A few weeks or so ago, citizen zhiv--my new senior editor-- and El Jefe (Lucas) brought my attention to a (pretty terrible) article about re-doing the 2009 draft based entirely on career win shares. 2009, of course, was the year the Clippers drafted Blake Griffin, which was possibly the most important moment in the history of the franchise. The article redid the draft, and both Steph Curry and James Harden finished ahead of Griffin in win shares, and it suggested the Clippers should draft James Harden with the number one pick. Clippers fan recoil in horror and say thanks but no thanks, we're happy with the Griffin pick. And let's remember that Curry and Harden weren't even picked two-three in that draft, so this bizarro NBA laboratory slide has all sorts of strange bacillae. Let's take a quick jump back to 2009 and think about how it breaks down, shall we? It's draft redo time!
First I'll note that Blake Griffin was going to be the top pick in 2009 no matter who won the lottery. As it turned out, he was the dunking ginger, the flying lion, the basketball messiah who arrived to lead what is historically one of the most pathetic teams in sports to unimaginable glory. He was dominant at Oklahoma, stayed an extra year to develop into the decisive #1, and his incredible athleticism gave him sky high potential as a prospect. There is simply no way the Clippers would have taken anyone else, but hey, "it's the Clippers"--right? And Coach-GM MDSr had to assure the skeptical media that no, not even the Clippers could mess this up.
Harden was extremely good at Arizona State and clearly a lottery pick, but his tweener status (not a point, not a forward) and fringy athleticism for a SG seemed to limit his ceiling. Curry was a one man wrecking crew at Davidson, but there were skeptics about his build, the competition he faced in college, and his ability to play defense at the NBA level. While Griffin perhaps wasn't a perfect prospect, he was close, with fewer flaws, and his athleticism quite literally elevated him above the rest of the pack--even though his future skill level was only seen in tantalizing flashes. At any rate, no player outside of young Shawn Kemp or Amar'e Stoudemire had shown such power and grace above the rim before, leaving young Shaq out of the conversation for the moment.
Griffin sat out the entirety of his rookie season with a knee fracture, and it was a painful time for the Clippers. MDSr lost his last chance to get to the WCF, which he had come so close to reaching four years earlier. Instead, familiar futility and frustration enabled the Clippers to draft high again (Al Farouq Aminu, a draft redo pass on Paul George). And in 2010, with Vinny Del Negro installed as head coach, Griffin was sensational from his first game, dunking on everyone in sight and putting up huge stats. He made the All Star team and was voted unanimous Rookie of the Year over several other promising candidates (John Wall, Greg Monroe, and DaMarcus Cousins would have received votes almost any other year). An immediate franchise player, Griffin's promise was the main attraction for Chris Paul when he agreed to be traded to the Clippers in 2011. Without Blake, the Chris Paul-Doc Rivers era would have never happened. Also, lets not forget that in 2013-2014, it was Griffin who was 3rd in MVP voting with Harden and Curry at 5 and 6.
With Eric Gordon coming off a great rookie season and already in place at SG, picking Harden is as unimaginable as not picking Griffin. But what would have happened with a Steph Curry selection? Curry would have joined the Baron Davis-EG backcourt to create a three headed monster of absurd playmaking and shooting. 2009-10 was the year that Baron Davis worked hard over the summer and came to camp in great shape, only to have the season go south after Griffin's injury. It's important to remember that a couple of weeks after drafting Griffin the Clippers sent the "untradeable" Zach Randolph to Memphis--ZBo's contract was thought to be a major albatross. With no Griffin, the Clippers keep ZBo, and the frontline of Chris Kaman 2.0 (18.5ppg, 9.3rbg) and Randolph (20.8ppg, 11.7rbg in Memphis), backed up by Marcus Camby and Craig Smith, is pretty formidable (DJ was buried on the bench, of course, until Kim Hughes started playing him after MDSr was fired and the season was over.) Curry was terrific his rookie year (though not Blake level good), but it's hard to say how MDSr would have used him.
At any rate, instead of winning 29 games, that team makes the playoffs and MDSr keeps his job. Vinny Del Negro as Clipper coach never happens, but it's hard to say how the stubborn and conservative MDSr would have handled a player like Steph Curry, especially trying to divvy up the minutes with Gordon and Davis. But Gordon, Davis and Curry were all missing games with injuries during these years. If the timing and development were handled correctly, Curry would be hitting his stride as Baron Davis became an expiring contract. A CP3 trade would still have been possible, since Curry would have been a great return for New Orleans. That leaves two possibilities: a Cp3-Eric Gordon backcourt (potentially deadly if Gordon's knee holds up), or a Curry-EG duo (likewise). Even so, and allowing ZBo to hold as a suitable replacement for Griffin, neither of those units looks as good as the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin connection.
Harden's selection (again, even for the sake of this exercise very unlikely) would have been different, because he had a slow rookie season and didn't truly break out until his 3rd year. The CP3 Clipper ship would have definitely sailed by then. Baron Davis was rehabbing heavily at the time and was still not that old, but you have to squint to see a Davis-Harden duo making the Western Conference playoffs. Just like in any absurd "serious" re-draft scenario, it is impossible to know how players would have developed if drafted to different teams. Would Jonny Flynn have been good on the right squad? Would James Harden have developed like he did without practicing against Durant and Westbrook for years? Impossible to say.
As most Clippers fans would agree with, Blake Griffin was not only the right choice then, but is definitively the right choice in hindsight. The past four seasons, while not leading to a championship, have seen very good regular seasons, some postseason success, and a brighter future than ever before. It would be almost impossible to pass on progress of that magnitude for the unknown. Not only that, but Blake Griffin himself is the real link between the old and new Clippers. He was the one, more than CP3, more than Doc, who led the Clippers out of the darkness of Donald Sterling into a shining new era. He is still young, still improving, and armed with a better team than ever before. Oppose him at your peril.
Here is the original post's list of the redrafted 2009 class (yuck)
1. James Harden
2. Steph Curry
3. Blake Griffin
4. Ty Lawson
5. Wesley Matthews
6. Taj Gibson
7. Jeff Teague
8. Brandon Jennings
9. Darren Collison
10. DeMar DeRozan
11. Danny Green
12. Tyreke Evans
13. Jodie Meeks
14. Jrue Holliday
For fun's sake, here would be my 2009 draft re-do of the lottery, with the actual picks in parentheses. Again, this is silliness, but these would be my picks based entirely on how they have turned out currently, and how they might have fit on the drafting teams over the past few years. It's a fun game: y'all should feel free to play in the comments.
1. Clippers select Blake Griffin (Blake Griffin). Enough said.
2. Memphis Grizzlies select James Harden (Hasheem Thabeet). I would take Curry over Harden on an individual basis, but the Grizzlies' had Mike Conley in place and the bet here would be to let James Harden duke it out with O.J. Mayo--Harden wins. The Thabeet pick is a disgrace, and it cost Memphis elite status.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder select Stephen Curry (James Harden). Oh. My. God. That is a scary team. A Curry-Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka-literally anyone else in the world starting 5 looks like one of the best ever. There's an odd twist here: OKC took Harden because Westbrook wanted to play PG, but if Harden's off the board they take Curry. And then they don't trade Curry, like they did Harden. Obviously injuries could intervene and things pan out differently, but that team wins championships.
4. The Sacramento Kings select Jeff Teague (Tyreke Evans). It was a tossup here between Teague, Jrue Holliday, Ty Lawson, and Ricky Rubio, all of whom are very good point guards in their own way. I like Teague's combination of defense, playmaking, and scoring the best, especially alongside DaMarcus Cousins.
5. The Minnesota Timberwolves select Ricky Rubio (Ricky Rubio). Rubio still isn't a good scorer, but his defense and playmaking are quite underrated, and he is the perfect fit alongside the Wolves' up and coming prospects who will need a passing PG to get them the ball in the right spots.
6. The Minnesota Timberwolves select Wes Matthews (Jonny Flynn). Wes goes from undrafted to number 6, and deservedly so. He is a gritty defender, one of the best and most prolific outside shooters in the game, and a great teammate. The Jonny Flynn pick is another epic disaster, one that the Wolves could ill afford.
7. The Golden State Warriors select Ty Lawson (Stephen Curry). The fact that Curry dropped to Warriors here shows how the fates intervene to help the downtrodden; franchise-defining karmic win. And they didn't blow it. Ty Lawson is solid, if a little troubled, and he would have been good for GSW--but not good enough to lead them to the title they just grabbed. The Warriors get screwed out of Curry in this scenario, but off court troubles aside, Lawson is a nice starting PG.
8. The New York Knicks select Jrue Holliday (Jordan Hill). Holliday is a good pick here, and who knows, he might have thrived in the MSG bright lights. The Knicks haven't had a good starting PG -outside of one half season of Ray Felton- for as long as I have watched the NBA, and Holliday provides them that. He is injury prone, but when healthy is quite underrated. Hill is a rotation big man, but that's all--and even that took more time than the Knicks had.
9. The Toronto Raptors select DeMar DeRozan (DeMar DeRozan). Fine pick, though DeRozan seems a bit overrated in my opinion, a middling efficiency scorer playing in the east who doesn't do much else. But he is a solid get at 9, and he can put the ball in the basket like few others.
10. The Milwaukee Bucks select Danny Green (Brandon Jennings). Green fits really well in the Spurs system, but he would be good anywhere. Not quite the threat that Wes Matthews is, but a better defender. Jennings got a good start to his career, but his development has been extremely uneven.
11. The New Jersey Nets select DeMarre Carroll (Terrence Williams). Carroll was a late bloomer, but he has turned into a terrific two way player who plays tough defense and nails three pointers. Williams barely played in 150 NBA games.
12. Charlotte Bobcats select Taj Gibson (Gerald Henderson). Gibson has almost never started in the NBA, but he has been one of the best bench players in the league for years now, and would be a perfect fit in Charlotte doing the dirty work alongside Al Jefferson. Henderson is a solid rotation wing player.
13. The Indiana Pacers select Tyreke Evans (Tyler Hansbrough). A big drop for the rookie of the year. While Evans was great in his rookie season and good last year with the Pelicans, he still can't shoot, and is a super high usage wing player. He is also more of a 6th man than a starter. Hansbrough had a couple years of run as a legit backup big, but is now more of a deep bench guy.
14. The Phoenix Suns select Patrick Beverley (Earl Clark). Beverly wouldn't be a good fit on the Suns roster now, as they already have Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, but he is the best player left (depending how you feel about Brandon Jennings I suppose). Clark had one good season with the Lakers back in 2012-13, and is still clinging to the fringes of the NBA.
The next five: Jennings, Henderson, Darren Collison, Jodie Meeks, Patty Mills