Each year, with fans and executives hoping to hit the jackpot in what I often refer to as the basketball talent lottery, I find myself constantly reminding people that the gross majority of NBA draft picks are more likely to wind up playing professionally in Europe than becoming perennial All-Stars in the NBA. What is even more interesting about the entire situation is that there are a great many players selected in the lottery and even in the top five that simply do not pan out in the long run.
For sure, there is value to be had elsewhere in the NBA draft, and in particular, for whatever reason, over the years, the 24th pick of the first round has produced a handful of productive players.
The best example of this in a contemporary sense is tough to call, but I would probably give Serge Ibaka a slight advantage over Reggie Jackson. Interestingly enough, each of these two players were drafted by Sam Presti, the general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ibaka was selected in 2008, while Jackson was selected three years later in 2011.
At this point, though Ibaka has had a bit of a head start (and hence, a larger sample size), we can point to him as being an exquisite find. Ibaka has some of the best timing and shot blocking instincts the league has seen since Dwight Howard entered the NBA back in 2004. Unlike Howard and say, DeAndre Jordan, Ibaka is a smooth shooting big man who has extended his shooting range over the past few years and is not causing his team any handicap at the free-throw line. This past season, we have seen how important it is to have a big man who is a capable free-throw shooter.
What is also amazing about Ibaka is that he strikes the fine line between playing the game with an edge and swagger, but remaining humble and down to earth in such a way that allows him to take and accept criticism from his coaches and teammates. From what I have heard and learned of Ibaka, he is amazingly humble and coachable—two traits not often associated with a big man who possess his level of talent.
As the years have progressed, we have seen Ibaka become a major asset on the offensive side of the ball for the Thunder, and for him, getting to the next level will require the development of a consistent back-to-the-basket game. In effect, when the Thunder signed him to a four-year, $48 million extension back in 2012, it made it difficult for the team to stomach the idea of signing James Harden to what would have been a four-year maximum extension. Harden was eventually dealt to the Houston Rockets as a result.
That may not have been the wisest of decisions considering the rise of Harden, but that the Thunder opted to go with Ibaka, who was selected at number 24, is a testament to the belief that the Thunder feel they got incredible value with his selection. It is difficult to argue with that.
Historically, the 24th pick has yielded other gems, as well. Going all the way back to the 1980s, one need to look no further than the Lithuanian legend, Arvydas Sabonis. Sabonis is regarded as one of the greatest European players in history, but anyone who has watched the NBA for more than 20 years will agree that Sabonis was a revolutionary player at the center position. He was selected 24th overall back in 1986.
In 1992, the Golden State Warriors picked Latrell Sprewell at number 24, and although his career will probably be remembered for the wrong reasons—his altercation with P.J. Carlesimo and his comments about feeding his family come to mind—Sprewell was a four-time All-Star who made the All-NBA First Team in 1994 and was instrumental in the New York Knicks winning the Eastern Conference in 1999.
Other notable names selected at number 24 include Terry Porter (1985), Brian Shaw (1988), Sam Cassell (1993), Derek Fisher (1996), Andrei Kirilenko (1999) and Kyle Lowry (2006).
As the Cleveland Cavaliers set to select at number 24 in this June’s draft, general manager David Griffin and his staff can find solace in the fact that history has shown that value can certainly be found, even at this late stage of the draft.
– Moke Hamilton