Every year around this time the sports media of the world brings out a group of doe-eyed young men who are looking to fulfill a life-long dream of being drafted into the NBA. Individuals of all sorts are drafted in the NBA lottery and forced to play for teams who are desperately in need of a hoops savior.
Unfortunately, when those duties are thrust upon the shoulders of a kid who is two or three years removed from high school, in most instances the pressure just gets to be too much. Despite their otherworldly athleticism, blinding speed and chiseled physiques, they are just removed from childhood. In the immortal words of Mike Tyson, "everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." By the time their vertical leaps are measured, their wingspans confirmed, and their heights are scrutinized, many are mentally worn out before playing their first summer league game.
The class of 2000 is considered by many to be the most disappointing lottery class of all time. But where did it all go wrong? Noone can say for sure. The names in the lottery were some of the biggest of the day. As college standouts they displayed incredible athleticism, scoring ability, shooting touch, and leadership skills.
Kenyon Martin out of the University of Cincinnati was the No. 1 overall pick by the New Jersey Nets. Seen as a can’t miss prospect, the power forward could run the floor like a gazelle, block shots and jump out of the gym. He would go on to win the Richard Naismith College Player of the Year, John Wooden Award, AP Player of the Year and Sporting News Player of the Year in his senior year. He had flashes of brilliance and some solid campaigns early on, but injuries slowed his rise. His career average of 12 points and 7 rebounds isn’t bad, but people expected more from a first overall pick. Imagine if he ever learned to increase his range like Larry Johnson did following the back injury that depleted his freakish hops.
The Vancouver Grizzlies would draft Stromile Swift, a high-flying freak of nature out of Louisiana State University, with the second overall pick. He led the Tigers to the Sweet 16 as a sophomore and his upside was said to be through the roof, and it appeared as if the prognosticators were right. Throughout his first five seasons he would put a highlight on the Sportscenter Top 10 on a weekly basis. But NBA success is more than the occasional windmill dunk, which was Swift’s specialty. His best season was his second year when he averaged 12 points and 6 rebound per game. He would never develop a consistent jump shot, despite having multiple seasons to work on it. His production would fluctuate from there before flatlining in 2005 and his career never recovered. He was out of the NBA by 2009.
Marcus Fizer was picked third overall by the Chicago Bulls, which bewildered some people. Listed at 6-foot-9 Fizer was likely three inches shorter, but his chiseled bodybuilder frame was as advertised. Chicago already had a very serviceable power forward in Elton Brand. Fizer’s first three seasons were very promising. He averaged 9 points, 12 points and 11 points from 2000-2003. However, Fizer would tear his ACL in 2003 and his productivity would tail off considerably. The lack of a sound fundamental basis to his game meant he could no longer rely on size and strength alone. What followed was a whirlwind of teams in foreign leagues such as Polaris World Murcia, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Mets de Guaynabo and Taiwan Mobile Clouded Leopards.
Drafted as a sophomore out of the University of Florida with the fifth pick overall by the Orlando Magic, sharp-shooter Mike Miller's arguably had the most accomplished career of anyone in his draft class. Despite having issues with his shoulder and knees throughout the latter half of his career, Miller is a two-time NBA champion (2012-2013), NBA Rookie of the Year, and NBA Sixth Man of the Year (2006).
DerMarr Johnson was drafted out of the University of Cincinnati as a freshman with the sixth pick overall. At 6-10, he had the potential to be a matchup nightmare for most shooting guards in the NBA. He averaged 7 points and 3 rebounds over his first two NBA season before he broke four vertebrae in his back during a horrific accident that nearly left him paralyzed. He would eventually return to the NBA but never seemed to recover his athleticism or his confidence. He’s currently playing overseas.
The legend of Darius Miles was a legend that never materialized. He was long, athletic, fast and versatile. But throw in the word fragile and then you’ll see exactly what the problem was. The boy, as vibrant and likable as he was, just could not stay healthy. A severe injury to his knee in 2006 caused him to miss the entire 2006-2007 season. He underwent microfracture surgery to repair the damage to his right knee, but never returned to form. He was out of the NBA by 2009. He would muster a career average of 10 points and 5 rebounds in 446 career games. Miles is often pointed to as an example of a high school phenom who should have gone to college for a season or two. He was supposed to be St. John's University's basketball saviour. He was going to help the school return to its '80s basketball prominence. He could have gotten stronger and developed a bit more. Instead, he went right to the L – and took one in the process.
Drafted with the seventh pick overall, 7-footer Chris Mihm gave new definition to the term unathletic. Sure, he was the University of Texas’ all-time leader in blocked shots and was a first-team All-American, but did anyone ever take time to see how well his game translated to the NBA? I’m sure they did, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. Tabbed as a NBA shot blocker, Mihm would only average 1 block per game in 436 games played from 2000 to 2009. That’s not exactly Bill Russell-esque. He would eventually retire after an ankle injury in 2009.
Jamal Crawford was drafted out of the University of Michigan as a freshman with the 8th overall pick in the 2000 draft and is easily the most prolific scorer of his draft class. He is a two-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year and is the NBA all-time leader in four-point plays. Despite his elite level scoring ability, Crawford has played on six different NBA teams. Perhaps his inability to guard his opposition has something do with that. His career average of 15 points per game are tops in his draft class.
Center Joel Pryzbilla was drafted because he’s a really big guy, that’s just about it. He didn’t wow anyone with his statistics while at the University of Minnesota, averaging 9 points and 7 rebounds while blocking three shots per game. His shooting touch was always suspect, even in college. His free throw percentage of 52 percent while a Golden Gopher is indicative of that. That free throw percentage didn’t get much better in the NBA (55 percent). However, some felt his 55 percent from the field averages that out. But we beg to differ. Couple that with myriad injuries and it's incredible that his career lasted as long as it did. To his credit, Pryzbilla was always a better than average rebounder and shot blocker when he got the minutes. But he never started an entire season in his 13 year career.
Combo guard Keyon Dooling was the last pick of the 2000 NBA draft lottery. He would be selected by the Los Angeles Clippers, where he would struggle mightily for four seasons before a brief stint in Miami. He would never start a full season, never score double-digits for a season, never average more than three assists per game, and would only shoot 41 percent from the field for his career.
The NBA draft lottery is very difficult to gauge. Whenever human beings are involved nothing ever turns out exactly as planned. However, aside from chronic injuries, the failure of most of this class to materialize into anything close to what was anticipated of them seems to boil down to lack of fundamentals.
Aside from Kenyon Martin, all were underclassman. If Chris Mihm could actually hit a jump shot it’s highly unlikely he would have retired. Same for Marcus Fizer and Joel Pryzibilla. If Dooling could actually run a team he may have been called on to start more throughout his career rather than as a last resort, and if Kenyon Martin had three-point shooting ability his ceiling would have been much higher.
The inability of a player to improve despite having almost 24 hour access to the very best coaches, trainers, and facilities is almost maddening. But, unfortunately, work ethic isn’t something that’s readily noticeable prior to draft night. With the upcoming 2014 NBA draft class, prognosticators are salivating about who is going to do what, when they’re going to do it, and who they’re going to do it for. But the only certainty in life is uncertainty.