The Curse of the Eighth Pick in the NBA Draft

It’s common in sports to talk about the curses and losing streaks that befall individual franchises, like the fact that the Washington Wizards somehow haven’t reached the conference finals since the 1970s. But perhaps the most fascinating streak of futility in the modern NBA is one shared by 16 different teams. That’s how many teams have had the eighth pick in the NBA draft since 1994, a span of 29 consecutive classes that amazingly hasn’t produced a single All-Star in that number.

The most recent All-Star drafted eighth was Vin Baker, who was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1993. Baker made four straight All-Star teams beginning with his sophomore season, and he was honored with an All-NBA second-team appearance in 1998 (win among others Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber). But his statistics began to drop dramatically in the following year’s lockout season, and Baker’s career stalled due to problems with alcohol and depression. Despite those struggles, Baker was by far the most honored eighth pick of the last 37 drafts.

That no eighth pick has become a star since then seems like a statistical impossibility. Although each subsequent NBA draft pick after No. 1 offers a slightly smaller chance of success, no. 8 is still a high — and highly coveted — lottery pick, and probably some of the 29 guys taken eighth when Vin Baker would have become stars.

But they haven’t, and a look at the actual history of draft results quickly disproves what should be a mathematical certainty (that at least one in 29 straight top-10 picks would become a star) of some pretty galaxy brains -ways . And this goes beyond Baker, who himself was the first All-Star drafted eighth overall since 1985, the first year of the NBA draft lottery.

To be fair, some eighth picks since then have had great careers, like Ron Harper, Larry Hughes, Andre Miller and Rudy Gay, all of whom were at least in the All-Star discussion a few times, or like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Channing Frye, who shed their failed lottery pick labels to reinvent themselves as valuable role players for championship teams. But those are the exceptions, and the full list of guys ranked eighth illustrates a grim journey through everything that can go wrong with top NBA prospects.

It’s all there, from the college stars who couldn’t adapt to the speed and athleticism of the NBA (Bo Kimble, Joe Alexander, Nik Stauskas) to the underdeveloped super-athletes who never learned the nuances of NBA positioning (Marquese Chriss, Brandan Wright, Chris Wilcox). From the tweeners (Al-Farouq Aminu) to the guys who were just too small (TJ Ford). From the highly touted foreign prospects who could never crack an NBA rotation (Rafael Araújo, Frank Ntilikina) to the guys who had terrible injury luck (Brandon Knight). From the giant stiffs (Olden Polynice, Adonal Foyle) to the irrationally confident shooters (Terrence Ross, Collin Sexton). And from the guys who just weren’t very good at anything (Jordan Hill, Stanley Johnson) to the guys who seemingly could do anything but pull it all together two nights in a row (Larry Hughes). The eighth election has been like New York’s hottest club– it absolutely has everything except apparently the All-Stars.

Consider these sobering facts:

  • In the 29 years in which the eighth pick has not produced a single All-Star, several franchise players have been taken to the nos. 9 (Dirk Nowitzki, Tracy McGrady, Amar’e Stoudemire, DeMar DeRozan), 10 (Paul Pierce, Paul George, Joe Johnson), 11 (Klay Thompson, Domantas Sabonis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), 13 (Kobe Bryant, Devin Booker , Donovan Mitchell) and 15 (Steve Nash, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo).
  • Three All-Stars have been tied for 35th (Carlos Boozer, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green).
  • Two All-Stars have finished 47th (Paul Millsap and Mo Williams).
  • One All-Star has gone No. 60 (Isaiah Thomas), a draft number that didn’t even exist before 2004.
  • Every one of the top 32 picks in the draft has produced at least one All-Star since 1994 with the exception of Nos. 23 and 26 and the unlucky No. 8.
  • No team has contributed more to this streak of futility than the Knicks, who have had the eighth pick in four drafts since 2005 and turned those assets into Channing Frye, Jordan Hill, Frank Ntilikina and Obi Toppin.
  • In 1998, the top two guys in the entire draft, Nowitzki and Pierce, were taken ninth and tenth, respectively.

There is one year, however, where you could argue that the eighth pick was the best man taken in the draft: Three-time sixth man of the year winner Jamal Crawford was taken eighth overall by Chicago in 2000. But it’s wide. considered the worst draft ever, and Crawford was never in serious contention to make an All-Star team. Even when the eighth pick lands, it still doesn’t.

So why does it happen? Teams that pick in the lottery (the first 14 picks) tend to use one of two strategies: They’ll either swing for the fences or grab a guy they think is a safe bet as a future starter. And while this may be an overgeneralization, the top half of the lottery is likely to induce more swings in players with potential, while the bottom half of the lottery is likely to induce more attempted safe bets.

The eighth pick basically straddles the middle of two different lottery strategies. So what can happen is that teams think the eighth pick is high enough to swing for the fences, but in reality the pick is low enough that all the prospects with enough potential can actually profit that kind of thinking is already gone.

At Bill Simmons 2001 draft diary for ESPN, he noted that the draft apparently only had nine guys who deserved to be high picks, but the Celtics picked 10th, so “someone who picks ahead of them has to screw up and take the high school center from Senegal (DeSagana Diop). ). ” You won’t believe this, but the team seduced by Diop’s potential was the one with the eighth pick (Cleveland), which meant future seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson fell into the Celtics’ lap at No. 10. (Of course, they traded him for two bench players just a few months later, but that’s beside the point.)

Basically, the eighth pick is no man’s land in the NBA draft lottery. It is the treadmill of mediocrity. The most obvious choices are already off the table, but no. 8 inherently feels too high for teams to resort to what they’ve already decided are the safer, less tempting prospects. Front offices don’t seem to like playing it safe at no. 8, and the number is just low enough that no one fears for their job if they make a reckless choice.

This is how you end up taking Stanley Johnson over Devin Booker. Anyone who watched college basketball in 2015 knew that Booker (Kentucky’s sixth man) would be a good NBA starter at worst. And anyone who followed draft scouting reports at the time knew that Arizona “star” Johnson was labeled as a guy who excelled at nothing. But the eighth pick is a tricky bugger, and it can trick GMs into thinking it’s the right number to swing for a tantalizing athlete while slapping a sure thing as more of a “late lottery pick.”

How to take Marquese Chriss over Domantas Sabonis; you think the “huge upside potential” of a raw super-athlete (who couldn’t even get his college team into the NCAA tournament) is a better use of the eighth pick than the guy who just averaged 20- 14-3-3 in three March Madness games (and who happened to be the son of one of the greatest international players of all time). And that’s also how you take Brandan Wright over Thaddeus Young, the inspiration for the greatest stat graphic in televised sports history:

(Young’s career averages for points and rebounds have since dipped slightly, but screenshots live forever.)

Incredibly, it seems the very concept of the lottery could be what breaks teams’ brains when it comes to the eighth pick. One of the most interesting things I found while researching this piece was that the eighth pick used to produce amazing results. In the nine drafts between the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 and the lottery’s creation in 1985, several stars were taken eighth, including Hall of Famers Robert Parish and Jack Sikma in consecutive years and then Tom Chambers and Andrew Toney a few years later . Even the first year of the lottery resulted in a star at eighth when Detlef Schrempf was drafted by Dallas.

But since Schrempf, we’ve had just one All-Star in 37 attempts. With the eighth pick being just the eighth pick, teams were hitting it left and right. But as soon as it became a “lottery pick,” teams seemingly unconsciously began thinking about its value — and the strategies that value merit — in wildly different (and provably wrong) ways. And thus began one of the strangest ongoing streaks of sporting futility.

When will this end? Well, maybe it already has. Taken eighth overall by Orlando two years ago, Franz Wagner looks like a future multi-time All-Star, perhaps starting as early as next year. And Dyson Daniels, taken eighth overall last year by New Orleans, has shown flashes himself. But if Daniels never reaches his potential, or if Wagner suffers a career-ending injury playing pickup handball in Germany this summer, don’t say you weren’t warned.

That brings us to this year and the poor Wizards, who lost a coin toss with the Pacers to secure the eighth pick in this week’s draft. Could they end the curse? Who would they take to do it? In his latest mock draft, The callerKevin O’Connor predicts Ausar Thompson to go eighth. If the Wizards can catch the guy who is number four on O’Connor’s Big Board, it could be a huge coup. Other top prospects who could be available at No. 8 include Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Taylor Hendricks, Anthony Black and Bilal Coulibaly. But there are questions with all of these guys, especially Anthony Black, whose scouting reports are giving me traumatic Frank Ntilikina flashbacks.

Washington’s latest draft history (*cough*Johnny Davis*cough*) – combined with the automatic red flag that the eighth pick seems to bring – doesn’t exactly instill much confidence in a changing of the guard. But if new President Michael Winger really wants to turn things around in Washington, breaking the curse of the eighth election would be one hell of a first step.

Daniel Joyaux is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in Vanity FairRoger Ebert, Rotten Tomatoes, The edgeand Cosmopolitan, among other. You can follow him on Twitter @Thirdmanmovies and on Letterboxd at Djoyaux.

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