could have saved Milwaukee a few years, instead of them having to start over in 2009 and then start over again this summer.
Topics: Blake Griffin, Brandon Jennings, Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan, Eric Gordon, Golden State Warriors, James Harden, Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday, Los Angeles Clippers, Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Monta Ellis, Nba Draft, New York Knicks, O.J. Mayo, Oklahoma City Thunder, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings, Stephen Curry, Toronto Raptors, Ty Lawson, Zach Randolph