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NBA Redraftables Reevaluations: Manu, Frédéric Weis, and the Strange 1999 Draft

The best, worst, and Knicksiest moves from a draft that featured one of the all-time greats and all-time busts

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Draft season is here, even if the NBA season isn’t, so we’re taking a look back at some of the most interesting lotteries of the past 24 years. On the Book of Basketball 2.0 feed, Bill Simmons and a rotating cast are redrafting every pick 1-13/14, starting with 1996. Here, we’re going deep on what actually did happen by choosing the best, worst, and Knicksiest move of each class with the gift of hindsight, and also looking at how the numbers would re-rank the lottery board today. (For reference, here’s how the 1999 draft played out.)

Best Move

Manu Ginobili to the Spurs, no. 57

As my Ringer teammate Zach Kram noted Tuesday, the Spurs’ unparalleled run of success wouldn’t have been possible without landing Tim Duncan with the first pick in the 1997 draft. But San Antonio’s rise as a model of consistency and excellence—22 consecutive playoff appearances, 19 50-win seasons, six NBA Finals appearances, and five titles—wouldn’t have happened if the franchise hadn’t also hit the jackpot again with the second-to-last pick two years later.

At the time, nobody knew what the Argentine guard would become. That includes the Spurs (and Duncan, as he admitted at Manu’s jersey retirement). If they had, they would’ve taken him a round earlier, rather than trading the 29th pick (used on Chicago high school star Leon Smith) to Dallas for the 40th pick and a 2000 second-rounder … and then using no. 40 on a different 6-foot-6 guard, Croatian swingman Gordan Giricek.

Back then, Ginobili had just finished his first season of pro ball for Viola Reggio Calabria in Italy’s second division. He didn’t even know it was draft night: “I had checked all the mock drafts, and none of them had me going anywhere,” he told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News in 2013. “So I forgot all about it.”

Emanuel Ginobili drives to the basket Photo by: D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Someone woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him that the Spurs—the reigning NBA champions, who had first seen him playing for Argentina at the 22-and-under World Championships in 1997—had selected him. His response: “‘Are you sure?’ I had no idea they were even looking at me.”

It’s hard to remember now, after years of the Spurs serving as the NBA’s answer to the United Nations, but before 1999, San Antonio had never drafted a player who hadn’t played college ball. They chose Giricek and Ginobili, though, because after winning the title following the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, general manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich had a full and expensive team to keep together. Going draft-and-stash with international prospects who wouldn’t need a roster spot for a year or two gave the Spurs their best shot at holding on to their championship crew.

In the next three seasons, Ginobili exploded into international stardom. He won domestic and EuroLeague championships and MVP honors, and led Argentina’s “Golden Generation” to a historic victory against an underwhelming Team USA at the 2002 FIBA World Championship. Popovich, an assistant on the U.S. squad, told ESPN’s Zach Lowe in 2016 that after the tournament he “told Timmy [Duncan], ‘This guy is coming, and nobody in the U.S. knows how good he is.’”

They would soon enough. Ginobili spent 16 years in San Antonio, and he hoisted four titles, earned two All-Star berths and a pair of All-NBA third-team selections, and won Sixth Man of the Year in 2008. Only three players drafted after Round 1 have ever produced more total win shares; among 1999 draftees, only Shawn Marion equals Ginobili in value over replacement player, even though Manu logged more than 13,000 fewer minutes than “The Matrix” and spent most of his career coming off the bench for the good of the team. Ginobili became a representative icon for San Antonio’s massive Hispanic community; he stands as one of the most important and beloved players in franchise history. Not bad for the second-to-last pick in the draft. As Buford told Lowe: “We got lucky as hell.”

Worst Move

The Knicks drafting Frédéric Weis over Ron Artest at no. 15

We’ll fucking get to it.

Most Underrated Move

Shawn Marion to the Suns, no. 9

It’s not exactly like Marion was, or is, uncelebrated. He made two all-conference teams at UNLV, went in the top 10, and made four All-Star teams during his career. Still, it always feels like Marion’s value to those golden-age Suns teams gets lost in the shuffle.

When we remember Seven Seconds or Less, Marion is typically the fourth person we think about, behind system architect Mike D’Antoni, point guard/test pilot Steve Nash, and pick-and-roll monster Amar’e Stoudemire. But Marion’s ability to fill in the gaps—to use his length and athleticism to defend all five positions, to space the floor as a credible 3-point shooter, to sprint the floor to finish in transition, to bring the ball up to run the break, and to rebound at an elite level—was arguably just as important to unlocking Phoenix’s most explosive and potent lineups. It also helped usher in a sea change in the way lineups were constructed and basketball was played in the years to come.

If you prefer a different definition of “underrated,” maybe we tip our caps to Devean George. Legendary Lakers personnel chief Jerry West plucked the 6-foot-8 forward out of tiny Augsburg College in Minnesota after a pre-draft workout in which head coach Phil Jackson ran him through every position’s role and responsibility in the triangle offense. Earning playing time on a championship juggernaut led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant wasn’t easy, but George would emerge as a mainstay in the Lakers rotation through his seven seasons in L.A. thanks to his defensive versatility and hustle.

Hey, speaking of the Lakers ...

Best What-if

What if the Lakers had taken Andrei Kirilenko?

Kirilenko went one spot after George, 24th overall to Utah. He stayed in Russia for two more seasons before joining the Jazz for the 2001-02 season, and he began the process of finding his footing on a meat-and-potatoes-ass Jazz team led by traditionalist pillars Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone, and John Stockton. Even as a whippet-thin 20-year-old, though, Kirilenko was an evident difference-maker, especially on the defensive end—a long-limbed chameleon who could guard every position, create turnovers in bunches, serve as a supporting playmaker, and generally plug any hole in a given lineup without desperately needing the ball.

BLAZERS v JAZZ X Kirilenko
Andrei Kirilenko
Getty Images

That might have been a pretty useful player to have for a Lakers team perpetually trying to build bridges between Shaq and Kobe—and one that Jackson, who’d coached a versatile and gifted complementary European star earlier in his career in Toni Kukoc, might have been able to deploy at least as well as Sloan. (Possibly even without the tears.) He’d have been an upgrade on the “defense/hustle/energy” role George occupied on the wing, and a legitimate All-Star-caliber sidekick for Bryant during the post-Shaq era. Kobe’s best teams after the Shaq trade featured a highly skilled do-everything 6-foot-10 forward to help facilitate (Lamar Odom) and an all-time European big man (Pau Gasol) to help him finish. If West and Co. had chosen to bring over AK-47, Kobe would’ve had both a lot sooner, and in one package.

Of course, that’s really only the second-biggest what-if of this draft class.

How the Knicks Fucked Up

OK. Now we get to it.

After the Timberwolves took William Avery out of Duke with the 14th overall pick, the Knicks were on the clock. Sitting there waiting for them? Ron Artest, the pride of Queensbridge, who even played his college ball in the city, helping St. John’s advance to the Elite Eight and earning first team All–Big East honors.

Artest was a hard-nosed, versatile defender with an all-around game; he averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game as a sophomore, shooting 37.4 percent from 3-point range, and posted more combined blocks and steals than turnovers. He seemed like a perfect fit for the Knicks—a stylistic tether to the bruising, physical style of the teams that roamed earlier in the decade, and a dynamic infusion of young blood for a roster that made the Finals the previous season.

Daily News back page dated July 1, 1999., FRENCH TWIST, Knic
The Daily News back page from July 1, 1999
Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Instead, New York chose Frédéric Weis, a 7-foot-2 center who’d been an All-Star in France’s top league.

Artest, now famously known as Metta World Peace, told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News last year that he’d blown his shot with the hometown team by getting too drunk the night before his pre-draft workout with the Knicks and just not showing up for it. And while he did develop into an All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, and key cog on a championship Lakers team later in his career, Artest had some struggles on and off the court at multiple stops during his 17-year NBA career related to his mental health. In fairness, there might have been a number of reasons why the Knicks passed on Artest; it’s even possible that, had he gone to New York in the draft, the situation would’ve been untenable for both sides right off the bat.

And yet.

James Posey, a similarly tough, physical defender out of Xavier, came off the board three picks after Weis. Three picks after that came a run of players—Jeff Foster, Kenny Thomas, George, Kirilenko—who all played more than a decade in the league. The latter stages of the first round and early second round included a bunch of other players whose play didn’t exactly sear itself into our collective gray matter—Jumaine Jones, Scott Padgett, Michael Ruffin, Calvin Booth—but who at least managed to stick in the league and earn minutes for a while.

Those players produced some value for their teams, is the point. They played more than zero minutes in the NBA; they contributed something. Weis, on the other hand, made a brief appearance at summer league, and declined to sign his contract in favor of staying in France—a decision he “later admitted regretting” and that was “almost surely influenced by his agent,” who owned a stake in Weis’s French team.

Weis went on to play in Greece and Spain, and suited up for the French national team throughout the 2000s, earning a silver medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics and a bronze at EuroBasket 2005. That’s not why you remember him, though. If you know Weis’s name, it’s because he was Vince Carter’s infamous obstacle in the greatest in-game dunk of all time.

Weis’s story didn’t end there; it’s a lot longer, more complicated, and sadder, as beautifully told by Sam Borden of The New York Times in 2015. But in NBA terms, for all intents and purposes, that’s where it stopped. He never came back to the U.S., never played a second of NBA basketball, and never suited up for the Knicks. Drafting Artest might have wound up being a mistake. Drafting Weis, though, was a legendary disaster.

In-Hindsight Draft Board

Using a mix of two all-encompassing statistics—Basketball-Reference’s win shares and FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR wins above replacement—we calculated the peak and career value for each player drafted (and undrafted) since 1996. (Peak value comprised the top five seasons of a player’s career.) Then, for each class, we ranked the players in three ways: by peak value, by career value, and by an ultimate blend of the two, using baseball’s JAWS model as an example. The first chart shows the top 13 players according to these rankings, while the second looks at the lottery picks that didn’t make the cut. An important caveat is that all of these rankings address regular-season performance only; feel free to mentally adjust placements based on playoff exploits. —Zach Kram

The New Lottery Order

Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Shawn Marion 9 1 1 1
Manu Ginóbili 57 2 2 2
Andre Miller 8 3 8 3
Elton Brand 1 5 3 4
Jason Terry 10 4 6 5
Baron Davis 3 6 4 6
Andrei Kirilenko 24 7 5 7
Lamar Odom 4 9 9 8
Metta World Peace 16 8 10 9
Steve Francis 2 10 7 10
Richard Hamilton 7 11 11 11
Wally Szczerbiak 6 13 12 12
James Posey 18 12 14 13

The Picks Left Behind

Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Jonathan Bender 5 32 33 32
Trajan Langdon 11 31 31 31
Aleksandar Radojević 12 60 60 60
Corey Maggette 13 14 13 14