Of course we have to start this story with a photo of Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn, the two biggest busts of the 2009 NBA Draft. While they are not accountable for being selected so early*, they also blew multiple chances to salvage their careers. Thabeet now rides the pine on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench while Flynn was last seen strutting his wares for the Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association.
On a more serious note, 2009 is actually a sneaky deep draft that has showcased multiple All-Stars and a plethora of savvy ballhandlers. We ran through the pool of 60, then rearranged the top 10 based purely on impact and production and disregarded team need. In short, we went with the best player available if we could have done the draft all over again.
Let’s do a mulligan!
On the Bubble:
Marcus Thornton (selected 43rd by the Miami Heat)
Career: 330 games, 13.4 points, 3 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Thornton has been the type of player to wear out his welcome prematurely. After producing sterling numbers in his first season with the Hornets and Kings, his numbers would plummet in Year 2 particularly in the scoring department. He is the classic case of a player with good stats on a mediocre team, and now that he has been traded to the quasi-contending Brooklyn Nets, his true measure as a sparkplug off the bench will be gauged. Thornton’s ceiling remains untapped and should soon see some more quality opportunities as Joe Johnson begins to decline at the shooting guard spot.
Ricky Rubio (selected 5th by the Minnesota Kahns)
Career: 168 games, 10 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8 assists
There is no debate about Rubio’s court vision. A crafty playmaker, he finds the tiniest of creases on pick-and-roll defenses, slotting in pinpoint passes to a cutting teammate. The elephant in the room is his shooting. With nearly three seasons under his belt, the Spaniard has mustered 35.7%, 36%, and 37.4% from the field, making it impossible to take him seriously when he is in triple threat position. Is Rubio doomed to shoot below 40% for the rest of his career? Scouts have pointed to his very flat release as the main culprit, giving the ball a very little margin of error. Failure to improve this aspect of his game will hasten his expiration date once his athleticism starts to diminish.
Brandon Jennings (selected 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks)
Career: 360 games, 16.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists
This leftie is a one-hit wonder. The Pterodactyl (Basketball Reference gave him that nickname! I did not make that up!) scored 55 points in his seventh game as a rookie. It has been downhill from there. He has been branded as a volume shooter who can’t shoot, topping 40% field goal shooting only once in five seasons. Jennings has also been brash, calling out a six-game upset against Miami in last year’s first round of the playoffs. We all remember how that turned out. A change of scenery was supposed to be what the doctor ordered, the way Monta Ellis is now thriving with the Mavericks. Unfortunately, Jennings has been unable to properly direct the flow of offense for Detroit. Though Jennings averages 7.8 assists this season for the Pistons, the spacing is so discombobulated and congested that it results in so many atrocious jump shots between Josh Smith and himself.
The Top 10:
10. Darren Collison (selected 21st by the New Orleans Hornets)
Career: 366 games, 11.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists
Is Collison overrated, underrated, or properly rated? When then-Hornet Chris Paul went down with an injury, Collison spelled him admirably. Collison went berserk from February to April 2010 where he masqueraded as an elite point guard, stringing together games of 22-10, 26-11, 16-20, etc. Expectations inflated unreasonably high as he moved to Indiana and Dallas, where he put up relatively decent numbers, although his transition game was not maximized by those two teams whose offense revolved around the halfcourt. Now on his second go-round as Paul’s reliever with the Clippers, Collison is what he is, a reliable backup who can fire up a team’s offense in spurts, and a properly rated one at that.
9. Tyreke Evans (selected 4th by the Sacramento Kings)
Career: 319 games, 16.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists
Has Evans’ time of wreaking havoc come to an abrupt end? If his 20-5-5 rookie season seems like a distant memory, it’s because it is. Kirk Goldsberry tried to solve the enigma that is Evans, who shoots very well at the foul line at 82% yet cannot buy a jumper outside eight feet. After a frustrating experiment of letting Evans come off the bench for Eric Gordon, Pelicans Head Coach Monty Williams has inserted him into the starting lineup, where he and Anthony Davis have done some serious damage offensively. Evans has been harkened as Corey Maggette 2.0 for his propensity to get to the line. If Evans has to visit the free throw line 15 times to be a game-changer, then so be it. It’s where he is most effective. It may be ugly and boring basketball, but it’s less ghastly than shooting 22% from outside eight feet.
8. Jeff Teague (selected 19th by the Atlanta Hawks)
Career: 221 games, 10.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists
Playing with relative anonymity in the Highlight Factory, Teague introduced himself to the league with several impressive showings in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Bulls. It was his stepping stone to respectability that made Kirk Hinrich expendable. One thing must be made clear: Teague is more of a facilitator than a scorer. He needs several options to thrive, as his numbers have taken a slight hit since Al Horford went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is also slightly concerned with the baggage of Teague’s four-year, $32 million deal and is looking for ways to unload him. Don’t take Teague for granted though, as he is a poor man’s version of Tony Parker with the ability to gather for burst-of-speed layups and to throw off multiple defenders with jump-stop baby floaters.
7. Taj Gibson (selected 26th by the Chicago Bulls)
Career: 361 games, 9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists
Gibson’s crowning moment of glory came in the 2011, when he elevated and detonated over Dwyane Wade. Carlos Boozer might cannibalize Gibson’s offensive numbers, but it is on the defensive end where the latter’s impact is truly felt. Is Gibson’s hustle a byproduct of Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s suffocating system? Will he be as effective playing for another team like, say, Portland? Gibson’s relentless effort makes him a fan favorite alongside Joakim Noah, and he relishes making life miserable for opposing power forwards. He is the leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award and he is inked on the books until 2017. Gibson is also improving his footwork in the paint, learning to maneuver his way to the basket without barreling or backing down his opponent too predictably.
6. DeMar DeRozan (selected 9th by the Toronto Raptors)
Career: 373 games, 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists
Thrust into the upper echelon of shooting guards, DeRozan forms half of the Raptors lethal backcourt together with the peaking Kyle Lowry. When he signed a four-year, $40 million contract back in 2012, most pundits perceived him to be overpaid because of his one-dimensional game. All he was good for was his East Bay Funk Remix dunks, which he proved everyone wrong the moment they traded away Rudy Gay to Sacramento. DeRozan has gotten to the line a lot more, drastically improved his on and off-ball defense, raised his PER significantly, and now commands double teams from time to time. DeRozan has also developed a reputation of demanding the ball during crunch time. That doesn’t mean he has been successful at it... yet. His name became news fodder last month when he got the All-Star nod over Lance Stephenson and his own teammate Lowry, but it is a testament of how coaches believe that he has finally made the leap in Year 5.
5. Jrue Holiday (selected 17th by the Philadelphia 76ers)
Career: 332 games, 13.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6 assists
Revisionist theorists may look at Holiday and wonder if New Orleans outsmarted themselves too much during the 2013 Draft, acquiring him for Nerlens Noel, who was projected to go first overall that night. Did they mortgage their future for a one-time All-Star who will always be overlooked behind the Russell Westbrooks and Damian Lillards of the West? Holiday is no slouch; similarity scores peg him to emulate Terrell Brandon’s career. Like Brandon, Holiday has a knack for thievery. Out for the remainder of the season to repair a stress fracture in his right tibia, Holiday will need use the offseason as an opportunity to further improve his passing game and recognize where Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are located once the following season begins. He must establish himself as the team’s de facto third option moving forward.
4. Ty Lawson (selected 18th by the Minnesota Kahns)
Career: 337 games, 14 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists
Bolstered by winning the 2009 NCAA title with the UNC Tar Heels, Lawson was shocked to hear 17 other players called to the podium before him. He was not an overnight sensation, learning the ropes behind Chauncey Billups as he acclimated to the air pressure of Mile High City. Once former Nuggets Head Coach George Karl handed Lawson the keys, the diminutive point guard went full throttle. Since Lawson became a full-fledged starter, the Nuggets have never finished below the top five in pace. Lawson came into the league with a mean streak from downtown, knocking down 41% from beyond the arc. However, a notable concern is his efficiency. His field goal percentages have steadily dropped since his rookie season as his burdens and responsibilities increased. What was once 51.5% is now down to 43.2%. Whether it is an adjustment to the triangle offense current Head Coach Brian Shaw is implementing or simply fatigue setting in after carrying a decimated lineup all season, Lawson is still feeling out his role as the number one option.
3. James Harden (selected 3rd by the Oklahoma City Thunder)
Career: 360 games, 17.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists
Harden is one of only two players on this list that were “correctly” selected. The way his first three seasons have played out in Oklahoma City felt like a honeymoon. Entering the 2012 Finals, the Thunder had a squad with a fixed pecking order ready to oust the Heat. And then the wheels came undone. Harden had an abysmal series and suddenly whispers of his status with the team grew louder and louder. It did not matter how he had just won the Sixth Man of the Year. One thing led to another, and he was off to Houston because they offered him more money and the promise of being their go-to guy. This story bears repeating because it provides a different dimension of the Harden blockbuster deal and how it shook the landscape in the West. Two years and two All-Star selections later, Harden is now the clear-cut best shooting guard in the league. If there were still any doubts earlier in the season, there shouldn’t be any now. His defense will play hooky from time to time when class is in session, but you can be sure that his offense will be there to deliver. The Beard’s mastery of the gather move and the Eurostep make him a ridiculously potent threat once he slashes through the shaded area.
2. Stephen Curry (selected 7th by the Golden State Warriors)
Career: 326 games, 20.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists
Stephenphetamine. The Stephen Curry Heat Check Alert is the meme that launched a million tweets. There is a magical aura that makes one believe that every single shot Curry releases is bound to go in. Coaches have adjusted their playbooks with one call that includes sending a double team at Curry right at the three-point line… even if he does not have the ball yet. But things weren’t so rosy 16 months ago, when the Warriors inked Curry to a four-year, $44 million extension. Those vulnerable ankles that seemed to twist like Play-Doh with one wrong cut to the basket were a red flag. Fans held a collective breath whenever he goes down in a heap. There’s no telling what could happen. But looking back, Curry almost did not become a Warrior. In a parallel universe, hewould have been playing for the Suns or Knicks. He would have been the metaphorical acetylyne torch that the Lady Liberty holds up in the Big Apple. Instead, he is in the Bay Area, where he announced his playoff arrival last season with a total dismantling of the Denver Nuggets before giving the San Antonio Spurs all it could handle. Curry will never be an inside threat taking it strong to the hoop, but as long as he can stay healthy on the court, his long range bombs will always be a sight to marvel at.
1. Blake Griffin (selected 1st by the Los Angeles Clippers)
Career: 300 games, 21.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists
Mozgov’d! Oh me, oh my! Blake Griffin’s arrival in the league marked a cultural revolution of sorts. The year he took off for rehabbing his knee was a blessing in disguise. When he broke into the scene in 2010, he entered right as social media became instantaneous, where you can watch GIFs of his eviscerating Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol within minutes of the actual murder… er, highlight. Bill Simmons prematurely touted Griffin as the possible second coming of Sidney Wicks due to his declining scoring output in Years 2 and 3. Then, Vinny Del Negro was shipped out and in came Doc Rivers. Griffin and Chris Paul called Lob City dead, putting away the gimmicky approach for more serious, championship-caliber basketball. Suddenly, a rejuvenated Griffin became a two-way monster, corralling every loose ball and playing with the mindset of an MVP. Even with Paul sidelined for several weeks, Griffin did not slow down as he ramped up his game to a whole new level with an improved arsenal from the midrange and at the charity stripe. Let’s face it: he has the power to manipulate the psyche of opposing teams. There are opposing players who are subbed in with the sole purpose of throwing off Griffin’s focus and composure in the hopes that he will retaliate. They push and undercut him in the post with extra gusto. The amount of punishment he takes is staggering. He may be a superstar on the rise, but he definitely is getting no superstar treatment.
*Thabeet was selected 2nd by the Memphis Grizzlies; Flynn was selected 6th by the Minnesota Kahns.