2009 NBA Draft: Positions still matter

The Clippers (Blake Griffin), Warriors (Stephen Curry), and Raptors (DeMar Derozan) got franchise cornerstones. So did the Thunder with James Harden, but they eventually traded him away in a much-maligned move. Minnesota controversially stocked up on point guards, and unfortunately for the Wolves, none of those point guards were named Steph Curry.

Seven years later, we look back on the 2009 NBA Draft—grading the top 10 picks, identifying the hidden gems, and reflecting on some lessons we learned.

 

2009 NBA Draft Grades: TOP 10 PICKS

 

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin

Grade: A

Griffin missed his first season due to injury, but once healthy he became an instant stud in the Clippers’ frontcourt, electrifying fans with his dunking and posting 21.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game in six seasons. He has the chance to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season. Griffin was the conventional pick for the Clippers and has lived up to the hype, even if his star doesn’t shine as bright as that of the top player in this draft, Curry. Some criticize his game for having more style than substance, but together with Chris Paul he has elevated the Clippers to relevance…just not further than the second round of the playoffs.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet

Grade: F

The 7-foot-3 big man was a certified bust, putting up paltry stats in just a season and a half in Memphis and never catching on in subsequent stops in Houston, Portland, and Oklahoma City. Even worse, the Grizzlies chose Thabeet despite having their current star center, Marc Gasol, already on the roster. Memphis still become a perennial playoff team, but missed the chance to become an even stronger contender by striking out on the second overall pick.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden

Grade: A

Before becoming the superstar he is today, Harden was the Sixth Man of the Year and made it to an NBA Finals with the Thunder. Attempting to avoid the luxury tax, OKC dealt The Beard to Houston for a package of players and picks that yielded only one valuable contributor for the Thunder—defensive-minded center Steven Adams. Like Griffin, Harden isn’t quite the superstar that Curry is, but he’s an elite all-around player (on the offensive end) and was the right pick for OKC’s emerging young core at the time. So for the pick itself, they get an A. In trading Harden three years later, the Thunder misjudged the future spike in the NBA salary cap. Looking back, the big bucks they paid to retain big man Enes Kanter in restricted free agency could’ve gone to Harden. At least they salvaged Adams, who is likely their starting 5 for years to come, from a draft pick they received in the Harden deal.

4. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans

Grade: B-

Evans showed great potential as a tall point guard in his first season, averaging solid all-around numbers of 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds a game. With Blake Griffin injured, he even won the Rookie of the Year award. Yet Evans peaked early, maintaining decent all-around stats throughout his seven seasons but never surpassing his rookie campaign. After four seasons, Sacramento shipped him to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade deal that netted no major pieces for the Kings. Though the 2009 draft pick looked good at first, Sacramento might’ve been better off choosing a more pure distributing point guard.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio

Grade: B

The Spanish point guard spent two more years overseas before joining the Wolves. Once in the NBA, he instantly became an effective and entertaining distributor at the 1, but has struggled to stay healthy and has never improved his weak shooting. Minnesota scores some points on the draft grade for still retaining Rubio today. Even though drafting point guard Kris Dunn with their latest selection means the franchise is essentially pulling the plug on the Rubio experiment, Rubio is a tradable asset on a reasonable contract (4 years, $56 million).

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn

Grade: F

After choosing Rubio, the Wolves shockingly selected another point guard one pick later. Too bad it wasn’t Curry, who enters the next NBA season as the two-time defending league MVP. Curry’s historically great 3-point shooting would look pretty good next to the shooting-deficient Rubio in Minnesota’s backcourt right now, wouldn’t it? Flynn got to start as a rookie while Rubio stayed overseas, averaging 13.5 points a game that season but quickly flaming out in his second year—even before Rubio arrived to take his place. Perhaps it’s too easy to blast the Wolves for not choosing Curry. Their real mistake was picking point guards with back-to-back selections (not to mention another 1, Ty Lawson, with the 18th pick before trading him to Denver). Getting help at a different position would’ve been the sensible thing to do.

7. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

Grade: A+

Two MVPs, one championship, the best regular season in NBA history, and possibly already the best shooter in league history after only seven seasons. Need we say more? Oh right, forgot one thing…he’s making $12 million this coming season. That’s $3 million less than Timofey Mozgov.

8. New York Knicks: Jordan Hill

Grade: D-

With their fans demoralized after missing out on Curry by one spot, there isn’t much the Knicks could’ve done here to soften the blow. It was true on draft night and it’s even more true seven years later, given how Curry’s career has played out. Jordan Hill is far from exciting, but he has developed into a decent role player in this league at either frontcourt position. It’s hard to give the Knicks an F because they didn’t choose to miss out on Curry. But the minus attached to their D is for trading him just 24 games into his New York career. Hill wouldn’t have been the Knicks’ game-changer, but dealing with so quickly means they got nothing from this pick.

9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar Derozan

Grade: A

The swingman has averaged 18 points a game in seven years with the Raptors, including a career-high 23.5 last season. The franchise locked him up for the long run with a new contract this summer, following an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Looking back, there wasn’t a better player than Derozan selected after the ninth pick in 2009, so there’s no criticizing any aspect of this choice for the Raptors.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings

Grade: A-

Like Tyreke Evans, Jennings didn’t see much progress after his productive rookie season (15.5 points, 5.7 assists per game). Most disconcerting is a .390 shooting percentage for his career. So what earns the Bucks an A- grade here? After four seasons, they turned Jennings into Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton in a sign-and-trade deal with the Pistons. They later turned Knight into Michael Carter-Williams and Miles Plumlee. The jury is still out on Carter-Williams and Plumlee, but Middleton is now a fixture in the Bucks’ starting lineup as a solid 3-point shooter with great size (6-foot-8) at either swingman position.

 

2009 NBA DRAFT PICK HIDDEN GEMS 

 

19. Jeff Teague: 12.1 points and 5.2 assists per game for his career; traded to Indiana in the offseason after previously playing only for Atlanta, the team that drafted him.

21. Darren Collison: Another productive point guard in this point guard-rich draft; 12.6 points and 4.9 assists per game while alternating between starting and backup roles; should start in Sacramento this season after Rajon Rondo departed in free agency.

23. Omri Casspi: The Israeli forward bounced around the league for a few years but returned to the Kings, the team that drafted him, and just enjoyed his best season (11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, 40.9 percent shooting from 3-point range).

26. Taj Gibson: 9.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game for his career—so far all with Chicago—while alternating starting and backup roles; this will be a contract year for the power forward, and his time with the retooling Bulls may soon come to an end.

27. DeMarre Carroll: 3-and-D small forward who bounced around the league before breaking out as a starter in his fifth and sixth seasons, including a campaign of 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game during the Hawks’ surprise 60-win season in 2014-15; cashed in with a long-term contract in Toronto.

42. Patrick Beverley: Now entrenched as the starting point guard in Houston; won’t stuff the stat sheet, but is a pesky defender and decent 3-point shooter (37.3 percent for career).

46. Danny Green: After one season in Cleveland, found a long-term home in San Antonio and turned himself into the Spurs’ starter at shooting guard, nailing 40.3 percent for his career from 3-point range and hitting a scorching 55 percent from deep in the 2013 Finals against Miami; won a title in a 2014 Finals rematch with the Heat.

55. Patty Mills: Another point guard and another Spurs’ mainstay; plays a starring role on Australia’s national team and a solid backup role in the NBA; 10.2 points in less than 20 minutes per game during San Antonio’s 2013-14 title campaign; 39-percent shooter from 3 for his career.

 

2009 NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: LESSONS LEARNED

 

Positions matter

Versatility is highly valued in today’s NBA, the Warriors have dominated the league with an unconventional small-ball “Death Lineup,” and teams are often advised to draft the “best player available regardless of position. But the 2009 draft reminds us that conventional NBA positions exist for a reason and that positional fits shouldn’t be completely ignored in the draft. The Grizzlies were enticed by Hasheem Thabeet’s size even though Marc Gasol was already showing flashes of being their long-term answer at center. Minnesota’s stunning selection of back-to-back point guards is probably the most memorable—and infamous—moment of this draft. If one of those selections were Steph Curry, the Wolves inefficient drafting could have been forgiven. But as it stands, they passed up a transformational superstar for not one, but two lesser players at the same position, while failing to help their roster at multiple spots.

Continuity matters

While player movement is all the rage in the NBA offseason and at the February trade deadline, the 2009 draft produced some stars who have bucked that trend. For Curry and Golden State, Griffin and Los Angeles, and Derozan and Toronto, continuity has been a benefit for player and team alike. Curry’s Warriors won a title and built a superteam, while the Clippers and Raptors aren’t elite teams, but are consistent playoff contenders with the help of Griffin and Derozan.

Don’t judge a player by his rookie season

Tyreke Evans looked like a star as a rookie, but never progressed. The same goes for Brandon Jennings. Curry was also solid as a rookie (17.5 points and 5.9 assists per game), yet nobody could have imagined the scope of his current superstardom. Jordan Hill looked like a bust with the Knicks, who swiftly traded him, but he turned into a serviceable big man. Danny Green and Patty Mills looked irrelevant as rookies in Cleveland and Portland, respectively, but became valuable contributors with San Antonio.

Jacob Kamaras

Brooklyn native, ashamed of the 2013 Pierce/Garnett trade and the Nets' future draft pick status. Journalist/editor by trade. NBA Trade Machine addict. Lives in Houston. Craft beer aficionado.

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