Its often been written that the 1996 NBA Draft was the best in the history of the league. With multiple NBA Championship rings on the fingers of a number of players drafted in both the first and second round of the annual June event, players also have numerous individual accolades on their resume including the Hall of Fame (one player, with two more guaranteed and at least two more on the fence) MVPs (three players), All-NBA Teams (eight players), All-Stars (eleven players). With household names like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Stephon Marbury, the ’96 draft offered a little bit of everything.
The hardest part about a redraft? Where do you actually place a player? Most people would slot Bryant into the first overall pick and rightfully so, but do you think he would be “Mamba” with the Philly faithful? Would Nash have actually maintained hoop dreams in Vancouver for the next 20 years? Who would have risen from the lower depths of the draft and who would have seen the largest jump? Heck, what if the Timberwolves, who were so happy with KG decided to draft another prep to pro with either Kobe or Jermaine O’Neal? The Baby T-Wolves before the Baby Bulls.
In hindsight, some players didn’t really fulfill the needs of the team that drafted them and with our redo draft, placement based on talent and chemistry is key. It’s easy to sit here and look back at the rights and wrongs of the 1996 NBA Draft and hammer out some changes on a keyboard, but for those in the war room at the time, some of the picks were just a roll of the dice. Some came up sevens, others were snake-eyes.
29. Chicago Bulls: Samaki Walker
Original Pick: Travis Knight
Walker didn’t necessarily fall to the Bulls because of his talent, it’s just that somebody had to and Walker was this version of Travis Knight. Although he managed to play ten years in the league, his best statistical season came during his second year with the Dallas Mavericks (who drafted him in real life with the 9th overall pick, he dropped 20 picks in this draft, somebody had to and Walker was ours).
While twenty teams overlooked the Louisville forward, the Bulls probably would have kept the young forward, unlike they did with Knight and moved on from Dickey Simpkins or Bison Dele.
28. Atlanta Hawks: Vitaly Potapenko
Original Pick: Priest Lauderdale
The “Ukraine Train” was actually selected with the 12th overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but in our redo version of the ’96 draft, the eleven year vet slides all the way down to the 28th pick.
First off, Vitaly only lasted a shade over two seasons with the Cavs and during that time posted averages of 6.7 PPG and 3.5 RPG, not exactly numbers one would expect from a man of his size and at that time in the draft. Since the Hawks were looking for a big man and actually selected one out of Central State University, VP would give Atlanta a more serviceable center than Lauderdale was. Considering the Hawks actual pick only lasted one season with the team and two in the league, they would certainly benefit from a redo draft.
27. Orlando Magic: Jamie Feick
Original Pick: Brian Evans
There was nothing sexy about Feick’s game. He knew is role and played it well. Had the Orlando Magic drafted the Michigan State senior, they would be adding a rebounding machine to their front line.
Although he was somewhat undersized to play in the paint, Feick still managed to pull down an average of 7.1 rebounds per game and contribute a decent 4.5 PPG despite a limited offensive repertoire. Considering the Magic’s backup power forwards at that point included Joe Wolf, Jeff Turner, Anthony Bonner and David Vaughn, Feick’s rookie year numbers were on par or better than his competition and if injuries hadn’t taken their toll, Feick could have had a lengthy career in the league.
26. Detroit Pistons: Adrian Griffin
Original Pick: Jerome Williams
In the NBA, Griffin failed to catch on to a team during the 58 player summer selection process, but here, Griffin catches on with the Detroit Pistons, providing a perfect fit for both player and team. A grit and grind combo guard out of Seton Hall, Griffin could have provided Doug Collins a classic hard nosed tweener off of the bench to replace either Joe Dumars or Grant Hill.
Griffin would play for five different teams (including two stints with both the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls) over the course of his career. While he mustered only 4 PPG and 3 RPG, Griffin was more of a value to the team with his knowledge of the game than his physical contributions as evident by his current role in the league as an assistant coach.
25. Utah Jazz: Travis Knight
Original Pick: Martin Müürsepp
He was actually the final pick in the ’96 NBA Draft, but in this redo version, Knight jumps up four spots and lands a role with the Utah Jazz. He failed to make the Chicago Bulls roster and ended up signing a deal with the Lakers for one season, seeing action in 71 games and claiming a spot on the All-Rookie 2nd team. Then the Celtics threw the former UConn Husky a boat load of money on a multi year contract.
So Knight headed to Boston for one season before returning to help the Lakers win their first of their three-peat championship rings by playing 48 minutes in 14 games. Considering that Muursepp played only 83 games during his two year career, the Jazz would already be getting more out of Knight than they did their actual pick.
24. LA Lakers: Othella Harrington
Original Pick: Derek Fisher
As the first pick in the second round of the actual 1996 NBA Draft, Harrington turned a four year career at Georgetown into eleven years in the NBA. While he was known more for his defensive efforts, the former Hoya managed to put up averages of 7 PPG and 4 RPG over his time with five different teams.
Although their actual pick Fisher became one of the most beloved players in franchise history and a key member of their five championships, he would have found himself drafted a lot earlier in this mock redo event. So with the goal of drafting the best talent left on the board, the Lakers added some depth to their front line.
23. Denver Nuggets: Tony Delk
Original Pick: Efthimios Rentzias
Who the heck is Efthimios Rentzias? Other than being a 6’11” big man who didn’t actually suit up in the NBA until the 2002-03 season, nobody really knew what the center from Greece had to offer. So with that being said, the Nuggets (who added Jeff McInnis in the second round) filled their need for a combo guard player with the addition of Delk.
Although the former Kentucky Wildcat offered the Nuggets a two way player, he didn’t really offer a specialty in any specific area. Other than exploding one night for 53 points when he was a member of the Phoenix Suns, Delk never lived up to the scoring exploits he showed in the NCAA.
22. Vancouver Grizzlies: Walter McCarty
Original Pick: Roy Rogers
“Waltah” could have easily been a fan favorite in Vancouver just as he was with the Boston Celtics. Considering that the Grizz would eventually draft a point guard rather than a combo forward, McCarty may have been able to slide into a more prominent role than he had with the Knicks and then Celtics.
Although his game was never the most elegant, McCarty’s hustle and effort would have matched that of Rogers, but would have given the Grizzlies a more offensive contribution at the same time. Rogers only lasted three years in the league, totaling 137 games, whereas the former Kentucky Wildcat put in a decade worth of time with four different teams.
21. New York Knicks: John Wallace
Original Pick: Dontae Jones
The 1996 Knicks didn’t really have a lot of depth at the small forward spot with only Larry Johnson as their only viable option at the three spot. In order to get by, they managed to juggle their lineup when LJ went to the bench by sliding Allan Houston to the wing and rolling John Starks as the off guard.
In actual fact, the Knicks drafted the Syracuse forward with the 18th pick, but by then, there were better options available for the Knicks who had three first round picks in this draft, including both 18 and 19. Why Wallace would slip all the way to 21 after leading the Orange to the National Championship game is unknown, but in hindsight, this may have been the more fitting spot for him.
20. Cleveland Cavaliers: Malik Rose
Original Pick: Žydrūnas Ilgauskas
The mid 90s Cavs were hovering around the .500 mark and with the roster makeup in place (which wasn’t like the current crop), the addition of the blue collar work ethic of Rose would be a perfect fit for the Eastern Conference squad.
Although he was listed at only 6’7″, Rose found a way to play bigger than he actually was through hustle, effort and defensive intensity. Considering that Rose found a way to carve out a thirteen year career with only averages of 6 PPG and 4 RPG, you know that there were ways the former second round pick found to contribute to the success of his teams that may not have appeared on the stat sheet.
19. New York Knicks: Shandon Anderson
Original Pick: Walter McCarty
The Knicks add a combo guard/forward in Anderson in order to give the team more depth off the bench, especially considering the health of Larry Johnson’s back. Originally a late second round pick (54th) by the Utah Jazz, Anderson’s ten year tenure in the league proved that he had more worth than what many teams may have believed.
With career averages of 7.4 PPG and 45% from the field, the Knicks would benefit from Anderson’s defensive abilities as part of the second unit. Anderson would eventually find his way to the Knicks in 2001 as part of a three team deal with the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. While his time with the Knicks didn’t pan out well in the end, many feel that Anderson was wrongfully treated by then President Isiah Thomas, who wasn’t with the team in ’96.
18. New York Knicks: Jerome Williams
Original Pick: John Wallace
Based off hustle points and energy alone, J.Y.D would have been a better fit in the Big Apple than Wallace was. Although both played less than a decade in the league and suited up for multiple teams, Williams found himself tallying over 200 more games in his career than Wallace did.
While neither found much time with the starting five on any team that they played for, Williams was the heart and soul of the bench and locker room for both the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors. Although he would finish up his career playing for the Knicks in the 2004-05 season, Williams was best known for being a fan favorite of the Raptor’ fans, something that easily could have happened in NYC.
17. Portland Trail Blazers: Lorenzen Wright
Original Pick: Jermaine O’Neal
The Trailblazers were looking for a young forward/center and originally selected a prep to pro project, but in this redo version, adding the 6’11 Memphis product would have given them assistance with their front line immediately. While O’Neal turned out to be an All-NBA level talent, it wasn’t until a trade to Indiana in his fifth year that he blossomed.
Wright, while never the level of player that O’Neal turned out to be, would be the best alternative at this point in the draft with consideration to the position that needed to be filled by Portland. While they had Arvydas Sabonis (who was a 32 year old second year player) as a starting big man, there was very little in the cupboard after that so chances are Wright would have gotten more than the ten minutes a game that O’Neal received.
16. Charlotte Hornets: Jeff McInnis
Original Pick: Tony Delk
Both went to prestigious NCAA schools (one UNC, the other Kentucky). Both are combo point/shooting guards. One started more games, the other a serviceable player off the bench. One played 576 games, the other 545. One averaged 9 PPG, 4 APG and 2 RPG, the other 9 PPG, 2 APG and 2.5 RPG.
For the Charlotte Hornets at this point in the draft, the difference between selecting McInnis over Delk was a coin toss, however for 30 more games and two more dimes, why not go with McInnis. Considering that he was originally selected in the second round and 37th pick overall, the launch into a mid first round pick and a better situation in Charlotte may have gotten more production out of the former Tarheel.
15. Phoenix Suns: Erick Dampier
Original Pick: Steve Nash
Okay Suns fans, calm down. First off Nash already went to the Grizzlies way up the draft with the third overall pick. Secondly, Nash wasn’t “Nashty” until he was sent to Dallas and even at that point it took a bit of time.
So with consideration to that, the Suns went the opposite route and drafted a big man hoping to get better production than they were from their lackluster platter of Hot Rod Williams, Mike Brown and Joe Kleine. While the big fella from Mississippi didn’t light the league on fire, he did carve out a 16 year career averaging seven and seven. Throw Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson and Michael Finley into the mix and Dampier could have been a fringe All-Star.
14. Sacramento Kings: Derek Fisher
Original Pick: Peja Stojaković
Wow, could you imagine Fish on the Kings rather than in the purple and gold of the Lakers, especially after all the battles that the two teams had during the early 2000s?
While chances are he would have played a role off the bench behind “White Chocolate”, Fisher would have provided the team with a steady hand and mental approach to the game. Sure Bobby Jackson gave Sacramento some quality minutes, but when you consider that Fisher was pretty much the only player that Kobe Bryant respected and listened to for most of his career, don’t you think he would be a step or two above BJack?
13. Charlotte Hornets: Kerry Kittles
Original Pick: Kobe Bryant
The Hornets probably wouldn’t have traded Kittles for Vlade Divac, so adding the Villanova product would be the next best thing at this point in the draft. Unfortunately, chances are Kittles career would probably still only last for eight years. After averaging 16 and 17 PPG during his first two years and seeing action in 82 and 77 games, knee damage slowly took toll on Kittles career.
Could things have been different with the Hornets training staff as opposed to those in New Jersey? Who knows. Could Kittles have helped the Hornets advance past the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, possibly, as their shooting guard options at that time were either Bobby Phills or Dell Curry, both serviceable players but neither a star.
12. Cleveland Cavaliers: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Original Pick: Vitaly Potapenko
The Cavs actually selected Big Z eight picks later in the real draft and thought that Big V was actually going to be the better player. Playing twelve of his thirteen seasons with Cleveland (he was hurt for one year and finished his career in Miami), the Lithuanian big man gave his team 13 points and 7 boards a night on average.
Vitaly on the other hand averaged about half of Z’s production and while he played over a decade in the league, Potapenko played on four different teams and did not have nearly the love and admiration from fans that Ilgauskas had during his time in Cleveland.
11. Golden State Warriors: Peja Stojakovic
Original Pick: Todd Fuller
Imagine adding Peja’s scoring touch to a Warriors lineup that included Latrell Sprewell (before chokegate), the 1995 top pick and Roy Joe Smith, along with an aging but still effective Chris Mullin.
Snatching up the combo forward before the Kings eventual pick, the Warriors would have a complement to the ultra aggressive rim attacks of Sprewell, a kick out option for Smith in the paint and an option that would allow less taxing floor time on Mullin to potentially preserve his health. Essentially, the Warriors could have been Sacramento before they were Kings. However, that turn around would have impacted the future of the franchise and chances are the current Warriors roster may never have come to be.
10. Indiana Pacers: Jermaine O’Neal
Original Pick: Erick Dampier
The 1996 Pacers were starting to show signs of aging, but still managed to remain relevant in the Eastern Conference. Although they failed to make the 96-97 playoffs, adding O’Neal, who ironically would have the best years of his career once he was traded from Portland to Indiana would have given them a forward for the future without having to give up a valuable roster member.
Instead of spending his first four years with the “Jailblazers”, O’Neal could have been mentored by Dale Davis (who he was traded for), Antonio Davis, Rik Smits, Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson, all of whom were key contributors to the Pacers and could have been solid role models for the high school star.
9. Dallas Mavericks: Ben Wallace
Original Pick: Samaki Walker
The 96-97 Mavericks roster had a ridiculous amount of talent. Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson, Jamal Mashburn, Michael Finley and Chris Gatling to name but a few. So why did they manage only 24 victories? Chemistry for one and defense for another. Most of the chemistry issues came off-court but their defensive liabilities could have been helped with drafting Big Ben.
Sure it took a couple of years for the four-time Defensive Player of the Year to get his feet wet and sure he wasn’t much of an offensive threat other than for put-back buckets, but with the amount of offensive firepower this team had on the roster, an anchor on the other end would have been a big help.
8. New Jersey Nets: Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Original Pick: Kerry Kittles
As rumor, truth and legend has it, the Nets were all set to add Kobe Bryant to the mix, but Young Mamba’s camp basically boycotted the selection stating that the high school star wouldn’t ink a contract with the club.
While Kittles wasn’t a bad alternative statistically and as far as a fit with the roster, the fact that he struggled through a short eight year career with injury leads the Nets to needing someone with more substance and lifespan. Enter Abdur-Rahim. One of the all time “best player on a bad team”, the PAC10 Player of the Year (as a freshman) would have given the Nets a consistent weapon up front with the ability to play all three front court positions. With averages of over 18 PPG and 7.5 RPG, Reef would have given the Nets a far brighter future than Kittles did.
7. LA Clippers: Stephon Marbury
Original Pick: Lorenzen Wright
He may not have been part of the dominating LA franchise that one might have hoped, but if the Clippers had somehow added Marbury to the mix in 1996, it may have fast tracked their attempted takeover of Hollywood.
While he wouldn’t have had the same young talent to play with as he did in Minnesota, Marbury would have been the outright leader of the team, something that he felt was warranted since his time at Lincoln High School. Regardless of how talented Steph was, which was never a question, chances are he would have struggled to carry a team saddled with players like Loy Vought and Malik Sealy, who although serviceable role players, were far from household names. But in the end, we know that it was all about Steph, not about the team.
6. Boston Celtics: Antoine Walker
Original Pick: Antoine Walker
The 1995-96 Boston Celtics were a horrid bunch. Sure they had some component pieces in David Wesley, Rick Fox and Todd Day, but they didn’t have a star player to hang their hat on and get a bucket when the time called for it. Enter Employee #8.
After two years with the Kentucky Wildcats, the combo forward joined the Celtics rebuilding process. While his first few years obviously did not pan out as planned in the win/loss column, Walker would eventually be joined by Paul Pierce and the duo would team up to help the club return to prominence in the Eastern Conference. At the very worst it gave fans the opportunity to enjoy Tommy Heinsohn’s colorful commentary when Walker hit a clutch hoop.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Marcus Camby
Original Pick: Ray Allen
“Starbury” and KG were a dynamic duo that unfortunately had their time cut short by egos, especially the one belonging to Marbury. If the T-Wolves, who had the patience to bring prep to pro star Kevin Garnett along, teamed up their future HOF forward with a defensive presence like Camby, just imagine the terror those two would have created on their opponents.
Alongside an underrated Tom Gugliotta, the pair of Camby and Garnett would have set up the Timberwolves with a powerful front line. The one downside to this selection would be the lack of offensive firepower that the team would be giving up by not making the draft/trade for Marbury, but they say that defense wins championships and it’s not exactly like Camby was completely inept at putting the ball through the hoop.
4. Milwaukee Bucks: Allen Iverson
Original Pick: Stephon Marbury
Imagine teaming “The Answer” with Vin Baker and Glenn Robinson. That trio would have had all aspects of the floor covered. Perimeter game, check. Wing and transition game, check. Post presence, check. Now, would Bubba Chuck actually have signed in a city like Milwaukee?
Chances are, we might have seen a Steve Francis face a few years early. While the Bucks managed to turn the fourth pick into Ray Allen following a draft day trade that saw Marbury head to Minnesota, the Bucks could have had one of the best trio’s in the East since Bird, McHale and Parish. While Iverson wasn’t known for his willingness to pass the rock, you know he was certainly a step up from Sherman Douglas or Elliott Perry.
3. Vancouver Grizzlies: Steve Nash
Original Pick: Shareef Abdur-Rahim
As with the Raptors and the Camby selection, the Grizz really didn’t go wrong with SAR, it’s just that when you look at the fact that they had a future two-time MVP growing up in their own back yard (well actually about a 1.5 hour ferry ride away) and a guaranteed ticket booster, selecting Nash was a no brainer.
Sure at the time it did not make sense to spend the third overall pick on the unknown that was Nash, who would probably even say that himself, but what’s worse is the fact that the Grizzlies were at one point offered the future Hall of Fame point guard for Bryant “Big Country” Reeves. Throw out there another offer of Antonio Daniels for the multi time All-NBA guard and one has to wonder if Vancouver would still have a franchise to this day had either deal gone down.
2. Toronto Raptors: Ray Allen
Original Pick: Marcus Camby
Picking Camby wasn’t a bad selection for the Raptors who needed a big man to play off of Rookie Of The Year Damon Stoudamire. While Camby would end up giving the team a defensive presence, the young franchise still needed to add some firepower and excitement in order to entice fans. Enter “Jesus Shuttlesworth”.
Imagine a back-court with Allen running off screens and feeds from “Mighty Mouse” rather than Doug Christie. Yes Toronto could have taken Allen Iverson, but pairing him with another undersized point guard wouldn’t have made much sense and we all know how much AI wanted and needed the ball in his hands.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Kobe Bryant
Original Pick: Allen Iverson
Sure nobody knew how good the kid from Lower Marion was going to be (which is why we are writing this hindsight piece), but would you really trade potentially one of the top ten all-time players in league history for Iverson? Yes, AI became a Hall of Famer, an MVP and a multi-time All-Star and scoring champ, but Kobe has five chocolate chip cookies to his name, plus all the individual accolades.It’s hard to imagine the Sixers without Iverson for over a decade. However, as much as The Answer was legend in Philly, there is no questioning that Bryant would have been a better selection for the City Of Brotherly Love.
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