Jun 26 2013

The Sixers won the 2003 draft


I don't understand why the NYT chose this picture for this blog post. John Dunn / New York Times

Why did the NYT choose this picture for this blog post? John Dunn / New York Times

It’s the 10th anniversary of the 2003 NBA Draft, which means it’s time to recall the greatest draft of all time. LeBron, somehow, has exceeded the sky-high expectations, while Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade could all be headed to the Hall of Fame. Not to mention, Darko Milicic. You can’t have a legendary draft night without a 7-foot Serbian-sized bust.

But lest not forget the Sixers’ role in that historic evening. Sure, coming off a 48-win season, they didn’t own a lottery pick. They didn’t even own a first rounder.1

Yet armed with only a 50th pick, they cleaned up. After sitting out the first few hours of the draft, the Sixers selected French point guard Paccelis Morlende. The Frenchman was immediately shipped to the Seattle SuperSonics2 in exchange for the 41st overall pick: a 6-foot-3 guard out of the University of Detroit who was the nation’s sixth-leading scorer. I don’t have his scouting report in front of me, though I imagine it said something like this: “undersized shooting guard, plus-mid-range, poor defender.”

His name was Willie Green.

After “stealing” Green from the Hornets, the Sixers sent over “cash considerations” to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for a 6-foot-7 shooter from Creighton who kind of looked like Ashton Kutcher.

His name, of course, was Kyle Korver.

Green was, at one point, a serviceable NBA player. Below average, overplayed, and undeserving of that post-ACL tear contract extension. (He blew out his knee in 2005 the day he was supposed to sign a 6-year, $20-million deal — a sign from the salary cap gods. He returned on a short-term deal the following March and after playing ten games on his new knee, he signed a 5-year, $17-million extension. One year after an ACL tear.). Overpaid or not, Green was a solid role player. And for a second round pick, that’s a victory.

Korver was the steal of the draft. He developed into one of the best 3-point shooters of all time, hitting 623 from long distance in four-plus seasons with the team before getting dealt to the Utah Jazz in 2007, in exchange for Gordon Giricek and a future first rounder. After Miami’s Big 3, Carmelo Anthony, and David West, Korver is arguably the best player to come out of that draft. 

That the Sixers found two keepers in the second round of the 2003 draft was lucky, though not necessarily a fluke. Take a look at the ’03 draft wiki, and you’ll see why. Other second rounders included Jason Kapono, Luke Walton, Steve Blake, Zaza Pachulia, Keith Bogans, Matt Bonner, Mo Williams, and James Jones. That’s ten players – one third of the round – who had noteworthy NBA careers. Almost as good a hit rate as an extremely weak first round, but without the slugging percentage.

I doubt there will again be a second round draft class as deep as 2003’s. As teams devote more resources to scouting and analytics3, finding first-round talent in the second round will become increasingly difficult. It’s way too early to draw conclusions, but eyeballing recent drafts, the rate of second round production seems to be on the decline.

Still, the Korvers, Greens (Willie, Danny, Draymond, Erick?), Parsons, Pachulias, Blakes, and Lavoy Allens are out there. Perhaps in fewer numbers than before, but they exist — Charles went over some of the possibilities a few days ago — and the Sixers, with the 35th and 42nd picks, will have two chances to find them.

1.In the summer of 2001, they packaged their 2003 pick along with Roshown McLeod to the Boston Celtics for Jerome Moiso. They then shipped Moiso, George Lynch, and the late Robert “Tractor” Trailor to the Charlotte Hornets for Derrick Coleman.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder still own the rights to Morlende. 

3. Kyle Korver was the ninth-highest ranked college prospect in 2003 according to John Hollinger’s draft rater (insider). Anthony, Michael Sweetney, Bosh, Wade, and Nick Collison made the Top 5.