Monday, July 2, 2007

Shawn Bradley: Not as bad as you think

The other day, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a reader poll asking "Who is the 76ers' worst draft pick ever?" Not surprisingly, Shawn Bradley "won" by a substantial margin--he had 55%, and his nearest "competitor," Sharone Wright had 12%.

I'm not quite sure how, but somehow I've become Shawn Bradley's unofficial defender in too many of these conversations. And in that capacity, I need to tell you that Shawn Bradley was not as bad as you think.

Yes, he was the second pick in the NBA draft. No, he never became an all-star. On the other hand, he did have a very productive twelve-year NBA career. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 13.8 points (46% FG), 10.8 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks. If he had been picked fifth in the draft, then no one would have anything but nice things to say about his career (well, except for the other NBA players who got caught in the jaw by his sharp elbows).

Plenty of solid players came out of his draft in 1993, but other than Chris Webber and Anfernee Hardaway in their primes (injuries really did a number on both of their careers) there really aren't any other players from the draft that make you ask, "How could the Sixers have ever taken Bradley over [Player X]." I'd say the other top players from the 1993 draft were Jamal Mashburn (4th pick), Isaiah Rider (5th pick), Allen Houston (11th pick), Sam Cassell (24th pick), Nick Van Exel (10th pick in the 2nd round), and George Lynch (12th pick), with Calbert Cheaney, Rodney Rogers, Lindsey Hunter, and Ervin Johnson also having nice careers.

[I wasn't sure whether or not to include Vin Baker in the list of players who had nice careers-- at his best, he was an all-star, but he had a very troubled career in many respects. Evaluate him however you want.]

By comparison, Sharone Wright had a much less successful career. He was drafted 6th in the 1994 draft, one year after Shawn Bradley had been chosen. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 17.4 points (46% FG), 9.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. Per 40 minutes he also averaged slightly fewer assists and steals, and slightly more turnovers than Bradley. Plus, he only managed to stay in the NBA for four seasons. Clearly, Shawn Bradley was the superior player (or, at least, NBA GMs thought so). That said, the Sixers management might have been hard pressed to have made a better selection that year--the 1994 draft was not particularly deep. The only players chosen after Wright who went on to have good NBA careers were Brian Grant, Eddie Jones, Jalen Rose, Aaron Mckie, Lamond Murray, Eric Piatkowski, Wesley Person, and Charlie Ward.

Shawn Bradley wasn't the best 2nd pick ever made in the NBA draft, but his reputation in Philadelphia really suffers from the unrealistic expectations that surrounded him at the time of the draft. When it comes to Shawn Bradley, just remember: He wasn't as bad as you think.

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