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NBA Redraftables Reevaluations: What If Kevin Love Had Stayed on the Grizzlies?

The best, worst, and Knicksiest moves of the 2008 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 through 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 rerank the lottery board today. (For reference, here’s how the 2008 draft played out.)

Best Move

Russell Westbrook to the SuperSonics, no. 4

Plenty of teams have almost immediately laid track for a superstar’s departure by screwing up the follow-up move. When you draft a generational talent, you likely won’t be bad for long, so the draft after you select your franchise player can often be just as important. For instance, the year after winning the LeBron James sweepstakes, the Cavs took Luke Jackson; they never had another lottery pick until James left. After the then-Hornets took Anthony Davis first overall in 2012, they selected Austin Rivers nine picks later; they then proceeded to trade away virtually every first-round pick in their pockets.

The Sonics, however, laid track for an almost dynasty. While the no. 2 pick in the 2007 draft produced a better player, this selection is more impressive given the degree of difficulty. In April 2008, ESPN’s Chad Ford told The New York Times that Westbrook, a sophomore 2-guard who was lightly recruited coming out of high school, might benefit from another year at UCLA: “He could be a guy that’s projected high this year, but he’ll go later in the draft in part because teams still aren’t 100 percent sure whether he’ll be a point guard or not.” Westbrook became a consensus lottery pick in the predraft process, but just hours before the draft took place, Ford had him going no. 8 to the Bucks (more on them in a minute). Instead, Sam Presti selected Russ fourth overall, ahead of more celebrated prospects like Brook Lopez and Bruins teammate Kevin Love. Then, he not only installed Westbrook at point guard, he stuck with him after Russ totaled more turnovers than anyone in the league his rookie season. The now-Thunder won 50 games the next season, and would go on to pile up four conference finals and one Finals appearance with Westbrook and Durant leading the way.

Worst Move

Joe Alexander to the Bucks, no. 8

There are two times when I was completely flummoxed by the predraft perception of players I’d seen play up close in college. One was Hasheem Thabeet, who was once judo-flipped by DeJuan Blair right in front of me. The other was Alexander, who, like, did a few cool dunks? The West Virginia junior didn’t have a single elite skill, but his athleticism tested off the charts, and so the Bucks took the combine warrior ahead of the likes of D.J. Augustin and Brook Lopez. He went on to play 67 games over just two NBA seasons (two!), for two different teams (two!), making him one of the quickest lottery burnouts in recent history. There were plenty of confounding decisions in this era of the draft, but the Bucks taking Yi Jianlian and Alexander in back-to-back years is one of the most putrid runs of all time.

Most Underrated Move

Nicolas Batum (no. 25) traded to the Trail Blazers

This is one of the few trades Daryl Morey might want back. After selecting the French forward 25th overall, the Rockets dealt Batum to Portland in a three-way trade with the Grizzlies that brought back Donté Greene, the 28th overall pick, and Joey Dorsey, the 33rd overall pick. In a postdraft write-up, the Houston Chronicle described Greene as the player the Rockets had targeted all along. “He’s a future bet,” Morey said then. “But when you’re athletic and can shoot, that’s a good place to start.” That start, however, wouldn’t be in Houston; Morey traded Greene to Sacramento less than two months later in the deal for Metta World Peace, who spent one season on the Rockets before fulfilling the shower-room pledge he made to Kobe Bryant and joining the Lakers. Batum, meanwhile, became a key starter for two different contenders in Portland who, in between injuries, helped move the game forward with his ability to facilitate, shoot, and defend with size and length.

Honorable mention goes to Goran Dragic (45th overall), George Hill (26th), Serge Ibaka (24th), and DeAndre Jordan (35th overall). Also Anthony Randolph, who is a fucking god:

Best What-if

O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love are never traded for each other

Kevin McHale almost single-handedly submarined the Kevin Garnett era in Minnesota, but one of his last moves at least helped set up the next era … which David Kahn would single-handedly submarine. McHale was, reportedly, “infatuated with Love” ahead of the draft, but no. 3 overall was deemed too high to select the highly skilled potato. So he selected Mayo with the intent to flip him for additional assets—which, in 2008, included Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins.

Two years earlier, the Wolves made a similar move, swapping Brandon Roy for Randy Foye and cash, only to see Roy win Rookie of the Year. At first, it seemed like Minny might suffer a similar fate, as Mayo put up 18.5 points a game and finished second to Derrick Rose for ROY. Mayo scored well as a sophomore, too, but the rest of the game—namely, passing the ball and defending—proved a bit difficult as time wore on and the Grizzlies got good. Tony Allen gave him a black eye in 2011 over an unpaid bet, and he never really recovered from there. That same year, Love averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds and made his first All-Star team.

But what if Mayo and Love stayed put on draft day? With Love in Zach Randolph’s spot, the Grizzlies have a far higher ceiling as a team than the underdog that will scrap, claw, and potentially body slam you yet ultimately doesn’t have the top-end talent to make the Finals. But as wondrous as it would have been to watch Marc Gasol and Love pass to each other, the West was stacked with other contenders, and Love probably would’ve been a bigger liability of defense at that point than Z-Bo. With two young cornerstones in the frontcourt, the ripple effects may lead the Grizz to draft someone—literally anyone—other than Hasheem Thabeet the following year, opening up the potential for James Harden or Steph Curry to join this core. Then again, this is the same team that drafted Thabeet with Gasol already on the roster, and ESPN’s Chad Ford had both Ricky Rubio and Tyreke Evans linked to Memphis if the Grizzlies had passed on Thabeet.

Meanwhile, Mayo’s career … probably ends the same: He’d get points on a bad team until the rest of his game, and his off-court issues, caught up to him. Without Love, Al Jefferson has less competition for touches and space in the frontcourt and probably never gets traded to Utah in 2010. But drafting Ricky Rubio didn’t stop the Wolves from Jonny Flynn, so an available frontcourt position probably doesn’t sidetrack Kahn’s master blueprint all that much. Some things never change.

How the Knicks Fucked Up

This might be the only time since we started this series that we can say this: The Knicks got this one right. They held onto their own first-rounder, after giving up consecutive top-10 picks in the Eddy Curry deal. Plus, with Donnie Walsh now running the front office, they nailed the pick, selecting Danilo Gallinari at no. 6 overall. Gallo has gone on to have a successful, albeit injury-riddled career—he is also sixth in this class in VORP. Alas, most of that success was reaped by other teams, as the Knicks packaged the Italian forward with every other asset that wasn’t nailed down for Carmelo Anthony three years later. Had the Knicks simply held pat and never traded for Curry, they would have wound up with a frontcourt of LaMarcus Aldridge, Joakim Noah, and Gallinari. Instead, they got Melo and one second-round appearance.

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
Russell Westbrook 4 1 1 1
Kevin Love 5 2 2 2
DeAndre Jordan 35 3 3 3
George Hill 26 4 6 4
Danilo Gallinari 6 5 5 5
Goran Dragić 45 7 4 6
Serge Ibaka 24 6 7 7
Brook Lopez 10 8 8 8
Nicolas Batum 25 9 11 9
Ryan Anderson 21 10 10 10
Derrick Rose 1 13 9 11
Mario Chalmers 34 11 12 12
D.J. Augustin 9 14 15 13
Courtney Lee 22 12 17 14

The Lotto Picks Left Behind

Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Player Pick Career Rank Peak Rank Blended Rank
Michael Beasley 2 30 28 30
O.J. Mayo 3 22 20 21
Eric Gordon 7 16 16 17
Joe Alexander 8 58 58 58
Jerryd Bayless 11 27 27 27
Jason Thompson 12 23 25 24
Brandon Rush 13 35 31 31
Anthony Randolph 14 37 38 37