2007 NBA Draft Class – Grades & Analysis: Do Kevin Durant and Al Horford departures re-write history?

Kevin Durant
Conjuring memories of their much-maligned Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan draft decision in the 1980s, the Portland Trail Blazers’ like-minded selection of injury-plagued big man Greg Oden over superstar small forward Kevin Durant with the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft will forever live in infamy. 

Oden’s career spanned…parts of three NBA seasons. Durant won an MVP award and four scoring titles while leading the Oklahoma City Thunder (still the Seattle Supersonics when they drafted him) to four appearances in the Western Conference Finals and one in the NBA Finals.

But a lot can happen in nine years, and although the Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks got great production out of their top 3 draft picks in 2007—Durant and big man Al Horford, respectively—they just lost both stars for nothing in free agency during the 2016 offseason. In that sense, the “winner” of the 2007 draft isn’t so clear-cut. In fact, if you look at today’s Trail Blazers, they’re in fairly similar shape as the Thunder despite choosing Oden over Durant.

Nine years later, we grade the top 10 picks of the 2007 NBA Draft, identify some hidden gems, and reflect on some lessons we learned. The big question: Do this summer's free agency departures of Durant, Horford, and Joakim Noah "re-write" the history of good draft picks for their former teams?

2007 NBA DRAFT GRADES: TOP 10 PICKS

1. Portland Trail Blazers: Greg Oden

Grade: D

Why not an F for the Blazers here, given that Oden couldn’t stay on the court and the guy they passed up, Durant, at one time was considered an undisputed top-2 player in the league before the rise of Stephen Curry? Well, while you can blame Portland for choosing the wrong player in the Oden vs. Durant pre-draft debate, it wasn’t an outlandish selection at the time. The Blazers made the pick in an era—unlike today’s NBA—when elite big men were still presumed to be a ticket to the championship. So their pick doesn’t get the lowest-possible grade.

2. Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder): Kevin Durant

Grade: A

KD put Oklahoma City on the NBA map with career averages of 27.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Will his departure to the Golden State Warriors in free agency, in turn, crush OKC? The Thunder were able to extend fellow superstar Russell Westbrook’s contract this summer, thus maintaining some character from the Durant era and charting a new course for the franchise that might still lead to contender status down the road. As for the 2007 draft pick itself, although they’re now left with nothing, they got nine great years out of Durant.

3. Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford

Grade: A

Just like Durant, Horford left the only NBA team he ever knew this offseason after nine productive years—14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Those stats don’t really do Horford justice, as they don’t reveal his impact on defense, his development of an effective outside shot in recent years, and his broader contributions towards making the Hawks a perennial playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Despite Horford leaving for Boston, the Hawks—who replaced him at center with Dwight Howard—should remain a playoff team in the East. For that, they can thank the culture of success they built during the Horford era.

4. Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Jr.

Grade: A

Akin to Horford, Conley’s career stats with Memphis—13.6 points and 5.6 assists per game—don’t tell the whole story of his contributions to the franchise, which has found stability at the point guard spot and has become a perennial playoff team just like the Hawks. Unlike the Hawks with Horford and the Thunder with Durant, Memphis will benefit from further continuity from their successful 2007 draft pick after re-signing Conley to a long-term contract this offseason. The Grizzlies also deserve credit for being patient with Conley during a few leaner years for team and player alike earlier in his career, allowing Memphis to maximize its asset in the long run.

5. Boston Celtics: Jeff Green (traded to Seattle for Ray Allen)

Grade for Boston: A+

Grade for Seattle (now Oklahoma City): B+ 

This one gets a bit complicated. The Celtics drafted Green and then traded him as part of a package to get Ray Allen, who teamed with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to win a championship in the star trio’s first season together. Just for that one championship, the trade was well worth it for Boston, especially because Green—while not a bust—has never developed into a star. You also can’t blame the Thunder (then Supersonics) for that trade, given that Allen didn’t fit into the team’s youth/rebuilding movement at the time. Green had a few productive seasons as part of the Thunder’s core before they traded him—ironically, to Boston—for center Kendrick Perkins, who had an up-and-down tenure with OKC but was part of their team that reached the 2012 NBA Finals. A Finals appearance isn’t a championship, so the Celtics won the 2007 trade. The question for the Thunder is, could they have gotten more for Ray Allen?

6. Milwaukee Bucks: Yi Jianlian

Grade: D

Perhaps looking for the next Yao Ming, Milwaukee gambled on Chinese big man Yi, who only played one season for the Bucks and five seasons in the NBA (with career averages of 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game). A safer big man choice for Milwaukee in this draft could’ve been Joakim Noah, who was coming off back-to-back national championships with the Florida Gators, or even Spencer Hawes. They did display some courage with the Yi pick, so for that, they avoid an F grade.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Corey Brewer

Grade: B-

The lanky Brewer, though not a star, did turn into a good role player and defender at the swingman positions. Unfortunately for Minnesota, his skills were ultimately more valuable to a contender than to a rebuilding franchise. But when you look at the players selected after him, you can’t really say the Wolves missed out on much by choosing Brewer.

8. Charlotte Bobcats: Brandan Wright (traded to Golden State for Jason Richardson)

Grade for Charlotte: C

Grade for Golden State: C

In another trade within the 2007 draft’s top 10, both teams weren’t vastly affected. The Bobcats wanted an established scorer and got one in Richardson, though he didn’t translate into more wins and was traded again in just his second year with Charlotte. The Warriors, coming off an epic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, couldn’t find enough minutes and touches for all their wing scorers, so they dealt one of them for what they hoped would be added dimensions of defense and athleticism in their frontcourt. But Wright, the high-upside North Carolina product, could never stay healthy. You can’t blame either team for their logic in making the trade, but the move just didn’t move the needle for anyone.

9. Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah

Grade: A

Like Durant and Horford, Noah left the only team he had played for in free agency this summer. But also like Durant and Horford, he spent nine season as the heart and soul of a franchise. Chicago scored a couple of top seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but not a Finals appearance, during the Noah era—largely thanks to the center’s defensive intensity and all-around game. Like former Bulls teammate and now Knicks teammate Derrick Rose, Noah was eventually derailed by injuries. But his time with Chicago will be remembered fondly, and he was a good value pick at No. 9.

10. Sacramento Kings: Spencer Hawes

Grade: C+

The offensive-minded big man spent three mildly productive seasons in Sacramento (peaking at 11.4 points and 7 rebounds a game in year two) before the Kings traded him to Philadelphia. He has never averaged more than 13.5 points per game, but has improved his 3-point shot over time, making him a potential asset coming off the bench for contending teams. The center the Kings traded him for, Sam Dalembert, was an improvement on the defensive end but only spent one season in Sacramento. Perhaps the Kings could’ve gotten more out of the Hawes pick.

2007 NBA DRAFT PICK HIDDEN GEMS 

27. Arron Afflalo: The 3-and-D shooting guard started slow but has ended up with a productive career, averaging 11.6 points per game and 38.5 percent shooting from deep for five teams. Joined his sixth team, Sacramento, this offseason.

28. Tiago Splitter: In typical Spurs fashion, San Antonio found a solid international player with a relatively low draft pick. The Brazilian center started for the Spurs’ 2013-14 championship team, but was eventually traded to Atlanta to make room for the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge.

31. Carl Landry: This journeyman power forward can score—10.8 points in 22.5 minutes per game for his career—but has seen his relevance drop in recent years with losing teams in Sacramento and Philadelphia.

35. Glen Davis: “Big Baby” won a championship with Boston as a rookie and contributed to subsequent contending Celtics squads, including 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 2010-11, before he was traded to Orlando for Brandon Bass in a lateral move for both teams. The rest of his career was plagued by injuries.

48. Marc Gasol: The true hidden gem of this draft was an afterthought while getting traded to Memphis as part of a package for his own brother, Pau. But the younger Gasol’s career is hardly an afterthought, as Marc developed into one of the best two-way centers in the league, a franchise cornerstone for the Grizzlies, and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

2007 NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: LESSONS LEARNED

A good draft pick can change a franchise—even if the player eventually leaves

Durant (Thunder), Horford (Hawks), and Noah (Bulls) all left their teams in 2016 free agency, leaving the squads that drafted them with nothing in return. But they all gave their initial franchises nine solid years and changed the cultures of those teams for the better. The Thunder, Hawks, and Bulls are all better off for having those players—even in their current absence. In that sense, free agency departures years later don’t re-write the history of a good draft pick.

It’s no longer a big man’s league

What if Greg Oden actually stayed healthy? Would he have been the right pick over Durant? Doubtful. During Oden’s brief time on the court, he showed glimpses of potential, but nothing near the superstardom of KD. Durant, as it turns out, would have been a better pick for the Blazers not just because of his health, but because of his significance as an elite wing scorer in an era that has increasingly de-emphasized offensively challenged big men like Oden.

Time can heal the wounds of a bad draft pick

Yes, the Blazers were set back by choosing Oden over Durant, but nine years later they’re in essentially the same position as the team that scored KD. Portland weathered the free agency loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to make a surprising run to the second round of the playoffs this past season. Oklahoma City, coming off a Conference Finals appearance, lost Durant to Golden State and now actually seems to be in the same boat as Portland talent-wise. That being said, not picking Durant in 2007 is still a haunting “What if?” scenario for the Blazers.

2009 NBA Draft: Positions still matter

The Clippers (Blake Griffin), Warriors (Stephen Curry), and Raptors (DeMar Derozan) got franchise cornerstones. So did the Thunder with James Harden, but they eventually traded him away in a much-maligned move. Minnesota controversially stocked up on point guards, and unfortunately for the Wolves, none of those point guards were named Steph Curry.

Seven years later, we look back on the 2009 NBA Draft—grading the top 10 picks, identifying the hidden gems, and reflecting on some lessons we learned.

 

2009 NBA Draft Grades: TOP 10 PICKS

 

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin

Grade: A

Griffin missed his first season due to injury, but once healthy he became an instant stud in the Clippers’ frontcourt, electrifying fans with his dunking and posting 21.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game in six seasons. He has the chance to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season. Griffin was the conventional pick for the Clippers and has lived up to the hype, even if his star doesn’t shine as bright as that of the top player in this draft, Curry. Some criticize his game for having more style than substance, but together with Chris Paul he has elevated the Clippers to relevance…just not further than the second round of the playoffs.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet

Grade: F

The 7-foot-3 big man was a certified bust, putting up paltry stats in just a season and a half in Memphis and never catching on in subsequent stops in Houston, Portland, and Oklahoma City. Even worse, the Grizzlies chose Thabeet despite having their current star center, Marc Gasol, already on the roster. Memphis still become a perennial playoff team, but missed the chance to become an even stronger contender by striking out on the second overall pick.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden

Grade: A

Before becoming the superstar he is today, Harden was the Sixth Man of the Year and made it to an NBA Finals with the Thunder. Attempting to avoid the luxury tax, OKC dealt The Beard to Houston for a package of players and picks that yielded only one valuable contributor for the Thunder—defensive-minded center Steven Adams. Like Griffin, Harden isn’t quite the superstar that Curry is, but he’s an elite all-around player (on the offensive end) and was the right pick for OKC’s emerging young core at the time. So for the pick itself, they get an A. In trading Harden three years later, the Thunder misjudged the future spike in the NBA salary cap. Looking back, the big bucks they paid to retain big man Enes Kanter in restricted free agency could’ve gone to Harden. At least they salvaged Adams, who is likely their starting 5 for years to come, from a draft pick they received in the Harden deal.

4. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans

Grade: B-

Evans showed great potential as a tall point guard in his first season, averaging solid all-around numbers of 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds a game. With Blake Griffin injured, he even won the Rookie of the Year award. Yet Evans peaked early, maintaining decent all-around stats throughout his seven seasons but never surpassing his rookie campaign. After four seasons, Sacramento shipped him to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade deal that netted no major pieces for the Kings. Though the 2009 draft pick looked good at first, Sacramento might’ve been better off choosing a more pure distributing point guard.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio

Grade: B

The Spanish point guard spent two more years overseas before joining the Wolves. Once in the NBA, he instantly became an effective and entertaining distributor at the 1, but has struggled to stay healthy and has never improved his weak shooting. Minnesota scores some points on the draft grade for still retaining Rubio today. Even though drafting point guard Kris Dunn with their latest selection means the franchise is essentially pulling the plug on the Rubio experiment, Rubio is a tradable asset on a reasonable contract (4 years, $56 million).

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn

Grade: F

After choosing Rubio, the Wolves shockingly selected another point guard one pick later. Too bad it wasn’t Curry, who enters the next NBA season as the two-time defending league MVP. Curry’s historically great 3-point shooting would look pretty good next to the shooting-deficient Rubio in Minnesota’s backcourt right now, wouldn’t it? Flynn got to start as a rookie while Rubio stayed overseas, averaging 13.5 points a game that season but quickly flaming out in his second year—even before Rubio arrived to take his place. Perhaps it’s too easy to blast the Wolves for not choosing Curry. Their real mistake was picking point guards with back-to-back selections (not to mention another 1, Ty Lawson, with the 18th pick before trading him to Denver). Getting help at a different position would’ve been the sensible thing to do.

7. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

Grade: A+

Two MVPs, one championship, the best regular season in NBA history, and possibly already the best shooter in league history after only seven seasons. Need we say more? Oh right, forgot one thing…he’s making $12 million this coming season. That’s $3 million less than Timofey Mozgov.

8. New York Knicks: Jordan Hill

Grade: D-

With their fans demoralized after missing out on Curry by one spot, there isn’t much the Knicks could’ve done here to soften the blow. It was true on draft night and it’s even more true seven years later, given how Curry’s career has played out. Jordan Hill is far from exciting, but he has developed into a decent role player in this league at either frontcourt position. It’s hard to give the Knicks an F because they didn’t choose to miss out on Curry. But the minus attached to their D is for trading him just 24 games into his New York career. Hill wouldn’t have been the Knicks’ game-changer, but dealing with so quickly means they got nothing from this pick.

9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar Derozan

Grade: A

The swingman has averaged 18 points a game in seven years with the Raptors, including a career-high 23.5 last season. The franchise locked him up for the long run with a new contract this summer, following an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Looking back, there wasn’t a better player than Derozan selected after the ninth pick in 2009, so there’s no criticizing any aspect of this choice for the Raptors.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings

Grade: A-

Like Tyreke Evans, Jennings didn’t see much progress after his productive rookie season (15.5 points, 5.7 assists per game). Most disconcerting is a .390 shooting percentage for his career. So what earns the Bucks an A- grade here? After four seasons, they turned Jennings into Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton in a sign-and-trade deal with the Pistons. They later turned Knight into Michael Carter-Williams and Miles Plumlee. The jury is still out on Carter-Williams and Plumlee, but Middleton is now a fixture in the Bucks’ starting lineup as a solid 3-point shooter with great size (6-foot-8) at either swingman position.

 

2009 NBA DRAFT PICK HIDDEN GEMS 

 

19. Jeff Teague: 12.1 points and 5.2 assists per game for his career; traded to Indiana in the offseason after previously playing only for Atlanta, the team that drafted him.

21. Darren Collison: Another productive point guard in this point guard-rich draft; 12.6 points and 4.9 assists per game while alternating between starting and backup roles; should start in Sacramento this season after Rajon Rondo departed in free agency.

23. Omri Casspi: The Israeli forward bounced around the league for a few years but returned to the Kings, the team that drafted him, and just enjoyed his best season (11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, 40.9 percent shooting from 3-point range).

26. Taj Gibson: 9.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game for his career—so far all with Chicago—while alternating starting and backup roles; this will be a contract year for the power forward, and his time with the retooling Bulls may soon come to an end.

27. DeMarre Carroll: 3-and-D small forward who bounced around the league before breaking out as a starter in his fifth and sixth seasons, including a campaign of 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game during the Hawks’ surprise 60-win season in 2014-15; cashed in with a long-term contract in Toronto.

42. Patrick Beverley: Now entrenched as the starting point guard in Houston; won’t stuff the stat sheet, but is a pesky defender and decent 3-point shooter (37.3 percent for career).

46. Danny Green: After one season in Cleveland, found a long-term home in San Antonio and turned himself into the Spurs’ starter at shooting guard, nailing 40.3 percent for his career from 3-point range and hitting a scorching 55 percent from deep in the 2013 Finals against Miami; won a title in a 2014 Finals rematch with the Heat.

55. Patty Mills: Another point guard and another Spurs’ mainstay; plays a starring role on Australia’s national team and a solid backup role in the NBA; 10.2 points in less than 20 minutes per game during San Antonio’s 2013-14 title campaign; 39-percent shooter from 3 for his career.

 

2009 NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: LESSONS LEARNED

 

Positions matter

Versatility is highly valued in today’s NBA, the Warriors have dominated the league with an unconventional small-ball “Death Lineup,” and teams are often advised to draft the “best player available regardless of position. But the 2009 draft reminds us that conventional NBA positions exist for a reason and that positional fits shouldn’t be completely ignored in the draft. The Grizzlies were enticed by Hasheem Thabeet’s size even though Marc Gasol was already showing flashes of being their long-term answer at center. Minnesota’s stunning selection of back-to-back point guards is probably the most memorable—and infamous—moment of this draft. If one of those selections were Steph Curry, the Wolves inefficient drafting could have been forgiven. But as it stands, they passed up a transformational superstar for not one, but two lesser players at the same position, while failing to help their roster at multiple spots.

Continuity matters

While player movement is all the rage in the NBA offseason and at the February trade deadline, the 2009 draft produced some stars who have bucked that trend. For Curry and Golden State, Griffin and Los Angeles, and Derozan and Toronto, continuity has been a benefit for player and team alike. Curry’s Warriors won a title and built a superteam, while the Clippers and Raptors aren’t elite teams, but are consistent playoff contenders with the help of Griffin and Derozan.

Don’t judge a player by his rookie season

Tyreke Evans looked like a star as a rookie, but never progressed. The same goes for Brandon Jennings. Curry was also solid as a rookie (17.5 points and 5.9 assists per game), yet nobody could have imagined the scope of his current superstardom. Jordan Hill looked like a bust with the Knicks, who swiftly traded him, but he turned into a serviceable big man. Danny Green and Patty Mills looked irrelevant as rookies in Cleveland and Portland, respectively, but became valuable contributors with San Antonio.

Pod 32: Revisiting the 2009 NBA Draft

david stern cartoon
Flickr
[powerpress] 

The 2009 NBA Draft is turning out to be one of the most historic and fascinating drafts, due to great and terrible players. Aside from Steph Curry, perhaps on his way to becoming the greatest shooter ever, being slipping to #7, there was more intrigue. Blake Griffin was obvious at #1, but Hasheem Thabeet at #2 to the Grizzlies? James Harden, followed by Tyreke Evans were fair picks. 

But what about Minnesota Timberwolves GM taking Ricky Rubio followed by Johnny Flynn, just before Curry?

Another interesting aspect of the draft was Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday, and Ty Lawson were all taken in the mid-late first round. There were some other gems later in the draft, including Taj Gibson, Demarre Carrol, and Danny Green.