2007 NBA Draft Class – Grades & Analysis: Do Kevin Durant and Al Horford departures re-write history?

Conjuring memories of their much-maligned Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan draft decision in the 1980s, the Portland Trail Blazers’ like-minded selection of injury-plagued big man Greg Oden over superstar small forward Kevin Durant with the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft will forever live in infamy. 

Oden’s career spanned…parts of three NBA seasons. Durant won an MVP award and four scoring titles while leading the Oklahoma City Thunder (still the Seattle Supersonics when they drafted him) to four appearances in the Western Conference Finals and one in the NBA Finals.

But a lot can happen in nine years, and although the Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks got great production out of their top 3 draft picks in 2007—Durant and big man Al Horford, respectively—they just lost both stars for nothing in free agency during the 2016 offseason. In that sense, the “winner” of the 2007 draft isn’t so clear-cut. In fact, if you look at today’s Trail Blazers, they’re in fairly similar shape as the Thunder despite choosing Oden over Durant.

Nine years later, we grade the top 10 picks of the 2007 NBA Draft, identify some hidden gems, and reflect on some lessons we learned. The big question: Do this summer's free agency departures of Durant, Horford, and Joakim Noah "re-write" the history of good draft picks for their former teams?

2007 NBA DRAFT GRADES: TOP 10 PICKS

1. Portland Trail Blazers: Greg Oden

Grade: D

Why not an F for the Blazers here, given that Oden couldn’t stay on the court and the guy they passed up, Durant, at one time was considered an undisputed top-2 player in the league before the rise of Stephen Curry? Well, while you can blame Portland for choosing the wrong player in the Oden vs. Durant pre-draft debate, it wasn’t an outlandish selection at the time. The Blazers made the pick in an era—unlike today’s NBA—when elite big men were still presumed to be a ticket to the championship. So their pick doesn’t get the lowest-possible grade.

2. Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder): Kevin Durant

Grade: A

KD put Oklahoma City on the NBA map with career averages of 27.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Will his departure to the Golden State Warriors in free agency, in turn, crush OKC? The Thunder were able to extend fellow superstar Russell Westbrook’s contract this summer, thus maintaining some character from the Durant era and charting a new course for the franchise that might still lead to contender status down the road. As for the 2007 draft pick itself, although they’re now left with nothing, they got nine great years out of Durant.

3. Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford

Grade: A

Just like Durant, Horford left the only NBA team he ever knew this offseason after nine productive years—14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Those stats don’t really do Horford justice, as they don’t reveal his impact on defense, his development of an effective outside shot in recent years, and his broader contributions towards making the Hawks a perennial playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Despite Horford leaving for Boston, the Hawks—who replaced him at center with Dwight Howard—should remain a playoff team in the East. For that, they can thank the culture of success they built during the Horford era.

4. Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Jr.

Grade: A

Akin to Horford, Conley’s career stats with Memphis—13.6 points and 5.6 assists per game—don’t tell the whole story of his contributions to the franchise, which has found stability at the point guard spot and has become a perennial playoff team just like the Hawks. Unlike the Hawks with Horford and the Thunder with Durant, Memphis will benefit from further continuity from their successful 2007 draft pick after re-signing Conley to a long-term contract this offseason. The Grizzlies also deserve credit for being patient with Conley during a few leaner years for team and player alike earlier in his career, allowing Memphis to maximize its asset in the long run.

5. Boston Celtics: Jeff Green (traded to Seattle for Ray Allen)

Grade for Boston: A+

Grade for Seattle (now Oklahoma City): B+ 

This one gets a bit complicated. The Celtics drafted Green and then traded him as part of a package to get Ray Allen, who teamed with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to win a championship in the star trio’s first season together. Just for that one championship, the trade was well worth it for Boston, especially because Green—while not a bust—has never developed into a star. You also can’t blame the Thunder (then Supersonics) for that trade, given that Allen didn’t fit into the team’s youth/rebuilding movement at the time. Green had a few productive seasons as part of the Thunder’s core before they traded him—ironically, to Boston—for center Kendrick Perkins, who had an up-and-down tenure with OKC but was part of their team that reached the 2012 NBA Finals. A Finals appearance isn’t a championship, so the Celtics won the 2007 trade. The question for the Thunder is, could they have gotten more for Ray Allen?

6. Milwaukee Bucks: Yi Jianlian

Grade: D

Perhaps looking for the next Yao Ming, Milwaukee gambled on Chinese big man Yi, who only played one season for the Bucks and five seasons in the NBA (with career averages of 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game). A safer big man choice for Milwaukee in this draft could’ve been Joakim Noah, who was coming off back-to-back national championships with the Florida Gators, or even Spencer Hawes. They did display some courage with the Yi pick, so for that, they avoid an F grade.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Corey Brewer

Grade: B-

The lanky Brewer, though not a star, did turn into a good role player and defender at the swingman positions. Unfortunately for Minnesota, his skills were ultimately more valuable to a contender than to a rebuilding franchise. But when you look at the players selected after him, you can’t really say the Wolves missed out on much by choosing Brewer.

8. Charlotte Bobcats: Brandan Wright (traded to Golden State for Jason Richardson)

Grade for Charlotte: C

Grade for Golden State: C

In another trade within the 2007 draft’s top 10, both teams weren’t vastly affected. The Bobcats wanted an established scorer and got one in Richardson, though he didn’t translate into more wins and was traded again in just his second year with Charlotte. The Warriors, coming off an epic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, couldn’t find enough minutes and touches for all their wing scorers, so they dealt one of them for what they hoped would be added dimensions of defense and athleticism in their frontcourt. But Wright, the high-upside North Carolina product, could never stay healthy. You can’t blame either team for their logic in making the trade, but the move just didn’t move the needle for anyone.

9. Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah

Grade: A

Like Durant and Horford, Noah left the only team he had played for in free agency this summer. But also like Durant and Horford, he spent nine season as the heart and soul of a franchise. Chicago scored a couple of top seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but not a Finals appearance, during the Noah era—largely thanks to the center’s defensive intensity and all-around game. Like former Bulls teammate and now Knicks teammate Derrick Rose, Noah was eventually derailed by injuries. But his time with Chicago will be remembered fondly, and he was a good value pick at No. 9.

10. Sacramento Kings: Spencer Hawes

Grade: C+

The offensive-minded big man spent three mildly productive seasons in Sacramento (peaking at 11.4 points and 7 rebounds a game in year two) before the Kings traded him to Philadelphia. He has never averaged more than 13.5 points per game, but has improved his 3-point shot over time, making him a potential asset coming off the bench for contending teams. The center the Kings traded him for, Sam Dalembert, was an improvement on the defensive end but only spent one season in Sacramento. Perhaps the Kings could’ve gotten more out of the Hawes pick.

2007 NBA DRAFT PICK HIDDEN GEMS 

27. Arron Afflalo: The 3-and-D shooting guard started slow but has ended up with a productive career, averaging 11.6 points per game and 38.5 percent shooting from deep for five teams. Joined his sixth team, Sacramento, this offseason.

28. Tiago Splitter: In typical Spurs fashion, San Antonio found a solid international player with a relatively low draft pick. The Brazilian center started for the Spurs’ 2013-14 championship team, but was eventually traded to Atlanta to make room for the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge.

31. Carl Landry: This journeyman power forward can score—10.8 points in 22.5 minutes per game for his career—but has seen his relevance drop in recent years with losing teams in Sacramento and Philadelphia.

35. Glen Davis: “Big Baby” won a championship with Boston as a rookie and contributed to subsequent contending Celtics squads, including 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 2010-11, before he was traded to Orlando for Brandon Bass in a lateral move for both teams. The rest of his career was plagued by injuries.

48. Marc Gasol: The true hidden gem of this draft was an afterthought while getting traded to Memphis as part of a package for his own brother, Pau. But the younger Gasol’s career is hardly an afterthought, as Marc developed into one of the best two-way centers in the league, a franchise cornerstone for the Grizzlies, and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

2007 NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: LESSONS LEARNED

A good draft pick can change a franchise—even if the player eventually leaves

Durant (Thunder), Horford (Hawks), and Noah (Bulls) all left their teams in 2016 free agency, leaving the squads that drafted them with nothing in return. But they all gave their initial franchises nine solid years and changed the cultures of those teams for the better. The Thunder, Hawks, and Bulls are all better off for having those players—even in their current absence. In that sense, free agency departures years later don’t re-write the history of a good draft pick.

It’s no longer a big man’s league

What if Greg Oden actually stayed healthy? Would he have been the right pick over Durant? Doubtful. During Oden’s brief time on the court, he showed glimpses of potential, but nothing near the superstardom of KD. Durant, as it turns out, would have been a better pick for the Blazers not just because of his health, but because of his significance as an elite wing scorer in an era that has increasingly de-emphasized offensively challenged big men like Oden.

Time can heal the wounds of a bad draft pick

Yes, the Blazers were set back by choosing Oden over Durant, but nine years later they’re in essentially the same position as the team that scored KD. Portland weathered the free agency loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to make a surprising run to the second round of the playoffs this past season. Oklahoma City, coming off a Conference Finals appearance, lost Durant to Golden State and now actually seems to be in the same boat as Portland talent-wise. That being said, not picking Durant in 2007 is still a haunting “What if?” scenario for the Blazers.

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