Today is the NBA Draft Lottery, where the Phoenix Suns will learn whether they remain in the No. 1 overall spot for the first time in team history or fall among spots 2-4. Receiving the chance to select first overall would allow the Suns to control their own destiny from now through June 21 and give them the pick of the litter so to speak.
But a high pick is only half the equation; the other half is scouting and due diligence. History is littered with regrettable decisions, and draft picks are no exception. Every team has rolled snake eyes a time or two, including the Suns. For every Alvan Adams or Walter Davis or Dan Majerle or Steve Nash or Shawn Marion or Amar’e Stoudemire or Devin Booker, there is a Kendall Marshall or Tim Perry or William Bedford or Corky Calhoun.
This article isn’t about bad picks or disappointing picks, specifically. If it were, number one on this list would be drafting George Gervin in 1974 only for him to stay with the San Antonio Spurs in the ABA, marking what must be the first blood spilled in the Suns-Spurs tensions. No, this article focuses on picks made worse in light of who was selected after them.
It was limited to a maximum of five picks later because things get depressing fast if you don’t rein it in. As well, picks in the Ryan McDonough era (2013 to present) were omitted. Were there candidates? Oh yeah. Were there some I desperately wanted to include *cough* Tyler Ennis over Gary Harris *cough* but didn’t? Sure. But I felt benevolent and chose to give him a break. Besides, there’s plenty of candidates outside of McDonough’s selections to compile this list, and surely the comment section will have plenty to say about those I exempted.
So without further ado, here are the 10 biggest draft passes in Phoenix Suns history.
10. 1984 128. Herman Veal (131. Oscar Schmidt)
This first entry is honorary more than anything since neither player suited up in the NBA. Still, when the opportunity to draft one of the greatest international players in history presents itself and the Suns pass, it’s making the list.
The 1984 NBA Draft is heralded as one of the most talent-rich ever, with the likes of Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton (more on him later) emerging. But more than halfway through the 228-pick draft is another name that should be familiar to basketball fans — Oscar Schmidt.
Schmidt, inducted into both the FIBA Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, was as brash as he was talented. He owns numerous scoring records, including the most points scored in Olympic history (1,093), and has a career scoring total of 49,737 points when his club and national team stats are combined, making him basketball’s unofficial scoring leader. He was taken with the 15th pick of the sixth round in 1984 (131st overall) by the New Jersey Nets but never played in the NBA because doing so at the time would have disqualified him from representing his home country of Brazil in international competition. By the time the rules changed in 1992, he was 34 years old and no longer interested in giving the NBA a go.
The Phoenix Suns had the 128th selection in that draft, and with Schmidt still on the board, they went with Herman Veal out of Maryland — a player best known (when remembered) for being named after a cutlet.
Solid way to start the list.
9. 2002 22. Casey Jacobsen (23. Tayshaun Prince)
The Phoenix Suns had two first round draft picks in 2002. They used their own to take Amar’e Stoudemire ninth overall and put in place a building block for years to come. Their second pick, acquired from the Boston Celtics in the Joe Johnson acquisition in February 2002, was used to take Stanford’s Casey Jacobsen 22nd overall. Jacobsen spent two and a half seasons with Phoenix, averaging 5.5 points in 19.7 minutes per game.
The problem? He was taken one spot ahead of Tayshaun Prince, who was a vital cog in the defensive machine the Detroit Pistons built in the 2000s. Prince never put up flashy numbers but was a four-time All-NBA Second Team defender and won a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics with the Redeem Team.
He and Shawn Marion would have made for a formidable defensive combination in those small-ball lineups of Mike D’Antoni’s.
8. 1982 15. David Thirdkill (18. Ricky Pierce)
Hopping in the WABAC machine once again, we land in 1982, where the Suns are holding the 15th overall pick. With the likes of James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins already off the board, the Suns select small forward David Thirdkill. Thirdkill played 49 games with Phoenix in 1982-83 — his only in the Valley — and averaged 4.0 points. He lasted five seasons of little note in the NBA.
Why does it sting? The Suns could’ve drafted Ricky Pierce. A reserve most of his career, Pierce was named Sixth Man of the Year in both 1986-87 and 1989-90 and was an All Star in 1990-91. He averaged over 20 points three times (only one of those seasons as a starter) and shot close to 50 percent from the field for his career. He finished with 14,467 points in 969 career games played.
At least the name Thirdkill was cool.
7. 2009 14. Earl Clark (17. Jrue Holiday, 18. Ty Lawson, 19. Jeff Teague)
Ah, a draft remembered for a franchise-altering stroke of misfortune — otherwise known as the Stephen Curry Trade That Wasn’t. It’s easy to dwell on what could’ve been had the Golden State Warriors stuck to the arrangement, but the Suns had selections to make in 2009 as well.
With the 14th pick in that draft, the Suns took the versatile Earl Clark from Louisville. He spent 60 games over a season-plus with the Suns, and his best game was a 10-point, 8-rebound performance in career game No. 8. Clark almost tapped into his well of talent during the 2012-13 season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but that fizzled out with his career.
Making matters worse were three players taken shortly after Clark — point guards Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Jeff Teague. Holiday and Teague have gone on to be All Stars.
There’s just something about people named Earl not working out with the Suns.
6. 1969 44. Dennis Stewart (45. Bob Dandridge)
The coin toss. That’s what most Suns fans remember from the 1969 draft. Well, and the result — not getting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (née Lew Alcindor). But they did themselves no favors when they lost another player to the Milwaukee Bucks, this time of their own doing.
With the 44th overall selection, the Phoenix Suns took Dennis Stewart out of Michigan off the board. One pick later, the Bucks selected Bob Dandridge from Norfolk State. Dandridge went on to have a 13-year NBA career, winning two NBA titles, making four All-Star teams, and scoring 15,530 points. Stewart, meanwhile, played in 12...games. Ten were in the ABA, two were in the NBA, and zero were with the Suns.
5. 2004 7. Luol Deng (9. Andre Iguodala)
It’s getting serious now, so you might want to turn back if you have a weak constitution.
On the cusp of erecting a team that would come to define an era and change how the NBA plays basketball, the Suns agreed to deal their pick in the 2004 NBA Draft to the Chicago Bulls, believing their desired player (Andre Iguodala) would not be available at No. 7. Surprise! He was. The Suns, however, stuck to their agreement and took Luol Deng for the Bulls, flipping him for Jackson Vroman, a future first, and cash.
Iguodala, taken ninth by the Philadelphia 76ers, has gone on to be an All Star, an All-Defensive Team member, a two-time NBA Champion, and the 2014-15 NBA Finals MVP. He also won gold medals with the U.S. national team in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and the 2012 Olympics. Deng, the player the Suns actually took, has been no slouch, either. He’s averaged 15 points over his career, made two All-Star teams, and was All-Defensive Second Team in 2011-12.
So to recap, the Suns wanted Iguodala. They took Deng. They could’ve had either. They came away with neither. I need pie.
4. 2011 13. Markieff Morris (15. Kawhi Leonard, 16. Nikola Vucevic)
This one has the potential to move up the list as the years go on, but it’s already pretty bad.
In need of a power forward in 2011, the Suns selected Markieff Morris with the 13th overall pick. He showed promise initially but never developed into more than an average starter, putting up 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds over four and a half seasons with the Suns — numbers consistent with his career averages. Combine that with the Morrii Saga, and it was an inauspicious choice even without seeing who came after.
Taken 16th in 2011 was Nikola Vucevic, a center who has averaged 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds since being drafted. He runs hot and cold offensively and isn’t a big deterrent defensively but can devastate a team when engaged. But Vucevic isn’t enough to make this number four on the list. Kawhi Leonard, though? Yeah, he’s enough.
Taken 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers and traded to the Spurs on Draft Night, Leonard blossomed into a true two-way superstar. Despite missing all but nine games this season with a quad injury (or acute bitterness depending on who is asked), he remains one of the league’s premiere talents. He is a two-time All Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, four-time All-Defensive Team member (three Firsts), two-time All-NBA First Team member, and was the NBA Finals MVP in 2013-14 as he led the Spurs to a 4-1 series win over the Miami Heat. And he turns 27 on June 29.
You just knew when the Spurs traded for him that he would turn into something good. Too bad the Suns didn’t have that idea first.
3. 1987 2. Armen Gilliam (5. Scottie Pippen)
Looking at the names above, this one appears incredibly lopsided, but it didn’t start that way. Gilliam was taken second overall by Phoenix after missing out on the jewel of the draft — David Robinson. He performed well as a rookie, averaging 14.8 points and 7.9 rebounds while being named to the All-Rookie First Team. But that was the level he would perform at for the majority of his career, and while productive, it paled in comparison to the player taken fifth overall.
Scottie Pippen, drafted by the Seattle Supersonics and acquired by the Chicago Bulls on Draft Night, started his career slowly (7.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 1987-88) but would evolve into a Hall of Famer and one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He averaged 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.0 steals per game for his career while making seven All-Star teams and 17 All-NBA or All-Defensive Teams (eight All-Defensive First Teams and three All-NBA First Teams). He also won six NBA titles alongside Jordan on those dynastic Bulls teams and won Olympic gold medals on the 1992 Dream Team and in 1996 as part of Dream Team III.
So yes, Gilliam got off to the better start, but Pippen lapped him a couple dozen times by the end.
2. 1984 13. Jay Humphries (16. John Stockton)
We’ve returned to the 1984 draft of lore, which can’t mean anything good for the Suns.
Jerry Colangelo went into the 1984 Draft looking for a point guard. He took one with the 13th overall pick, Jay Humphries. In choosing Humphries, the Suns were seeking a player in the mold of Dennis Johnson, who had been traded from Phoenix the season prior. He was billed as an athletic defender who could distribute the basketball, but in his three and a half seasons with the Suns, he never lived up to the Johnson comparisons, averaging 10.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 1.4 steals. Those numbers would mirror his averages over his 11-year career.
There was another point guard the Suns could’ve taken with the 13th overall pick, however. Enter John Stockton, taken 16th out of Gonzaga by the Utah Jazz, who only went on to become the NBA’s all-time leader in both assists (15,806) and steals (3,265). The Hall of Famer, 50 greatest players member, and 1992 and 1996 Olympic gold medalist was also a 10-time All Star, 16-time All-NBA or All-Defensive Team member, and led the NBA in assists per game a record nine consecutive seasons.
Stockton formed one half of the most devastating pick-and-roll combination in NBA history for 18 seasons. And speaking of segues….
1. 1985 10. Ed Pinckney (13. Karl Malone)
The Suns were in the market for a power forward in 1985 and decided to use the 10th overall pick on Villanova’s Ed Pinckney, who had helped Villanova knock off Patrick Ewing’s favored Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament that year to win the national championship.
At the time, Colangelo said of drafting Pinckney, “This is very satisfying. He is the player we have wanted for quite some time now.” Colangelo also said that if Pinckney had gone to the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 9, as they feared, they would have selected Charles Oakley.
Pinckney would go on to average 9.5 points and 5.6 rebounds over two seasons with the Suns. For his career, he averaged 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds.
There was another power forward the Suns could’ve taken with the 10th overall pick, however. Enter Karl Malone, taken 13th out of Louisiana Tech by the Utah Jazz, who only went on to become the second leading scorer in NBA history (36,928) behind Abdul-Jabbar and arguably the greatest power forward ever. The Hall of Famer, 50 greatest players member, and 1992 and 1996 Olympic gold medalist was also a 14-time All Star, 18-time All-NBA or All-Defensive Team member (11 All-NBA First Team and three All-Defensive First Team), and a two-time MVP.
Yes, this means the Suns could’ve had the Stockton-Malone duo for all those years instead of Utah. But hey, at least we got Humphries and Pinckney.
I need more pie.