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NBA Redraftables Reevaluations: What If Chris Paul Had Gone to the Hawks?

The best, worst, and Knicksiest moves of the 2005 draft class

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 2005 draft played out.)

Best Move

Lou Williams to the 76ers, no. 45

Williams’s career has been as steady as a married couple with a routine: He comes off the bench, he scores, he goes home. (His off-the-court career was a bit more … progressive.) His stat lines between the 2007-08 and 2017-18 seasons are virtual carbon copies, with about 14 points, average efficiency, precious few starts, and precious little defense in each. It’s a recipe that’s won him three Sixth Man of the Year awards, tied for the most ever. He’s also one of the rare players who’s managed to peak in the back end of his career—though that’s more a product of how Lou is perceived and empowered than how he’s played. He stepped into an offensive void with the Clippers and became a driving force for the take-no-shit team that took two games off the Warriors in last year’s first round, and even with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George now sharing the ball, Williams has managed to remain an integral part of a team with as good a shot at the title as anyone. Not bad for a guy picked between two draft-and-stashes who played a combined six NBA games.

The second round as a whole was more robust than usual: Brandon Bass, Monta Ellis, Ryan Gomes, Marcin Gortat, Ersan Ilyasova, Amir Johnson, Williams, and the immortal Andray Blatche all got plucked after pick no. 30. In total, eight of the top 20 players in VORP from this draft came in the second round.

Worst Move

Tie: Sean May to the Bobcats, no. 13; Rashad McCants to the Wolves, no. 14

The Tar Heels’ 2005 national championship team produced a record four lottery picks, but these two lasted just four seasons. Injuries and weight issues limited May early and often, including an entire missed season in 2007-08. When Larry Brown took over as head coach, he flat out refused to play May until he got into shape. McCants, meanwhile, just wasn’t very good. After being selected first overall in the inaugural season of the Big 3, he claimed he was “blackballed” from the NBA and that his relationship with Khloe Kardashian gave NBA teams a reason to doubt his commitment. “Without that situation in play, I’m a $60-70 million player,” McCants told the Charlotte Observer in 2017. “Easily.” Both players finished their careers in Sacramento, where all dreams go to die.

Most Underrated Move

Danny Granger to Indiana, no. 17

Granger’s heyday feels like it should be on reel-to-reel, but it was only a decade ago that he was an All-Star averaging 20-plus points for Indiana. He was basically Beta Test Paul George. In 2012, he also paved the way for Lance Stephenson as the Guy Who Makes a Big Public Display Against LeBron:

Alas, leg injuries chopped Granger down in his prime, and before you knew it, he was out of the league. Still, Granger ranks fifth in this draft class in VORP, despite officially playing only seven healthy seasons.

Best What-if

The Hawks choose Chris Paul over Marvin Williams at no. 2

Paul was so sure he would be selected by Atlanta that he got up from his table on draft day when the second overall pick was being announced. “They pretty much told me they were picking me,” he said last year. “I found a house [in Gwinnett County] and everything.” Instead they went with Williams, a backup on North Carolina’s national championship team, and a decade of mediocrity followed.

Williams’s career turned out fine; it took him about a decade and a switch to the 4, before stretch 4s were mass-produced, to make a meaningful impact, but it’s hard to call a player still getting rotation minutes in Year 15 a bust. (The Hawks’ selection of Shelden Williams at no. 5 the following year is the true malpractice.) But passing on a generational point guard, as well as a multi-time All-Star point guard in Deron Williams, will sting more. Given the good but not great talent Paul turned into chicken salad in New Orleans, it’s hard to imagine Atlanta would’ve been any worse than the Hornets were in the next six seasons.

The more interesting question is if a CP-led Hawks team would’ve been good enough to propel Paul into the Finals, sparing him of decades of snark to come. On one hand, Billy Knight was in charge, so there’s a good chance Atlanta would’ve found a way to ruin the Paul era. Paul was also good enough to immediately get the Hornets playing near-.500 ball, even after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, making top-five picks in 2006 (Williams) and 2007 (Al Horford) unlikely. But the Hawks would’ve still had the cap space to sign-and-trade for Joe Johnson later in the summer of 2005, giving them one of the best top twos in the East for the next half-decade.

Paul and Iso Joe almost certainly would’ve jostled for the ball—Johnson said upon signing that he “loved the idea” of being Atlanta’s point guard. But the East was wide open before the Big Three teamed up in Boston, and a core of Paul, Johnson, Al Harrington (traded in 2006 to fill the PG role with Acie Law), Josh Childress, and Zaza Pachulia, plus a 2006 lottery pick, would’ve been enough to challenge LeBron James’s upstart Cavs and a Pistons team at the end of its rope. But, hey, making the second round a few times is cool, too.

How the Knicks Fucked Up

Know the theory about monkeys on typewriters eventually writing the complete works of Shakespeare? This is like that for Knicks draft picks. At no. 8, New York selected Channing Frye, a way-ahead-of-his-time stretch big man who played 13 years and hosted one of the only nonterrible athlete podcasts. Then, with the last pick of the first round, it selected David Lee, perhaps the best homegrown Knicks player since Patrick Ewing. That’s a lower bar than it sounds, considering how many picks New York punted, either in trades or through its own flubbed drafting, but Lee carved out a solid career in spite of the never-ending circus around him.

When the visionary frontcourt of Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph stunningly flamed out, Lee rose to a starting spot and turned into a double-double machine for an improbably fun pre-Melo Knicks team. In 2009-10, he became the first Knicks representative at the All-Star Game in nearly a decade; naturally, the Knicks dumped him to sign Amar’e Stoudemire a few months later. Lee may forever be remembered as the player whose injury gave rise to a revolution, but he averaged 19 and 10 in the five seasons before that.

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 14 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
Chris Paul 4 1 1 1
Deron Williams 3 2 2 2
David Lee 30 4 4 3
Lou Williams 45 3 6 4
Marcin Gortat 57 6 5 5
Amir Johnson 56 5 9 6
Danny Granger 17 11 3 7
Marvin Williams 2 7 12 8
Andrew Bogut 1 9 8 9
Monta Ellis 40 12 7 10
Ersan İlyasova 36 8 13 11
Raymond Felton 5 10 11 12
Channing Frye 8 13 14 13
Andrew Bynum 10 16 10 14

The Lotto Picks Left Behind

Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Martell Webster 6 21 18 20
Charlie Villanueva 7 23 24 25
Ike Diogu 9 37 41 39
Yaroslav Korolev 12 71 73 72
Sean May 13 45 46 45
Rashad McCants 14 34 35 34