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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 2 Picks

Ben Nadeau checks out a decade’s worth of No. 2 overall picks in the NBA Draft.

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Quarantine and stay-at-home orders look no closer to ending than they did a week ago, so Basketball Insiders is back with more draft-ready analysis. With the criteria laid out by Matt John on Monday, we’ve moved from entire drafts to the individual picks.

The picks will be sorted into the same four categories too: The hits, misses, middle of the road or role players. Did a player fall out of the league after a few years? Are they a star? Or are they at their ceiling already?

We’ve got a decade’s worth of drama to turn toward, so here’s where all the No. 2 overall picks fall.

The Hits

Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies – 2019

It’s safe to reason, somehow, through just 60-or-so games, that Ja Morant is a hit.

Everybody was mesmerized by Zion Williamson’s delayed debut, but Morant is the one that likely would’ve taken home Rookie of the Year honors. Everybody wants to talk about how difficult it is to make the postseason in the Western Conference – but the 20-year-old rookie point guard had them there. He dropped 30 points on Brooklyn, a triple-double at Washington and racked up 14 assists against Los Angeles.

Morant’s 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game lead Memphis, and his electric brand of athletic playmaking aren’t going anywhere but to multiple All-Star Games. Already, the former Murray State standout is going to make future voting competitions even more complicated – between him, De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the guard position out west is in excellent hands. Anyway, we ask: Is it possible to almost jump over a future Hall of Famer and not be considered a hit? Just asking for a friend.

Brandon Ingram – Los Angeles Lakers – 2016

Well, Ingram wasn’t the biggest of hits in Los Angeles – but, better late than never, right?

After featuring in the major blockbuster for Anthony Davis, Ingram has taken his game to another level. Freed to experiment and grow, the 6-foot-7 scorer took a whopping six points forward in his per-game points average (24.3) and has reached career-highs in rebounds (6.3) and assists (4.3) too. By no means was Ingram a slouch in Los Angeles, but the now All-Star-worthy cornerstone has taken steps too large to place by the wayside.

Crazier, if he has room to evolve even further, Ingram, Williamson and Lonzo Ball will likely form the next great NBA-wide trio.

Perhaps, then, all a player needs is a change of scenery…

D’Angelo Russell – Los Angeles Lakers – 2015

But if that’s the case, won’t somebody please save D’Angelo Russell from his coast-to-coast pilgrimages?

In particular, this writer has written about Russell a whole lot during the quarantine. He’s underrated. He’s part of the next crop of upcoming All-Stars. Hell, he already is an All-Star.

And yet, none of that happened in Los Angeles. The Kobe Retirement Tour. The overplayed incident with Nick Young. Dumped to the Nets so that the Lakers could take a new shiny point guard in Lonzo Ball. Russell found himself at home with Brooklyn as the king of the forgotten misfits and then helped to break their lingering playoff drought. But when the opportunity to upgrade to Kyrie Irving came, he went out to Golden State. And, after just half a season there, Russell was dealt for Andrew Wiggins.

Getting traded so often and early in your career tends to come with a negative connotation – for Russell, it is anything but. Russell has notched back-to-back 20-plus point campaigns and becomes must-watch television when he’s hot from downtown. Now paired with a close buddy in Karl-Anthony Towns (the No.1 pick in 2015), the test is truly afoot for Russell. Although he wasn’t a hit until he left Los Angeles, much like the aforementioned Ingram, doesn’t that say more about the Lakers than it does the players?

The Misses

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Bobcats – 2012

Looking back, it’s hard to believe this trio of misses went No. 2 overall – but general managers weren’t blessed with the deepest of opportunities here either.

But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, unlike the other two here, is at least in the league still. With Charlotte, back before a rebrand to the original brand, Kidd-Gilchrist survived based on his defensive ceiling, always a philosophical question of well-if-he-figures-this-out type-isms. And even though he struggled to stay healthy, the forward managed to earn a four-year extension worth $52 million in 2015.

Renowned for his funky-looking release, the once-National Champion has played in just 21 games between Charlotte and Dallas this season. Taken ahead of Bradley Beal (No. 3), who would have paired excellently with Kemba Walker, only adds extra salt to the wound.

Derrick Williams – Minnesota Timberwolves – 2011

From the opening number, Derrick Williams was going to cause headaches for whoever drafted him. Naturally, Williams viewed himself as a small forward, an athlete that could go toe-to-toe with LeBron James – no, seriously, that was a real thing – but the tweener was most suited for the power forward position at the pro-level.

The only problem was that he largely lacked the toolkit to succeed there either. During his two collegiate seasons at Arizona, Williams soared up draft boards thanks to his ability to finish alley-oops and slash through the paint at ease. But in the NBA, recreating that magic against bigger, stronger and faster adults proved to be far more difficult. Williams averaged 12 points in his second season with the Timberwolves, but then the parade of franchises began: Sacramento, New York, Miami, Cleveland and Los Angeles, where he last played for the Lakers back in 2017-18.

These days, Williams is a heavily-featured option for the world-renowned Fenerbahce franchise – but he’ll long be remembered as a draft miss over here.

In a weak draft, however, after Irving, it’s hard to fault Minnesota for going for the highest ceiling option at the time.

Hasheem Thabeet – Memphis Grizzlies – 2009

When you talk about busts, Thabeet’s name would almost certainly pop up on a Family Feud-style board of the most recognizable names. As a rookie, Thabeet only played 13 minutes per game and averaged 3.1 points and 3.6 rebounds. And it never got any better from there. Considering that James Harden went immediately after doesn’t make that pill easier to swallow either.

The 7-foot-3 center lasted just five seasons in the NBA before splitting for Japan. Last seen in the G League during the 2019-20 campaign, Thabeet is still around – but his bust status will likely last forever.

The Middle of the Road

Marvin Bagley – Sacramento Kings – 2018

Marvin Bagley is a good basketball player. Someday, he might even be great. Clearly, the skills and tools are there for Bagley. Unfortunately, as unfair as it may be, he went ahead of Luka Doncic and Trae Young, so he’ll always be graded against such standards.

Bagley is part of a strong, young core in Sacramento, along with De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic (for now), Buddy Hield, Richaun Holmes and Harry Giles – but the best-case franchise scenario rests with the forward’s development. Given his injuries this season, the former Duke standout has only played in 13 games in 2019-20 but averaged nearly the same as his rookie-year effort – about 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and any dangerous range just yet.

Give him time and you might be surprised at how well Bagley measures up to the draft class stars, guaranteed.

Lonzo Ball – Los Angeles Lakers – 2017

It may seem tough to stick Ball down here and Ingram up there when they were also noted as part of the next great trio in the NBA. And, OK, that’s probably fair. But in order for the Pelicans to reach their highest potential, they’ll need Ball to keep growing himself. Ball, of course, is the third Laker on this list and the third to post a career-best season after leaving. The point guard, and all his former baggage, has managed to top his points (12.4) and three-pointers made (2.5) per game totals, while also upping his field goal (41.2) free throw (56.7) and three-point (38.3) percentages as well.

Now armed with Williamson, Ball has loads of worthy playmaking options… and ones that might put him in league-leading assist territory sooner rather than later. During a late January game, Ball tossed 15 assists – but he’s also scored nine or fewer points in 21 of his 56 appearances. Clearly, there’s room for improvement, but the early signs are improving significantly – and fast.

Victor Oladipo – Orlando Magic – 2013

At another period of time, Victor Oladipo might be an undeniable hit. But after an injury took him out for a year, the jury appears to be out on the scorer. Although Oladipo had reached back-to-back All-Star Games from 2017-19, it’s fair to wonder what exactly comes next. The former Indiana man only featured in 13 games prior to the lockdown and, shaking off some evident rust, averaged just 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.8 steals – all down from his last full campaign.

Everybody is pulling for the loveable Pacer – but we’re in wait-and-see mode through this quarantine. If the playoffs happen, expect Oladipo to play a huge role in Indiana’s ultimate fate.

The Role Players

Jabari Parker – Milwaukee Bucks – 2014

Needless to say, injuries have decimated the health of the once-super-promising Jabari Parker – but his story is not over just yet. He may not ever get back to the 20-point-per-game plateau, last averaged way back in 2016-17 with Milwaukee, but he’s still a workable and score-heavy bench piece. Through 32 contests with Atlanta this year, Parker averaged 15 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals – even starting 23 of them as well before being moved to the Sacramento Kings, where he’s only suited up for one game.

The days of superstardom are long gone for Parker, but he can still play a part for a team that means something.

Evan Turner – Philadelphia 76ers – 2010

Solid but not spectacular, Evan Turner has lasted awfully long – especially considering the volatile nature of top-five picks once they don’t take the step toward stardom. Over the last ten years, Turner has seen successful stops in Philadelphia, Boston, Portland and Indiana, earned a fat paycheck in 2016 and then gracefully aged into a veteran that franchises can utilize multiple ways. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent once this season ends – whenever that may be – and Turner should have plenty of suitors with postseason-ready rosters.

So, in all, the No. 2 picks over the years have had a little bit of everything: Stardom, offense-end generals, injuries and intrigue – but if we’ve learned anything about basketball, it’s that the story is never truly written. While only a few of these players will feature on a would-be postseason roster, the ending to the 2019-20 campaign is still very much in question. Either way, more often than not, selecting second has yielded a handful of wonderful outputs over the last decade – who is next?

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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