When Kansas product Paul Pierce fell all the way to 10th in the 1998 NBA draft, many people (including those who worked with the Boston Celtics, the team that drafted him) were shocked. Once the shock wore off, and NBA observers moved on to peg Pierce as the top Rookie of the Year candidate, people began to understand why. Top selection Michael Olowokandi felt like the NBA’s next great center, standout Arizona guard Mike Bibby appeared to come straight out of central casting for the Vancouver Grizzlies and each of the other top 10 picks seemed to have great arguments for going wherever they ended up. Even Robert Traylor. Even Dirk Nowitzki, the draft’s great unorthodox unknown, had significant hype in the weeks leading up to the draft.
What we’re saying is that it made sense at the time. And if a 20-year-old Paul Pierce, coming off of an All-American year, decided to declare for the 2015 NBA draft? Where would he go? Top overall?
According to Pierce, he might not be selected at all. From an interview on the Dan Patrick Show:
For those who cannot play the video:
I probably wouldn't have got drafted. A lot of stuff is based on potential, so I probably would have gone later in the first round or something. This draft class was definitely supposed to be one of the great draft classes of this era and as you see, I really don't see nobody in this class really standing out so far, even though it's only been 10 games.
Paul Pierce is 37 years old and currently shooting 34 percent from the field. Even with that in place, a 37-year-old Paul Pierce (as opposed to the 20-something from 1998) would be drafted. Even knowing that he had only a year or two left.
Paul was mostly joking, but his take is reasonable. Even in comparison to the sorts of swingmen he was compared with back in 1988 – Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes, Michael Dickerson and Corey Benjamin – he was seen as lacking in athleticism. Everyone agreed Pierce was going to be a standout scorer as a pro, but each of the drafters behind the previous nine picks just wanted to be the one that selected a talent that eventually turned into something more than a standout.
Only one, as Dallas worked its way toward a trade for Nowitzki, was successful in that regard.
Pierce doesn’t come off as a cranky old man in the interview with Patrick, and he’s not wrong in his assertion that drafting is a different science in 2014:
I think a lot of these young, talented kids are just rated on their pure, like, length and athleticism. But really no basketball IQ, no footwork, really can't shoot the ball.
This is what happens when you draft players just a year removed from high school. It’s not Andrew Wiggins’ fault that he remains a raw talent – the guy had just 35 college games under his belt when he was made the top overall pick. Even the most fundamentally pure basketball players of note are going to be pretty raw after 35 NCAA games (and the limited practice time that goes along with those contests), so NBA general managers have to adapt accordingly and focus on things like length and leaping ability.
It may not be the best for the fans, followers who have to wait out their team’s top prospect as they play through what would have been a sophomore year in college, but it’s best for the players – and that’s just fine. The youngsters get better coaching at the pro level, and they’re allowed to fully dedicate themselves to a job they actually get paid for.
And as for the question as to whether Pierce would be drafted in a modern draft, well … yeah, he would. As it was in 1998, he shouldn’t drop any farther than second overall.
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