Kobe! AI! Samaki? The booms and busts of the 1996 NBA Draft
With the NBA Finals concluded and our collective attentions turned to the upcoming draft, let’s take a quick look back at the 1996 NBA Draft, which could be rightly regarded as the most talent-rich collection of rookies in history. The second round didn’t produce anyone of note, so we’ll concentrate solely on the first round and its (at least) four future Hall of Famers.
To do that, we’re going to use the post-draft analysis written by Marty Blake, the NBA’s longtime director of scouting services who published his exclusive thoughts on NBA.com. (Blake passed away in April 2013.) The writeup isn’t available online and is in my possession only because I (for whatever reason) printed it out in July 1996 and have kept it all these years.
So, with 18 years of hindsight, how the teams actually do? Some did pretty well, others … not so much.
1. Allen Iverson (76ers)
"The 76ers made a giant step in rebuilding their club with Allen. He’s the fastest player I have ever seen enter the NBA in my 45 years in the league. He can beat anybody off the dribble."
One of the best scorers and defenders in NBA history, Iverson had the personality to match his talent.
2. Marcus Camby (Raptors)
"He is probably the best shotblocker in the draft. I think he can play some at the three (small forward) spot. If he has trouble guarding threes, imagine the trouble they’ll have guarding him!"
Only one year removed from playing, Camby is a former Defensive Player of the Year Award winner and one of the great shot blockers in league history.
3. Shareef Abdur-Rahim (Vancouver Grizzlies)
"He is going to be a star someday. He’s going to be able to play the power forward alongside Big Country (Bryant Reeves). He is the guy they wanted all along."
He was not a bust by any means — more than 15,000 points scored over parts of 12 seasons — but certainly not the impact player the Grizz thought they were drafting. (Fun fact: Thanks to a midseason trade, Abdur-Rahim played a whopping 85 regular-season games in 2003-04.)
4. Stephon Marbury (Bucks, traded to Timberwolves)
"Minnesota has been searching for a point guard for a long time. Marbury is a leader, he’s the best pure point guard in the draft, and he will make them a better team."
Starbury, who would average 19.3 points and 7.6 assists over 13 NBA seasons, was out of Minny by his third season. Last seen playing in China.
5. Ray Allen (Timberwolves, traded to Bucks)
"They needed a big guard who can score. He can run the court, he can pass, and he is a good outside shooter. They are going to have an explosive offense."
Perhaps the greatest shooter in NBA history. Yeah, the Bucks did well with this trade.
6. Antoine Walker (Celtics)
"They were fortunate to get him at No. 6. He has a chance to be a star. He has everything you look for in a small forward; he can shoot, pass, handle the ball, defend. A good pick."
Walker was a reliable scorer and three-point shooter — and gifted ballhandler and passer at 6-foot-8 — who was out of the league by the time he was 31 and is now well known for blowing through more than $100 million in career earnings and ending up broke.
7. Lorenzen Wright (Clippers)
"He can play the four (power forward) and possibly the five (center). He is an overachiever who comes to play. He can run the court and he rebounds. He scores a lot of points on hustle baskets and tip-ins."
The Clips couldn’t draft a lick back then, and Wright was yet more evidence of that. He certainly never overachieved in the NBA and was out of the league after 13 uneven seasons. A year after his career ended in 2009, Wright was shot and killed in Memphis at age 34.
8. Kerry Kittles (New Jersey Nets)
"The Nets get a great stroker. He reminds me of Reggie Miller when he came out. He can bring the ball up a little bit. He’s very athletic and can score points in bunches."
A skinny 6-5 swingman, Kittles always should’ve been better than what he was. Knee injuries forced him to retire, and he traded in bank shots to become a Wall Street banker.
9. Samaki Walker (Mavericks)
"He’s a power guy, very physical down in the blocks. He worked out well for teams. He can block shots and run the court and he will develop more parts to his offensive game."
The first true, undeniable bust of the draft, Walker started only 143 games over 10 seasons. But at least he had a cool hat.
10. Erick Dampier (Pacers)
"He can block shots and rebound. He has great physical skills and a little drop-step move to the basket. He has the type of body where he can come in and play center in the NBA right away."
Over 16 seasons, Dampier would become an all-time top 50 shot blocker and top 100 rebounder. Not too shabby.
11. Todd Fuller (Warriors)
"He is probably the best outside shooter among the American centers. He can pass the ball and run the court. He has gained some hard muscle weight, which he will need."
A 6-11 center who weighed 255, Fuller never blocked more than 20 shots in any of his five seasons. This is a pick that every Warriors fan is still trying to forget.
12. Vitaly Potapenko (Cavaliers)
"He was the best player at the NBA Pre-Draft Camp. He is a terrific competitor who can shoot the ball. He is a good scoring power forward. A very strong player and hard worker."
He wasn’t as bad as Fuller, but Potapenko didn’t last three years in Cleveland and played a generally underwhelming 11 NBA seasons.
13. Kobe Bryant (Hornets, traded to Lakers)
"He’s very athletic and he’s had a good fundamental upbringing because of his father, (former NBA player) Joe Bryant. If you have patience, he is someone who could have a future impact."
Sooooooooo, you could say the Lakers did OK here.
14. Peja Stojakovic (Kings)
"His availability for next year is in question, but Sacramento is willing to wait a year if need be. He is a slasher who takes it to the basket strong and is a tough competitor."
When healthy, Peja and his jump shot were hard to beat. Though injuries limited the three-time All-Star’s overall potential, he still retired with the ninth-most three-point baskets and the third-best free throw-shooting percentage in league history.
15. Steve Nash (Suns)
"He can shoot the ball from downtown and is a fiery competitor. He is the heir apparent to (point guard) Kevin Johnson if this is Kevin’s last year."
Nash is one of the top five point guards in NBA history — a two-time league MVP — and generally great Canadian.
16. Tony Delk (Hornets)
"He can shoot and is athletic enough that his size should not be detrimental at two (shooting) guard. He won’t play point right away, but he should be able to at some point."
A sxith man who could shoot almost from his first day in the league, Delk scratched out 10 mediocre NBA seasons inexplicably highlighted by a 53-point game in 2001.
17. Jermaine O’Neal (Trail Blazers)
"Obviously, Portland is looking to the future. He is a shotblocker who needs to build up his body. There are very few centers around, and he has a big upside."
Last seen playing actual minutes for the Warriors in the 2014 playoffs, O’Neal has carved a pretty effective career, even placing among the top 25 shot blockers of all time. He was one of the league’s best big men for stretch from 2002-07, when he was an All-Star for six straght seasons.
18. John Wallace (Knicks)
"He is a small power forward with small-forward skills. He’s a competitor who can shoot the basketball. He’s fearless. He one-manned Syracuse to the NCAA Championship Game."
Started six games as a rookie. Traded after one season.
19. Walter McCarty (Knicks)
"He didn’t have a chance to show all he could do at Kentucky. He needs to get stronger, but he can shoot the ball and run the court very well."
Started zero games as a rookie. Traded after one season.
20. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cavaliers)
"I think he’s comparable to Rik Smits at the same point in their careers. He can catch the ball and can knock down shots from 15 to 20 feet. He’s a player for the future, but he should have an opportunity to play some next year."
Lasted 13 seasons in the league despite constant foot injuries early in his career. The bane of spellcheckers everywhere.
21. Dontae’ Jones (Knicks)
"He is a streak shooter. Pressure is not going to get to him. If he gets on a roll, he can fill it up."
Played zero games in New York. Traded after one season.
22. Roy Rogers (Grizzlies)
"He can block shots. He elevated his average 10 points a game as a senior from 3.5 to 13.5. He has great confidence in his hook shot."
Traded after one season and was retired by 26.
23. Efthimios Rentzias (Nuggets)
"He did not play a lot for his Greek club team, but played more for the Greek Olympic Team. He was the MVP of the World Junior Championships."
Played one season in the NBA … six years after he was drafted.
24. Derek Fisher (Lakers)
"A very tough guy who comes to play. He can make the play for others and is a good defender. He also has three-point range."
The new coach of the New York Knicks had a fine NBA career — he was along for all five of Kobe’s titles — that only just came to an end. Pretty good draft for the Lakers.
25. Martin Muursepp (Jazz, traded to Heat)
"He has played a lot of international basketball, in Israel, Sweden and in Estonia. He can step in and play."
Retired after two uneventful seasons.
26. Jerome Williams (Pistons)
"He can do a lot of things. He’s not a great scorer, but he will score points a variety of ways. He is a good defender and rebounder who gets up and down the court very well."
Lasted nine seasons, largely as an energy-producing sixth man for four different teams.
27. Brian Evans (Magic)
"He’s the best pure shooter in the Draft. He’s with a ballclub that can compensate for his lack of quickness with the double-downs on Shaquille O’Neal."
Started one game over parts of three seasons.
28. Priest Lauderdale (Hawks)
"They need center help. They will put him on an extensive conditioning program. They questioned (Gheorghe) Muresan, and he’s now a force in the NBA."
You can’t teach height, but the 7-4 Lauderdale apparently couldn’t be taught how to play in the NBA. After two seasons (and no starts), Lauderdale was out of the league.
29. Travis Knight (Bulls)
"A developmental pick. They do have a couple of centers who are free agents. He is a 7-footer who can block shots and can shoot a bit."
Perhaps best known for coming to New York in the trade that sent Patrick Ewing to Seattle. Yeah, no one won here.