NBA Draft Review of 2001
DATE: June 27, 2001

1999 Draft Flashback: NBA Draft Review of 1999 - The Draft Review


Site: Theatre at Madison Square Garden, New York
DRAFT OBSERVATIONS
The 1999 NBA draft had few franchise players like Elton Brand but will nonetheless be remembered as a solid draft class. Perhaps the deepest position in the draft was the small forward position. Eleven small forward were drafted in the first round. When it comes down to talent and high quality role players this class proved that you don’t need a franchise rich draft to have a good crop of prospects.

The Chicago Bulls dominated for several years with six NBA championships featuring three Hall of Fame players in their starting lineup. What rival wouldn’t wait and hope for a downfall? Their faith was fully rewarded as the Bulls finished the season 13-37, far from the championship glory that fans and media grew accustomed to. The Bulls vilified GM Jerry Krause, blaming him for purposely breaking up the team while outside accusers also scrutinized him. This draft brought increased pressure for Krause to choose wisely. Owning the first pick, he had several options. Krause could take Steve Francis, the high flying crowd pleaser from Maryland, Lamar Odom, the talented but troubled youngster, or Elton Brand, the dominate big man from Duke who was arguably the best player on the best team in the nation. With few applause Krause chose steady big man Elton Brand. Some questioned Brand’s size but Krause was convinced that he would not only succeed but potentially reach star status. A year later, Krause proved himself correct when Brand was named Co-Rookie of the Year with Steve Francis. Krause also made another excellent choice in Ron Artest, a native New Yorker like Brand. In their high school days the two joined forces on their AAU team and became fast friends. In the end, Krause blew the tandem up by trading Brand and Artest in the span of three seasons. Since then Artest and Brand have become All-Stars among the league’s best for their respective teams.

The dream is not to be drafted by an NBA team but to be drafted by the right NBA team. Steve Francis looked as happy as a man on his way to a root canal. He literally threw his hands in the air after hearing his name called as if saying "Why me Lord". Before the start of the draft, Francis informed the Vancouver Grizzlies that he didn’t want to be selected by a team too far from his Grandmother in Maryland. She had raised him after his mother’s unfortunate death. After the draft, Steve Francis (in John Elway fashion), forced the Grizzlies to make a trade with the Houston Rockets. This was a destination that was extremely pleasing to Francis. He was elated with the thought of staying closer to home (for those who might not know, NFL player John Elway was originally drafted by the Colts. He and his father apparently had problems with the Colts coach at the time. Elway was traded to the Denver Broncos where he became a Hall of Fame quarterback). Francis has been a three-time All Star, but still has reportable character issues and is viewed by some as a spoiled athlete.

McDonald’s never tasted so good. Jonathan Bender, who by many accounts was a talented blue chip college bound player, still looked a few years shy from entering the NBA. No one envisioned the 205 pound 6-11 high school Center going pro, but that all changed suddenly when he played in the Annual McDonald’s All American game, the showcase for the best high school talent in the land. Bender put up a dominating performance with shooting three point baskets with amazing fluidness and displaying unbelievable athleticism. He even broke the legendary McDonald’s scoring record of Michael Jordan - 30 points. In 31 minutes Bender had 31 Points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a performance that would catapult him to the top of the NBA draft board. But Toronto never kept Bender and immediately traded him to the Pacers. Sadly, Bender never reached his potential as injuries withered away his progress. Finally, chronic knee problems lead to his retirement in 2006 at the tender age of 25.

Sometimes smaller is better in the world of basketball. Small school love was in full effect as teams were drafting players from schools not famous for basketball. The first team to start the trend was Golden State as they picked up Jeff Foster from Southwest Texas State. Foster captured team’s interest with a strong showing at Portsmouth and the Nike Desert Classic. Next Jerry West, in his typical fashion, drafted Division III Devean George of Augsburg College. This small school player earned All Tournament Honors at Portsmouth and became the first Division III player to be drafted since Lamont Strothers in 1991. Lastly, Antwain Smith was drafted out of St. Paul’s college in Virginia after an above average showing in Portsmouth. These players proved that despite the major college conferences, there’s a place for small school players in the NBA.

Sometimes what you see isn’t what you get. Mavericks GM and Coach Don Nelson looked at the draft and figured that if he was going to gamble, going with a big man would be his best bet. Leon Smith was an extremely talented big man who stood out in Chicago’s public league. The Illinois Player of the Year had a number of Division I scholarships lined up. In the end it was down to Fresno State or the NBA. Despite unfavorable reports about his draft status (pegged by many to be a second rounder), Smith entered the NBA draft with barely as much buzz as fellow teen phenom Jonathan Bender. San Antonio gave up Smith as part of deal with the Dallas Mavericks. Nelson knew Smith was a bit of a project and wanted his big man overseas to develop a little more before entering the NBA. Smith however rejected this notion and insisted that he was NBA material. Physically he was ready but it became clear that his mental capacity was still immature and self-esteem battered. Since the age of five Smith had been a ward of the state, living in various foster homes and shelters. Two weeks after signing, he attempted suicide by swallowing 250 aspirins. In an alleged deranged state, he was found in his home passed out wearing green war paint. After being released from the hospital Smith again found trouble when he threatened his ex-girlfriend and damaged her mother’s car. He was then put in a program for psychiatric treatment and payment arrangements were made for his 1.45 million dollar contract to be disbursed over 10 years. Smith has made two returns to the NBA, one with the Atlanta Hawks in 2001-02 and the other with Seattle Supersonics in 2003-04. He continues to receive treatment and play basketball for minor league teams.

China’s first is not as good as the sequel but just as important. Wang Zhi-Zhi drew a host of blank stares on draft night. While a superstar in China, Zhi-Zhi’s rise onto radar of pro NBA scouts came about during the 1996 Olympic Games were he had a very good game against the U.S. dream team with 12 points and 7 rebounds. Even more mysterious to NBA officials (and even Chinese reporters) is how Zhi-Zhi could be selected when he never declared for the draft. Every document that was available at the time listed Wang Zhi-Zhi as being born in 1979. Thanks to his agent, the Mavericks were able to get a hold of Wang’s true birth date showing the legal documents that indicated that Zhi-Zhi was born in 1977 and making him draft eligible. It took two years for Zhi-Zhi to join Dallas when Chinese basketball officials finally allowed him to pursue his NBA career. After Wang left for the NBA his Bayi Rockets team that was a dynasty in the Chinese Basketball Association had been beaten by the Shanghai Sharks with there promising newcomer Yao Ming. Yao then went on to become the first pick in the 2002 NBA draft.

Spice up your NBA team with some international flair. Two of the best players in the draft were two of the biggest steals, and both international players. Andrei Kirilenko was only 18 years old but already had three years of professional basketball experience in Russia. Blessed with tremendous athleticism and potential, Kirilenko had pro scouts buzzing with excitement. Utah took him with the knowledge that he would stay overseas for a while. Two years later Kirilenko made his debut in the NBA where he has blossomed as not only one of the most versatile players, but also one of the best small forwards in the game today. Unlike Kirilenko who had a lot of buzz, Manu Ginobili was a relatively obscure commodity. Ginobili was known as a solid player in the second division of Italy but not a future NBA prospect. In Europe young players are often identified and put on premier teams to slowly develop. Ginobili played for his father Jorge’s local team Bahia Blanca while growing up in Argentina. This explains why he was under the radar to many pro scouts. Ginobili stayed overseas for four years after being drafted where he became a superstar. Suddenly teams were grimacing about this 57th pick joining forces with Spurs’ Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Needless to stay these worries were well founded as Ginobili helped San Antonio win two world championships. He further established his talent leading Argentina to a gold medal in the 2004 summer Olympics.

DRAFT DETAILS
Automatically Eligible for Draft: All NCAA seniors, International players born in the year 1977, or players that transfered from a college team to a professional team in the same calendar year are automatically entered.

Draft Order: 14-29 Order is determined by season records and tiebreakers per team.

Early Entry: High school seniors and International draftees are eligible for the draft if they are in the same year in which they turn 18. All other candidates 18 and over such as H.S. Seniors, Freshmen, Sophomore, Juniors, Seniors and Internationals prospects born 1978-1981 can apply.

Irregularities: None.

Lottery Picks: 1-13 Order is detremined by ping pong balls with the team with the worst record getting the most chances.Each team in the lottery is assigned a certain number of combinations, such that teams with worse records are assigned more combinations increasing their odds of landing a top-3 pick. There are a total of 1,000 combinations that are assigned, one of the combinations does not belong to any team and the 4 balls are redrawn if it is encountered. Having 1,000 combinations makes it easier to calculate the probability of receiving the first pick in the draft.

Total Rounds: Two
DRAFT SNIPPETS
First Pick: Elton Brand (1st overall)
Naismith Player Of the Year: Elton Brand (1st overall)
Last Man Standing: Eddie Lucas (58th overall)
First Point Guard: Steve Francis (2nd overall)
First Shooting Guard: Wally Szczerbiak (6th overall)
First Small Forward: Lamar Odom (4th overall)
First Power Forward: Elton Brand (1st overall)
First Center: Aleksander Radojevic (12th overall)

Dominant Alumni: Foreign Leagues (6)
Frederic Weis (15th overall)
Andrei Kirilenko (24th overall)
Rico Hill (31st overall)
Wang Zhi-Zhi (36th overall)
Gordan Giricek (40th overall)
Emanuel Ginobili (57th overall)

Final Four:
Connecticut: Richard Hamilton (7th overall)
Duke: Elton Brand (1st overall), Trajan Langdon (11th overall), William Avery (13th overall),
Corey Maggette (14th overall)
Michigan State: None
Ohio State: None

Total Underclassmen Declared: 39
Oldest Player Drafted: Lee Nailon (24)
Yougest Player Drafted: Andrei Kirilenko (18)
Trade Transactions: Draft Day Trades

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