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From Past to Future: Part Two


It's part 2 of the "from past to future" series that focuses on our very own, Anthony Davis. What I tried to do in this series is to look at the performance of former #1 picks in the first 4 years of their term, how these numbers compare to Anthony Davis' college statistics, and how former #1 picks compared to our recent #1 pick. We look at how those teams built their teams around those players from the moment they were picked to the day they left/retired and how those organizations evolved - their roster, front office, sideline personnel. For players drafted before 2002, I'll be depending on Basketball Reference's "transactions" page and to Wikipedia (hopefully the information there is accurate) for other information. For players drafted from 2003 onwards, I'll be adding my own account of what happened back then.

First up is Shaquille O'neal, Tim Duncan, Elton Brand and Yao Ming.

Shaquille O'Neal - Orlando Magic (1992 - 1996), Junior from LSU

Before the team drafted Shaquille O'neal, they already had 2 players that would become a part of the 1st championship contender team assembled by Orlando - Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott. Other than those two, nobody on that 1991-1992 team deserves to be mentioned. Nick Anderson was the franchise's first ever draft lottery selection. From the few clips I watched on him, I saw a player who was a "power" perimeter player - one who used his strength to score from the perimeter. Over time, he slowly developed a 3-PT shot that further extended his career. Dennis Scott was without a doubt a prolific 3-PT shooter. Besides his injury plagued sophomore season, he was always Orlando's designated shooter.

Shaq's rookie season saw the team either miss out on all their free agent signings. Since I had no idea of the reputation of the players they pursued, what I did was look at the past season of those players and see what the Magic were trying to do. Outside of Steve Kerr (who at that time showed a glimpse of becoming a designated shooter), none of the players they pursued did anything significant in season prior to their arrival to warrant any attention. Roster stability from 1991/92 to 1992/93 = 50%. Ownership stability was good since the team was just transferred from DuPont to DeVos.

(Note: Roster stability is calculated by subtracting the amount of players who played a significant amount of time who left to the total number of players who played a significant amount of time. "Significant amount of time" is anyone who's played more than 800 min in a season. In the case above, of the 12 players who played 800 minutes, 6 players left giving us a roster stability of 50%. For comparison purposes, a roster stability of 70% is considered stable. This number was taken from the assumption that a team's core should form a core of 7 players with 3 interchangeable role players giving us a roster stability of 7/10 = 70%)

In an unexpected turn of events, the Orlando Magic would win the #1 overall pick AGAIN. However, they immediately traded #1 overall pick Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors for a package that included Anfernee Hardaway (just for fun, there were 3 other 1st round picks included in the deal. 1 of those eventually became Vince Carter and the other eventually became Mike Miller). The rest of the season saw the Magic miss out on (for the second straight season) all their prospective players. On the sideline, Brian Hill was promoted as head coach. That team would then post a season record of 50-32, earning a 4th seed in the playoffs where they would eventually be swept by the Pacers. Roster Stability from 1992/93 - 1993/94 = 87.5%

Following their 1st trip to the post season, the Magic decided to up the ante. They signed Horace Grant to a weirdly constructed contract (it was a heavily backloaded contract) and signed role player Brian Shaw to vacate the spot left by Scott Skiles (fun fact, Skiles was traded with Carter & Miller for nobodies. LOL). They were also able to find a gem in Darren Armstrong later in the season. It is worth noting that Orlando missed on their rookie selection here (#27, Brooke Thompson) who would go on to be a nobody. Orlando would then go on to the 1995 NBA Finals where they were beaten by a much more experienced team in the Houston Rockets. Roster Stability from 1993/94 to 1994/95 = 87.5%

In the off season that followed, the Magic did not do anything significant or hit on any gems. There would also be some movement in the front office where GM Pat Williams was promoted to Senior Executive VP. The GM vacancy was filled by VP for Basketball Ops John Gabriel. It should also be noted that the Magic missed on their rookie selection (#25, David Vaughn). They would still go on to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were swept by eventual NBA Champs, the Chicago Bulls. Roster Stability from 1994/95 to 1995/96 = 89%

The Big Shaqtus eventually spurned the Magic. According to wiki, the major reason why Shaq left Orlando was not only for the money and for the bright lights but because of the disrespect he felt from the Orlando community. From the Orlando Sentinel's poll, the public voted that he was not worth 115 million dollars (reported number offered by Magic. I think they were stupid to think he wasn't worth that). The Penny Hardaway conflict and Orlando's general view of O'neal as "not a good role model" for having a son with his longtime girlfriend, with no immediate plans to marry.

Tim Duncan - San Antonio Spurs (1997 - present), Senior from Wake Forest

Evaluating the Spurs ability to keep Duncan is very hard because they've actually been able to keep him for 15 years now. Instead of going through it season by season, what I'll do instead is evaluate the team's roster prior to Duncan's arrival, the team's draft picks from 1998 to present, their signings and trades that turned good, roster stability and other front office issues.

Before Duncan was drafted by San Antonio, it is worth noting that San Antonio actually had a pretty decent team. San Antonio was a playoff contender before then led by David Robinson, Sean Elliot, Avery Johnson and Vinny Del Negro. Except for Del Negro (who would sign as FA with Bucks), all 3 became core pieces in the first few years of Duncan's arrival.

From 1998 to the present, There were a total of 14 drafts where the Spurs picked a total of 32 times. Of those 32 picks, they picked 11 times in the 1st round and 21 times in the 2nd round. Of those 11 1st round draft choices, 7 would go on to be an important piece either as a trade chip or as a player, 3 would be complete busts because they didn't get anything of value from them as trade chips or as a player and 1 is still undecided. Of the 21 times they've drafted in the 2nd round, they would got something of value 6 times either as a player or as a trade chip (Ginobili, Goran Dragic for Dejuan Blair in the future (2 hits), Randy Holcomb (w/ Salmons) for Claxton, Scola for De Colo (2 hits)).

For the Spurs signings and trade, because the core was already set with Robinson, Elliot and Johnson in the 1st part of Duncan's career, all they were had to do was fill the team with role players either via trades or signings. They were able to do so with names like Del Negro (already under contract before Duncan came), our very own Monty Williams, Will Perdue, Jaren Jackson, Malik Rose, Mario Elie, Chuck Person, Steve Kerr, Terry Porter, Antonio Daniels, Derek Anderson, Danny Ferry, Bruce Bowen, Steve Smith. All of them played significant roles while being good at those minutes at one point in their careers with the Spurs.

For the 2nd part of Duncan's career, from 2003 to 2009, the team was littered with all sorts of signings and trades. They were able to get a new core (after the flux that happened after their previous core started to retire, one-by-one) which included Ginobili, Parker and Bowen.

The years from 2009 to present is actually a transition phase, where the team is trying to find a 4th member of their core (after Duncan, Ginobili and Parker).

In the period from 2003 to 2009, San Antonio's roster was filled with tons of great signings and trades. Most of them went on to play significant roles with the team. Some names are Robert Horry, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen (who became a part of the 2nd core), Rasho Nesterovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Gary Neal, Antonio McDyess, Roger Mason, Ime Udoka, Barry etc..

One thing that's worth mentioning is that it is widely believed that the only "mistake" that the Spurs did between 2003 to present was the extension of Richard Jefferson (where they actually got a serviceable Jackson and 1st round pick from).

There wasn't much front office movement since Duncan came into town since Gregg Popovich was their only coach since then. There has been lots of movement in the front office part but RC Buford has been by and large, a constant in the front office of San Antonio. Also, the ownership stayed steady under Peter Holt.

Lastly, a list detailing the team's roster stability since Duncan arrived:

Duncan's Year Roster Stability
1st 70%
2nd 55.6%
3rd 100%
4th 80%
5th 60%
6th 70%
7th 60%
8th 87.5%
9th 80%
10th 62.5%
11th 90%
12th 100%
13th 70%
14th 80%
15th 77.8%

Yao Ming - Houston Rockets (2002 - 2011), from Shanghai Sharks in China

Before Yao's arrival, the team really only had 2 significant pieces in Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. Francis was a scoring PG - one of the first few. He was a quick and athletic player who drew a ton of fouls. Cuttino Mobley was a designated shooter who could, on occasion, create shots for himself and for others.

In Yao's first few years in the league, those 3 would become the core of the Rockets franchise. They however, couldn't fill their team with enough role players in the next 2 years nor could they hit on their draft picks (either as trade chips or as players themselves). They didn't have a 1st round pick in those 2 years and both of their 2nd round selections were duds. The only trade I'd consider a success was the Posey trade, and even that was just a rental.

Their big break came in Yao's 3rd season. They replaced the struggling and ill Rudy T. with Jeff Van Gundy. They also traded both of their previous core to form a dynamic duo in Tracy McGrady - who at that time was considered to be one, if not, the best player in the NBA. This dynamic duo lasted until 2009/10, when TMac was traded to the NYK. 2009/10 would also be the "last" season of Yao's career. 2010/11 saw him try to play, but after 5 games, he decided to call it quits.

In that span (almost 5 years), the Rockets had 7 draft selections (4 1st round selections, 3 2nd round selections). Of the 4 1st round selections, they were able to get some value from 3 of them (Luther Head, Aaron Brooks and Rudy Gay who was traded for Shane Battier). They found a gem on one of their 2nd round selections (selecting Steve Novak).

In that same span, the Rockets found some success from the FA and trade market, mostly by signing/trading for aging veterans to surround their dynamic duo. Some names of note are Jon Barry, David Wesley, Bob Sura, Mutombo, Mike James, and Bobby Jackson. Their best deals usually came from the trade market. They got Carl Landry (an important player in the latter years of the core) for peanuts, they also got Shane Battier from Memphis, Kyle Lowry from Memphis (again), Ron Artest from Sacramento and Kevin Martin from Sacramento (again).

There were lots of front office changes as well, most prominently Daryl Morey's ascent to GM status. On the ownership side, Leslie Alexander continued to be a steady presence for the organization. Lastly, here is a list of Houston's roster stability. The Rockets were playoff flops at best in Yao's time, with their best performance coming when TMac was injured, advancing to the 2nd round where they went toe-to-toe with eventual NBA Champs, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Finally, a list of the roster stability in Yao's time:

Yao's year Roster Stability
1st 70%
2nd 67%
3rd 50%
4th 60%
5th 67%
6th 88%
7th 88%
8th 72%

Elton Brand - Chicago Bulls (1999 - 2001)/ Los Angeles Clippers from (2001 - 2008), Sophomore from Duke

For Elton Brand, it was a really weird situation to be in. He was drafted 1st overall by the Chicago Bulls but was traded 2 years after being drafted to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Chicago Bulls decided to reboot after only 2 years with Elton Brand at the helm. This was probably because of the fact that they missed out on all their signings, trades and drafts in those 2 years, With the opportunity of rebooting again, this time with two 7-foot HS phenoms, they decided to cut early on Brand (who had a spectacular 2 years in CHI).

It's better to analyze the Los Angeles Clippers, where Brand played for almost 7 years. Before Brand's arrival, the LAC had lots of potential with Lamar Odom, Corey Maggette, Olowakandi, Quentin Richardson and Darius Miller. However, from those 5 players, Odom, Maggette and QRich were the only players who were really worth something.

In those 7 years, the Clippers drafted 6 times in the 1st round (all of them in the lottery) and drafted 7 times in the 2nd round. NONE of those 1st round picks amounted into anything. Kaman was the only one who amounted into anything. Livingston had some potential until his freaky injury. Their biggest bust might be drafting Yaroslav Korolev (who played a total of 168 minutes in 2 season of action). They were able to find mild value in 2 of the 2nd round picks (one was involved in a deal for Sam Cassell, the other was for Daniel Ewing).

The Los Angeles Clippers were only able to make three (by my count) signings and trades that amounted into anything. First is the Sam Cassell trade, the other is the Andre Miller trade and finally the Mobley signing. Other than that, they had a bunch of nobodies and one bad singing I particularly remember (Bobby Simmons).

In those 7 years, LAC actually had 2 different cores around Brand. There was the Quentin, Maggette, Dooling core (a pretty weak core, if you asked me). And then there was the Maggette, Kaman, Mobley Cassell core.

On the front office and sideline area, although Donald Sterling was the owner throughout Brand's time with them, they were still a dysfunctional org largely because Sterling was their owner. Sterling has been known as a bad owner.

It's worth mentioning that the Los Angeles Clippers had a different timeline from most teams drafting #1 because they received Brand in his 2nd season. Also, Brand was a restricted FA back in 2003, so they had a much longer timeline to build a contender around Brand.

Elton Brand then made a two-faced move on the Los Angeles Clippers. They were then talking about adding Baron Davis into the mix, to go along with Maggette and Brand. I remember Elton Brand opting out on the final year of his contract to provide some flexibility to the Clippers organization to improve the roster. However, after the Clippers and Baron Davis verbally agreed on a contract, Elton Brand went ahead and signed with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Finally, here is a list of the Roster Stability of the Los Angeles Clippers in Brand's time:

Brand's year Roster Stability
1st 90%
2nd 62.5%
3rd 45.5%
4th 36.4%
5th 54.5%
6th 89%
7th 87.5%

For Part Three, we will be looking at David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing - all 3 stayed with their teams for the majority of their careers. The analysis above showed some interesting things on the history of big men drafted #1. I'll talk about it more in the last part of this series. For now, enjoy!