We roll on to the 2009 NBA Draft in our retrospective series, handing out grades for decisions made long ago. A reminder as to why we do this: when a team makes what appears to be a terrible draft decision and you give them a 'D' or an 'F' the next morning, they yell and kick and say, "You can't grade a draft without seeing them play!" Well, alright! Now we're confirming old suspicions or disproving them by grading from 1-5 years out. This is like a post-hoc evaluation.
The best part of that while most of the GMs from the 2007 and 2008 drafts are long gone, many of those from 2009 are still around ... including our most favorite GM of all.
Welcome to the NBA Draft, David Kahn. It's 2009, and it's your party. Let's see what you've got.
Rubio finished No. 2 in Rookie of the Year voting this year, and came over to the NBA just in time to save Kahn's job. Seriously, if he had remained in Spain due to the lockout, to land some contract freedom or just to finish out one more year in his homeland, Kahn wouldn't have made it to today, because the Wolves would have had another abysmal season. (As it is, they finished well under .500 again, primarily due to a late-season injury bug.)
If it Kahn gets an eventual 'A' for picking Rubio, that Jonny Flynn pick screeches all progress to a halt. Flynn is nearly already out of the league -- he's been passed around more than a pipe in a Humboldt drum circle, and he was taken because Kahn knew bringing Rubio over would be a protracted process. (Why else take point guards back-to-back when neither showed signs of being able to slide to two-guard?) With these two picks -- No. 5 and No. 6 is a good draft, maybe the best point guard draft ever -- Kahn consigned Minnesota to two more absolutely atrocious years. The Wolves would go 32-132 -- 100 more wins than losses! -- over those two seasons.
Perhaps the best point guard in the 2009 NBA Draft was Ty Lawson. Kahn's predecessor Kevin McHale had picked up the No. 18 from Miami in a previous trade involving Antoine Walker. (All of the best trades involve Antoine Walker.) Kahn had agreed to send the pick to the Denver Nuggets (a perennial playoff team) for a 2010 first. The 2009 pick became Lawson. The 2010 pick became Luke Babbitt, who was flipped to Portland for pre-mohawk Martell Webster. Picking Flynn was bad enough. But then trading Lawson for Martell Webster?
Sometimes, I think a 'D' is kind, that the Rubio pick is completely overshadowed by the incredible mistakes made. Maybe I should move on before I change my mind ...
That's seven minuses, for those of you counting at home. It's hard to understate how completely awful this draft was for Memphis. The Grizzlies not only don't have any of these players any more, but they didn't get anything for any of them. In fact, Memphis had to give up a first-round pick to lose Thabeet and Carroll less than two years into their careers for a two-month Shane Battier rental.
Thabeet is No. 1 on the All-Bust Team from the last five years, even over Greg Oden. Memphis can't blame this one on injuries or misfortune. Thabeet just flat out could not play NBA basketball at all, whatsoever. Given the lack of Thabeet's willingness to work out for teams in advance of the 2009 draft, there was ample cover to go with one of the many nice guards available (James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry), all of whom could have played off the ball with Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo. This was just a devastating decision that might cost Memphis a couple of seeds every year for the next 4-5 seasons.
Blake Griffin (1)
Lest we forget that the 2009 draft was actually fantastic, let's turn our attention to some positive grades. Griffin was the (mostly) undisputed consensus choice. Griffin was so much the consensus that the Clippers' rep who won the draft lottery had the inside of his blazer lined with a sparkly No. 23 jersey mock-up! It would have been really embarrassing to pick anyone but Blake after that, and L.A. never seriously considered anyone else. Good.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
James Harden (3), B.J. 'Byron' Mullens (24), Robert Vaden (54)
This grade is all about Harden, a future All-Star, because OKC actually didn't have a very good draft once that pick was made. The Thunder traded up to grab Mullens, and gave up the picks that became Rodrigue Beaubois (unproductive to date but more valuable than the since traded Mullens) and Taj Gibson (a top-drawer defender). But when you take a player the caliber of Harden immediately after another squad took Hasheem Thabeet, the relativism makes your decision shine all the more bright.
Evans has been disappointing in the last two seasons, but he was the first Rookie of the Year from the best draft since 2003. Respect that. He's still an eight-figure prospect who will likely challenge for All-Star spots in the near future, whether in Sacramento or elsewhere. And while I have serious qualms about Geoff Petrie's decision-making, there's no question that taking Evans saved Sacramento from mass depression after a historically bad 2008-09 season and a gut-wrenching loss in the draft lottery.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Stephen Curry (7)
The rare draft win for the Golden State Warriors! Curry nearly took the R.O.Y. from Evans, and there's still persistent debate in Northern California about which player is better. That Golden State picked him up further down the chart is a bonus.
What's worse: getting traded for Tracy McGrady in 2010 or getting traded for Derek Fisher in 2011? (Yes, the T-Mac deal was actually a cap dump. But if the Knicks had taken, say, Brandon Jennings or Ty Lawson, they wouldn't have had to include so many sweeteners to lose Jared Jeffries.)
DeMar DeRozan (9)
No one is sure whether DeRozan is going to be worthy of this pick yet. Maybe we'll know by 2017 or so.
Brandon Jennings (10), Jodie Meeks (41)
Landing Jennings at No. 10 was a huge victory for Milwaukee that started to make up for the fantastic failures of 2007 and 2008. So Milwaukee had four top-10 picks (a No. 1, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 10) from 2006-2009, and came out of it with Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings and nothing. Not exactly a great record in total, especially since Bogut has now been flipped for a scorer who didn't exactly make the Bucks better down the stretch of this season.
NEW JERSEY NETS
Terrence Williams (11)
I can't give the Nets an 'F' here because they did get a first-round pick for Williams. Remember, Memphis had to give up a first to lose Thabeet. Memphis kind of ruined the 'F' grade for me. They have made it special.
Henderson might have been the best player on the Bobcats last season. I think that's a) a bad thing for Charlotte and b) a good thing for Charlotte's 2009 draft. Hard to see through the extremely dark clouds.
Hansbrough remains the only quasi-blemish on Larry Bird's recent draft ledger, and even then, Hansbrough's been alright. He wasn't Terrence Williams or Hasheem Thabeet or Jonny Flynn, you know?
Clark amounted to nothing in Phoenix, and is the basketball equivalent of an emergency generator in Orlando.
That Jonas Jerebko is clearly the best player from this haul doesn't speak kindly to Joe Dumars' 2009 performance, but at the end of the day, it counts as a win all the same. The flop at No. 15 and win at No. 39 even out.
James Johnson (16), Taj Gibson (26)
I bounced between an 'A' and a 'B' here; the Johnson choice turned out poorly, but Gibson made up for it. The Bulls obviously didn't need a point guard at this point, and the best players left at No. 16 all played the position. But how much credit along those lines can you really extend? It's a tough call.
Jrue Holiday (17)
Technically, Lawson would have been a stronger pick. But the Sixers picked up a legit starter who happened to be the youngest player in the draft at No. 17. Can't argue with that.
Ty Lawson (18)
Denver had a player it liked, gave up a comparable asset to get him, and reaped the rewards. Brilliant play here.
Jeff Teague (19), Sergiy Gladyr (49)
Teague was good enough early on for the Hawks to a) get rid of Mike Bibby before he fully lost all ability to stand upright, b) reject a straight-up trade for the solid Jason Thompson, and c) beat the Magic and spook the Bulls in 2010. At No. 19 in any draft, that's a good haul.
This is a tough grade to assign because while Maynor turned out to be an excellent pick at No. 20, Utah gave up on him to win some minor tax savings. On the positive side, they couldn't have realized those savings if Maynor stunk. On the negative side, Maynor improved even more once he was traded, and Utah could use that right now.
Another sticky wicket! Collison and Thornton are much, much better than what the Hornets ended up getting for them. But given New Orleans' particular cap-related pressure and the fact that Thornton was a surprise success from deep in the second round, we'll toss a nod at Jeff Bower.
Claver could still come over and make an impact, but the reviews are getting less glowing as time goes on.
While the idea that Rodrigue Beaubois was quite recently "untouchable" seems like an elaborate joke, he's still well-considered. Nick Calathes, if he ever turns back this direction, could be even better. But with those two prospects, there's still a lot of uncertainty.
Christian Eyenga (30)
It was the No. 30 pick, and he has an awesome nickname. What's it to you?
There you have it: draft grades for each team that picked in the first round in 2009. What did I miss on? Let me know in the comments, and vote on Memphis' bleak results below.