- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

Few things seem to be as certain as the abilities of the latest crop of professional basketball players on draft night. But trips to the green room and golden ticket contracts just as easily can lead to red faces and end-of-the-bench blues, and those feelings are only amplified by the NBA Draft’s lottery phase.

Although the lottery was instituted in 1985, this list of best and worst picks at each draft slot only goes back to 1995 — when the NBA added franchises in Toronto and Vancouver and the lottery stretched to the 13th pick (it is now at 14 with the addition of Charlotte Version 2.0).

The criteria for best picks is pretty simple. As for the worst picks, lack of production without any cause trumps other problems, such as injuries or illness (this absolves a player like Shawn Respert, the No. 8 pick in 1995 whose career was derailed by stomach cancer). Of course, a team selecting a player with pre-existing problems (ahem, Eddie Griffin) is not off the hook.

No. 1 pick overall

Best: Tim Duncan, San Antonio (1997). While the Witnesses might disagree, it is impossible to quibble with his accomplishments. Duncan has averaged a double-double every season and has impressive career averages in points (21.8), rebounds (11.9) and blocks (2.5). Oh, and then there’s those four titles in 10 seasons.

Also considered: Allen Iverson, Philadelphia (1996); LeBron James, Cleveland (2003)

Worst: Kwame Brown, Washington (2001): Perhaps this is a provincial decision, but things couldn’t have worked out much worse for Brown in Washington. It hasn’t gotten any better in two seasons as an even lesser option with the Lakers. It seems like he has been around forever, but Brown is only 25. Yet he has a long way to go to shed the label of arguably the worst No. 1 pick in the last 30 years.

Dishonorable mention: Michael Olowokandi, Los Angeles Clippers (1998)

No. 2

Best: Emeka Okafor, Charlotte (2004): It really won’t take that much for Kevin Durant to climb this list. The rugged Okafor has averaged 14.5 points and 10.9 rebounds in three seasons with the Bobcats, and there’s no reason he won’t turn in a reputable career as a steady big man. He is also one of only two No. 2 picks since 2000 to possess a double-digit career scoring average (Marvin Williams is the other).

Also considered: Steve Francis, Houston via Vancouver (1999)

Worst: Darko Milicic, Detroit (2003): No one on either list had a more fateful draft night than Milicic, whose future immediately was intertwined with the mercurial whims of Larry Brown. He has shown progress since a trade to Orlando last year, and he just turned 22 last week. He will have plenty of chances to move past the likes of Stromile Swift, though stardom doesn’t look likely either.

Dishonorable mention: Stromile Swift, Vancouver (2000); Jay Williams, Chicago (2002)

No. 3

Best: Carmelo Anthony, Denver (2003). When he hasn’t been getting into fights with below-average Eastern Conference teams or tacitly warning urban residents to stop snitching, Anthony has blossomed into a formidable forward. He tossed up 28.9 points a night last season to separate himself from a sturdy pack of No. 3 selections in the last decade.

Also considered: Chauncey Billups, Boston (1997); Baron Davis, Charlotte (1999); Pau Gasol, Memphis via Atlanta (2001)

Worst: Darius Miles, Los Angeles Clippers (2000): There aren’t many options for this spot, though Miles’ career numbers (10.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) certainly are far lower than the Clippers could have expected after another trip through the lottery process. Miles missed all of last season with an injury, meaning more people saw him on cable reruns of “Van Wilder” and “The Perfect Score” than on the basketball court. On the bright side, those sightings mean he possesses a slightly better reputation in the film industry than Anthony.

Dishonorable mention: Raef LaFrentz, Denver (1998)

No. 4

Best: Chris Bosh, Toronto (2003). This choice might be based a bit on potential since Stephon Marbury has a pretty solid statistical case.

Also considered: Marbury, Minnesota via Milwaukee (1996); Chris Paul, New Orleans (2005)

Worst: Marcus Fizer, Chicago (2000). Fizer was last seen playing three games in April 2006 for the Hornets, but he never established himself as a consistent pro after joining his former college coach, Tim Floyd, with the Bulls.

Dishonorable mention: The oft-injured Shaun Livingston, Los Angeles Clippers (2004)

No. 5

Best: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota (1995). Burning such a high pick — let alone any pick — on a high school player was something the NBA didn’t consider for several years before Garnett reopened the subject. The Timberwolves were well rewarded for their risk, selecting a 6-foot-11 player comfortable on the perimeter and inside with sublime passing skills as well.

Also considered: Vince Carter, Toronto via Golden State (1998); Dwyane Wade, Miami (2003)

Worst: Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Denver (2002): The Georgian didn’t last long enough for people to learn how to pronounce his name. Of course, he didn’t give them much reason to either. Tskitishvili averaged 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds in 172 games and played with four teams in four seasons.

Dishonorable mention: Jonathan Bender, Indiana via Toronto (1999)

No. 6

Best: Antoine Walker, Boston (1996). Employee No. 8 made plenty of baskets during his time with the Celtics, earning some endorsement money along the way to a career scoring average of 18.0 points that keeps slipping every year. His spot on this list is more an indictment of the minimal competition. But his place is far from secure; 2006 pick Brandon Roy is off to a promising start with Portland.

Also considered: Roy, Portland via Minnesota (2006)

Worst: Robert Traylor, Milwaukee via Dallas (1998). There were other viable options — Dajuan Wagner and his 103 career games was a tantalizing target — but Traylor has too many issues to ignore. He played extensively for seven seasons, but his career highs in points (5.7), rebounds (4.5) and minutes (17.9) are tepid. He battled weight problems throughout his career. And worst of all, Milwaukee gave up the rights to Dirk Nowitzki to get him.

Dishonorable mention: DerMarr Johnson, Atlanta (2000); Wagner, Cleveland (2002)

No. 7

Best: Kirk Hinrich, Chicago (2003). Hinrich has established himself as a capable scorer and passer with the Bulls, helping Chicago become an Eastern Conference contender for the first time since some Jordan guy hung up his sneakers.

Also considered: Richard Hamilton, Washington (1999); Luol Deng, Chicago (2004)

Worst: Eddie Griffin, Houston via New Jersey (2001). The 6-foot-10 power forward got into a halftime tussle with teammates at Seton Hall and earned a reputation as a hothead, but it didn’t deter the Rockets from securing his rights. His pro career is longer on off-court calamities than anything else, and he was waived by Minnesota earlier this year.

No. 8

Best: Andre Miller, Cleveland (1999). While it’s safe to say Larry Hughes (1998) at his peak and healthy is a superior player, Miller has played in at least 80 games in each of his eight seasons and has averaged 7.6 assists for his career, so his reliability and consistency give him the edge.

Also considered: Hughes, Philadelphia (1998); T.J. Ford, Milwaukee (2003)

Worst: Rafael Araujo, Toronto (2004). It would have been more fun to pounce on Cleveland for its ill-advised selection of DeSagana Diop out of prep school in 2001, but the Senegalese center has gone to Dallas and etched out a niche for himself as a source of rebounds off the bench. The same can’t be said of Araujo, another big man with scant production early in his career (2.8 ppg in 139 games).

Also considered: Adonal Foyle, Golden State (1997); Diop, Cleveland (2001)

No. 9

Best: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas via Milwaukee (1998). An MVP award and the ability to lift the Mavericks out of a decade-long malaise (with help for a time from Steve Nash) give Nowitzki the nod. His ascension also parallels the rise of international players in the NBA, making this selection even more influential.

Also considered: Tracy McGrady, Toronto (1997); Shawn Marion, Phoenix (1999); Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix, 2002

Worst: Ed O’Bannon, New Jersey (1995). The former UCLA star did everything possible in college, including earning a national player of the year award, the Final Four MVP and a national title. In the pros he lasted only 128 games.

Dishonorable mention: Joel Przybilla, Milwaukee (2000); Patrick O’Bryant, Golden State (2006)

No. 10

Best: Paul Pierce, Boston (1998). For all of the things that went wrong in the Rick Pitino years, this was one thing the Celtics got right. Pierce has been one of the NBA’s premier slashers for nearly a decade, and one of the few things missing from his resume is extensive postseason success that a few more smart moves by Boston management could have made possible.

Also considered: Caron Butler, Miami (2002)

Worst: Luke Jackson, Cleveland (2004). OK, so he has been injured most of his career. But three seasons, 59 games and a 2.9 scoring average later, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself.

Dishonorable mention: Keyon Dooling, Los Angeles Clippers (2000)

No. 11

Best: Mickael Pietrus, Golden State (2003). His career averages of 9.0 points and 3.3 rebounds are not overwhelming. It’s just that the rest of this list is abysmal, and the only player vastly more productive than him is the headache known as Bonzi Wells.

Also considered: Bonzi Wells, Portland via Detroit (1998); Andris Biedren, Golden State (2004)

Worst: Jerome Moiso, Boston (2000). It’s not like Moiso didn’t have competition (Jared Jeffries, for all his struggles, is a middle of the road No. 11). What gives Moiso the “edge” isn’t his 2.7 ppg and 2.7 rpg in 145 games. It’s that he was neither a star college player nor a great JUCO player and the Celtics took him this high anyway.

Dishonorable mention: Todd Fuller, Golden State (1996); Trajan Langdon, Cleveland (1999); Kedrick Brown, Boston (2002)

No. 12

Best: Nick Collison, Seattle (2003). Collison was a serviceable part (9.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) this year, but some of that might be a function of playing for a dreadful team. The last No. 12 pick to average 10 points for his career was Mookie Blaylock (1989), so it’s not like anyone is getting snubbed by this selection.

Also considered: Etan Thomas, Dallas (2000); Vladimir Radmanovic, Seattle (2001)

Worst: Alek Radojevic, Toronto (1999). Radojevic only played 24 minutes for the Raptors before they cut him loose. He resurfaced two years ago in Utah to bump his career games total to 152, but the spindly 7-foot-3 center is running out of time.

Dishonorable mention: Cherokee Parks, Dallas (1995)

No. 13

Best: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers via Charlotte (1996). Bryant is unquestionably the best No. 13 pick since Karl Malone in 1985, if not ever. His selection set off a five-pick stretch that also saw Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash and Jermaine O’Neal fly off the board.

Also considered: Corey Maggette, Orlando via Seattle (1999), Richard Jefferson, New Jersey via Houston (2001)

Worst: Sebastian Telfair, Portland (2004). With his high school hype, flameout with the Blazers, trade back east and Boston’s decision to want nothing to do with him, the diminutive Telfair has vaulted over some lesser names who left far less wreckage in their wake.

Dishonorable mention: Courtney Alexander, Dallas (2000); Marcus Haislip, Milwaukee (2002)

No. 14

Best: Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento (1996). Stojakovic wins by default, though that doesn’t diminish his solid career and reputation as a scorer (18.4 ppg). Only one No. 14 pick since has a career average of more than half that, further cementing the tail end of the lottery as a place of unrewarded gambles.

Also considered: Troy Murphy, Golden State (2001)

Worst: William Avery, Minnesota (1999). Avery was surrounded by stars on Duke’s loaded 1998-99 team and thought it best to leave school at the same time many of his teammates departed. But he managed to play in a only 142 games, averaging 2.7 points and 1.4 assists for the Timberwolves.

Also considered: Mateen Cleaves, Detroit (2000)

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