Hit or miss: A look at the past 15 years of Pacers drafts
June 14, 3:12 PM · Add a Comment
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For every Danny Granger, there is a Shawne Williams. For every Al Harrington, there is a David Harrison. For every Travis Best, there is a Primoz Brezec. For every Jamaal Tinsley, there is…well, Jamaal Tinsley.
Ah, the perils and rewards of the NBA Draft. Just like a good game of Battleship, the Indiana Pacers have a “hit-or-miss” history with draft picks. The best part of revisiting old drafts is seeing the "what ifs" and "shoulda, woulda, coulda" that seems so easy with 20/20 historical vision.
When I received a text from a friend last weekend that read, “List your top five worst Pacers draft picks from the last 15 years….go” it took a little longer to figure out my response than I thought. After I hastily drew up my top five worst picks from memory, my friend, a diehard Celtics fan, communicated another Pacers fan’s counterarguments. We went at each other like the Beatles during the White Album sessions. We had our personal favorites that clouded our judgment, we were using different criteria to measure success, we remembered things differently and I’m pretty sure that Yoko interjected her own opinions on his thoughts.
I realized right away that I needed to sit down, study the stats and crunch the numbers while I figured out a true list of the worst five picks since 1994. Initially, I hastily included Austin Croshere, Primoz Brezec and Eric Piatkowski on the list. I immediately attacked the white guys, but upon further review, they should only receive honorable mention. After studying the list of players, I realized you’ve got five categories for draft picks: the good; the bad; the bad who become worth something; the rookies drafted through a trade; and the questionable/arguable/fan favorite.
So in order to finalize the worst five picks from the 1994-2009 era, here is an introduction to a discussion:
Out of the 15 first-round picks that have been selected, or traded for, by the Pacers since 1994, only three of them can be declared as great picks. All three were picked up late in the first round and all three exceeded expectations. In an ESPN statistical formula designed to show the success of draft picks based on player’s actual production and expected value, only four first-round Indiana picks since 1989 net positive results (Roy Hibbert being the most recent). The other three make up the “good.”
Travis Best (23rd pick, 1995)
Al Harrington (25th, 1998)
Danny Granger (17th, 2005)
There are three draft picks since 1994 that shouldn’t have happened. They are:
David Harrison (29th, 2004)
Shawne Williams (17th, 2006)
Primoz Brezec (27th, 2000)
THE BAD, WHO BECAME GOOD:
There are three more bad picks, but former GM/President Donnie Walsh turned trash into gold by trading them for good players. Starting in 1994, Eric Piatkowski (15th) was drafted and immediately shipped to the Clippers for Mark Jackson, a move that locked down the Pacers point guard position for the next six years, while allowing Piatkowski the chance to provide nine mediocre years in ClipperLand, an amusement park that rivals Wally World when it’s closed for construction. It's the kind of place that invites you to punch the moose in the nose. Walsh repeated the move in 1999, when he drafted Vonteego Cummings (26th) and immediately dumped him to Golden State for Jeff Foster. The other pick was Erick Dampier (10th, 1996).
THE “TRADED” PICKS
Four times in the past 15 years, the Pacers have made trades for first-round picks. Two of them happened last year, but before the Hibbert and Rush acquisitions, the Pacers made disastrous decisions that fatally altered the franchises’ history. They were:
Jonathan Bender (5th, 1999)
Jamaal Tinsley (27th, 2001)
More on them later…
These two picks pull the heartstrings of Pacers fans in different directions. Austin Croshere (12th, 1997) and Fred Jones (14th, 2002) both provided solid seasons, but also disappointed fans as they never lived up to our imagination. My personal hatred of Croshere clouds my judgment about him, but something must be said for his love from other Pacers fans. He always received the biggest ovation off the bench and his community support and media personality proved valuable to the franchise, even though his contract did not.
I will always remember Jones for being part of my second-favorite game at Conseco “Reggie Miller” Fieldhouse when he led a team of only six players the day after the infamous brawl. Jones scored 31 points, played all 48 minutes in front of the loudest crowd ever at the Fieldhouse in a three-point loss to Orlando. I liked him enough to drop $70 on his jersey soon after. Although he never reached that level again, he was still fun to watch and the Pacers paid him $6 million less than Croshere. That has to count for something.
So those are all the draft picks to choose from. Things to consider when devising the list: strength of draft; who was drafted after the Pacers pick; how high was the pick; did the team ever get anything out of the pick; and salary. Finally, here is my top five worst Pacers first-round draft picks of the past 15 years:
5. David Harrison – In Harrison (29th, 2004), the Pacers actually drafted a four-year subscription to High Times. The turnover-prone, pot smoking center averaged five points per game during his stretch with the team, before the Pacers let him go into the oblivion of free agency for nothing in return. Harrison was chosen in a weak 2004 draft at the end of the first round and there weren’t many other good choices for the Pacers in this spot, so I couldn't rank this pick any higher, even though Harrison would want it that way (insert rim shot here).
4. Erick Dampier – Dampier played one year for the Pacers (averaged five points in 72 games in the Blue and Gold uniform) before being traded for Chris Mullin, who played two good years during the Larry Bird era. Dampier went on to be a good player, but he suffered from a bad case of the “Austin Croshere Syndrome”, a disease that gives mediocre players huge contracts that make them franchise killers. Unfortunately, there is no cure.
The reason Dampier makes the cut is the fact that the Pacers used the 10th pick on him in a stacked 1996 draft. The Pacers had plenty of choices: Kobe Bryant (13), Peja Stojakovic (14), Steve Nash (15), Jermaine O’Neal (17), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20) and Derek Fisher (24) to name a few.
3. Shawne Williams – After the No. 9 pick of the 2006 draft, only one other player has averaged more 10 points per game for their career. Although the draft was stacked in the top eight, the teams drafting later didn’t have much of a chance for success. Unfortunately for the Pacers, they rolled the dice on a freshman from Memphis, instead of taking someone such as Rajon Rondo (21) and Jordan Farmar (26). The pick proved costly has Williams was as unproductive on the court as he was off of it. His inability to shed bad influences resulted in bad PR for a team couldn’t have any. Ultimately, he was traded after two seasons for Eddie Jones, who chose to retire rather than move to Indiana, and two second-round picks. That’s not exactly getting your money back.
2. Jamaal Tinsley – Where to begin? The Pacers had traded away their No. 1 pick for the 2001 draft, but coach Isiah Thomas and Donnie Walsh wanted to trade into the draft to take a player from Iowa State with the 27th pick. Two things happened here: 1) The Pacers gave up a future first-round pick, which turned out to be the 21st pick in 2003, aka, the “Best Draft of the Decade.” That pick was used to take Boris Diaw; 2) Tinsley was chosen one pick ahead of Tony Parker and three spots ahead of Gilbert Arenas. The scouting team didn’t do their homework. Although Tinsley started strong by having a great rookie season, and followed by his best year during the “Year of the Brawl” in 04-05, it was injuries, off-the-court issues, etc.,that derailed his career so much that the Pacers banned him from the team and now they can’t get rid of him. This should be the worst pick in team history, but…
1. Jonathan Bender – In 1999, the Pacers traded sixth man Antonio Davis, who wanted a starting spot, to Toronto for the No. 5 overall pick of the draft, Jonathan Bender. The loss of Davis ultimately cost them in the short-term and long-term as the loss of another strong big man left the Pacers depleted in trying to stop Shaq in the Finals. The acquisition of Bender turned out to be a wasted roster spot as he might as well shown up to games in a full-body cast. The oft-injured prodigy eventually retired after seven seasons of unlived hype. It doesn’t help that Bender was the only player chosen in the top 10 in 1999 to not become successful.
Out of the 30 NBA teams, the Pacers probably sit in the middle of the road when it comes to drafting hits and misses. The team has worse luck than the Lakers, but they seem like Lady Luck herself compared to the Clippers. Hopefully, the 13th pick of the 2009 draft is more like Danny Granger, and less like David Harrison, because I heard High Times raised its subscription rates.