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NBA Redraftables Reevaluations: The Big Brandon Roy What-If

The best, worst, and Knicksiest moves from the 2006 draft class

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 2006 draft played out.)

Best Move

Kyle Lowry to the Grizzlies, no. 24

If it seems like Lowry has played his entire NBA career with a chip on his shoulder, you can probably blame the 2006 draft. That night, Lowry was the ninth guard, second Villanova star, and 24th player overall to hear his name called. That’s a slight that undoubtedly didn’t sit well with the temperamental floor general—and it appears he took it out on the rest of the league. Fourteen years later, he’s arguably the best player to emerge from his class.

Viewed as undersized and not explosive enough out of college, Lowry has gone on to become a six-time All-Star and was the heart of the title-winning Raptors. Unfortunately, the team that drafted him never reaped any of those benefits. The Grizzlies elected to groom a young Mike Conley Jr. as their point guard of the future instead (not exactly a bad call), and traded Lowry after two and a half seasons to the Rockets. After breaking out in Houston, Lowry butted heads with coach Kevin McHale and was dumped to the Raptors in 2012 in one of the decade’s most regrettable deals.

Lowry blossomed into an All-NBA talent in Toronto. He’s fourth among 2006 picks in total minutes and points, second in assists and win shares, and fifth in rebounds despite standing at just 6-foot. And he etched his name into history by helping the Raptors win their first title in franchise history, closing out the Warriors in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals with 26 points (including four 3-pointers), 10 assists, seven rebounds, and three steals in the decisive win.

Lowry gets the nod over LaMarcus Aldridge, a five-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star selection, because of the value he produced at such a low draft slot. While Aldridge leads the class in points, rebounds, and win shares, you expect that type of production from the second overall pick. Aldridge’s teams have also only advanced past the second round of the playoffs once. While the big man might be the superior talent, Lowry was undoubtedly the best pick.

Worst Move

Adam Morrison to the Bobcats, no. 3

Andrea Bargnani took a lot of crap from Raptors and Knicks fans (and probably a lot of other fans too), but he was not a legendarily bad no. 1 pick. He made All-Rookie first team, played 10 productive seasons, and averaged 14.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Was he miscast as Italian Dirk Nowitzki? Sure. But he was a pretty useful, albeit flawed, player (he averaged a career-best 21.6 PPG in 2010-11) who might have even turned into an All-Star in the right situation.

The same cannot be said for Morrison, who went two picks later and proceeded to flame out of the league faster than you can say “Gonzaga.” After leading the country in scoring his final year in college, Morrison’s stock was at an all-time high entering the draft, leading new Bobcats president Michael Jordan to use his first major pick on the sweet-shooting forward. (Needless to say, Crying Jordan was not deterred by Crying Morrison.)

Morrison got every opportunity his rookie season, playing in 78 games but averaging only 11.8 points in 29.8 minutes per game. Worst of all, he shot only 37.6 percent from the field—his supposed strength somehow turned into a weakness—while being routinely exploited on the other end. After losing his starting job and ending the season on a disappointing note, a torn ACL forced Morrison to miss the entirety of the following season. By then, he had fallen out of favor with Jordan, who shipped him to the Lakers for Vladimir Radmanovic. Morrison would appear in only 39 games over two seasons in L.A., but he did collect two championship rings along the way in 2009 and 2010.

They would end up being his NBA parting gift. Morrison never played in the NBA again. Although he would have cups of coffee with three different summer league teams, they never turned into a contract. Jordan’s pick of Morrison—with the likes of Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay still on the board—will go down in infamy and be held up as an example that college success doesn’t necessarily translate to the NBA.

Most Underrated

Paul Millsap to the Jazz, no. 47

You would think that in 2006, just two years after Karl Malone played in the league, a power forward coming out of Louisiana Tech who averaged 18.6 points and led the country in rebounding for three straight seasons might garner a little more attention. Then again, when has anyone ever paid Millsap the respect he deserves? Being drafted behind James Augustine, Lior Eliyahu, and Alexander Johnson is perfectly on-brand for a player who is understated, often overlooked, and ridiculously productive.

In 14 seasons and with three different teams (Jazz, Hawks, Nuggets), Millsap has accumulated the third-most minutes, points, and assists in his draft class and the second-most rebounds. He’s a four-time All-Star, making it each year from 2014 to 2017, and was voted to the NBA All-Defensive second team in 2016. Even at age 35, he’s still a critical piece for a contending team, providing a reliable presence on both ends of the floor in Denver. He’s a rugged rebounder, tenacious defender, and surprisingly skilled offensive player, torching teams with both his back-to-the-basket and his off-the-dribble game. He’s also stunningly efficient, shooting 49.1 percent over his career on 13.2 attempts per game. And in recent years, he’s expanded his game beyond the 3-point line, evolving from a floor spacer to a force. This season, he’s taking 3.7 3s per 36 minutes and shooting 44 percent. In a redraft, Millsap wouldn’t slip outside the top three.

Best What-If

What If Brandon Roy’s Knees Hadn’t Betrayed Him?

Part of me wonders how differently things would have played out if the Raptors drafted Aldridge no. 1 instead of Bargnani. Toronto already had a walking 20-10 guy in Chris Bosh, but the two big men might have been versatile enough to coexist and team up to be a force in the East. If Aldridge and Bosh made a few deep runs in the East playoffs, would the latter have left for South Beach in 2012? And if he didn’t, would LeBron have those two championships in Miami? See, this one has some legs.

But every time I look back at the 2006 draft class, I can’t help but feel bummed out about what could have happened with Brandon Roy. The Blazers guard was the sixth pick that year, which is the same number of seasons he would play before a degenerative knee condition forced him to retire for good. Roy was the Rookie of the Year in 2007 and made the All-Star team the following three seasons (and two All-NBA appearances to boot). An electric combo guard with a lethal arsenal of moves, a knack for getting to the rim, and an outside shot that burned opponents, Roy was one of the league’s most fun players to watch. He was also one of its most clutch, leading to some awesome highlights:

But Roy’s knees robbed him of realizing his potential. After myriad issues, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees, and the degenerative arthritis later diagnosed withered him down to the bone and forced him to call it a career.

If Roy had stayed healthy, he would have paired with Aldridge to give the Trail Blazers a formidable one-two punch for years to come. Portland won at least 48 games and made the playoffs in each of Roy’s three final healthy seasons. And if we really want to lean into the what-if, imagine what Portland would have looked like if it had still (somehow) drafted Damian Lillard in 2012 and joined a backcourt with mid-prime Roy? Two of the league’s best guards and an All-NBA big man would have been quite the nucleus. It’s another cruel twist for a fan base that’s also had to stomach Greg Oden and Sam Bowie.

How the Knicks Screwed Up

Entering the 2006 draft, the Knicks had Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Steve Francis, and Nate Robinson under contract. Unless David Stern was going to add a second basketball to the court for the 2007-08 season, the last thing this organization needed was another point guard.

So does that soften the blow of Knicks president Isiah Thomas taking Renaldo Balkman, a little-known small forward out of South Carolina, at no. 20 ahead of two potential Hall of Fame point guards in Rajon Rondo (no. 21) and Kyle Lowry (no. 24)? No, of course not. Does it make matters worse that Thomas then took another point guard in Mardy Collins at no. 29? Yes, it does! And does it sting even more that Rondo and Lowry eventually helped teams win championships and Balkman became known as the guy who choked his own teammate in the Philippines and Collins finished with the fewest win shares (-1.6) of anyone in the entire 2006 draft class? YEP.

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.

The New Lottery Order

Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Kyle Lowry 24 1 1 1
LaMarcus Aldridge 2 2 2 2
Paul Millsap 47 3 4 3
Rajon Rondo 21 4 3 4
J.J. Redick 11 6 6 5
Rudy Gay 8 5 7 6
Brandon Roy 6 8 5 7
Thabo Sefolosha 13 7 10 8
Ronnie Brewer 14 10 8 9
P.J. Tucker 35 9 9 10
C.J. Watson Undrafted 12 11 11
J.J. Barea Undrafted 11 13 12
Randy Foye 7 13 12 13
Daniel Gibson 42 14 14 14

The Lotto Picks Left Behind

Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Andrea Bargnani 1 20 19 20
Adam Morrison 3 75 75 75
Tyrus Thomas 4 18 17 18
Shelden Williams 5 22 25 25
Patrick O'Bryant 9 46 46 46
Mouhamed Sene 10 49 49 49
Hilton Armstrong 12 40 34 36