The Dallas Mavericks found out earlier this week that they’ll be picking ninth in the 2017 NBA Draft, the result they almost certainly expected following the end of their regular season. Does history have anything useful to say about what type of player usually gets taken ninth?
Well, let’s find out.
I went back 30 years—all the way back to 1987—to take a look at all of the No. 9 draft selections and how their careers ended up. As you might expect, the pick has yielded super stars and super busts and every type of player in between. Several names on this list will be very familiar to Mavs fans.
For context, there were only 23 teams in the NBA back in 1987. David Stern had been NBA commissioner for just three years. The draft was a whopping seven(!) rounds, and it began with Navy’s David Robinson being selected first. As you can imagine, a lot has changed since then, but the ninth best evaluated draft prospect was still the ninth best evaluated draft prospect.
For the purposes of this history lesson, I’m creating five categories to evaluate the picks: all-star, starter, rotation player, and bust. I’m giving an “incomplete” for the last four No. 9 picks, because it’s too early to really know.
Seattle selects Derrick McKey (Alabama)
McKey started over 600 games in his career and was an important part of Larry Brown’s Pacer teams in the 90s. He was never a star but did make a pair of 2nd Team All-Defense squads.
Miami selects Rony Seikaly (Syracuse)
Seikaly was the Heat’s first-ever draft pick and was a starter for most of his career at center. He also won the league’s most pointless award, Most Improved Player. I remember in my youth reading something in a paper about Seikaly only wanting to play on teams with warm weather (Seikaly played for Miami, Golden State and Orlando). The comment may have been sarcastic, but I always wanted it to be true, because Seikaly’s career immediately ended when he was traded to New Jersey.
Washington selects Tom Hammonds (Georgia Tech)
I have only a vague awareness of Hammonds’ career, to be honest, but he did play a dozen seasons in the NBA, with 60 starts spread throughout. His longest stretch came with the Nuggets, when he was on the team that uspet the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in the playoffs (the first one-eight upset ever). Not a full-time starter, but a key bench piece.
Judgement: ROTATION PLAYER
Miami selects Willie Burton (Minnesota)
Burton only appeared in 316 games in his career but started more than a third of those and averaged double-digits in points three of his first five years. As for the rest of what I know about Willie Bur-OH MY GOD LOOK OVER THERE
Judgement: Not a bust, or true starter. Let’s split difference and say ROTATION PLAYER
Atlanta selects Stacey Augmon (UNLV)
Augmon was a member of that incredibly good UNLV team that had Larry Johnson and Greg Anthony also go within the first 12 picks of the 1991 draft. Augmon had over 470 starts (most coming in his five years in Atlanta) to go along with one of the 90s’ best nicknames: Plastic Man.
Philadelphia selects Clarence Weatherspoon (Southern Miss)
Weatherspoon is in the Seikaly territory of “above-average-but-not-elite big guy.” He peaked early, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in his second season, but was a solid, productive player the rest of his career, starting over 600 games.
Denver selects Rodney Rogers (Wake Forest)
Rogers was a fun, quirky player to watch. After getting his highest profile gig as a starter with the Clippers, Rogers won Sixth Man of the Year in Phoenix. He was a starter for just under half of his career (347 starts overall), but I’m going to put him in the starter category because I think he was too good to call a rotation guy.
Boston selects Eric Montross (North Carolina)
His first year in the NBA, Montross made 2nd Team All Rookie, averaging 10 points per game for the first and only time in his career. He managed to get traded constantly (had a five-teams-in-three-years stretch), yet somehow kept starting no matter where he went or how badly he played. Let’s not call him a starter, but he’s not really a bust, either. Fun Mavs trivia: he started 46 games for Dallas during the roster upheaval of the mid-90s.
Judgement: ROTATION PLAYER
New Jersey selects Ed O’Bannon (UCLA)
O’Bannon was a celebrated college player who won a national championship for the Bruins. A West Coast kid, he was dropped into a terrible situation on an awful Nets team, got homesick, and basically lost complete confidence in his ability to play basketball. Like Montross, O’Bannon had a brief stint in Dallas on his way out of the league.
Dallas selects Samaki Walker (Lousiville)
Samaki was basically a punchline in Dallas. The talented big man came to Dallas back in the days when leaving after just two years of college was considered way too early, and he simply wasn’t very good for the Mavs (he’s the guy getting destroyed in this Dirk video). Despite that, he did kind of stick around a bit in the NBA, even starting 60+ games on a title-winning Lakers team, so I don’t think I can call him a true bust.
Judgement: ROTATION PLAYER
Toronto selects Tracy McGrady (North Carolina High School)
OK, here we go. McGrady is the first bonafide star on this list, leading the league in scoring twice before injuries ended his career a little earlier than it should have. You can make the case McGrady should have one of Duncan’s MVP awards.
Milwaukee selects Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
Judgement: ALL-STAR/GREATEST HUMAN EVER
Phoenix selects Shawn Marion (UNLV)
Yet another former Maverick. Marion has a low-key Hall of Fame resume with an incredibly diverse and unique game that probably prevented him from getting the credit he deserves.
Houston selects Joel Przybilla (Minnesota)
You wouldn’t be impressed by looking at his raw stats, but Przybilla was a very effective specialist for a long time, as one of the league’s best per-minute rebounders/shotblockers. He only averaged 4 points per game over his career, but started just under 400 games in Milwaukee and Portland and is a fave of mine so...
Detroit selects Rodney White (UNC-Charlotte)
Rodney White was a small school kid with upside who fell out of a favor almost immediately with his head coach, Rick Carlisle (uh-oh). White was shipped off to Denver after one year, but rubbed coaches there the wrong way, too, apparently.
Phoenix selects Amar’e Stoudemire (Florida HS)
Stoudemire is the sixth and final guy on this list of 30 to have played for Dallas. He looked like a future Hall of Famer before injuries slowed him down a bit.
New York selects Mike Sweetney (Georgetown)
In one of the best drafts in history, the Knicks took a local kid, much to the delight of the roaring Madison Square Garden crowd in attendance at the draft. Oops. Sweetney was a talented guy, but the knock on him from the start was his conditioning, and after his weight ballooned over 300 pounds, he was done.
Philadelphia selects Andre Iguodala (Arizona)
Iguodala has only made one All-Star team in his career, but after winning Finals MVP, I believe his status is secure as one of the most underrated players of his era. A versatile stealth star.
Golden State selects Ike Diogu (Arizona State)
In a parallel universe where Garland native Diogu stays healthy, perhaps he’s able to fashion a career as a bucket-getter. Diogu always seemed capable of scoring, mostly by barreling his way to the free-throw line, but injuries killed his career before it could get any real lift off.
Golden State selects Patrick O’Bryant (Bradley)
Count me among those who thought the long, athletic big man from small school Bradley was a diamond in the rough. Not so much.
Chicago selects Joakim Noah (Florida)
Noah isn’t much to look at now, but the one time Defensive Player of the Year was one of the league’s most watchable players in the early 2010s. You’d love for Nerlens Noel to turn into this type of player.
Charlotte selects D.J. Augustin (Texas)
Augustin had his time as a starter (190 starts so far) with the team formerly known as the Bobcats, but ultimately his best role is probably as a high-quality backup point guard.
Judgement: ROTATION PLAYER
Toronto selects DeMar DeRozan (USC)
I wasn’t much of a fan of DeRozan early in his career, but he has become one of the only truly good shooting guards left in a league that has shifted away from the Jordan/Kobe model. I think Toronto would be foolish to pay him only to let Lowry walk, but that’s not the conversation we’re having now.
Utah selects Gordon Hayward (Butler)
Hayward made his first All-Star team this past season, but how many more he makes might depend on whether he decides to stick around as the No. 1 option in Utah. Still, really good player.
Charlotte selects Kemba Walker (UConn)
Walker also just made his first All-Star team. He might get drowned out by the historically great pool of current star point guards, but for a guy who looked like a bit of a finished product coming out of college, Walker has slowly but gradually improved to genuine star status. Sometimes point guards take time to truly arrive.
Detroit selects Andre Drummond (UConn)
The second straight Huskie taken at No. 9, Drummond might not be the next dominant center some people thought he would be, but he has made an All-Star team and figures to remain one of the league’s most feared dunkers and rebounders for a while.
Minnesota selects Trey Burke (Michigan)
Charlotte selects Noah Vonleh (Indiana)
Charlotte selects Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin)
Toronto selects Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
The final tally
So what does all this history add up to? Here’s my final tally of outcomes from the No 9 pick:
Rotation Players: 5
This is pretty good news. Obviously, picking ninth doesn’t guarantee you an All-Star, but a third of the these players have made at least one All-Star team, and the period from 2007 to 2012 yielded just one player who hasn’t played in that game. Moreover, more than half of these guys were solid starters in the league, which should probably be the baseline expectation of the ninth pick.
I didn’t go back this far, but in addition to taking Samaki Walker and Dirk Nowitzki ninth two years apart, the Mavs also drafted at No. 9 twice in the early 80s, taking Rolando Blackmon in 1981 and Dale Ellis in 1983. Both those guys had long, productive careers. If history is any indication, Mavericks fans have reason to be optimistic about this pick.