Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

BOSTON (CBS) — Here’s something you already know: The 2017 NBA draft is regarded as guard-heavy. Top projected picks Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox and (when he’s not playing small forward) Josh Jackson all call the backcourt home.

Most pundits expect Fultz will be selected by Boston with the first overall pick in the June 22 draft. The point guard from Washington has already made it a habit of speaking highly of the Celtics and fellow Huskies product Isaiah Thomas.

markelle fultz 2 Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Washington guard Markelle Fultz. (Photo by David J. Becker/Getty Images)

So, it is fair to wonder: What’s the success rate with highly-touted guards in the NBA Draft?

The event dates back to 1947, but it’d be exhausting to dissect 70 years of drafts. Let’s just examine the last, say, 20. Only three guards – Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Derrick Rose – were chosen at No. 1. It’s a far more volatile endeavor to project big men, but the risk-reward generally coaxes executives into taking the gamble. Just in the last two decades, we’ve heard names like Anthony Bennett, Greg Oden, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Kwame Brown, and Michael Olowokandi called first. Not all busts, but not one is regarded as the standout of his draft class.

In the case of the last handful drafts, truthfully, it’s too premature to gauge how those years will one day be judged and reordered, save for the no-doubt-about’ers. Beyond those, though, it’s easy enough now to note whether the top guard selected in a given draft went on to have success in the NBA or whether he was a poor choice.

Unlike those in the front-court, more often than not guards pan out.

2016 – Kris Dunn (Minnesota, No. 5)

kris dunn Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kris Dunn. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Providence point guard averaged just 3.8 points and 2.4 assists as an NBA freshman, while shooting 37.7 percent overall and a miserable 28.8 percent from distance in 78 games. However, he was a role player who started just seven games and averaged 17.1 minutes. Two guards – Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray – were selected immediately after Dunn and had more successful first campaigns, while 36th pick Malcolm Brogdon may wind up Rookie of the Year for the Bucks.

VERDICT: Too early to evaluate.

2015 – D’Angelo Russell (LA Lakers, No. 2)

dangelo russell Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Los Angels Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Ohio State guard was chosen 11 spots ahead of Devin Booker and it’s possible he’ll never find quite the same success, but through two seasons for the rebuilding Lakers, he’s averaging 14.3 points and four assists. Russell battled injuries in Year 2, but took a leap as a shooter, scorer, and distributor, and didn’t get any teammates in trouble with a cell phone video.

VERDICT: Too early to evaluate, but has the tools to be a hit.

2014 – Dante Exum (Utah, No. 5)

exum Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Utah Jazz point guard Dante Exum. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The guard out of Australia was drafted as an unknown to most Americans and, to this point, he hasn’t panned out after starting just 67 of 148 games. He missed the entire 2015-16 campaign with a knee injury, and averaging 5.4 points and 2.1 assists while struggling as a shooter. Rodney Hood, Marcus Smart, and Elfrid Payton are among the guards who’ve gone on to have much more success three years into their young careers.

VERDICT: Apparent miss, though still early.

2013 – Victor Oladipo (Orlando, No. 2)

oladipo Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Victor Oladipo with the Orlando Magic during the 2015-16 NBA season.
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Save for perhaps 10th pick C.J. McCollum, Oladipo’s been the top guard from this class with career-averages of 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He’s been a consistent scoring threat from the beginning and his shooting has improved each of his four seasons, both overall and from long-range. The now Thunder shooting guard appears to be a future 20 point per game scorer.

VERDICT: Has the potential to be a hit in a mostly terrible draft.

2012 – Bradley Beal (Washington, No. 3)

bradley beal Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Wizards guard Bradley Beal. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Damian Lillard, taken three spots after Beal by Portland, has had the better first five-year start, but there’s still no doubting Beal’s legitimacy as a dynamic NBA shooting guard. He’s coming off a career-year in which he averaged 23.1 points on 48.2 percent shooting and 40.4 percent from 3 and, at 23, only appears to be getting better.

VERDICT: Resounding hit.

2011 – Kyrie Irving (Cleveland, No. 1)

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Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There were some talented guards selected in this draft, including Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker, but there’s no disputing that Irving has been the best of the bunch since entering the Association out of Duke. He’s a four-time All-Star, former All-NBA third-teamer, and one-time champ in the midst of chasing a second. Irving also just averaged 25.2 points on 20 shots per game on a team with LeBron James.

VERDICT: Possible Hall of Famer.

2010 – John Wall (Washington, No. 1)

John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards celebrates in the third quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Verizon Center on May 7, 2017 in Washington, DC.

John Wall (Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

There’s only one guard from the ’10 draft class who’s earned All-Star or All-NBA recognition, and Wall’s achieved both. The former top pick and four-time reigning All-Star is coming off a career-year in which he averaged 23.1 points on 45.1 percent shooting, 10.7 assists, and two steals. His pairing with Beal shapes one of the league’s most impressive backcourts. Wall’s been an All-NBA third-teamer and a choice for the All-Defensive second-team.

VERDICT: Possible Hall of Famer.

2009 – James Harden (Oklahoma City, No. 3)

james harden Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

James Harden with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2012 Western Conference Finals. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Steph Curry went four picks – and four guards – after Harden, but this was still a successful choice for the Thunder. The miss was trading him away. Harden went from key reserve and instant offense off the bench for OKC to a 27.4 point per game scorer over the last five All-Star seasons for Houston. As a possible MVP this season, the three-time All-NBA first-teamer moved to the point and averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds.

VERDICT: Likely Hall of Famer.

2008 – Derrick Rose (Chicago, No. 1)

bulls heat Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Derrick Rose. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rose isn’t Russell Westbrook, chosen fourth by Seattle, but he is a former MVP and All-NBA first-teamer whose career was derailed by injuries. He was a 22 point per game scorer as a 22-year-old, but the three-time All-Star played in just 100 of 328 games the next four seasons before eventually seeing an end to his time with the Bulls and a rebirth this season in New York, where he averaged 18 points.

VERDICT: Hit, but injuries limited potential.

2007 – Mike Conley (Memphis, No. 4)

celtics1 Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Who would’ve thought Conley would be the guy making max money from that Ohio State team? The former All-Defensive second-teamer averaged 20.5 points for the first time in his 10-year career this season, while shooting a career-best 46 percent and 40.8 percent from long-range. Unless you opt to include Kevin Durant playing the 2-guard as a rookie, Conley’s far and away the best guard in his class.

VERDICT: Hit.

2006 – Brandon Roy (Minnesota, No. 6)

brandon roy Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Brandon Roy of the Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Promptly traded to Portland for Randy Foye (huh?), Roy averaged 20.2 points his first four years before injuries caused his career to fizzle within the next three. An NBA tragedy for a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA choice. Kyle Lowry and Rajon Rondo were late first-round picks this year.

VERDICT: Hit, but a story of what could have been.

2005 – Deron Williams (Utah, No. 3)

deron williams Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz in the 2006-07 NBA season. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Williams hasn’t been as successful as the point-man who immediately followed him on draft night, Chris Paul, but he did enjoy five All-Star seasons, two All-NBA second-team honors, and a six-year prime when he averaged 19.4 and 9.8 assists for the Jazz and Nets. He’s now 32 and chasing his first ring as a reserve for the Cavaliers.

VERDICT: Hit.

2004 – Ben Gordon (Chicago, No. 3)

ben gordon kg Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Celtics forward Kevin Garnett celebrates as Bulls guard Ben Gordon walks off the floor in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Later picks Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson were All-Stars and Kevin Martin was a tremendous late-round steal, but Gordon did enjoy a fruitful start to his NBA career before becoming a reserve for the Pistons, Hornets, and Magic after averaging 18.5 points his first five seasons with the Bulls.

VERDICT: A relative hit in a poor draft for guards, but marginal overall success, especially at third overall.

2003 – Dwayne Wade (Miami, No. 5)

dwyane wade Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade during the 2005 NBA season.
(Photo by: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Light-years ahead of the rest of his class, the 12-time All-Star, 8-time All-NBA selection, and three-time All-Defensive second-teamer is a three-time champ with a 23.3 point per game average. And, 14 years in, he’s still pushing for 20 a night.

VERDICT: Future Hall of Famer.

2002 – Jay Williams (Chicago, No. 2)

jay williams Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Jay Williams shakes hands with NBA commissioner David Stern after being drafted second overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2002.
(Photo by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

No All-Star guards emerged from this draft, but there’s still no disputing the Bulls lament this pick. Williams violated his contract by riding a motorcycle and nearly lost his life in an accident that shattered his pelvis and severed a nerve in his leg. He also tore three ligaments in his left knee. The former Duke standout played just one season and averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists.

VERDICT: Massive miss, though there’s no telling how good he may have been after a dominant college career.

2001 – Jason Richardson (Golden State, No. 5)

jason richardson Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Golden State Warriors guard Jason Richardson participates in the Dunk Contest at the 2003 NBA All-Star Weekend. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Tony Parker, Joe Johnson, and Gilbert Arenas went on to garner more accolades, but Richardson had a successful career, particularly for the Warriors, Suns, and Hornets. During six years of his prime, the guard averaged 19.9 points, but often for losing teams.

VERDICT: Hit.

2000 – Jamal Crawford (Cleveland, No. 8)

jamal crawford Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Chicago Bulls guard Jamal Crawford during the 2000-01 NBA season. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport)

As the first pure guard taken in this draft – as opposed to Mike Miller, who’s spent more of his career as a forward – Crawford’s enjoyed a strong career while playing for six clubs. Now 37, he’s averaged at least 12 points the last 15 seasons, whether as a starter or spark plug off the bench. For his career, Crawford’s averaging 15.3 points. Only 43rd pick Michael Redd, out of the league since 2012, may have been a better choice.

VERDICT: Hit.

1999 – Steve Francis (Vancouver, No. 2)

steve francis Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis during the NBA Slam Dunk contest in 2000. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport)

A handful of guards in this group had great success in the NBA, whether Baron Davis, Richard Hamilton, Manu Ginobili or Jason Terry. Upon being traded to Houston, Stevie Franchise was fantastic the first five years of his career, averaging 19.7 points and 6.5 assists, before injuries slowed him down and forced him from the Association at 30. Before then, though, he was a three-time All-Star.

VERDICT: Hit, but another tale of what may have been.

1998 – Mike Bibby (Vancouver, No. 2)

mike bibby Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Vancouver Grizzlies guard Mike Bibby during the 2000-01 NBA season.
(Photo by Brian Bahr /Allsport)

Bibby played 14 seasons, not as long as sometimes-guards Vince Carter or Paul Pierce, both better known as forwards. He averaged 14.7 points and 5.5 assists, including a four-year window with the Kings when he lifted his point-total to 19 per game.

VERDICT: Hit.

1997 – Chauncey Billups (Boston, No. 3)

billups Kaufman: Picking Guards Atop NBA Draft Has Been Generally Successful For Teams

Chauncey Billups poses with NBA Commissioner David Stern after being drafted third overall by the Boston Celtics in 1997. (Photo by Craig Jones /Allsport)

What a way to finish, huh? The very brief Celtics guard averaged 15.2 points over his 17-year career and ranks second in win-shares to only Tim Duncan from his draft class. It took Billups a handful of years and a few professional stops to find his footing, but the former champ settled in nicely, averaging 17.3 points and 6.1 assists with a 39.9 percent success rate from 3-point range from 2003-12. It’s still hard to believe the seven-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA choice, and two-time All-Defensive second-teamer played for seven clubs.

VERDICT: Future Hall of Famer, who required lots of patience.

As you can tell, guards who are fortunate enough to stay away from career-altering injuries typically find good-to-astronomical levels of success in the NBA. Should the Celtics hold onto their top choice in a few weeks, history favors their chances of building around Fultz.

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