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NBA Redraftables Reevaluations: Would Kevin Durant Have Won a Title With the Trail Blazers?

Plus, the best, worst, and Knicksiest moves of the 2007 draft

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 2007 draft played out.)

Best Move

Marc Gasol to the Lakers, no. 48

Who knows what the Lakers actually knew about Gasol when they drafted him deep in the second round, let alone the Grizzlies when they traded for him a year later, but it’s hard to top the value of getting a future All-NBA first teamer and Defensive Player of the Year in the back half of the second round. Once he shed his infamous baby fat, Gasol became the fulcrum for the Grit and Grind era, and his rare blend of size, IQ, and skill helped push centers away from the squat rack and toward the perimeter. Gasol was so nimble, in fact, that he managed to transition from not shooting 3s for eight seasons to a credible 3-point shooter in an instant. His career never reached the heights of Pau’s (though he did narrow the title gap with Toronto last season), but he may have been the more complete player.

Worst Move

Yi Jianlian to the Bucks, no. 6

The top 10 of this draft produced one generational superstar, two multi-time All-Stars, one of the best point guards of the past 15 years, four players who lasted at least a decade in the league, Greg Oden (who we’ll get to shortly), and Yi. So this is an easy choice. The Chinese forward is best known now as a player whose production on a basketball court was worse than a chair he once placed on it, but at the time, he was considered by some league executives as the best player outside of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. The problem, as former Grizzlies exec John Hollinger recently recounted? He couldn’t translate his workout skills into a five-on-five setting, which seems important. Yi lasted just five seasons, during which he produced the least value of any 2007 draftee who played a second in the NBA. He resurfaced at Lakers training camp in 2016, but couldn’t find a role behind a stacked frontcourt of Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, and Tarik Black.

Most Underrated Move

Greg Oden to the Trail Blazers, no. 1

Hear me out: What’s lost in the Oden-as-historic-bust discussion is that the center didn’t fail in Portland because of a lack of talent. In 82 total games with the Blazers, Oden averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds, and more than two blocks per 36 minutes. In 21 games in the 2009-10 season, Oden had a robust 10.3 net rating, second best on the team. His legs simply gave out on him—which, to be fair, is something Blazers doctors should have caught in the predraft process, or at least managed better. Passing on Durant is unforgivable, and it doesn’t help Portland’s case that the third and fourth picks produced franchise players in Al Horford and Mike Conley Jr., but even if the red flags were out in the open, are there many players who would’ve been better bets than a dice roll on Oden? Joakim Noah? Maybe Thaddeus Young? There’s a timeline in which medical science is more advanced in 2007 and Oden is a team’s Joel Embiid.

Best What-if

The Trail Blazers select Kevin Durant at no. 1

The intrigue (and talent) of this draft falls off quickly, so let’s play the hits and follow this defining what-if down the rabbit hole. While the SuperSonics cleared a long runway to title contention on draft night by trading Ray Allen three picks after taking Durant, the Blazers were built to win immediately: Even with Oden sidelined for the entire 2007-08 and a top two of second-year players in LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, Portland finished an even .500. Would KD have been enough to close the nine-game gap between the Blazers and a playoff berth? Probably not, considering the Sonics won a measly 20 games; then again, P.J. Carlesimo played Durant at 2-guard, so the sample is hardly ideal.

Either way, the difference would have really shown the next season. With rookie Nicolas Batum at small forward, the Blazers tied for the second-best record in the West; with Durant in his spot, Portland easily becomes the chief rival to the Kobe-Pau Lakers in the West, if not the entire league. But would they win a title? The guess here is no. Though the Rose Garden was always tough on Bryant, Kobe was still at the peak of his powers and KD was very much on the come-up. And once the Lakers begin to wilt, here come the Spurs and Mavs, and later, the Grizzlies and Clippers, too.

The problem for the KD Blazers is the window is too short. They have only two, three seasons until Roy’s injuries derailed his career, and with just Aldridge by Durant’s side, Portland is just good enough to linger in the middle of the West standings. If anything, KD probably would have wanted out before his second deal was up, leading to a trade to a different contender and setting off a whole new what-if chain reaction.

How the Knicks Fucked Up

In terms of selecting a player at their given draft slot, they didn’t. With the 23rd overall pick, the Knicks selected Wilson Chandler, who turned into a regular starter late in his rookie season and ultimately became a major piece in the trade package for Carmelo Anthony. Chandler never quite climbed past “really solid” in his career, but Denver won a lot of games with his check-all-the-boxes skill set on the wings. In fact, for all of the blunders during Isiah Thomas’s reign in New York, he was actually pretty good at finding contributors with the picks he kept. In fact, in 2014, Tom Haberstroh made the case that Thomas was the best drafting GM in modern history.

The problem was the 23rd overall pick was originally the Bulls’. In addition to their 2006 first-rounder and two seconds, the Knicks gave up the rights to swap firsts in 2007 in the trade for Eddy Curry. Chicago, in the middle of the Baby Bulls resurgence, finished fifth in the East in 2006-07 while the Knicks finished a distant 12th. With New York’s ninth overall pick, the Bulls selected Joakim Noah, a future Defensive Player of the Year and anchor of a 62-win conference finalist. Oops.

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
Kevin Durant 2 1 1 1
Marc Gasol 48 2 3 2
Mike Conley 4 3 2 3
Al Horford 3 4 4 4
Joakim Noah 9 6 5 5
Thaddeus Young 12 5 6 6
Jared Dudley 22 7 7 7
Jeff Green 5 8 12 8
Wilson Chandler 23 9 13 9
Corey Brewer 7 10 14 10
Carl Landry 31 11 10 11
Rodney Stuckey 15 12 9 12
Tiago Splitter 28 18 8 13
Arron Afflalo 27 14 11 14

The Lotto Picks Left Behind

Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Greg Oden 1 27 28 28
Yi Jianlian 6 63 63 63
Brandan Wright 8 16 15 16
Spencer Hawes 10 21 22 22
Acie Law 11 41 41 41
Julian Wright 13 31 31 32
Al Thornton 14 35 38 37