Many professional prognosticators have referred to the NBA Draft as a “crapshoot,” noting that even prospects whose evaluations have been universally positive somehow fail to pan out in the league. With the benefit of hindsight, it is comical to see just how inaccurate talent evaluators can be in assessing a player’s ability to succeed at the NBA level, especially when reviewing pre-draft rankings that have perennial All-Stars and MVP candidates ranked behind players who are already out of the league or who are just barely holding onto a roster spot.
Chad Ford, ESPN’s resident NBA Draft guru, has been ranking draft-eligible players for the "Worldwide Leader" since 2001, and over the years some of his projections and analyses have turned out quite poorly. Since this is an examination of some of his greatest mistakes, it is only fair to note that his evaluations have been prescient with relative frequency, and he has had several future All-Stars ranked much higher than the position in which they were ultimately selected.
In 2002, for example, Ford ranked Amare Stoudemire as the third-best player in the draft, yet the four-time All-Star was taken ninth after players like Nikoloz Tskitishvili, DaJuan Wagner and Chris Wilcox. More recently, Ford had Draymond Green ranked 20th in advance of the 2012 NBA Draft, saying that the 2015 NBA All-Defensive First-Teamer and second-round selection was “one of my favorite players in the draft,” while suggesting that Green should have been considered in the lottery, saying, “I get why teams wouldn't take him in the top 10. But after that, if I were a GM, he'd be fair game.”
That does not mean that Ford has not made some glaring errors over the years. And, of course, any analysis of Ford’s work with ESPN should include mention of the report from earlier this year that his pre-draft rankings were changed after the fact, presumably based on where players were selected and how they ultimately panned out in the NBA. As Deadspin and other outlets reported, Ford’s rankings were routinely edited well after the draft took place, including moving James Harden’s 2009 rank from 6th to 3rd, Klay Thompson’s 2011 rank from 11th to 8th, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2013 rank from 17th to 9th, among many others. Ford denied he was responsible for the edits and ESPN backed him, and the pages were ultimately restored to their original order.
With all the qualifiers and notes out of the way, the following 15 players all represent some of Ford’s biggest mistakes since 2001. The players on this list were all ranked by Ford as among the top-20 players in their draft class, but none exactly performed as expected upon reaching the NBA. Since Ford’s evaluations are based on input from NBA scouts and executives, many of these players were selected in the lottery and are rightly considered major draft busts. That is not always the case, however, as some of Ford’s earlier rankings have players ranked close to the top that no team even considered taking until late in the first round.
*All the info from this article was taken from ESPN.com.
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15 Jimmer Fredette
Fredette came into the 2011 NBA Draft ranked as Ford's 10th-best player, so when the Kings selected him with the 10th pick, Ford praised the choice, calling Fredette a “perfect fit,” because the Kings “needed his shooting ability.” Ford even went on to say that he still would have loved the pick had the Kings not moved back via a draft-day trade and instead taken Fredette with the 7th overall pick.
The 2011 NCAA National Player of the Year has since struggled mightily as a pro, averaging 6.1 points and 1.4 assists per game while playing for three different franchises over four seasons. Entering the 2015-16 season, Fredette will be joining his fourth team and will be fighting for a roster spot during training camp with the San Antonio Spurs. Just behind Fredette on Ford’s list was Klay Thompson, who was ranked 11th and is now a franchise cornerstone with the Golden State Warriors.
Of course, Ford was not the only one to get this wrong, as 10 teams, including the Kings, passed on Thompson before the Warriors grabbed the sharpshooter. Ford called the Thompson pick “safe,” though he did question why the team passed on Kawhi Leonard and Alec Burks, who Ford viewed as having higher ceilings than Thompson. Ford gave the Warriors a “B” for their draft, but the Kings received an “A” for theirs.
14 Sergey Karasev
The Cavaliers had two first-round picks in the 2013 NBA Draft and the team took two players who were rated highly by Ford, taking the 4th-ranked Anthony Bennett with the top pick and the 13th-ranked Karasev with the 19th choice. The jury is still out on Karasev, as the 21-year-old Russian has spent most of his time in the D-League since being drafted. The Cavs have essentially given up on both players, however, as each was traded away after just a single season in Cleveland.
The Cavs’ draft earned a “B+” from Ford, with the draftnik saying he “loved the Karasev pick.” Calling him a “shooter with a high basketball IQ,” Ford also added that Karasev would “be able to step in and help right away,” but the wing player has yet to give any indication that he will be able to deliver on the potential that led Ford to rank him as a potential lottery selection. There's still time for the young player to develop, but he was clearly not as NBA-ready as Ford believed at the time.
13 Julian Wright
When Wright fell to the then-New Orleans Hornets at the 13th pick of the 2007 NBA Draft, Ford imagined that the player he had ranked 11th on his pre-draft board would be a perfect running mate for Chris Paul. That never quite came to fruition, as Wright was out of the NBA after just his fourth NBA season. Wright, who Ford referred to as “underrated,” has since taken his pro career overseas and was most recently playing in Italy.
12 Lucas Nogueira
Still only 23 years old, Nogueira has only played in a total of six NBA games since being taken with the 16th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Ford had the Brazilian big man ranked 14th overall, three spots ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo, citing Nogueira’s “enormous potential as a shot-blocker.” Ford did note that Nogueira was something of a project, but his placement ahead of the Greek Freak, a player also noted for his defensive impact, serves as reason enough to land him on this list.
11 Jan Vesely
Vesely was ranked 8th in advance of the 2011 NBA Draft, ahead of Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, Kemba Walker and Kenneth Faried. The Wizards apparently valued the Czech forward even more, taking Vesely with the 6th pick of the draft, leading Ford to hand out an “A” grade for Washington’s efforts, saying, “This was a critical summer for the Wizards. Drafting John Wall last year was easy. This year, the challenge was to surround him with players who complement his talents. Mission accomplished. Vesely was one of the most athletic forwards in the draft and should be great flying up and down the floor with Wall.”
Vesely, who was part of a trade in 2014 that brought Andre Miller to Washington, has only managed career averages of 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. While Ford obviously missed the mark on Vesely, the Wizards agreed with the assessment and lost out on an opportunity to add a much better player by misusing their high-lottery pick.
10 Jonny Flynn
One of the worst lottery selections in recent years, the Timberwolves’ selection of Flynn with the 6th pick of the draft caused even Ford to scratch his head, but only because Minnesota had already taken another point guard in Ricky Rubio. Saying that Rubio and Flynn “might have been the two best point guards in the draft,” Ford recognized that perhaps Stephen Curry would have been a better option to play alongside Rubio in Minnesota instead of Flynn, but only because of the complementary skill set of Curry, not because Flynn was the lesser player of the two.
While the selection of a pair of point guards confused many around the league, Ford still had Flynn 9th overall in his pre-draft rankings, ahead of DeMar DeRozan and Jeff Teague, a pair of guards who have both earned All-Star selections. Flynn, on the other hand, was out of the league in short order and has since had very brief pro basketball stints in China and Italy.
9 Yi Jianlian
At the time of the 2007 NBA Draft, Yi Jianlian was a somewhat confounding prospect. While the Bucks believed in Yi enough to take him with the 6th pick of the draft, there were many who felt that the Chinese import had bust written all over him, especially after he refused to work out against anyone in advance of the draft, instead showing off his post-up moves against a chair, thereby earning the dubious nickname, "The Chairman."
Ford ranked Yi as the 10th-best player in the draft that year, deeming him the “best international prospect,” while describing him as “a long, athletic forward who is very skilled,” and as an “explosive leaper with good lateral quickness.” Yi did not last long in the NBA, averaging 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game over five seasons with four different franchises before returning to China to play for the Guangdong Southern Tigers.
8 Dan Dickau
Dickau was a standout in college, but there were few indications that his game would translate well to the NBA. Most NBA executives seemed to agree, as the Gonzaga star wasn’t taken until late in the first round. In his pre-draft rankings, however, Ford had Dickau as his 6th-best prospect in 2002, calling the guard, “relentless,” and a “top-notch shooter and playmaker.” Dickau was never able to carve out much of a role with any one team, as his NBA career lasted six seasons and included stops in six different NBA cities.
7 Maciej Lampe
Lampe played a total of 64 games across three seasons, totaling 215 points while playing for Phoenix, New Orleans and Houston. In the 2003 NBA Draft, Ford referred to Lampe, the 30th overall pick, as a “huge draft steal,” saying, “I’ve seen Lampe play enough to know that his slide wasn’t warranted. Lots of teams dropped the ball on him.” Ford had him ranked 17th before the draft, saying Lampe’s shooting stroke “is one of the smoothest we've ever seen in a big kid.”
6 Fred Jones
Jones is likely best remembered for his win in the 2004 Dunk Contest and his athleticism is part of the reason Ford thought so highly of the guard out of the University of Oregon. Taken by the Pacers with the 14th and final pick of the 2002 lottery, Ford had Jones ranked 4th overall, and while the 2002 draft class was anything but spectacular, Jones was out of the NBA after seven seasons, averaging 7.5 points and 2.3 assists per game while playing for five different franchises.
5 Pavel Podkolzin
Podkolzin, ranked by Ford as the 19th-best player available in the 2004 NBA Draft, was taken 21st by the Dallas Mavericks, who traded a future first-rounder to the Jazz for the rights to Podkolzin. That move earned the Mavs some high praise from Ford, who gave Dallas an “A” for their draft (which also included Devin Harris) while saying, “I think Pavel will end up being the steal of the draft at No. 21. By pick No. 12, there was no one with his upside (with the possible exception of J.R. Smith) left on the board. You think, if he develops, Utah's going to regret trading him away for a future first-round pick?”
Podkolzin totaled four points in his NBA career, appearing in just six games for the Mavericks over two seasons. The Jazz used the future first-rounder they got in the trade with the Mavs as part of the package that allowed them to move up from sixth to third in 2005 to take Deron Williams. As for the upside of the players available after the 12th pick, Al Jefferson (15th) was named to an All-NBA Team, Jameer Nelson (20th) has played in an All-Star Game, and Tony Allen (25th) has been named to the NBA All-Defensive Team four times, with three of those selections coming as a First-Teamer.
4 Tyrus Thomas
Thomas was a surefire lottery selection back in 2006, but Ford believed that the LSU product was the best prospect in the draft that year, ranking him ahead of fellow big man and four-time NBA All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. When the Bulls took Thomas with the fourth pick, Ford noted that “Thomas has the most upside of anyone in the draft,” and suggested that he could “be used as bait to get Kevin Garnett later this summer.” Thomas never quite lived up to expectations, posting career averages of 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game over parts of eight seasons, including a two-game run with Memphis on a 10-day contract last season after sitting out all of the 2013-14 season.
3 Ricky Rubio
Not only did Ford have Rubio rated ahead of the reigning NBA MVP in Stephen Curry before the 2009 NBA Draft, but he also had Rubio as the 2nd-best player overall, ahead of another MVP-caliber player in James Harden and trailing only Blake Griffin in a deep draft class that included six future All-Stars. Rubio delayed his arrival stateside until the 2011-12 season and has since been hampered by injuries throughout his four years in the NBA, but to have the Spanish point guard rated ahead of both Harden and Curry is simply a mistake of grand proportions.
2 Darko Milicic
It’s hard to really fault Ford for the Darko draft disaster of 2003, as the Serbian big man was widely regarded as one of the best players available in one of the deepest draft classes in NBA history. Ford was particularly effusive in his praise, however, offering the following assessment in his 2003 evaluation: “Darko is Europe's version of LeBron James. He's comfortable on the perimeter and with his back to the basket. He's very aggressive in the post and has a toughness many Europeans lack. He can also handle, shoot the 3 and play in the paint. He has a nasty streak that have some scouts calling him a tough version of Raef LaFrentz.”
Milicic, of course, became known as the “Human Victory Cigar” in Detroit, and it is fair to wonder about the role the circumstances with the Pistons played in his stalled development. Still, comparing him to LeBron James while giving the Pistons an “A+” for what is quite possibly the biggest and most regrettable mistake in Detroit’s draft history qualifies as a mistake worthy of derision. Ford has always seemed to be enamored with international players, and as this list shows, his international evaluations are frequently among his most egregious mistakes.
1 Joseph Forte
Forte’s placement as the 2nd-best prospect on the 2001 draft rankings is so puzzling that it defies explanation. Trailing only Shane Battier on Chad Ford’s Top 100 for 2001, Forte was not taken until the 21st pick of the first round and even then it was only because of Red Auerbach’s legendary status in Boston. In need of a point guard, Celtics brass preferred Tony Parker, who was still available at 21, but Auerbach liked Forte and no one was going to go toe-to-toe with the man most responsible for the Celtics dynasty.
Apparently Ford would have agreed with Red, as Forte was ranked ahead of future All-Stars in Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Parker, Gilbert Arenas and even Mehmet Okur. To Ford’s credit, his 2001 evaluation of Kwame Brown was better than Michael Jordan’s, as Ford had the former first overall pick of the Wizards rated as just the ninth-best NBA prospect that year.
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