The 1998 NBA Draft is a unique collection of talent, yet many teams would love a chance to re-select certain players if they had a chance. In a move that summarizes the organization in the pre-Blake Griffin era, the L.A. Clippers selected Michael Olowokandi first overall, one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
Fifteen years have passed since this class was selected, and it features Hall-of-Fame locks Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, and is also known for the Vince Carter-Antawn Jamison trade that defined the Raptors organization for many years.
Sportsnet.ca takes a look at the 1998 NBA Draft, and how it would be different with the hindsight we have now. Listed in brackets are the players’ current teams, followed by the team who had the opportunity to draft them.
1. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) – L.A. Clippers
Original selection: Michael Olowokandi
(Nowitzki drafted 9th by Dallas)
Oozing with potential, no one was sure how high Nowitzki’s ceiling was entering the draft, though the gangly teenager was full of potential. Not even the greatest believer would have known that Nowitzki would become the best player in the draft, and a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. The 11-time all-star has spent his entire career with Dallas, leading the team to multiple playoff appearances. Nowitzki’s outstanding career culminated in a 2011 Finals upset of the Miami Heat, where the German forward capped off a playoff run for the ages. The 2007 MVP is still going strong, and the Clippers surely would have loved to have taken him over Michael Olowokandi.
2. Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics) – Vancouver Grizzlies
Original selection: Mike Bibby
(Pierce drafted 10th by Boston)
Pierce has become the definitive persona of the Celtics franchise for the past decade, a role that the California native surely wouldn’t have envisioned coming into the league. The former Kansas Jayhawk’s career has been dichotomous, as the first half of his career was underappreciated, and was left to carry overmatched Celtics teams by himself. However, after the arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett for the 2007-08 season, Pierce thrust into the spotlight, winning both a championship and Finals MVP that year. The 10-time all-star will go down as one of the all-time great Celtics, holding many franchise records along the way.
3. Vince Carter (Dallas Mavericks) – Denver Nuggets
Original selection: Raef LaFrentz
(Carter drafted 5th by Golden State)
Traded on draft day by the Golden State Warriors to the Toronto Raptors, Vince Carter entered the league with a bang. Carter won the 1999 NBA Rookie of the Year award, and became the franchise icon Toronto desperately needed in its formative years (come to think of it, only Chris Bosh has come close to appropriating his impact). To define Carter’s career by a series of highlights would not do his career justice, but his dunk over Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics is an all-time classic. Carter led the Raptors to unparalleled heights, losing in a shootout to the Sixers in 2001. The former North Carolina Tar Heel will always be a polarizing figure in Toronto, but has forged a great career for himself and still is contributing as a veteran.
4. Antawn Jamison (L.A. Lakers) – Toronto Raptors
Original selection: Antawn Jamison
(Jamison drafted 4th by Toronto)
As mentioned above, Jamison was traded for Carter on draft day and very well could have ended up as Toronto’s first franchise icon. Named the National Player of the Year by many publications, Jamison entered the league with great fanfare. A potent scorer, Jamison has made the all-star team twice, but never was able to lead his team deep into the playoffs as the best player on the team. Still, Jamison has forged a solid career as an excellent scorer, who would be ideal as the team’s second option (although failed miserably in a stint with the 2009-10 Cavaliers) The 37-year-old has crafted a bench role with the Lakers, and while his defence leaves much to be desired, Jamison’s unique shooting arc has helped him forge a long, consistent career.
5. Rashard Lewis (Miami Heat) – Golden State Warriors
Original selection: Vince Carter
(Lewis drafted 32nd by Seattle)
Expected to be a first-round pick, Lewis slid to the second round on draft day and has presumably played with a chip on his shoulder ever since. Although he saw marked improvement in every season prior, Lewis’ breakout year was in 2004-05, averaging 20.5 points per game on 46 per cent shooting, and was named to his first of two all-star games. Lewis, unfortunately may be remembered for the exorbitant six-year, $118 million contract he was given in a sign-and-trade with Orlando. The 33-year-old was a pivotal member of the 2008-09 Magic team that lost in the NBA Finals to the Lakers, yet in the following years has faced a precipitous decline. However, not all was lost for Lewis, as he won a NBA title with the 2012-13 Miami Heat as a fringe player.
6. Mike Bibby (unclaimed) – Dallas Mavericks
Original selection: Robert Traylor
(Bibby drafted 2nd by Vancouver)
Mike Bibby was born into basketball, as the son of Memphis Grizzlies assistant Henry Bibby, and led Arizona to a NCAA title in 1997. Bibby had a solid three seasons with Vancouver, before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. In the state capital of California, Bibby became a pivotal member of the Kings and formed a dynamic duo with Chris Webber, culminating in an epic seven-game loss to the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals. Although the team was promising, Sacramento never reached the NBA Finals, and after leaving the Kings in 2007-08, Bibby showed signs of decline. Nonetheless, Bibby forged an excellent career for himself and seemed on the precipice of an all-star nod for many seasons.
7. Brad Miller (retired) – Sacramento Kings
Original selection: Jason Williams
(Miller was undrafted)
After a successful four-year career at Purdue, Brad Miller went unselected in the 1998 NBA Draft. Miller more than redeemed himself with two all-star appearances in 2003 and 2004, becoming the first undrafted player ever to do so along with Ben Wallace. Miller’s game was not flashy whatsoever, relying on instincts and relentlessness on the glass. Moreover, Miller was an excellent passer out of the post, creating space for the Kings’ perimeter players. It was only after the 2008-09 season that Miller saw a sharp decline in his efficiency, and the veteran retired at the end of the 2011-12 season.
8. Larry Hughes (retired) – Philadelphia 76ers
Original selection: Larry Hughes
(Hughes drafted 8th by Philadelphia)
Larry Hughes emerged quickly as a defensive menace in the NBA, who could also contribute secondary offence. After being traded mid-season by Philadelphia in 1999-00, Hughes flourished with Golden State, averaging 22.7 points per game in 32 games. The St. Louis native led the league in steals in 2004-05 and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team the same year. Had Hughes spent the peak of his career away from a talented but turbulent Washington squad, he very well could be higher on this list. Hughes’ athleticism and tenacity helped him forge a solid career, retiring after the 2011-12 season.
9. Al Harrington (Orlando Magic) – Milwaukee Bucks
Original selection: Dirk Nowitzki
(Harrington drafted 25th by Indiana)
Selected straight out of high school, it took Harrington quite a while to acclimate to the NBA, and some prematurely wrote the New Jersey native off. In fact, Harrington only began to start games in the third year of his career, something that is unfathomable for most lottery picks today (Harrington went 25th). By his fifth season, Harrington proved more than capable of being a secondary scorer yet Indiana traded him for Stephen Jackson. Harrington has been an efficient scorer for most of his career, notching a career-high 20.7 points in 2008-09. Capable of playing all three front line positions, Harrington’s shooting adds another element to the floor. Harrington is finally beginning to show signs of decline, but after a tumultuous start, he has had a decent career.
10. Jason Williams (retired) – Boston Celtics
Original selection: Paul Pierce
(Williams drafted 7th by Sacramento)
Jason Williams’ entertaining style of play made him a polarizing figure for much of his career, and was never shy to make a fancy pass over the more practical play. Williams scored in double-digits for most of his career, culminating in a 2006 championship with the Miami Heat. Under the right circumstances, one would believe that Williams could have forged a longer career for himself, as he was a magnet for controversy, retiring twice and never stayed away from divisive remarks. The West Virginia native retired after the 2011 season.
11. Ricky Davis (Puerto Rico) – Detroit Pistons
Original selection: Bonzi Wells
(Davis drafted 21st by Charlotte)
Ricky Davis’ scoring numbers belie his actual impact as a professional basketball player. In fact, Davis’ sole agenda was to score and accumulate stats at all costs, even shooting on his own basket once in a failed attempt to secure a triple-double. Davis possessed undeniable athleticism, and was prone to rim-rattling dunks. Davis scored a career-high 20.6 points per game in the 2002-03 season with Cleveland, and built his career through a knack for scoring. However, his reputation as a poor teammate followed him wherever he went, and one wonders with the right organization what might have been.
12. Rafer Alston (retired) – Orlando Magic
Original selection: Michael Doleac
(Alston drafted 39th by Milwaukee)
To some, Rafer Alston will always be known as streetball legend “Skip 2 My Lou”, but the former And1 mix tape star made a solid transition to the NBA. Alston’s breakout season was his lone year in Toronto, averaging a career-best 14.2 points per game in 2004-05. In 2005-06, Alston had career-bests in assists, steals and rebounds. Alston was lauded for his considerable work ethic, and ability to develop a rapport with teammates as well, and if he had transitioned to the NBA sooner, Alston could be higher on this list.
13. Ruben Patterson (retired) – Orlando Magic
Original selection: Keon Clark
(Patterson drafted 31st by L.A. Lakers)
Sometimes, it really does matter what organization a player ends up in that determines their career. Patterson ended up spending the prime of his career in Portland during the “Jail Blazer era”, and though he posted reliable scoring numbers, the Cleveland native was a nightmare to coach. Patterson fought with teammates during his time there, most notably with Zach Randolph. Although on paper Patterson ended up being a solid NBA player, many teams would ask whether he’s worth the headache.
14. Rasho Nesterovic (retired) – Houston Rockets
Original selection: Michael Dickerson
(Nesterovic drafted 17th by Minnesota)
If one looks at Nesterovic’s numbers, they’d be hard pressed to put the Slovenian in the lottery. Yet Nesterovic was the consummate pro, and won a championship in 2005 with the San Antonio Spurs, starting all 70 regular-season games. Nesterovic put up some sublime numbers in the Slovenian league, and one wonders what his career would be like if he transitioned to the NBA earlier. Nonetheless, he forged a solid professional career.