Hindsight is 20-20, and when it comes to the NBA Draft, to be renewed Thursday in Brooklyn, there is one “what if” question that stands above all others.
What if the Portland Trail Blazers had taken Michael Jordan with the No. 2 pick in the 1984 NBA Draft instead of former Kentucky center Sam Bowie?
Bowie’s career fell victim to injuries while Jordan won six titles. But that’s not the only “what if” that surely haunts NBA general managers past and present. Here’s a look at the biggest “what ifs” in each of the last 10 drafts.
2007: What if Portland had taken Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden with the No. 1 pick? Oden was unlucky. Knee injuries limited the former Ohio State center to 105 career NBA games. The Seattle SuperSonics, now Oklahoma City Thunder, took Durant at No. 2. The NBA Finals MVP is now arguably the league’s top player.
2008: What if Miami had taken Russell Westbrook instead of Michael Beasley with the No. 2 pick? A scoring star for Kansas State, Beasley went behind Chicago’s pick of Derrick Rose. Westbrook went No. 4 to Seattle/Oklahoma City. Beasley fizzled while Heat fans wonder what a Dwyane Wade/LeBron James/Westbrook trio would have been like.
2009: What if Memphis had taken James Harden instead of Hasheem Thabeet at No. 2? The Los Angeles Clippers took Blake Griffin at No. 1. Memphis picked Thabeet, a center out of Connecticut who played less than two years for the Grizzlies and was out of the league after the 2013-14 season. Harden, taken No. 3 by Oklahoma City, is an MVP finalist this year.
2010: What if Philadelphia had taken DeMarcus Cousins instead of Evan Turner with the No. 2 pick? Washington took ex-UK guard John Wall at No. 1. His college teammate Cousins slipped behind Derrick Favors (No. 3 to New Jersey/Brooklyn) and Wesley Johnson (No. 4 to Minnesota) to Sacramento at No. 5. Don’t be too hard on the Sixers, however. Cousins might have messed with “The Process.”
2011: What if Minnesota had taken Klay Thompson instead of Derrick Williams at No. 2? A forward out of Arizona, Williams has struggled. Thompson, picked by Golden State at No. 11, is a key figure for the 2015 and 2017 champs.
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2012: What if any team in the first round — except New Orleans’ pick of Anthony Davis at No. 1 — had taken Draymond Green? The senior forward out of Michigan State went No. 35 to Golden State. Five years in the league, Green has been to the All-Star Game twice and won two titles.
2013: What if Cleveland had taken Giannis Antetokounmpo instead of Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick? Bennett is already out of the league. Taken 15th by Milwaukee, Giannis is the league’s next big thing. Imagine the “Greek Freak” and LeBron facing the Warriors.
2014: What if Joel Embiid had been healthy for three seasons? There’s no obvious “what if” pick for this draft other than Philadelphia wondering whether the former Kansas center, taken No. 3 overall, had been able to play in more than 31 games, all last season, because of injuries. On the flip side, ex-Sixers GM Sam Hinke, architect of “The Process,” may get the last laugh.
2015: What if the Lakers had taken Devin Booker instead of D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick? Minnesota correctly tabbed UK’s Karl-Anthony Towns at No. 1. Drafting 13th, Phoenix smartly selected Booker, the former Kentucky guard who averaged 22.1 points last season and is one of the league’s rising stars. Meanwhile, the Lakers unloaded Russell to Brooklyn on Tuesday presumably to draft UCLA guard Lonzo Ball.
2016: What if any team in the first round had taken Malcolm Brogdon? Milwaukee picked the Virginia guard at No. 36 overall. Now Brogdon is one of three finalists for NBA Rookie of the Year honors along with Embiid and Dario Saric, both of Philadelphia.
2017: Years from now, who will be the “what if” pick of this year’s draft? I’m guessing the team that passes on De’Aaron Fox.
NBA Draft No. 1 overall picks since 1987