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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 9 Picks

Ben Nadeau discusses a decade of picks at No. 9 overall.

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Although the news appears to be heating up on a finish to the season, basketball is sadly still some considerable amount of time away. In place of actual draft content, which would be ramping up in a major way in late May, Basketball Insiders is looking at every number in the lottery, one-by-one. 

Amazingly, as time continues to melt together ruthlessly, we’re already up to No. 9. And without further ado, here are the hits, misses, middle of the road and 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 data, so here’s where all the No. 9 overall picks have landed.

The Hits

Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons – 2012
Kemba Walker – Charlotte Bobcats – 2011
Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz – 2010
DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Raptors – 2009

Really, what is there to say about this particular group? All undeniable hits. Franchise stalwarts that ushered in a new era for their teams, a familiar face that would come to climb the leaderboards and reach multiple All-Star games. As the most unnecessary group of the bunch for our No. 9s, we won’t waste too much time here. Here’s a quick primer, however:

Drummond is 2x All-Star (2016, 2018) that ranks second for rebounds (8,199), third in blocks (927) and first in field goal percentage (54.1) in Detroit franchise history, played there for eight full years and finished with a career average of 14.4 points and 13.9 rebounds. Given the shakiness of the Pistons following the departure of that 2003-04 championship-winning team, Drummond certainly helped to re-center the ship. That’s a hit, my friends.

Walker – ahem, deep breath. Before moving onto the Celtics last summer, Walker managed to become the Hornets all-time leader in minutes played (20,607), field goals (4,1,64) and points (12,009). The point guard, who has a decent shot at the Hall of Fame, finished his nine-year stint in Charlotte second in assists (3,308), third in steals (799) and made the All-Star Game three years in a row (2016-19). Hit.

Jazz fans have come to love Hayward in their own unique way over the years, but he was still a staple for seven years. He, unlike the others, is just a one-time All-Star, although making it in the crowded Western Conference is no simple feat. The former Butler man ended at eighth in assists (1,762), ninth in steals (527) and eighth in points (8,077) — an achievement considering Utah’s rich history. Hit.

And perhaps the most underrated of the bunch, the long-time Raptors cornerstone owns a 20-point per game career average, got voted onto four All-Star teams and even made a couple of All-NBA teams to boot. Until he was unceremoniously moved for Kawhi Leonard, DeRozan looked like a Toronto-lifer alongside Kyle Lowry. With the California-born guard in charge, he helped to push the franchise to new heights – including five-straight postseason appearances and a conference finals berth. Hit.

The Misses

Frank Kaminsky – Charlotte Hornets –2015

Following a red-hot run to the NCAA championship, Frank Kaminsky flew up draft boards faster than anyone else. In the newly-born era of unicorns – seven-footers with a three-point range – Kaminsky was tough to ignore. For Wisconsin, he averaged 18.8 points on 41.6 percent from deep – what wasn’t there to like? But Kaminsky’s professional career never got totally airborne, averaging just 11.7 points and 4.5 rebounds during a career-year back in 2016-17. Made worse, Boston wanted Justise Winslow so badly that they offered six draft picks (including four first-rounders) to Charlotte.

Noah Vonleh – Charlotte Hornets – 2014

It’s hard to believe that Vonleh has stuck around for the better part of a decade already – and, hey, he’s still here, after all – but it’s been the path of a journeyman for the forward. In 2018-19, Vonleh had his best-ever season, averaging 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Knicks. Unfortunately, he bounced around with Minnesota and Denver this year prior to the stoppage, earning just a bit-role. And for a team that badly needed to put pieces around the aforementioned Walker, both Kaminsky and Vonleh were back-to-back misses in the worst way.

The Middle of the Road

Rui Hachimura – Washington Wizards – 2019
Kevin Knox – New York Knicks – 2018

Too early! Hachimura has shown signs of defensive brilliance, but he’s just 41 games into his career. Knox, on the other hand, has struggled at times, although he and Barrett could still form a worthy duo in New York. After starting 57 times for the Knicks last year, he’s lost a third of minutes and his points have been halved — but, remember, he’s dealt with plenty of turmoil and a coaching change already. 

Knox may not be a savior for New York – that appears to be Barrett – but give the 20-year-old some time (and a permanent head coach).

The Role Players

Trey Burke – Utah Jazz – 2013

The career trajectory of Burke has been a fascinating study, from starting as a rookie to slowly getting phased out – his journey actually began on a positive forward-facing foot. At 12.8 points per game, Burke showed promise in back-to-back seasons. Then came the reduced role, the move to Washington and New York – the latter of which he was just happy to prove himself once again – and, more recently, tenuous roles with Dallas and Philadelphia in consecutive campaigns. 

As the backup for Ben Simmons, Burke’s ceiling is currently tapped – but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pop up in a big way once or twice when the playoffs resume.

Dennis Smith Jr. – New York Knicks – 2017

The path of Smith Jr. has been a much more unpredictable one as the former collegiate standout had high expectations headed into the league. Despite starting 69 games as a rookie in Dallas, he was an important piece of the deal that landed Kristaps Porzingis a year later. Expected to blossom in New York, it’s been a slow, declining ride instead. Smith, for the first time ever, is not averaging more than 10 points per game. Worse, his minutes – much like Knox – were slashed too.

It’s too early to give up on the athletic guard, but the warning signs are blaring loudly.

Jakob Poeltl – Toronto Raptors – 2016

At 24 years old, you might be tempted to toss Poeltl in another category altogether – but there’s no need to be hasty. As a sophomore, Poeltl played all 82 games for the Raptors, averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds and provided solid minutes behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, a frontcourt pairing that would help bring a championship to Toronto the very next year. And although Poeltl, along with DeRozan, went to San Antonio for Leonard, there’s always room for a defense-first, reliable backcourt rotation member. With the Spurs’ (and perhaps Popovich’s) future up in the air, it’ll be interesting to see how the Austrian’s career evolves from here on out.

In all, the No. 9 picks over the years have maintained a fairly-positive success rate. From franchise leaders to future jersey retirement guarantees, it’s a robust group of players for a near double-digit selection. As we’re all more desperate for basketball by the day, it’s important to remember where the league has been… and which players hold the future in their hands.

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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