Draft History: Best Picks Below 9, 2002-2012

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May 18, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) reacts to defeating the New York Knicks in game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats New York 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have the 10th overall pick in the first round of NBA draft today and people seem to think that it’s guaranteed mediocrity. I am going to tell you, right out, that this couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, there is a prevalent mindset that this draft class is exceptionally weak, but here’s the thing; where we are, it’s not.

Generally, there is one standout player (or sometimes two) that scouts proclaim the hands down, no questions asked, #1 pick. That’s not the case this year. The #1 pick could be Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, Georgetown small forward Otto Porter, or even Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo.

They are all excellent players, but by historical standards of the NBA draft, none of them should be picked first. I can’t predict the future, but do you see anyone of these guys having the immediate, franchise changing impact of, say, Yao Ming (2002), LeBron James (2003), Dwight Howard (2004), Derrick Rose (2008), or Kyrie Irving (2012)? Doubtful.

My point is that the top available players are comparatively sub-standard, but that doesn’t mean the entire draft is. The difference between this draft and others is that the talent drop off is not nearly as steep. This year, the slope is very gradual, whereas most drafts have one player at the mountain top.

This is why 10th is the perfect place to be for the Blazers. Picks 7-15 are all on about the same level, and that level is not far below the top tier. In this case, the 10th pick is just as valuable as it has been in the past despite claims of a “weak” draft class.

To get your mouth watering for the draft at 4:00 PST on ESPN, I’ve prepared a small list of the best players drafted 10th or lower in the past 11 years. Some of this year’s prospects could go on to have careers just as successful as the players on this list; maybe even in Portland.

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