You know it's the dead of July when I write about the Pacers.
A few days ago, Bob Kravitz ran down the list of recent Pacers draft picks, and questioned Larry Bird as a talent evaluator. I wanted to examine recent drafts to see if that criticism was fair or not. We all know that it doesn't matter if a pick doesn't pan out unless there was actually someone better that could have reasonably been selected. The NBA draft is notoriously thin, so it's possible to go years without even getting the opportunity to take a good player.
2004 Pacers take David Harrison C, 29th overall.
Who they passed on: I recognize three names taken later than Harrison. The first was the next player taken, Anderson Varejao (8.6 ppg, 7.2 ppg). Also Chris Duhon (39th, 8 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and Trevor Ariza (44yj, 6.9, 3.8) were taken.
Verdict: Harrison was a risky pick, but I don't think it's one that can be criticized. Yeah, he was a nut job, but he had some potential, and the three guys the Pacers passed on are nothing more than competent role players. It's hard to rip Bird for this pick.
2005 Pacers take Danny Granger 17th overall
Kravitz calls this a choice so easy a monkey could have made it. Maybe so, but it was brilliant and a home run. Let's be fair.
2006 Pacers take Shawne Williams (17th) and James White (31st)
Who they passed on: All world guard Rajon Rondo was taken 20th. Jordan Farmar went 26th.
Verdict: Obviously taking anyone ahead of Rondo was a mistake. That one pick could have saved the last several seasons for the Pacers. However, Kravitz needs to let go of James White. In looking over the rest of that draft, I see no one of consequence. Boobie Gibson? Really?
2008 Pacers take Brandon Rush (13th) and Roy Hibbert (17th)
Who they passed on: Robin Lopez (15th), Courtney Lee (22nd), George Hill (26th)
Verdict: The jury is still out on these picks. I suppose you could argue that Hill and Lee are ahead of Rush, but I don't know that the final chapter has been written there.
Overall, taking Williams over Rondo is such a massive mistake that it tips the scales. In most of the other seasons, however, I don't think it is fair to rip Bird's selections. You can only take the players who are available, and the Pacers just haven't had good players available.
When evaluating drafts, we can't only consider if the players taken were successful. The only fair way to grade drafts is to look at who was passed over. The NBA is not the NFL. The draft is simply not the way to build a franchise. The Pacers already caught their lucky break this decade in taking Granger. Consider the Celtics. They got their break in nabbing Rondo late, but without Garnett and Allen they don't have a ring either.