Looking Back On The Delightfully Zany 1997 NBA Draft

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In December 1997, at age 17, I wrote an early-season review of the 1997 NBA rookie class for OnHoops.com, my second appearance on the site. I was a senior in high school, and I named the column “Dig the New Breed,” after a Jam album.

In December 2017, I finally decided to read what I wrote, as published on the site.

What follows are the thoughts of two dopes, two decades apart:

1. Tim Duncan: The San Antonio power forward is enjoying a workmanlike, if unspectacular, rookie year. His shooting percentage is a robust .560, but his free throw shooting, around the 65 percent clip in college, is floating around the McIlvaine/Montross domain of .488. Plus, Duncan is only going to the line four times a game, with Nick Anderson-like confidence.

He has adapted well to being the 2nd option, concentrating on offensive rebounding and screen setting. One frustrating quality about his game is his resemblance to David Robinson’s mental style. Duncan, and The Admiral for that matter, need to understand the difference between intensity, and heart. You can foster intensity, heart is something that might not be there for either of these two fine talents. This will be a problem come May.

Yeah, this kid is a prick.

Image and injury woes and a Sports Illustrated feature left me a little annoyed with the Admiral, apparently so much so that I fretted over his influence on Duncan.

My fears were well-founded, it turns out. Tim monitored Mr. Robinson’s diligence and adaptability on either end for an entire understudy season in 1997-98 prior to dominating the NBA for two decades.

Robinson, in a make-good campaign after cycling through five full-time head coaches in eight seasons with the Spurs, also set a rather important example in the way he silently tuned into second-year San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
Luckily I wasn’t allowed to vote at the time. Like I would have, anyway.

2. Keith Van Horn: The Joisey forward hybrid, of the bad haircut and the even worse defense, has played one complete game since his return from an ankle injury. 11pts, 2rbs, 2ast (right where his assist average should be for the year), and 7 turns. Ouch.

Like a young Glenn Robinson. If he is as good as Kerry Kittles was for the Nets last year, something I’m not sure he will be (remember, Kerry can D-up), the Nets could find themselves in the playoffs.

The Nets did indeed find themselves in the playoffs, but Keith’s haircut would go on to last the rest of the century. An ankle injury and bout of food poisoning bookended a rush of a rookie year, though I did nail the assists part — 1.7 on the season!

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3. Chauncey Billups: How can a guy be the product of so many trade rumors, and have none of them substantiated? It doesn’t happen Rick, we know you’re shopping him. His shot is still a little flat, a problem because he seems to settling for too many jumpers. His playmaking is nonexistent at this point, but it will improve. Pitino’s robotic 10-man rotation hasn’t given Chauncey the chance to make a lasting impression so far this year. He can play though, and will only get better. Just ask Bobby Knight what happened last March.

The Celtics eventually traded Billups, which will forever be weird. Not because he eventually turned into Chauncey Billups, but because the dude was a rookie, and who trades a rookie?

Rick Pitino, it turns out, in a deal that eventually netted Boston the prime years of Kenny Anderson.

Later in the season I was turned down by legendary Boston PR legend Jeff Twiss, I’d faxed a media request for an email interviews with players because this is a thing that I thought would work.

Twiss phoned (my father, because I was in school that afternoon) to decline, pointing to a playoff race that I think had the Celtics seven games out of the postseason with about five and a half games left to play.

Boston would not make the playoffs in that or any other year that Pitino coached the club.

4. Antonio Daniels: A point man with size, what a refreshing thought. Vancouver is bringing Antonio along at just the right pace, consequently his stats are not as gaudy as his teammates. Daniels understands whose team this is, Shareef on offense, Big Country when he has a mismatch, and so forth. He is averaging 9ast per 48 minutes, and only coughing the ball up 2.5 times a game. A young player on a young team with lots of room to grow.

Look at Kelly, into per-minute stats and efficiency at an age when he should have been paying more attention to the deadening wage growth rates that trickled into action on the year he was born!

5. Tony Battie: 11 and 7 in 26 minutes so far for this leaper. The interior was handed over to Tony when McDyess was shipped off to Phoenix, and he has responded well. Though slight, 6’11” and 230, the Texas Tech product has played all three frontcourt positions in Denver. For all his ability though, he has only blocked 6 shots all year, he needs to start learning from Dean Garrett, whom he has an inch on. Nothing spectacular for a fifth pick so far, but he will be a Denver cornerstone. He has no choice.

Dan Issel spent the entire 1997-98 season as a sportstalk radio gabber, he referred to Battie incessantly as “El Busto” and for his efforts was handed the team’s general manager job as soon as the season ended. He later dealt Battie for Nick Van Exel, and lost his job in 2001 after calling a reporter “a Mexican idiot.”

6. Ron Mercer: Coming off those screens, this guy is a tough guard. 13+ a game, 3rbs and one dime in 30 minutes. Steady, only one and a half turns a game. His range only extends to 19-21 feet, but he is working his way out. Pitino won’t let this one go, but Ron will hit a Stanley Roberts-sized wall in February. For these first five weeks though, he’s getting the job done

(The rookie began February by missing 26 of 40 attempts from field before righting himself to have a rather productive month.)

Mercer would go on to average 13.6 points in muck of a Stromile-era NBA that fetishized the sort of step-in two-pointer that Doug Collins went drooly over, working for seven teams and aiming in 60 career three pointers.

He retired at age 28, somehow eluding longevity in a decade that made every excuse it could for a player with Ron’s signature contribution.

Boston fans will appreciate this, before drinking something: Mercer finished his career with half as many Win Shares as Mark Blount.

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7. Tim Thomas: With Ive handling in Philly, and coming off the bench, it has been tough for Thomas to find a gig. In just 13.5 minutes a game, he is shooting 50% (43% from deep), dropping 7pts a game, 2.4 off glass, and only .6 turns a game (Muggsy Boguesian by Philly’s standards). Tell me, besides Iverson, does anyone look better than Tim in those nice black Sixer uniforms?

Still pissed that the dual-meaning Ive nickname for Allen Iverson didn’t catch on. I bought a G. Love and Special Sauce compact disc during this season.

8. Adonal Foyle: We all knew the transition from Colgate to Carlesimo would be tough, but so far Foyle as shown nothing. Shooting 29.3 percent, 2.6pts, and 3 boards in ten minutes a game. Ugh.

Good to see that I anticipated the whole express-despair-through-a-single-word-sentence approach years before it went on to ruin one in every three paragraphs written online between 2009-2014.

9. Tracy McGrady: I have to admit I find it a little unnerving that this guy is one year older than me. The Raptors have been very disappointing, what with a great coach, strong nucleus and 30 win momentum. Injuries, and an uncooperative owner, have generated an awful 1-18 record. None of this has much to do with Tracy, as he has played only seven of those. 11+ minutes a game, 4pts and 3rbs for this high riser. He has the talent to rise higher, but sore feet and two other Raptor small forwards have prevented that.

(Tracy and I had both developed plantar fascia issues that October, I was keen to make legitimate excuses for him.)

Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Vince Carter are still older than me. There are 11 current NBA players that were not yet born when I wrote this.

The two other Raptor small forwards included Walt Williams and Bob McCann, born in 1964.

10. Danny Fortson: U. of Cincinnati needs Danny back, not as much as Denver needs him though. In another pitiful Nuggs season, Fortson has thrown his 6’7, 260lb. frame around to the best of his ability. 11pts and 6.6rbs in 22 mins for the working man’s Clarence Weatherspoon. When he develops that Barkley-esque baseline 17 footer, he is a .802 FT shooter after all, watch out.

Twenty years ago I correctly assumed that the entryway toward stardom was paved with scores of 17-foot jumpers shot from the baseline.

11. Tariq Abdul-Wahad: This guy has the prototype small forward body, but the prototype Sacramento-draft-bust game. Injuries have limited the former Oliver Saint-Jean to eleven games all year. In just 9.5 minutes a game he has bounced in 3.4 ppg at a blistering 37 percent clip.

From a few time zones away, Sacramento always felt like the place where lower-level lottery picks went to die. So much has turned over in two decades.

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12. Austin Croshere: Larry Bird could have picked Roberto Duenas (say it like Beavis, Ro-BER-to DUE-nas) with this pick, and the press would have praised his “Bird-like work ethic.” Croshere broke his wrist in a preseason game, and this year he is 0 for 5 from the field.

None of this should have been written.

13. Derek Anderson: He can shoot, as he’s shown, but this year has been tough: 36 percent. Life as a 6’4″ shooting guard has to be hard, but he can handle, as he showed when Brevin Knight went down. Anderson dropped double figure assist totals in consecutive games, and is averaging 3.4, along with 9.7 ppg in his first 18 games.

Derek Anderson, Brevin Knight, and Cedric Henderson were all kind enough to respond to my faxes, via the Cleveland Cavaliers’ PR staff from the time, with thoughtful answers to my high school questions.

If I faxed the Cavaliers some new questions this week, I bet I would still hear back from Derek Anderson, Brevin Knight, and Cedric Henderson.

14. Maurice Taylor: Because he underachieved in college, and because he was drafted by the Clippers after all, Taylor’s rep was not the healthiest entering the year. But, helping offset the huge loss of Loy Vaught in the front court, Taylor has capitalized during his 18 mins a game. Bill Fitch’s anti-rookie game non withstanding, Maurice has 9.3ppg, 57 percent shooting, 69 percent from the line, 3.4rbs, and, perhaps most importantly, no three point attempts. He goes at it on the down low, and comes out looking good.


15. Kelvin Cato: Cato has been lost on the forward-heavy Trail Blazer roster. He has a game that needs minutes, and they have been hard to come by. In 12.5 a game, he has averaged 3.5ppg, 3.8rbs, and 1.4 blocks a game (5.2 per 48 mins). Although he is a good shot blocker, his post defense needs work, as he showed against Utah’s Karl Malone on 12/5. A keeper nonetheless.

The game on Dec. 5 featured Cato working alongside Gary Trent and Stacey Augmon off the Portland pine while Utah featured a small starting lineup of Greg Foster at center, with Malone and the walking milksteak known as Adam Keefe to round out a front court.

Jermaine O’Neal, in his second season, didn’t even play. Portland’s starters included 7’4 Arvydas Sabonis and 6’11 Rasheed Wallace alongside Brian Grant, who like everyone else in 1997 was also a power forward.

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16. Brevin Knight: This little water bug is all over the court. On defense, he leads the league with 3.2 steals a game. His 3.2 assist to turnover ratio is excellent for a rookie, 9.2ppg, and 8.3ast a game add up to a great start for the Stanford product. He can hit the clutch shot as well, he dropped one game winner on Indiana earlier in the season. The three pointer is quite a heave for Knight, at 5’11, he’s only attempted (and missed) one all year. Leave that stuff up to Wesley Person.

In 1997-98 Brevin took seven three-pointers and missed each of them. Mike Fratello probably told his point guard, finally at eye-level, that it was no big deal.

This season Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has hit four of 10 three-pointers and all of Canada is angry at him for taking this long to even try.

17. Forfeited pick by the Washington Wizards. You get a second chance to sign Juwan Howard, you have to give up a pick. Fair trade in my book.

In 1996 the NBA and David Stern decided that the Miami Heat flouted salary cap rules in its attempts to sign Juwan Howard to a seven-year, $98 million deal, a lousy excuse for a league that didn’t like the way Miami played by the NBA’s own rules on its way toward building a formidable lineup out of retained free agents and new signings – explained in detail here.

When the league decided to cancel the contract Howard signed with the Heat, Juwan was free to head back to Washington for seven years and $105 in an agreement that almost immediately became a millstone.

Then the NBA decided to take a pick away from the Wizards, because, I don’t know, they didn’t sign Juwan Howard quickly enough?

Wes Unseld was the Washington general manager back then, so we could only assume that this pick would have been coupled with cash and another first rounder and probably Ben Wallace in exchange for Jim Jackson and Armen Gilliam.

18. Johnny Taylor: The Chattanooga grad has played two games all year, totaling 10 minutes and three points. Next time, Johnny, don’t kid about Chuck Daly’s tinted glasses. Can you say “Brian Evans?”

(Chuck Daly wore tinted glasses, for some reason, during parts of the 1997-98 season.)

(Brian Evans was another Orlando Magic that did not receive playing time with the team.)

19. Chris Antsey: Don Nelson had visions in June about playing the two vanilla wafers, Antsey and Shawn Bradley, side by side at forward and center. I don’t even want that image in my head. 7 mins a game, 1.7pts, 1.7rbs a game. First Shane Heal, now Chris. I’m telling you, my man Luc Longley is better than you think he is. LUUUUUUCCC!!

Antsey was a fair-haired 7-footer with great shooting touch that began his sporting life with an accomplished gallop through the youth tennis ranks.

A year later the Mavericks would get this right.

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20. Scot Pollard: For some reason Scot Pollard looks like a great addition to most teams. For some reason we see him as an athletic banger with a good touch. The whole Pistons team has been disappointing, with the exception of Brian (best interview in the game) Williams. Pollard’s minutes are few, and his baskets far between.

At this point Pollard was out of the Detroit Pistons’ rotation, and while this wouldn’t change much even after coach Doug Collins was let go, he never found a home in his lone year with the club.

He would go on to play 10 more seasons as an athletic banger with good touch, and one time he correctly informed children that they should at least consider experimenting with certain mood-altering substances.

21. Paul Grant: The 7’0 Grant hasn’t played a game for Minnesota all year. You can’t teach height, but you can’t teach talent either.

At this point in my life I had only experienced heightened intimacy with one partner.

22. Anthony Parker: Parker was traded, along with almost an entire starting lineup, to Philly for in the Keith Van Horn deal. He has played one game, two minutes, and made a free throw. That’s 24ppg per 48 mins. I’m good at math.

Earlier this month I had taken the SATs, the morning after Michael Jordan and the Bulls lost in Rick Pitino’s Boston debut. My scores:

Verbal: Quite good. Are you British?

Math: You will never earn a comfortable living.

23. Ed Gray: The Vinnie Johnson clone has provided a great spark off the bench for Hot ‘Lanta (Allman Brothers, good song, but before my time). 8ppg in 17 mins, he can fill it up in the clutch too. He’ll stick around.

Ed Gray played just 809 career NBA minutes, but in my defense the Allman Brothers Band haven’t put out a single good album since 1997.

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24. Bobby Jackson: Traded to Denver from Seattle after the draft, Jackson has been a God-send for the depleted Nuggs. 14.1ppg, and 5.1ast (pretty impressive when you consider the fact that Johnny Newman is their leading scorer). He can also play on the ball defense with the best of them, he’s getting it in now before he tires toward the All-Star break.

This teenager seemed awfully concerned about rookies hitting a midseason wall. Teenagedom is just one, long midseason wall spent waiting for the people that you know you’re quicker than to move out of the way.

25. Rodrick Rhodes: I, like most, had no idea why Houston would take Rhodes with the 25th pick. Why, they could have gotten Shea Seals, or God Shammgod! Smart move in retrospect, Rhodes can penetrate, handle, and play good D.

I have no idea if I am being sarcastic here, which explains a lot of the interactions with people my age that I remember from the time.

26. John Thomas: The Knicks sent Thomas to the Celts in the Chris Mills deal. Otherwise, 8 games, 6 points.

Kids today can watch the damn games in high-definition on their phones, every rumor is worth its own podcast, and boffo players like Kyrie Irving seem to move teams every summer.

Kids in my day had to be happy with just one present on Christmas morning, and sometimes that present was called “the Chris Mills deal.”

27. Charles Smith: The Charles Smith without the 4 million a year contract, and the one who can make layups. Kind of, 5games, 4pts.

This Miami Heat rookie was dealt after 11 games with the team to Los Angeles, cap fodder in a deal sending Ike Austin to the Clippers and Brent Barry to Miami. Smith went on to carve out an admirable career working for five NBA teams in total, a turn in the old CBA, along with celebrated stints for clubs in the Italian league, a federation he led in scoring during 2005-06.

In 1997 I used this space to make a joke about Charles Smith, the ex-Knick, who made almost twice as much as Scottie Pippen in 1997-98.

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28. Jacque Vaughn: A great pickup for Utah, even now with Stockton returning. Vaughn can make more than making spectacular assist, run an offense. He is not as athletic as Stockton is, even at 34, but 5ppg and 4 assists a game are nice to have from a 28th.

Gals and guys: John Stockton had MICROFRACTURE surgery during training camp of this season, and came back in the first week of December.

29. Keith Booth: As a Bulls fan, a fan tired of old men, I’d like to see Keith get some minutes. Alas, three games, six points.

As an old man, I’m tired of the Bulls.

Be kind to the nation’s youth. Encourage the strengths that they’ve identified within themselves.

Also, edit the crap that they write.