If there was ever a Draft where NBA decision-makers wished they could see into the future, it was the 2004 version. With a record number of high schoolers making the jump to the pros that year — from a seemingly can’t-miss big man in Dwight Howard to an intriguing high-flyer in Josh Smith to an outright polarizing point guard in Sebastian Telfair — teams had to have to flex their scouting and educated-guessing acumen more than ever before. If you’ve never read one of these Draft do-overs, here are the RULES.
Seeing as one of those rules is “You can’t predict injuries,” you might be wondering why Shaun Livingston didn’t crack the Top 14. It’s not because of injuries. Instead, teams looking into the future at Livingston would see that going into his fourth year in the League, the kid was still not a full-time starter and only showing flashes of brilliance. At the same time, someone like Jameer Nelson — a starting PG on a playoff team — is much more appealing.
With that, here’s my 2004 Lottery do-over…
1. Orlando — Dwight Howard, C, Southwest Atlanta Christian H.S. (Ga.)
A potential franchise center then has become a definite franchise center now.
2. Charlotte — Al Jefferson, PF, Prentiss H.S. (Miss.)
With the first draft pick in the team’s history, the Bobcats go with a 20-10 workhorse they can rely on for as long as they’re willing to pay him.
3. Chicago — Josh Smith, SF, Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
Looking back at the ’04 mock drafts, most had the Bulls taking Andre Iguodala in this spot, with the idea that he’d be a Scottie Pippen clone. Turns out J-Smoove is more Pippen than Iguodala, as he’s become one of the League’s best complimentary players.
4. L.A. Clippers — Kevin Martin, SG, Western Carolina
Point guard was a serious need here: the Clippers were running with Eddie House, Keyon Dooling, Marko Jaric and Doug Overton at the one. There really isn’t a PG in this class worth such a high pick, but Martin at least gives you another scorer to make up for a lack of floor leadership.
5. Washington — Emeka Okafor, C/PF, UConn
Back when the Big Three was Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes, the Wizards were still weak at center (a.k.a. Brendan Haywood). Okafor would fill give them a much-needed defensive presence.
6. Atlanta — Andre Iguodala, SF/SG, Arizona
The Hawks’ fourth-highest scorer that season? Chris Crawford. The would take anyone who could get buckets.
7. Phoenix — Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin
Mike D’Antoni came in midway through the season and Stephon Marbury was traded, leaving the Suns with Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson but no PG to run the “Seven Seconds or Less” system. (Steve Nash wouldn’t be brought in until later that summer through free agency.)
8. Toronto — Andris Biedrins, C, Latvia
With Vince Carter and Chris Bosh as the foundation, the Raps were thin at point guard and center.
9. Philadelphia — Luol Deng, SF, Duke
After A.I., Philly was almost painfully unathletic. Glenn Robinson, Kyle Korver, Kenny Thomas, Aaron McKie, Eric Snow and Derrick Coleman were all logging significant minutes.
10. Cleveland — Ben Gordon, SG, UConn
With LeBron, Big Z and (at least they thought so) Carlos Boozer holding down the front line for the foreseeable future, the Cavs needed to bolster their backcourt. BG is another guy who can create his own shot and isn’t afraid to fire away in crunch-time, which would do a lot to help LeBron’s game.
11. Golden State — Jameer Nelson, PG, St. Joseph’s
The Warriors needed bigs, with 37-year-old Cliff Robinson having started all 82 games that season and Erick Dampier at center. But in the pre-Baron days they also could have used a point guard.
12. Seattle — Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil
This was the year when the Sonics started their streak of taking 7-foot projects in the first round, when they grabbed high schooler Robert Swift. Considering their centers at the time were Jerome James, Vitaly Potapenko and Calvin Booth, you can see the thought process. Varejao would at least give them a rebounder and post defender who’s proven to be effective in the League.
13. Portland — J.R. Smith, SG, St. Benedict’s H.S. (N.J.)
Every mock draft in ’04 had the Blazers taking Nevada’s Kirk Snyder to fill their need at two-guard. Knowing then what we know now, J.R. would be the better pick. Although the fact that he fits right into the image Portland was trying to get away from might change their mind.
14. Utah — Josh Childress, SF/SG, Stanford
Reports at the time said the Jazz had promised Sergei Monia they’d draft him in this spot, but Portland took him before they had a chance. If they were still looking for a wing, Childress gets the job done and would be a perfect role player.
OTHER NOTABLES: Shaun Livingston, Sasha Vujacic, Chris Duhon, Sebastian Telfair, Trevor Ariza, Delonte West, Kris Humphries, Beno Udrih, Kirk Snyder, Dorell Wright, Robert Swift, David Harrison, Tony Allen, Royal Ivey, Andre Brown, Luke Jackson, Rafael Araujo, Sergei Monia, Viktor Khryapa, Pavel Podkolzine, Ha Seung-Jin, Pape Sow.