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Re-Drafting the First 20 Picks of the Legendary 1984 NBA Draft

In hindsight, it might be easier to rationalize Portland’s selection of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft by imagining the Chicago Bulls carrying out some CIA-style operation to kidnap Stu Inman, Portland’s GM at the time, and then locking him in a windowless, pitch-black room in which the only sound came from an overhead speaker that repeatedly played David Bowie’s masterful concept album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” so that after a week of hearing nothing but Starman and Suffragette City, Inman would be a disoriented, shuffling mess capable of only muttering just one name over and over again: “Bowie…Bowie…Bowie...”

While it is far more amusing to envision such an absurd scenario, it’s important to remember that even the Bulls weren’t exactly sold on Jordan -- they felt that a center was a more pressing need -- and were actually hard at work trying to trade away their pick in order to acquire Seattle’s Jack Sikma. In looking back at the 1984 NBA Draft, it’s only natural that the first thought to immediately come to mind is the mindboggling rationale that must have spurred the Portland Trail Blazers to pass on Jordan -- a once-in-a-lifetime player -- for the right to take Bowie, an injury plagued seven-footer out of the University of Kentucky.

The simple truth, however, is that the NBA was just a different league at the time, with most executives --including Inman -- believing that a dominant big man was necessary to compete for titles. After all, every team that had won the title up to that point in the 1980s included a gifted center to roam the paint: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1980 and 1982 with the Lakers), Robert Parish (1981 with the Celtics) and Moses Malone (1983 with the Sixers). Big men were simply viewed as being more valuable than perimeter players and this is why the Bulls actually explored a trade for Sikma, an All-Star center who had won a title with the Sonics in 1979, and it’s the same reason why the Blazers weren’t totally insane for evaluating Bowie the way they did.

In a redraft, the ripple effects of the countless "What if?" scenarios are always fascinating.  If Portland -- home to three centers whose seemingly limitless potential was left largely untapped due to chronic injuries -- had taken Olajuwon in the 1984 Draft (assuming Jordan goes first to the Rockets), could he have also suffered a fate similar to that of Bowie, Bill Walton and Greg Oden? Could it be that Portland’s atmosphere contains a pollutant that drastically reduces bone density to avian levels but only affects seven footers and therefore has gone largely unnoticed by longtime residents? It’s highly unlikely, but it is pondering these sorts of scenarios that makes redrafting the 1984 draft class such an entertaining hypothetical exercise.

It’s certainly jarring to imagine Jordan soaring from the foul line in a Rockets uniform or Olajuwon perfecting his “Dream Shake” while wearing a Trail Blazers jersey, but the potential effect of a redraft for other players might be far more significant than just a change in laundry. For John Stockton and Charles Barkley, a redraft might mean a better shot at a title and a chance to avoid the stigma associated with being labeled as the “greatest players to never win an NBA championship.”

With a ring on his finger, it might also mean that Barkley’s co-hosts on Inside the NBA would have slightly less material for mocking Sir Charles during broadcasts. Of course, there are more than enough off-the-cuff fat jokes that Kenny, Ernie and Shaq (who is increasingly on the receiving end of these girth-related insults as well) will never be truly lacking in material for ridicule. Without being drawn further into the increasingly absurd possibilities and hypothetical scenarios, let’s get on with re-picking the 1984 NBA Draft, easily one of the greatest classes ever and one that included some of the game’s most celebrated players.

20 Houston Rockets – Michael Jordan 

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Original Selection: Hakeem Olajuwon

In how many drafts would a team that wound up with Olajuwon -- an all-time great who led the Rockets to two NBA championships, won three MVP Awards (two Finals MVPs and an NBA MVP), two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and was a 12-time All-NBA selection during an era of dominant centers -- actually take someone else and not be totally bonkers for doing so? It's not often that a draft produces even one player of Olajuwon’s caliber, but 1984 was a very different draft class, and Michael Jordan was a very different player.

So, Jordan goes to Houston in a selection surprising to no one, pairing with a still-healthy and productive Ralph Sampson during his first few seasons in the league and making Houston an immediate contender with an unstoppable inside-out tandem in Jordan and Sampson. Instead of having to wait for reinforcements like Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson as he did with Chicago, Jordan immediately elevates an already-solid Rockets roster coached by Bill Fitch, a two-time Coach of the Year who led the Celtics to the 1981 championship.

19 Portland Trail Blazers – Hakeem Olajuwon 

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Original Selection: Sam Bowie

The Blazers still miss out on Jordan in this redraft, but they finally get the dominant center they so desperately coveted that they made the decision to pass on Jordan the first time around. In Olajuwon, the Blazers get one of the best two-way centers to ever play in the NBA and pair him with an excellent wing in Clyde Drexler, the two-guard that factored heavily in Portland’s decision to focus on a center in the 1984 NBA Draft. Olajuwon turned out to be everything Portland hoped Bowie would be, finally giving Portland a reliable (and healthy) center who altered the game with both his offense and his defense.

18 Chicago Bulls – Charles Barkley 

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Original Selection: Michael Jordan

The Bulls, on the advice of their advanced analytics department, seriously considered taking John Stockton over Barkley with the third pick in this redraft. The rationale the analytics department rep used to advise the front office was as follows:

Stockton produced more Win Shares than Barkley over his 19-year career (Stockton totaled 207.7 Win Shares to Barkley’s 177.2), and Stockton’s offensive rating per 100 possessions was actually better than Barkley’s (121 to 119). The all-time leader in assists and steals also had a defensive rating close enough to Barkley's (Barkley: 105; Stockton 104) that longevity and consistency made Stockton the more logical choice.

Just as Phil Jackson, not even an assistant with the Bulls in 1984 but knowing that he would eventually take over and install an offense that did not necessarily require a point guard of Stockton’s caliber to excel, was about to argue for Barkley, the door to the draft room was kicked off its hinges by an irate Barkley, leading to the following exchange:

Barkley: “You statheads are so absolutely terrible. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Stockton? Gimme a break! Who’s he going to pass to? Is he gonna run pick-and-rolls with Sidney Green? Dave Corzine? I like them guys, but last I checked you don’t have Karl Malone on your roster.”

Analytics Rep: “Well, Charles, you see…”

Barkley: “Who’s the awful fool who told you to call me by my first name? You and your stupid numbers, making up stats to prove any idiotic opinion just for the sake of bein’ a contrarian. I got an analytic for you to use in making your choice. It’s 10.”

Analytics Rep: “10? 10 what? Charles, um, Mr. Barkley, what does 10 have to do with our draft pick?”

Barkley: “10’s the number of basketballs I’m gonna stuff down your throat if you pick Stockton over me. And it’ll be 11 if you call me Charles again!”

17 Dallas Mavericks – John Stockton 

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Original Selection: Sam Perkins

16 Philadelphia 76ers – Sam Perkins 

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Original Selection: Charles Barkley

No team is more adversely affected in this redraft than the 76ers, who have the fifth pick in a draft featuring four future Hall of Famers (Note: the 1984 NBA Draft actually had five future Hall of Famers if you include Oscar Schmidt, an international great who never played in the NBA but was drafted in the sixth round in 1984) who can at least make a strong case as the best to ever play at their respective positions.

15 Washington Bullets – Alvin Robertson 

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Original Selection: Melvin Turpin

14 San Antonio Spurs – Otis Thorpe 

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Original Selection: Alvin Robertson

13 Los Angeles Clippers – Kevin Willis 

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Original Selection: Lancaster Gordon

In their very first draft as the Los Angeles Clippers after leaving San Diego, the team made a selection that would foreshadow their unparalleled draft ineptitude by selecting Lancaster Gordon, by all accounts a bust who was out of the NBA after averaging 5.6 points and 1.5 assists per game for the Clippers in just over three seasons.

12 Kansas City Kings – Jerome Kersey 

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Original Selection: Otis Thorpe

The Kings did well by snagging Thorpe with the ninth pick back in 1984, but they are still able to land an excellent perimeter player  by taking Kersey, a key cog alongside Clyde Drexler in Portland’s run to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. A 6-7 small forward who eventually won a title as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, Kersey was originally taken in the second round by the Trail Blazers and quickly became a fan favorite in Portland.

11 Philadelphia 76ers – Michael Cage 

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Original Selection: Leon Wood

10 Atlanta Hawks – Vern Fleming 

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Original Selection: Kevin Willis

9 Cleveland Cavaliers – Jay Humphries 

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Original Selection: Tim McCormick

8 Phoenix Suns – Sam Bowie 

via wunc.org

Original Selection: Jay Humphries

Even though Bowie is rightly considered a bust as the second overall pick, the fact that he was the bust that just so happened to be taken before Michael Jordan has overshadowed the fact that the 7-1 center actually had several decent seasons despite being plagued by injury and contributing very little to the team that originally drafted him.

7 Los Angeles Clippers – Ron Anderson 

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Original Selection: Michael Cage

6 Dallas Mavericks – Tony Campbell 

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Original Selection: Terence Stansbury

5 Utah Jazz – Terence Stansbury 

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Original Selection: John Stockton

The Jazz were unbelievably fortunate to land Stockton with this pick back in 1984, selecting the Gonzaga product after four players who would be out of the league in six years or less. With no chance of landing a player of Stockton’s caliber, the Jazz adopt an interesting strategy by taking Stansbury, one of the players taken before Stockton who was out of the league after just three seasons.

4 New Jersey Nets – Tim McCormick 

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Original Selection: Jeff Turner

3 Indiana Pacers – Danny Young 

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Original Selection: Vern Fleming

2 Portland Trail Blazers – Steve Colter 

via hoopshype.com

Original Selection: Bernard Thompson

1 Detroit Pistons – Jim Petersen 

via nba.com

Original Selection: Tony Campbell

With Tony Campbell off the board, the Pistons opt for a big man and take Petersen over “Dinner Bell Mel,” who falls out of the top 20 picks after being taken sixth overall in 1984. Petersen, a 6-10 post player who gave Houston several solid and productive seasons in the 1980s, enjoyed an eight-year career in which he averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

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Re-Drafting the First 20 Picks of the Legendary 1984 NBA Draft