“What ifs” in sports can run deeper than still waters. What can be a simple question or proposition on the surface, may also result in major changes to a player or players’ careers and, in some instances, even swing titles.
Anyone who drinks water and breathes air is aware of the Miami Heat’s 23-game win streak (second-best in NBA history). The obvious comparison is the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers record of 33 consecutive wins. What people fail to mention when they talk about that ’71-72 Lakers streak is the fact that Elgin Baylor, the best power forward in NBA history at the time, retired after the ninth game of that NBA season. The Lakers, at the time of Baylor’s retirement, were 6-3 and had started out the year 4-0. The Lakers won game 10 of that season. They also won game 42 of that season, as well as every game in between. What if Elgin had never retired? Does the streak happen? We’ll never know, but it makes for an excellent debate. Another tangent is that an aging, ringless Elgin Baylor walked away from a loaded Laker team and seemingly a guaranteed title, something you would never see in today’s NBA, but that’s another story for another time.
The NBA Draft always brings up some of the best and most interesting “what ifs”, and hindsight is always 20/20. The one everybody enjoys talking about is the 1984 NBA Draft. What if Portland drafted Michael Jordan over Sam Bowie? That could be a whole column in itself. A more recent example, and a pick I cannot grasp to this day, occurred two picks into the 2005 NBA Draft. As we all know, the Atlanta Hawks chose Marvin Williams over Chris Paul. To take it even further, Paul was passed on a second and (gulp) third time, as Portland traded their No. 3 pick to Utah for the Jazz’ No. 6 pick (Martell Webster), No. 27 pick (Linas Kleiza) and a 2006 No. 1. That 2006 No. 1 turned out to be Tyrus Thomas, who was flipped for LaMarcus Aldridge, so I’ll give Portland a pass.
Utah selected Deron Williams over CP3 and we all saw how that played out. What irritates me the most about this is that Atlanta desperately needed a point guard, and Chris Paul was the best player in the 2005 Draft heading into it. Eight years later, they still need a point guard, unless you’re completely sold on Jeff Teague. More on him in a bit.
The 2012-13 season has been a major stepping stone for the 2009 NBA Draft class. This year, two of the players from this class were first-time All-Stars, one made his second in two years, another was the biggest All-Star snub of the season and displayed it on national television by dropping a mean 54 at Madison Square Garden. A few have fallen from the graces since their stellar rookie campaigns and a few have showed up those who passed on them. Without further ado, here is my 2009 NBA Draft Re-do.
The only “rules” that apply are that the team drafting selects the player that they would select today, could they go back and do it again, knowing everything they know now. The drafting team can select based on any combination of their current roster, who’s available, salary, need and how well a player has performed due to the coaching up they’ve received from Gregg Popovich. You’ll understand this a little more as we proceed.
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1. Los Angeles Clippers – BLAKE GRIFFIN, PF, Oklahoma
After missing the 2009-10 season, Blake has been nothing short of incredible. He’s the most exciting player to watch, and plays on the most exciting team to watch. He was gift-wrapped the best point guard in the NBA and continues to develop his game and take advantage of it. Anyone who thinks Blake Griffin is all dunks only watches SportsCenter. He has a solid all-around post game for a player who possesses his athletic talents, his jumper is coming along and he continues to get better at doing the little things necessary to win big-time basketball games. He’s already a prevalent All-Star and it won’t be long until he acquires the “best power forward in the NBA” label. The Clippers made the correct pick from the get-go.
2. Memphis Grizzlies – JAMES HARDEN, SG, Arizona St.
We all know about Harden as well. He’s taken over basketball in Texas since taking his talents there. He’s a top-5 scorer who has talking heads all around the league wondering if OKC traded the wrong guy. How good would the Grizzlies be with Harden in there current starting 5 assuming they wouldn’t shop him to avoid paying a luxury tax?
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – STEPHEN CURRY, G, Davidson
I was pining for Oklahoma City to take Curry back when this draft was happening in real time. The Thunder had a chance to pair two 50-40-90 guys in Curry and Durant, as well as a pure shooter to play off of Westbrook‘s drive and someone to take ballhandling duties from Russ. But seriously, this is the best team in the NBA if they draft Stephen Curry. I guess that would also be the case if they still had James Harden also. That trade could make for another NBA-related “what if” down the line.
4. Sacramento Kings – RICKY RUBIO, PG, DKV Joventut (Spain)
The Sacramento Kings are loaded with guys who love to shoot the basketball. Rubio would be the perfect player for their team. He’s a true, pass-first point guard with incredible instincts and ball skills. He’s recovering well from his knee injury as well. Since the All-Star break, he’s third in the NBA in assists and leads the association in steals.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – JRUE HOLIDAY, PG, UCLA
For the sake of the 76ers, I’m ecstatic this draft didn’t work out this way, but Jrue paired with Minnesota’s next pick and their current roster would be an exciting, young, up and coming team. The first person born in the 1990s to play an NBA game has taken major leaps as a player this year and is in the conversation with all the good young PGs in the league, and he may be the most complete. He’s the only player in the NBA averaging at least 18 points and eight assists per game.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – TYREKE EVANS, G/F, Memphis
We’re all quick to forget that Tyreke averaged a 20-5-5 in his rookie year, joining LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only rookies to ever accomplish the feat. With ‘Reke on the right team, with the right point guard and solid coaching, he has the ability to play at the level consistently.
7. Golden State Warriors – TY LAWSON, PG, North Carolina
The best player from the Tar Heels 2009 NCAA Championship team has proceeded to be the best NBA player of the bunch. Ty continues to show improvement and drives the ship that is the Denver Nuggets. The Warriors would probably not want to change a thing about this draft, however, and rightfully so.
8. New York Knicks – BRANDON JENNINGS, G, Lottomatica Roma (Italy)
Brandon Jennings “eff you” to David Stern by heading overseas to play professionally instead of going to college stuck out heading into this draft. And I, for one, absolutely admired it. We thought we’d see more players follow suit. We haven’t, and Brandon Jennings is on the verge of being an overpaid cap killer. The Knicks would fit him perfect.
9. Toronto Raptors – DeMAR DeROZAN, G/F, USC
The Raptors are quietly a perfect fit for DeRozan. Casual observers only see his highlight plays and everyone seems immune to the fact that he hasn’t improved a single aspect of his game since his rookie season. That, or no one cares. I’m leaning toward the latter.
10. Milwaukee Bucks – JEFF TEAGUE, PG, Wake Forest
Player A: 14.4 PPG, 7.1 APG, 2.9 TO, 49% FG, 36% 3P FG
Player B: 18.2 PPG, 6.8 APG, 40% FG, 38% 3P FG
Who would you rather have? Player A is more efficient while Player B scores more but shoots eight percentage points less. Player A is Jeff Teague and Player B is Brandon Jennings. Not a far drop off, if at all, for Milwaukee. Also, did I mention Brandon Jennings is on the verge of receiving a cap-killing contract?
11. Brooklyn Nets – WESLEY MATTHEWS, G/F, Marquette
He’s averaged 9.4, 15.9, 13.7 and 14.8 in his four NBA seasons. Not bad for an undrafted free agent. The Nets could certainly use his efficiency, as could most teams.
12. Charlotte Bobcats – GERALD HENDERSON, G/F, Duke
He’s sustained a consistent increase in production over his short career. The Bobcats would do nothing different with this pick.
13. Indiana Pacers – TYLER HANSBROUGH, F, North Carolina
Ditto. You can add that he does the dirty work. You can never have enough players like Tyler.
14. Phoenix Suns – DARREN COLLISON, G, UCLA
For a team looking to fill their point guard void, and given what’s available, Darren Collison wouldn’t be a major upgrade to Goran Dragic, and some would argue not at all, but it would give them flexibility at the position with a choice for the future.