“It’s never an exact science because you’re going to have to judge everything based on the future,” said Billy Knight, the former Atlanta Hawks and Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies general manager, who picked both Gasol and Horford.
Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld had success with the third pick last season, when he drafted shooting guard Bradley Beal from Florida and watched him become just the seventh teenager in NBA history to make the all-rookie team.
The Wizards are considering several players at No. 3 – Georgetown forward Otto Porter Jr., UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, Indiana swingman Victor Oladipo, Maryland’s Alex Len and possibly Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Kansas guard Ben McLemore if one or both slide past Cleveland and Orlando.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen with Noel. That’s your factor right there,” Blake said. “If Noel goes number one, then Washington has a chance to get Porter. Could Porter go one? I don’t know. This is going to be one of those cool drafts. We don’t even know who is going to be the number one pick in the draft. That’s going to be difficult.”
Thorn, now president of the Philadelphia 76ers, said of the upcoming draft, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
“Ernie knows what he’s doing. He’s going to get a player that can fit a need that they have,” Knight said. “I picked two guys that turned out to be all-stars, but I made some mistakes up there, too. That happens, also. It happened to me.”
Knight famously whiffed in 2005 on Deron Williams and Chris Paul to select Marvin Williams with the second pick. He recovered two years later, believing that Horford was “the next guy” after the Oden-Durant debate over the No. 1 pick was settled. But back in 2001, Knight held an even stronger hunch when he elected to trade Abdur-Rahim to the Hawks in order to take Gasol for Memphis with the third pick.
That year, Brown and Tyson Chandler were competing for the top spot, and Knight was confident that Gasol would be there for him, especially since Eddy Curry had also been mentioned as a possible candidate for one of the top two spots.
“It was sort of a surprise pick,” Knight said of Gasol, who had played well in Spain but raised concerns about his slight build and physical toughness. “I liked him a lot. I thought he was that skilled a big man. He’s not a physical beast, but I thought he was tough enough to play in the NBA. Because it’s a lot of street fights you get into, but you still got to play basketball.”
Knight added that he would’ve taken Gasol first if given the chance. But 29 years after the best draft selection of his career, Thorn still marvels at the role luck played in Chicago landing Jordan. Houston won a coin flip with Portland to pick first, but Olajuwon would’ve gone first to Portland and Jordan would’ve gone second to Houston in that scenario.
“We got fortunate in two cases, because, one, the right team won it and two Bowie passed the physical,” he said with a chuckle. “Happened to be in the right spot and to be perfectly candid, let’s say for some reason, Inman changes his mind and takes Jordan at two, I would’ve taken Perkins at three, over [Charles] Barkley. Perkins was a solid player for many years, but obviously no Barkley. It was one of those years that everything aligned the right way.”