In celebration of the 2008 NBA Draft and the Chicago Bulls top overall selection of Derrick Rose, who will no doubt transform the team’s lackluster offense into a stealth scoring machine under the master guidance of first-year coach (of any kind) Vinny Del Negro, I give you my own hardly expert draft analysis. Not of this year’s draft, and not of No. 1 picks, but of the best sleeper picks from every draft since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger. Why? Because I enjoy such silly exercises, and also because I am too lazy to execute my original plan — to rank the best and worst first-round draft picks by selection number (first through last) over the same time period. Ready or not, here we go!
No. 1 pick: Maryland guard John Lucas was taken by the Rockets.
Sleeper pick: USC forward Alex “The Blade” English, who was selected in the second round with the 23rd overall pick by the Bucks, won the scoring title for Denver in 1982–83, owns a 24.4 scoring average in the playoffs and is in the Hall of Fame.
No. 1 pick: Indiana center Kent Benson went to the Bucks.
Sleeper pick: This draft sucked talent-wise, so I’ll go with Illinois Wesleyan center Jack Sikma, who went eighth to the Sonics. The Kankakee native was a seven-time All-Star and for a big man, he had the balls to wear a blond perm and could really nail his freebies; he led the league with a 92.2 percentage from the charity stripe in 1987–88.
No. 1 pick: The Blazers took Minnesota forward Mychal Thompson.
Sleeper pick: Any draft that sees Larry Bird go sixth is a shocker in hindsight, but I’ll dig deeper and select Chicago native and West Texas A&M point guard Mo Cheeks, who went 36th to the 76ers. A starter on Philly’s 1983 champions, Cheeks finished a fine 15-year career averaging 6.7 dimes and 2.1 steals per game. (Not quite Larry Bird-esque, I know.)
No. 1 pick: A Spartan named Magic landed with the Lakers.
Sleeper pick: This was also not a particularly deep nor memorable draft (the Bulls took the forgettable Dave Greenwood with the second pick), so I’m reaching way back to the 65th overall pick, where the Cavs splurged on a Notre Dame grad named Bill Laimbeer. Cleveland traded Bill to the Pistons a couple seasons later and the Motor City Bad Boys were born.
No. 1 pick: The Warriors selected big man on campus Joe Barry Carroll from Purdue.
Sleeper pick: While it was tempting to select Kurt Rambis (pictured above) for the spectacles alone, or to stick with the Bad Boys theme and choose Hampton center Rick Mahorn, a good value pick at No. 36 for the Bullets, my choice is Kiki Vandeweghe. At No. 11, the UCLA forward’s name is just plain fun to say, and he was a scoring star for some Nuggets and Blazers teams in the 1980s.
No. 1 pick: DePaul scoring swingman Mark Aguirre goes to the Mavs.
Sleeper pick: How’s about a nod for an Illini? Eddie Johnson, the man who sunk a No. 1-ranked Spartans team at the Hall, was drafted 29th by the Kansas City Kings. Eddie was a consistent scoring threat throughout his career and took home a Sixth Man of the Year Award to boot.
No. 1 pick: The Lakers chose wisely with James Ager Worthy.
Sleeper pick: I’m gonna reach for this one. The Jazz took a big white dude named Mark Eaton in round four, and the 7-foot-3 center repaid the team by leading the league in blocks on four occasions.
No. 1 pick: Virginia’s slender giant Ralph Sampson was chosen by the Rockets.
Sleeper pick: It’s tempting to take Derek Harper at No. 11, but logic sways me to select Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, who lasted until Portland picked at No. 14. I think that worked out okay for them.
No. 1 pick: In the NBA’s most legendary draft, Akeem Olajuwon went to the Rockets.
Sleeper pick: Michael Jordan wasn’t a sleeper in this draft; the Blazers, who passed up His Airness with the second pick, were just short-sighted. The obvious selection here is Gonzaga’s John Stockton, who in hindsight was a steal for the Jazz at No. 16.
No. 1 pick: As close to a sure thing as one can get: Patrick Ewing, one NCAA title in tow, heads to the Knickerbockers.
Sleeper pick: This was a deep draft, with Wayman Tisdale, Xavier McDaniel, Charles Oakley, Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf, Joe Dumars, Terry Porter and A.C. Green all going in the first round. Hell, Spud Webb was drafted 87th. But the real sleeper was a Louisiana Tech graduate nicknamed “The Mailman.” Utah selected Karl Malone 13th overall.
No. 1 pick: In a craptastic draft, Cleveland selected UNC’s Brad Daugherty.
Sleeper pick: The Jazz swept the mid-’80s! Actually, it was the Suns who took Iowa State guard Jeff Hornacek (for his good looks) with the 46th pick.
No. 1 pick: The Spurs, picking first, selected The Admiral, David Robinson.
Sleeper pick: Reggie Miller went 11th, Mark Jackson went 18th, but for my money the sleeper of this draft was Yale grad Chris Dudley, owner of a 45.8 percent career free-throw percentage. (Okay, maybe not.)
No. 1 pick: Danny Manning, star of the off-off Broadway smash hit Danny and the Miracles, was taken by the Clippers.
Sleeper pick: And the winner is … Rod Strickland, the DePaul alum who went on average more than eight assists per game for a bulk of his career after being selected 19th overall by the Knicks of New York. (Quick trivia question: My favorite childhood collegiate player was drafted fifth in this class. Who was he? If you guessed Rony Seikaly then you are wrong, wrong, wrong. It is, of course, Hersey Hawkins, he of the 36.3 points-per-game average his senior season at Bradley.)
No. 1 pick: One of the biggest busts ever, Louisville’s “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison headed to the Kings.
Sleeper pick: It’s tempting to go with Glen Rice at No. 4, simply because of who went ahead of him: Ellison, Danny Ferry (2) and Sean Elliott (3). Tim Hardaway slipped to No. 14, and would also be a good choice. But easy money can be made off a 6-foot-10 freak of nature from Trinity Valley Community College. The “Reign Man,” Shawn Kemp, went 17th to the Sonics. This draft was loaded with sleeper picks: Vlade “The Flopper” Divac went No. 26 and Clifford Robinson went No. 36.
No. 1 pick: “D.C.” Derrick Coleman was large and in charge, and the Nets took him.
Sleeper pick: In a draft full of busts (Bo Kimble), manslaughter charges (Jayson Williams) and three UofI grads (Kendall Gill, Steve Bardo and Marcus Liberty), I choose early second-round pick Toni Kukoc (pictured above), the Croatian Stallion, who went to the Bulls as a 25-year-old rookie.
No. 1 pick: UNLV’s Larry Demetric “Grandmama” Johnson went from the collegiate spotlight at UNLV to the NBA basement in Charlotte.
Sleeper pick: Not a lot to get excited about in this draft, so Clemson great Dale Davis, who went 13th to the Pacers, is my man. He’s hardly a flashy pick, but the man was a master of the ten-point, ten-rebound double-double.
No. 1 pick: This Shaq character was chosen by the Magic. He didn’t have Space Jam potential, but Kazaam was a close second.
Sleeper pick: This one’s a no-brainer: Latrell Sprewell gets the nod for the entertainment factor alone. Anger management issues, big mouth and all, Spree was a four-time All-Star and regularly among the league leaders in minutes played. A tip of the cap to the Warriors for selecting him with the 24th pick.
No. 1 pick: Chris “What do you mean I don’t have a timeout left?” Webber was selected by the Magic, then promptly traded to the Warriors for Penny Hardaway.
Sleeper pick: This was a talented lottery group, so I’ll reach far, bypassing Sam Cassell in the mid-twenties, to select Nick Van Exel, whom the Lakers took with pick 37.
No. 1 pick: The “Big Dog,” Boilermaker Glenn Robinson, was plucked by the Bucks.
Sleeper pick: Wesley Person, at No. 23 to the Suns, was always more of a role player, but was still deadly behind the arc.
No. 1 pick: Maryland grad Joe Smith, whose had the misfortune of playing on some really bad teams, headed to the Warriors.
Sleeper pick: Kevin Garnett is so damn good that even though he went No. 5 to the ’Wolves, he’s still this draft’s biggest sleeper. (Apologies to Michael Finley at No. 21.)
No. 1 pick: G’Town’s A.I. went from D.C. to Philly.
Sleeper pick: Take your pick: Kobe at No. 13, Steve Nash at No. 15, Jermaine O’Neal at No. 17 or Priest Lauderdale at No. 28. I guess I’ll take Kobe and his three rings, and while I’m at it I’ll definitely take the $127 million he’s pulled down in salary.
No. 1 pick: The Clippers picked Michael Olowokandi, but could have selected Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce ….
Sleeper pick: Straight outta high school, Rashard Lewis jumped to the Sonics with the third pick in round two.
No. 1 pick: The Nets took 6-foot-9 Cincinnati forward Kenyon “K-Mart” Martin, prior to multiple knee surgeries.
Sleeper pick: This may be the worst lottery in the history of NBA lotteries. After Martin, the picks went (in order) Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Mike Miller, DerMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm, Jamal Crawford, Joel Przybilla, Keyon Dooling, Jerome Moiso, Etan Thomas, Courtney Alexander and Mateen Cleaves. The challenge with this draft is finding a worthwhile pick, anywhere. Still, there’s always a sleeper, and in this case it’s Michael Redd, taken with the 43rd pick by the Bucks.
No. 1 pick: Ah, the pick that the MJ-led Wiz got deadly wrong: Kwame Brown.
Sleeper pick: It’s a toss-up: Tony Parker to the Spurs at No. 28, or Gilbert Arenas to the Warriors two picks later. (Bulls fans — who did the team take in between those two? Trenton Hassell! It’s worth putting a face to the name — look down — don’tcha think?)
No. 1 pick: The birth of a large Chinese man, Yao Ming, in Houston.
Sleeper pick: Carlos Boozer, with the 34th pick, to the Cavs. (Bulls fans — who did the team take four picks ahead of him? Roger Mason! Illini fans — who did the Grizzlies draft right after Mason? Robert Archibald!)
No. 1 pick: Cleveland inherits King James.
Sleeper pick: Of the 29 first round picks, a remarkable four were high schoolers and eight were foreigners. There are lots of good options in this draft for a sleeper, as Leandro Barbosa went 28th to the Spurs and Josh Howard went the next pick to the Mavs. But I’m going with emerging All-Star David West, who went from Xavier to the Hornets with pick 18.
No. 1 pick: Dwight Howard thanked God on his way to Orlando.
Sleeper pick: Western Carolina’s Kevin Dallas Martin Jr. went 26th to the Kings; four years later he’s being snubbed for the All-Star team.
No. 1 pick: And we we’re on such a good roll since Kwame. No more: Andrew Bogut to the Bucks.
Sleeper pick: It may be a tad early to conclude this with authority, but Monta Ellis is a good bet. He went 40th to the Warriors.
No. 1 pick: Sadly, Andrea Bargnani to the Raptors, who are probably wishing they would’ve picked Brandon Roy right about now.
Sleeper pick: You can count the number of players from this draft who played consistent minutes as starters last season on one hand and one extra finger, and two of those guys play for Portland. I’m opting for potential and picking the blue-collar kid from Louisiana Tech, Paul Millsap, who went 47th to the Jazz. Maybe I just watched too many Utah games last season, but the kid has got staying power, which is more than I can say for certain about Booby Gibson. Rajon Rondo at No. 21 is just too popular of a pick for my taste.
No. 1 pick: Greg “Hasn’t aged a day since year 42” Oden also hasn’t played an NBA game yet, unless you count that Summer League game he fouled out of with ten fouls.
Sleeper pick: It’s too early to call, but I’ll do so anyway and give the nod to Rodney Stuckey, who was taken 15th by Detroit and appears to be the heir apparent once Chauncey Billups leaves town.
No. 1 pick: D-Rose.
Sleeper pick: Yeah, like I’m going to try to peg a sleeper pick from this year’s draft. [ed note: you have to] Okay, in that case, I’ll take N.C. State’s J.J. Hickson, who was picked 19th by the Cavs. I haven’t seen the kid play at all, so I’m just going on scout’s honor, and they’re saying he’s a sleeper. At 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, he’s ready to play the four and is a good scorer. Considering that the majority of Cleveland’s front line — Ben Wallace, Z. Ilgauskas and Joe Smith — is older than dirt and likely to succumb to injury, I think this kid will get a shot to play early and often.
So there you have it. If you are keeping track at home, Utah drafted more sleepers — four: Malone, Stockton, Eaton and Millsap — than any other team. A trio of teams — Phoenix, Golden State and Seattle — came in second with three apiece.
The moral of the story? If your team wasn’t lucky enough to be awarded the top draft pick by David Stern, no worries. You may still get a keeper, even well outside the lottery. And if your team did draft first, well, the pressure’s on. By my count, at least ten of the 32 first-to-the-stagers listed above have to be considered flops by No. 1 standards. I’ll hope that Derrick Rose isn’t going to be soon added to the list.