If the Ink Spots were around today to sing about the NBA, they might croon, “Into each draft, some busts must fall.” Every year, at least one of the top five picks falls far short of expectations, while a late-lottery steal or even a second-rounder rises up and draws Rookie of the Year talk.
Sometimes, this is due to dumb luck — Malcolm Brogdon was Rookie of the Year after going 36th overall to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the 2016 draft, exceeding their wildest expectations.
Other times, it’s due to dumb franchises — Lonzo Ball (second overall to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017) and Darko Milicic (second in 2003 to the Detroit Pistons in a draft that featured Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony after LeBron James went first overall) were both busts everyone saw coming.
Not since 1984 have the top five picks in the first round gone on to become the first-team All-Rookie squad — until Tuesday.
The top five picks in 1984, in order? Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Charles Barkley. Three Hall of Famers, one guy with a solid 18-year NBA career and one lifetime of free potshots at Portland Trail Blazers fans.
It took 35 years for another top-five draft class to yield all five All-Rookie first-teamers.
Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns, Marvin Bagley III of the Sacramento Kings, Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Jaren Jackson of the Memphis Grizzlies and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks ended the drought and made the teams that had the top five picks in the draft look smart.
The All-Rookie team was announced Tuesday.
— NBA (@NBA) May 21, 2019
It helps that this was probably only a five-deep draft in terms of true top talent.
Collin Sexton and Kevin Knox went eighth and ninth to Cleveland and New York, and they were worst in the league in value over replacement player, a catch-all advanced stat. Mo Bamba went sixth and did little in Orlando backing up Nikola Vucevic, while Wendell Carter was an intriguing All-Rookie dark horse at seventh but got overshadowed playing on a putrid Chicago Bulls team.
The second team was the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (picked 11th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers), Sexton (eighth), Landry Shamet (26th by the Clippers), Mitchell Robinson (36th to the Knicks) and Kevin Huerter (19th to the Hawks).
Doncic and Young were unanimous selections from the 100 media members polled; they, along with Ayton, are the three finalists for Rookie of the Year.
In terms of teams with the top picks getting their selections hilariously wrong, there are plenty of examples.
In 2013, the top five picks were Anthony Bennett to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Victor Oladipo to Orlando, Otto Porter to the Washington Wizards, Cody Zeller to the Charlotte Bobcats and Alex Len to Phoenix. Oladipo and Porter have both enjoyed solid careers, but those other three look like complete failures on the part of their front offices.
This is doubly true when you consider that the 2013 draft also included Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and C.J. McCollum. Oladipo, who has made two All-Star teams in Indiana, is only ninth in win shares from that draft.
That 2003 class may have come the closest that any draft class came to matching Jordan’s cohort until this year, but it’s not as though Milicic was the only reason why the class fell short with only four first-team All-Rookie selections in the first five picks. The last guy on that team, Kirk Hinrich, went seventh in that draft.
Likewise, it’s not like making All-Rookie ensures you’re going to end up in the Hall of Fame.
Bowie made first-team All-Rookie in 1984, but injuries derailed his career and he fell well short of all-time greatness.
The 2000 draft, considered one of the worst in NBA history, yielded one of the worst All-Rookie teams in NBA history as well, with a first team of Marc Jackson (no, not the Mark Jackson on ESPN, who is one of the all-time greatest passers and a borderline Hall of Famer, different guy), Kenyon Martin, Darius Miles, Mike Miller and Morris Peterson.
This year’s All-Rookie team is another story. With LeBron in his Jordan-on-the-Wizards twilight and Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade newly retired, the wealth of talent at the top of the 2018 draft has given the NBA a new group of stars to fill the void.
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