SLAM DUNK! Shaquille O’Neal, LSU: Stronger than Wilt, Russell and Moses Malone, more athletic than Jabbar, the 7-0, 325-pound Shaq was the best big man of his era – perhaps the best player of his era. He was an immovable force inside whose power made him impossible to defend.
AIRBALL! LaRue Martin, Loyola-Chicago: LaRue who? A rail-thin 6-11, Martin was the No. 1 overall pick in the ’72 draft, a selection that earned him the tag of the worst No. 1 overall pick ever. Martin wilted under the great expectations, and he left the game after four nondescript seasons.
HIT! Derrick Rose, Memphis: It might be too soon to anoint Rose as the next greatest player ever, but ask any NBA team if they’d want Rose, all would say yes. He is the complete package at point guard: unselfish with the ability to pass, score and rebound.
MISS! Michael Olowokandi, Pacific: What in the name of Bill Russell were the Clippers thinking here? They used the No. 1 overall pick in 1998 on “The Kandi Man,” and despite what an old Sammy Davis song said, “The Kandi Man” couldn’t. His problem: He had size and nothing else.
SLAM DUNK! Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: As fundamentally sound as any big man since Bill Russell, Duncan played the post the way Bobby Fischer played chess. Durable and unflappable, Duncan became the linchpin and leader of the San Antonio franchise.
AIRBALL! Kwame Brown, Glynn Academy: Some NBA stars aren’t cut out to be team executives, and Michael Jordan proved as much when he foolishly used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft on the 18-year-old Brown, who looked better on paper than he ever played.
SLAM DUNK! Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston: No 7-footer in NBA history had as many post moves as “Hakeem the Dream.” He had the shooting touch around the rim of a power forward and played with the determination and possessed the power of legendary centers like Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone.
MISS! Greg Oden, Ohio State: Poor Greg Oden! The man had the makings of a star. He had size; he had athleticism; he had character. What Oden hasn’t had is good luck. One injury after another has short-circuited his career. Thought still young, he might never fulfill the promise people said he had.
SLAM DUNK! Magic Johnson, Michigan State: His mesmerizing talent created the kind of buzz that, many people say, made the NBA as popular as it is today. The No. 1 pick overall in 1979, the 6-9 Magic redefined the point guard’s role forever.
AIRBALL! Joe Barry Carroll, Purdue: Perhaps no No. 1 overall pick showed as little passion for basketball as he did. Derided as “Joe Barely Cares,” he left no imprint on the game. While he had a long career, it wasn’t a productive one. The 7-1 Carroll bounced around the NBA like a ping-pong ball.
HIT! Allen Iverson, Georgetown: Lightning quick, Iverson dazzled the league and its fans from the start. His crossover dribble, straight took everyone’s breath away, and his personality began to define a NBA culture that took on a more and more urban style.
MISS! Ralph Sampson, Virginia: Some people looked at him as the second coming of Wilt or Abdul-Jabbar, but the 7-5 Sampson never lived up to those grand expectations. While he had his All-Star moments, his career didn’t come close to matching Wilt’s, Jabbar’s, Olajuwon’s or Patrick Ewing’s.
HIT! LeBron James, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School: No player fresh from high school has transformed the league the way LeBron has. Cocky and charismatic, he’s mixed muscle, quickness and finesse to dazzle hoops fans everywhere. He’s been a walking, talking highlight reel.
MISS! Danny Manning, Kansas: He was Tim Duncan before there was a Tim Duncan. Smart and blessed with extraordinary skills, the 6-10 Manning was cursed with bad luck. He could never remain healthy, and while he stayed in the NBA for 15 seasons, he never became more than a journeyman.
HIT! James Worthy, North Carolina: A teammate of Michael Jordan’s at Carolina, Worthy played a supporting role to no man. He was as smooth glass on the floor, his play seemingly without effort. He was a central piece in the Laker dynasty of the Magic Johnson era.
MISS! John Lucas, Maryland: The Rockets expected much from Lucas, an athletic point guard who also excelled tennis. He never delivered. For away from courts and the limelight, he had his demons. Lucas became a slave to cocaine, and drugs ruined what should have been a splendid career.
HIT! Elvin Hayes, Houston: A trailblazer in college, the muscular, 6-foot-9 Hayes made basketball at Houston relevant. He did likewise with the Washington Bullets (now Wizards). He was a top-shelf scorer and a rebounder, giving the Bullets the kind of inside play few teams could match
MISS! Pervis Ellison, Louisville: “Never Nervous Pervis” made a name for himself at Louisville, but his college days were his last hooray. The Sacramento Kings had better options, in retrospect, than the injury-prone Ellison, but at least they steered clear of Danny Ferry.
SLAM DUNK! Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, UCLA: His sky-hook was unstoppable. No player in NBA history had a weapon as deadly as his signature shot. But Jabbar was more than a sky-hook. He was smart, quick and a fierce competitor – a winner in all he did.
AIRBALL! Kent Benson, Indiana: Benson, a burly, 6-10 center, had a long career as a backup, but his lack of athleticism made him ineffective against the best centers of his era (the photo on the left shows him after a punch by Jabbar).
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Tonight, a NBA team will bank its future on the selection of an unproven talent. A single right call and a franchise can go from near the bottom of the conference’s standings to a championship contender. A wrong call, however, can send an organization on downward spiral that could easily last a decade.
In some ways, judging basketball talent in the NBA draft is like judging a Mr. Universe or Miss America contest: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Poke and prod at a contestant, and he might not resemble the archetypal body of Adonis; some will be a tad too muscular here or there and lack body symmetry.
Those are the misses in the first round of the NBA draft, which has had more of them than a T-ball player hitting against CC Sabathia.
Here’s a look at theGrio’s Top 10 hits and 10 misses in the NBA draft…