When Elton Brand sets up shop at his new Dallas Mavericks locker, he and Shawn Marion will certainly reminisce about the 1999 NBA draft, surely the way Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter have about the ’98 draft.
Drafts are always fun to look back on when hindsight is, as they say, 20-20. Brand, selected No. 1 overall out of Duke by the Chicago Bulls, was taken eight spots higher than Marion, the No. 9 pick out of UNLV by the Phoenix Suns.
As for that ’98 draft, Nowitzki was taken ninth by the Milwaukee Bucks and traded to the Mavs for the sixth pick, Michigan’s Robert Traylor. Carter, out of North Carolina, was selected fifth by the Golden State Warriors and shipped to the Toronto Raptors for the No. 4 pick, Antawn Jamison.
The Mavs’ current 15-man roster is loaded with 13 first-round picks and seven taken in the top nine. Of the 15 players on the roster, only two are second-rounders and those two were June’s selections of Bernard James (33rd out of Florida State) and Jae Crowder (34th out of Marquette).
Five of the 13 first-rounders were taken between 20 and 25.
Four of the Mavs’ five projected starters are top-nine picks, led by shooting guard O.J. Mayo, the No. 3 pick in 2008, taken one spot behind Michael Beasley, one ahead of Russell Westbrook and two ahead of Kevin Love. There’s Nowitzki and Marion at the forward spots, and center Chris Kaman was the No. 6 pick in 2003 (remember how that year unfolded?: LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Kaman, who coming out of Central Michigan, had a full head of hair).
The odd man out is point guard Darren Collison, the No. 21 pick out of UCLA in 2009 (picked four spots higher than Rodrigue Beaubois that year). Off the bench, the Mavs can bring in the former No. 1 in Brand, No. 5 in Carter and No. 8 in Brandan Wright (2007).
How rare is it for a starting lineup to boast four players picked in the top nine? Consider that the star-laden Los Angeles Lakers will have one among next season’s starting five — the 2001 No. 3 pick, Pau Gasol. Kobe Bryant was taken 13th in 1996 and Steve Nash was selected two spots later. Andrew Bynum beat them both at No. 10 in 2005.
The Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, with their stable of young guns, have two starters drafted in the top 12 — No. 2 Kevin Durant in 2007 and Westbrook, who went fourth in ’08. They bring off the bench James Harden, taken at No. 3 in ’09.
The four-time champion Spurs still feature the 1997 No. 1 pick Tim Duncan. No one else in the starting lineup was drafted higher than last season’s surprise rookie, Kawhi Leonard, taken at No. 15 by the Indiana Pacers and traded to San Antonio.
Of course, what it all means is that the draft is a terribly inexact science, even at the top, and spots players were selected at years ago have little bearing on their impact today, one way or the other.
Take 1998 when Nowitzki and Carter both heard these names called before theirs: Michael Olowokandi, Mike Bibby and Raef LaFrentz. Or ’07 when the Mavs’ Wright, out of North Carolina, was selected one spot higher than two-time NCAA champ Joakim Noah at No. 9.