If NBA people are correct in their evaluations and Thursday's draft becomes one of the weakest in many years, then the chances of seeing someone from that draft making the cut for this draft are next to impossible.
This draft, meaning, the all-time NBA draft.
No, not the best draft of all time. That would probably be the 1970 draft or the 1984 draft or even the 2003 draft, all deep and loaded with players in the Hall of Fame or players who'll soon be in Springfield. The draft we're referring to is the best draft based on picks.
As in: The best No. 1 overall pick ever, and the best No. 2 overall pick ever, best No. 3 pick, and so on.
This draft is famous for those who made it and probably more for those who didn't. Some of the picks simply had too many quality contenders, while understandably, the picks in the bottom half lacked depth but not necessarily quality players. We didn't include players taken in territorial drafts (yes, there was such a thing back in the day) and therefore no Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson. Also, a number of players went to the ABA and that's why you won't see George Gervin and Moses Malone.
Anyway, as a cruel tease for everyone awaiting greatness to emerge Thursday when David Stern reads those cue cards, here's a compilation of the ultimate NBA draft from one to 30:
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bucks, 1969. For obvious reasons, this was easily the most stacked of all draft pick positions. But this was not a difficult choice to make. Maybe in another three to five years we'll have a new No. 1 at No. 1, but right now, LeBron James is looking up to Kareem. Same for Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, etc, etc.
2. Bill Russell, Hawks, 1956. To answer your question, the player taken ahead of him was Sihugo Green, by Rochester. Yes, Si-who?
3. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1984. Two teams didn't think he was worth it, and only one (Houston, which took Olajuwon) could be forgiven.
4. Dolph Schayes, Knicks, 1948. He isn't the sexy choice to anyone born in the color TV age but Schayes was an important early pioneer and the second-best big man of his time after George Mikan. If you grew up on ESPN only, you'd swear Chris Paul is a more deserving No. 4.
5. Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves, 1995. From high school to, very soon, the Hall of Fame. Among the other No. 5s, Scottie Pippen never carried a franchise and Charles Barkley never won a championship.
6. Larry Bird, Celtics, 1978. Red Auerbach pulled a fast one when he took advantage of a screwball loophole and drafted Bird a year early. That's why Red was a front office genius.
7. John Havlicek, Celtics, 1962. Maybe if Bernard King's career wasn't tripped by drug and injury problems he'd have a case here. Hard to beat Hondo, though, for a variety of reasons: big scorer, clutch player, champion.
8. Willis Reed, Knicks, 1964. He was actually taken in the second round, eighth overall. Yeah, the NBA was a lot smaller back then. At the eight-spot, Robert Parish is a strong No. 2, though.
9. Dirk Nowitzki, Bucks, 1998. No offense to Dirk, a former MVP and NBA champ and most decorated foreign-born-and-raised player of all time, but this is a weak group here. The second best? Amare Stoudemire.
10. Paul Pierce, Celtics, 1998. This was the type of decision Red used to make in the 1960s. Pierce will go down as one of the top five Celtics all-time. And that's The Truth.
11. Reggie Miller, Pacers, 1987. The rap on Miller before the draft was that he wasn't as good as his sister. And that was a bad thing?
12. Julius Erving, Bucks, 1972. This is a forced selection, because Dr. J was headed to the ABA and the Bucks knew they had no shot. But we'll put him here anyway because otherwise we'd have to sell you on Muggsy Bogues at 12.
13. Kobe Bryant, Hornets, 1996. He would've gone to the Nets higher in the lottery but his people told them not to waste their time, and the Nets didn't call the bluff. That's why they're the Nets. Jerry West worked a draft-day deal with the Hornets for the player taken No. 26 on this list and the rest is history.
14. Clyde Drexler, Blazers, 1983. The Blazers took Sam Bowie over Jordan a year later because, they explained, they already had Drexler. Um, OK.
15. Steve Nash, Suns, 1996. He lasted this long because he played at a small college (Santa Clara) and scouts wondered if he could measure up to bigger, faster and better players. Well, after Kobe, this two-time MVP is the biggest top-15 steal in history.
16. John Stockton, Jazz, 1984. He came off the bench over his first season and a half and some people wondered if, in hindsight, he was a reach at 16.
17. Shawn Kemp, Sonics, 1989. One of the early high school hardship cases, Kemp was considered too raw and undisciplined to go any higher in the draft. All Kemp did was become the second-best Sonic ever, after Gary Payton.
18. Calvin Murphy, Rockets, 1970. You'd rather have Joe Dumars or Mark Jackson? Not me. Nobody under six-feet was better than the Pocket Rocket, and nobody over six feet was meaner.
19. Nate Archibald, Royals, 1970. As pure as they came as a point guard. He once led the league in scoring and assists. Nobody has done it since. Or tried.
20. Larry Nance, Suns, 1981. He was one of several really good players who had the misfortune of playing the prime of their career in Jordan's prime.
21. Rajon Rondo, Suns, 2006. A rather surprising choice, given his age, but the competition here is really lousy. It's the No. 21 pick, what do you expect?
22. George McGinnis, 76ers, 1973. He had a decent dual career in the ABA and NBA although he was a bad fit with Erving in Philly and was atrocious in the 1977 Finals.
23. Alex English, Bucks, 1976. He was a smooth shooter who never played in a meaningful game in his professional life because the Nuggets, with whom he spent much of his career, treated defense like a disease and avoided it whenever possible.
24. Derek Fisher, Lakers, 1996. Never an All-Star, or even close to being one, Fisher makes the cut anyway because of his championships and leadership.
25. Mark Price, Mavericks, 1986. He could pull up and score off the dribble and pass the same way. Very few players could shoot three-pointers, free throws and mid-range jumpers like Price.
26. Vlade Divac, Lakers, 1989. A crafty player and one of the best foreign imports ever, Divac helped the Lakers by playing and then later by serving as trade bait for a 17-year-old named Kobe.
27. Dennis Rodman, Pistons, 1986. An amazing rebounder and defender whose hustle and desire was surpassed only by his fetish for feather boas and tattoos, before they became the rage (tattoos, not boas).
28. Tony Parker, Spurs, 2001. He's going to the Hall of Fame. A vast majority of the players taken before him in the 2001 draft will not.
29. Dennis Johnson, Sonics, 1976. He won a championship and was Finals MVP with Seattle, then became the best teammate Larry Bird ever had, according to Larry Bird, in Boston.
30. Spencer Haywood, Braves, 1971. He was the original high school hardship case later known for a having a terrific rookie season, a career-killing drug habit and marrying a supermodel.
As for the best of the over-30 picks? Try Michael Redd (No. 43) who earned a max contract from the Bucks; Jeff Hornacek (46) who was a solid shooter for Utah and Phoenix and is now the Suns' head coach; the late Drazen Petrovic (60) whose jersey was retired by the Nets; Steve Kerr (50) who hit big shots to win championships in Chicago and San Antonio; Manu Ginobili (57) who became a member of the Spurs' Big Three during their title run; and finally Bill Laimbeer (65), the ultimate sleeper, who won a few championships and also made lots of friends in the NBA.