June 24, 2008
NBA Draft Picks That Shaped A Franchise
The Celtics just won their first Championship in 22 years, thanks in large part to their first round pick in the 1998 Draft, Paul Pierce. Pierce has been the face of the Celtics for a decade now, and while picking up Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen took the team over the top, it was Pierce that was the Finals MVP, and their primary threat all season long. But, despite what Paul Pierce has done for the Celtics, he didn't make our list for the Top 10 Draft picks that shaped a franchise. Teams like the Bulls and Heat are hoping the players they select this Thursday in the NBA Draft might one day be able to do a fraction of what these players did (have done) for the team that drafted them.
ABOUT THE LIST: The players had to have been drafted by the team they had an impact on. Someone like Kobe Bryant or Bill Russell, who were involved in draft day deals, were ineligible. Shaping the franchise was defined as: a player becoming the face of the franchise and having changed the culture of basketball on that team for an extended period of time.
2003: Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
LeBron James is by far the most recent player on this list, and it’s very debatable whether or not he should be in the top 10, having only been with the Cavs for five seasons. But, LeBron has turned the culture around for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In five seasons before LeBron, the Cavs had a regular season winning percentage of .344, and since LeBron joined, their winning percentage has soared to .541. More importantly, LeBron has led them to three straight playoff appearances, including their first Finals appearance in team history, in 2007. Whether LeBron James remains in Cleveland is the big question. James can become a free agent after the 2010 season and there’s been much speculation that he might want to move to a bigger media market.
1987: Indiana Pacers - Reggie Miller
Pacer fans booed when Miller was announced with the 11th pick overall in the 1987 Draft. They were hoping for Indiana-bred Steve Alford, who had just led the Hoosiers to a National Championship. Miller spent his entire 18-year career with the Pacers, and during that time, he led the Pacers to the playoffs in all but three seasons, including a trip to the Finals in 2000. Miller’s reputation was that of a clutch shooter in the playoffs, especially against the Knicks. Among his more impressive playoff performances against the New York squad was scoring 25 points in the 4th quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994, tallying nine points in under nine seconds in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals the following year to win the game, 107-105, and scoring 17 points in the 4th quarter of the deciding Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000. Miller holds the record for most 3-pointers made in NBA history.
1964: New York Knicks - Willis Reed
You think the Knicks were bad this year? In the four seasons prior to drafting Reed, the Knicks had had their three worst seasons in the team's history. Reed was the beginning of the turnaround for the Knicks. In his rookie season he averaged 19.5 points per game (7th in the league) and 14.7 rebounds per game (fifth in the league). Reed really cemented his legend as one of the Knicks all-time greats during the 1969-1970 season. The Knicks won a franchise record 60 games, including an 18 game win-streak. Reed was the All-Star MVP, regular season MVP, and Playoff MVP. Before there was Paul Pierce’s recovery in Game 1 of these past Finals, there was Willis Reed in the 1970 Finals against the Lakers. In the first four games of the series, Reed had averaged almost 32 points and 15 rebounds. Then, in the fourth quarter of Game 5, he suffered a deep thigh injury and was out for Game 6. Without Reed on the court, the Lakers destroyed the Knicks, 135-113, to tie the series at three games. No one knew if Reed would be able to play Game 7, but just before tip, Reed limped onto the floor to a standing ovation at Madison Square Garden. He scored the Knicks' first two baskets of the game. These were the only two baskets he would make, but the emotional lift was enough to carry the Knicks to a 113-99 victory and their first Championship in franchise history. The Knicks made the playoffs the last eight years of Reed’s career, appearing in three Finals and winning two of them.
1985: New York Knicks - Patrick Ewing
The 1985 Draft was the first to use the lottery to determine the top pick. The prize for winning the lottery? Patrick Ewing. Any previous year and the Knicks would have had the third overall pick, but they won the lottery and selected Ewing first overall. Ewing made an immediate impact, averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds in his first season. The Knicks missed the playoffs in Ewing’s first two seasons, but made the playoffs in 13 straight years with Ewing after that. But, despite their success during the regular season and playoff streak, they could never win it all. Unfortunately for the Knicks and Ewing, there was a man named Michael Jordan in their Conference. But, when Jordan went to play baseball in 1993, the Knicks had their chance. They made it to the Finals, but couldn’t top Olajuwan and the Houston Rockets. The Knicks would make the Finals again in 1999, but this time it was Tim Duncan and the Spurs that kept the Knicks from a Championship.
1984: Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon
In Olajuwan’s first year on the Rockets, they had more wins (48) than they had in the two previous seasons combined (43). In 17 seasons in Houston, the Rockets were only once under .500, and that was in large part due to Olajuwan only playing in 50 games that season. In just his second season with the team, they made it to just their second Finals, losing to Larry Bird and the Celtics. Olajuwan would have his greatest season in 1993. Joining Olajuwan in the starting five that season was Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, and Kenny Smith, none of whom were voted to the All-Star team. That year he won the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP, leading the Rockets to their first ever Title. The Rockets would repeat the following season, and Olajuwan would earn his second straight NBA Finals MVP.
1962: Boston Celtics - John Havlicek
Havlicek played 16 years with the Celtics, and won the Championship in half of those seasons. Havlicek is probably best known for his steal in the seventh game
of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics led 110-109 with just seconds remaining and the 76ers inbounding the ball, with a chance to win. Havlicek was able to tip the pass to a teammate to seal the win. Havlicek came off the bench much of his career, but his energy and stamina gave the Celtics the boost they needed to continue winning Championships. Havlicek bridged the Celtics gap when stars Bill Russell and K.C. Jones retired in 1969. The Celtics would win two more Championships with Havlicek running the fast break, the last of which occurred in 1976, against the Phoenix Suns. In Game 5 of that series, Havlicek hit a game-saving basket in double-overtime to force a third overtime. The Celtics would eventually win the game, 128-126, and the Championship in 6 games. Havlicek is the Celtics all-time leader in points and games played.
1997: San Antonio Spurs - Tim Duncan
During the 1996 season, David Robinson hurt his back in the preseason, and then broke his foot shortly after returning. He played in only six games, the Spurs finished just 20-62, and were awarded the first pick in the Draft. That selection, Tim Duncan, joined David Robinson, and the two were dubbed the Twin Towers. In his rookie season, Duncan averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, and was named the Rookie of the Year. In just his second season, the Spurs beat the Knicks in the Finals in five games, and Duncan was named the MVP of the series. The Spurs have won four Championships, all with Duncan, who has been the Finals MVP in three of those. Duncan has done it on each side of the ball. He’s averaged 21.6 points and 11.8 rebounds for his career, and has been named to the NBA All-Defensive 1st or 2nd team every year.
1979: Los Angeles Lakers - Earvin "Magic" Johnson
Despite winning 47 games during the 1978 season, the Lakers had the first overall pick in 1979 due to a trade with the Jazz three years earlier. The Lakers drafted Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Showtime era began. Magic averaged 18 points, 7.3 assists, and 7.7 rebounds his rookie year as the Lakers compiled a 62-20 regular season record. The Lakers advanced to the Finals to face the 76ers. The Lakers had won Game 5 to go up 3-2, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was lost to a sprained ankle. Magic had to fill in at the Center position in Game 6 and he came through with one of the greatest performances in the NBA Finals. Magic had 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals as the Lakers closed out the series. Johnson became the first rookie ever to win the Finals MVP. Magic would go on to lead the Lakers to the Finals in nine of his first 12 seasons, winning it five times. He was named Finals MVP and League MVP three on three separate occasions.
1978: Boston Celtics - Larry Bird
You can’t help but think about Larry Bird when you think of the Boston Celtics. Bird rejuvenated the Celtics who had suffered back-to-back seasons of sub .400 basketball before the Hick from French Lick arrived. In Bird’s first season, the Celtics won 32 game more than they had the previous season. Bird led the team in scoring, rebounding, steals, and minutes played as he won Rookie of the Year. Larry joined Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to win three consecutive MVP’s (1984-1986) in his career. The Celtics made it to the Finals in each of those three seasons, and won two of them. In the 1986 Finals against the Rockets, Bird just missed averaging a triple-double (24.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 9.5 apg). Bird was named to the All-Star team in all 12 years of his NBA career. The accolades go on and on, but what might be the most telling of how popular Bird was in Boston, is that the Boston Garden sold out the final 541 games of his career.
1984: Chicago Bulls - Michael Jordan
This one’s not even close. They have a statue of the man outside the United Center in Chicago. Magic Johnson once said, “There’s Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us.” Jordan not only shaped the Bulls franchise, he shaped the entire NBA. Though he has been out of the league now for five years, his shoes are still the number one seller
. Two-thirds of all basketball shoes bought in the US are of the Jordan brand. Before Jordan, the Bulls had never made it out of the Conference Finals. With Jordan, they won six Championships, twice winning three in a row. Jordan was, of course, Finals MVP for each of their six Championships. He led the NBA in scoring in 10 different seasons, including seven in a row, made the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times, was a 5-time MVP, and holds the record for career scoring average at 30.1 points per game. His greatness is obvious, but what really puts him at the top of this list is that he did more for the Bulls franchise, and the NBA, than anyone else, ever.
1958: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers – Elgin Baylor
1960: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers – Jerry West
1968: Baltimore/Washington Bullets - Wes Unseld
1981: Detroit Pistons – Isiah Thomas
1983: Portland Trail Blazers – Clyde Drexler
1984: Utah Jazz – John Stockton
1985: Utah Jazz – Karl Malone
1987: San Antonio Spurs – David Robinson
1996: Philadelphia 76ers – Allen Iverson
1998: Boston Celtics – Paul Pierce