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Taking a look at how top two picks in the NBA draft have performed

A debate got going on Twitter between Whudey and Scott Redick where one guy said that the Portland Trailblazers taking Greg Oden number one overall in 2007 was a huge mistake because Kevin Durant was clearly the number one pick. First off, that argument is wrong. While Durant was awesome in college so was Oden. It was a toss up as to who would be better. Unfortunately Oden got injured and Durant turned into a Superstar. Had Oden’s bones not been made of wheat thins then maybe the story would have be different. Had Oden played and been a complete turd then I would have put him in a different category of NBA busts. He isn’t in Kwame Brown territory. With the NBA Draft Lottery being tonight and the winner getting Anthony Davis this got me thinking about how Top 2 picks that were centers have fared in the NBA. I decided to go back to 2002 to give us 10 years of data. Here’s what we are working with:

  • 2002: Yao Ming (#1)
  • 2003: Darko Milicic (#2, he was a F/C)
  • 2004: Dwight Howard (#1)
  • 2004: Emeka Okafor (#2, he was a F/C)
  • 2005: Andrew Bogut (#1)
  • 2006: none
  • 2007: Greg Oden (#1)
  • 2008: none
  • 2009: Hasheem Thabeet (#2)
  • 2010: none
  • 2011: none

Lets now rank these players in terms of tiers.

Hall of Fame  tier:

Dwight Howard. He is in a class of his own with this group and if not for him turning into a locker room cancer an argument could have been made that you’d rather have him than Derrick Rose (who was a #1 pick in 2008). I wouldn’t do it but you could at least argue it.

Drop down about 10 levels and then you’ve got the This Could Have Been Greg Oden Had He Stayed Healthy tier:

I find it kind of hard to rank Yao Ming. He was an 8 time All Star * (this number is inflated because everyone in China voted for him like he created Pokemon. His real number should have been more like 5) and when healthy was a dominant force. He averaged 22+ ppg, 9+ boards, and 2.6+ blocks for three consecutive seasons. His final stat line read: 19.0 ppg, 9.2 boards, and 2.7 blocks. Those are very good numbers and better than Alonzo Mourning’s. Unfortunately he only played in 72 or more games in four of his eight-ish seasons (the last year he only played five games). Career average numbers are nice but what’s nicer is if your number one pick is on the floor the majority of the time. Because of this Yao has to get docked some points.

Drop down about 15 levels and then you’ve got the Solid but Unspectacular tier:

I’d rank Emeka Okafor slightly ahead of Andrew Bogut. Both players have averaged 12.7 ppg for their career but Okafor comes in with a slightly higher rebounds per game (10.1 vs. 9.3) as well as blocks (1.8 vs. 1.6). If you are a fan of either team that drafted these guys you were probably wishing for more but are thankful that they weren’t Michael Olowokandi.

Drop down about 50 more levels and then you are starting to classify these players based on how big of a bust they were. With this tier I’ll call it Awful But Not Bad Enough to Not Make An NBA Roster tier.

Darko Milicic has to get ranked ahead of Greg Oden for the simple fact that he’s played in the NBA for nine seasons. I read that the average NBA career is about six years so that means that Darko is well ahead of the curve and is still only 26. Can you imagine him being an eighteen year vet and still in the league at 35? Stranger things have happened. Darko gets crushed because the Pistons passed up on Carmelo Anthony. No argument can be made that they should have taken Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh. It was either Darko or Melo, period. Darko has only averaged 6 ppg, 4.2 boards, and 1.3 blocks per game over his career which is very hard to believe considering that he’s 7 feet tall. I always assumed that you could average 6 boards per game in the NBA just by holding your arms up. Darko should get some benefit of the doubt because he was drafted when he was 18 years old and clearly needed time to develop. The expectations for him to step in and contribute right away didn’t exist. Unfortunately Darko’s career doesn’t seem to be trending in any direction. He was coming off consecutive seasons where he averaged a career high in points (8.3 and then 8.8) to go with above average boards (for his standards, 5.5 and 5.2) only to regress and cut those numbers almost in half (4.6 ppg and 3.3 boards in only 29 games). I’m rooting for him to be the next Juwan Howard and still be in the league when he’s 40.

What Could Have Been If Not For Injury tier:

I hate that Greg Oden gets lumped in with the biggest busts ever. He had a huge personality, was funny, and seemed to be the heir apparent to Shaq for Big Men that can make people laugh. He was the type of player that you wanted to like and combining that with his superior talent on the floor had the makings of a Superstar. Injuries derailed that and it’s a shame because he did show some flashes of goodness on the court (not greatness, just goodness). In his first season he actually played in 61 games and delivered 8.9 ppg, 7.0 boards, and 1.1 blocks. Not too shabby. In his second season he had increase his numbers up to 11.1 ppg, 8.5 boards, and 2.3 blocks. That is some pretty nice progress and is close to the numbers that Bogut and Okafor have averaged over their career. You can only imagine what his numbers would have ended up like had he played even 65% of games over the next 4 seasons. Unfortunately he only played in 21 games that year and that’s all she wrote. Many will think of Greg Oden as the number two biggest bust after Sam Bowie thanks to Kevin Durant becoming an All World player. I will not be one of those people. I’ll be in the “what could have been” category and remember the beast that he was in college.

Waterworld Bad tier:

Putrid. That’s what Hasheem Thabeet has been in his three seasons in the NBA. Twice in his first two seasons he was sent down to the D-League. That’s a new level of bad that even Brian Cardinal hasn’t seen. Thabeet played three seasons in college so it’s not like he was some young pup that needed development when he came into the NBA. For his career he has only started 16 games, has averaged 2.2 ppg, 2.7 boards, and 0.9 blocks. To put this into perspective, he’s worse than Wang Zhi Zhi. I’d most certainly put him as a bigger bust than Greg Oden and likely put in him the top 5 ever.

If you dig stuff like this then follow me on Twitter.

Rob Cressy

Rob Cressy

Founder/Editor-in-Chief
Sports loving free throw specialist living in Chicago who is awesome most of the time, has run with the bulls in Spain, and is a graduate of Second City's Improv program.
Rob Cressy

@BaconSports

Sports comedy, pop culture, nostalgia and a love of jerseys and bacon. We also created @baconsportsbeer
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