We all make mistakes. Unfortunately, some people’s mistakes can end up costing their employers millions of dollars, and that’s why so much pressure is on NBA GMs to select the right player each year’s draft.
You’d think that would be easy enough, yet every year these GMs make huge mistakes with the players they take. Here’s a look at some of the most common among them, as well as a look at which players could trip up teams this year:
#5 – Drafting players with a questions about character
Why they do it: Because Dennis Rodman is a Hall of Famer. There’s more behind it than that, obviously, with questionable guys like Ron Artest and Amar’e Stoudemire having had tremendous careers despite questions about their character. Those guys are more the exception than the rule, however, and in many cases when a player comes in with a lot of behavioral damage, it’s better to just let them go. No talent is worth locking yourself into a guaranteed first-round pick if they’re going to make the organization’s life miserable somewhere down the road.
Case in point: Terrence Williams (New Jersey, 11th pick in 2009 draft), Sean Williams (New Jersey, 17th pick in 2007 draft), Sebastian Telfair (Portland, 13th pick in 2004 draft)
This draft’s potential culprit: Illinois’s Jereme Richmond, who’s been a huge headache for just about every coach he’s ever played for. The talent is there, but his inability to prove himself as a coachable character may cost him the first round. It already cost him any measure of college success he may have had.
#4 – Drafting players with histories of injury
Why they do it: Because injuries heal, but talent is forever. At least, that’s what teams tell themselves when they use a first-round pick on a player who faced a lot of injuries in college. Every year, some player with injury concerns drops and drops and drops down the draft board, but every year there’s also a previously injured player who gets taken very, very high. In some cases, things work out okay (Kenyon Martin, perhaps), but other times (like with Greg Oden), it can be devastating. If all things are equal, and a GM has a choice between a player known for being hurt or a player with a clean bill of health, why not just draft Kevin Durant?
Case in point: Greg Oden (Portland, 1st pick in the 2007 draft), Brandon Roy (Minnesota, 6th pick in the 2006 draft), Wayne Simien (Miami, 29th pick in the 2005 draft)
This draft’s potential culprit: Kyrie Irving, who only played eight NCAA games because of his foot injury, and probably is going to be the top overall pick, anyway. Some say Cleveland still hasn’t settled on Irving for that exact reason. Only time can tell if that foot will really be an ongoing problem.
#3 – Drafting for potential rather than experience
Why they do it: Because open air is better than a closed ceiling. How many times do we see teams go with a kid that might be good rather than a player who already is undeniably reliable? Usually, the “potential” guys that succeed are the ones that pretty much everybody agrees on. The ones with a considerably smaller success rate are the “hope-so” guys, and that’s where the problem lies. You’re probably not going to strike out with LeBron James over anybody else in that amazing 2003 draft, for example, but in 2001 when three of the top four players were high schoolers, we saw a lot of faith poured into young guys when plenty of proven college studs were available. It gets teams into trouble more often than it saves them.
Case in point: Jonathan Bender (Toronto, 5th pick in 1999 draft ahead of Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, and more), Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, and Eddy Curry (1st, 2nd, and 4th picks in 2001 draft ahead of Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson, and more), Shaun Livingston (LAC, 4th pick in the 2004 draft ahead of Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala), Marvin Williams (Atlanta, 2nd pick in 2005 draft ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams).
This draft’s potential culprit: Brandon Knight over Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette. You could say the same thing about Kyrie Irving, who’s even more unproven than Knight in some ways, but Knight is a young, rail-thin point guard that teams hope will grow into something special, where Walker and Fredette have already proven what they can do over and over again.
#2 – Trying to find the next big international success
Why they do it: Because American stars are a dime a dozen, but international stars are harder to find. Also, there are times when a team wants to take advantage of a foreign market for financial reasons, and that helps fuel drafting an international prospect as well. There was a while there where European players were picked like crazy, but those selections have tapered off the last couple of drafts. Oddly enough, there are quite a few more interesting international prospects available this year than have been around for years, so we’ll get a great opportunity to see which teams think the gamble on players who haven’t gone against NBA (or, more accurately, NCAA) talent in their lives is worth it. Not all of these Euro kids will work out. So few international players become superstars, and there’s huge flop potential for these unproven young men. That’s why drafting them is so scary. As far as risk vs. reward is concerned, it’s about as bad a payoff as you can get in a draft.
Case in point: Ricky Rubio (Minnesota, 5th pick in 2009 draft), Yi Jianlian (Milwaukee, 6th pick in 2007 draft), Fran Vasquez (Orlando, 11th pick in 2005 draft), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick in 2003 draft), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Denver, 5th pick in 2002 draft), Frederic Weis (New York, 15th pick in 1999 draft).
This draft’s potential culprit: Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, and Donatas Motiejunas. The consensus is that Valanciunas has the best chance of the group to end up successful, but who knows? Drafting Euros is always a crapshoot, and this year’s group will be no different.
#1 – Drafting big
Why they do it: Because you can’t teach height. The best seven-footers in league history have been borderline unstoppable, so teams often find themselves erring on the side of tallness. There have been myriad times when a tall, unskilled player has been selected over a smaller, much more skilled one. It’s all with the hope that they’ll strike it rich with an influential big guy. Unfortunately, the list of gigantic flops below is only a small sample of the centers taken entirely too early, and it won’t be the last time, either. This is a mistake GMs will never stop making because the potential payoff is entirely too big. Literally.
Case in point: Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis, 2nd pick in 2009 draft), Patrick O’Bryant (Golden State, 9th pick in 2006 draft), Mouhammed Saer Sene (Seattle, 10th pick in 2006 draft), Pavel Podkolzin (Utah, 21st pick in 2004 draft), Sagana Diop (Cleveland, 8th pick in the 2001 draft), Michael Olowokandi (LAC, 1st pick in 1998 draft).
This draft’s potential culprit: Jonas Valanciunas (6’11″), Donatas Montiejunas (7’0″), or Nikola Vucevic (7’0″). All three have undeniable size, but none of them can really be labeled sure things. With not a lot of big men in this draft, there’s an even higher chance they get drafted sooner than they maybe should.
Drafting undersized players
Why they do it: This is most common when it comes to drafting 5’11″ point guards and 6’7″ power forwards, and success stories like Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, Charles Barkley, and Dennis Rodman are enough to make GM’s think that success can be repeated. Modern examples like Earl Boykins and Carlos Boozer haven’t helped buck the trend, either, but too often we see teams take risks on guys that are clearly too small to play their best position in the NBA because there’s the hope that talent transcends size. Occasionally that can be true, but more often the end result is players who are physically overpower at the next level.
There’s a reason guys like this often slip to the second round; teams don’t want to guarantee contracts to players they aren’t sure can make it to the next level. Occasionally, though, these guys go way, way higher than they should, and that’s where the biggest mistakes are made.
Case in point: Johny Flynn (5’11″, 6th pick in 2009 draft), Ike Diogu (6’8″, 9th pick in 2005 draft), Sean May (6’8″, 13th pick in 2005 draft), Mike Sweetney (6’8″, 9th pick in the 2003 draft), Speedy Claxton (5’11″, 20th pick in 2000 draft).
This draft’s potential culprit: Isaiah Thomas, PG, 5’10″. Thomas is projected a second-rounder for the very reasons discussed above. GM’s are catching onto this, especially when it comes to tiny guards, but Thomas is still good enough to get someone to gamble somewhere about halfway through round #2
Drafting for need over best player available
Why they do it: Because it’s the logical thing to do. Logic doesn’t always equal success, however, and that means we’ve seen some very logical picks go very wrong in the past. If you’re the Portland Trail Blazers in 1984 and you’ve already got Clyde Drexler, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to draft Michael Jordan, does it? Go with size instead, you tell yourself. The rest of this story you know, but it dramatically illustrates who drafting for need can go wrong.
It can also go right, but occasionally this tactic gets GMs into trouble. In the big picture of big mistakes, however, this isn’t the worst one by far.
Case in point: Sam Bowie (2nd pick in 1984 draft ahead of Michael Jordan), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick in 2003 draft ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade).
This draft’s potential culprit: The Minnesota Timberwolves, who if they keep the #2 pick probably will be forced to take someone other than Derrick Williams, who clearly is the second-best player in this draft. Even though they don’t “need” him, it could be something they regret down the road, especially in a draft as weak as this one.
Like Billy Bob Thornton’s character says in the movie Bad Santa, “They can’t all be winners, kid,” and that’s really the truth. All of the players selected in any given draft can’t be a success. They just can’t. And sometimes, you simply can’t avoid making the sorts of mistakes mentioned in this article. All fans can do is hope that the people in charge make the best choices, and that the right players end up on the right teams.
When that doesn’t happen, though, all we need to do is take a look at this list and remind ourselves how it all happened. Then, hope that your team doesn’t make the same mistakes next year.