The NBA: Draft Class 2002 – The Notables & Forgettables

Inspired by a great read from Bleacher Report about the best candidates for Rookie of the Year NOT named Anthony Davis, I started reminiscing about the draft class of a decade ago.

The Draft Class of 2002 was seen as one full of promise. It boasted of one of the best talents to ever come out of the US NCAA ranks – Duke’s Jay Williams. It also held the promise of one of the most intriguing international prospects ever – China’s 7’6 giant, Yao Ming. Aside from these guys, several other names were hyped to be potential stars – Duke’s Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Kansas’s Drew Gooden, Maryland’s Chris Wilcox, Memphis’s Dajuan Wagner, UConn’s Caron Butler, and Indiana’s Jared Jeffries. Prep-to-pro prospect Amar’e Stoudemire turned a lot of heads along with early foreign entrants Nikoloz Tsikitishvili, Nene Hilario, and Nenad Krstic. Unbeknownst to everyone, however, perhaps the most enduring and consistent player of this particular rookie set wouldn’t even be picked in the first round.

Jay Williams was taken with the 2nd overall pick
in 2002. How did he fare?
(image from ABC News)

Ten years later, how has this rookie class fared? Who remains, and who’s out? Who blossomed into stars, and who turned out to be busts?

Let’s find out.

The Notables:

Yao Ming (1st overall pick by the Houston Rockets; career averages of 19.0ppg, 9.2rpg, 1.9bpg, and 52.4 FG%)
Yao Ming was a phenomenon in his own right. His numbers were good, but his effect on the global game was even more astounding. We’re talking about a guy who practically opened the doors of the Far East, China in particular, to the NBA in a time when the league’s reach in that region really only deeply affected the basketball-mad nation of the Philippines. All of a sudden, NBA preseason games were being held in China, and Asia got its first ever NBA All-Star. It also helped that Yao wasn’t exactly a pushover. His numbers speak of the impact he really did put on any game in which he played. He lasted only eight seasons in the NBA, and right now there’s really no Asian player of note seeing much action, but the way he opened up the game of basketball to a whole new generation can never go unnoticed.

Amar’e Stoudemire (9th overall pick by the Phoenix Suns; career averages of 21.6ppg, 8.8rpg, 1.4bpg, 53.3 FG%)
In terms of stats and accomplishments, perhaps nobody in this draft class eclipses Amar’e. He was declared ROY in 2003, has been named an All-Star six times, and has been on five different All-NBA Teams. He’s been receiving criticism for his seemingly one-sided play in New York, but that just goes to show that he attracts a lot of attention because his talent and production demand it. Ten years later, it’s still mind-boggling to look back and see that nine other guys were chosen ahead of Amar’e.

Amar'e Stoudemire is arguably the best to come out
of the 2002 NBA Draft.
(image by Craig Ruttle/AP)

Caron Butler (10th overall pick by the Miami Heat; career averages of 16.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 1.6spg, 32.7 3pt%)
From 2005 until around 2010, Butler was considered a borderline superstar. He played in both the 2007 and 2008 East All-Stars team, but he never really made the leap into the superstar stratosphere that Amar’e was able to do. Still, Butler is considered a reliable player. He’s a versatile swingman who can run, shoot, and defend better than most younger guys. On a Clipper team brimming with firepower, the pressure won’t be on him to carry the squad, but he’s a vital cog that LA can’t do without.

Tayshaun Prince (23rd overall pick by the Detroit Pistons; career averages of 12.7ppg, 4.7rpg, 2.7apg)
Prince is past his prime, and so, it seems, is Detroit, but he can still conjure up his beastly self when needed. As good as the three aforementioned guys have been, they’ve never won an NBA title. Prince has one with Detroit, and he was an important piece of that inspiring 2004 championship run. Perhaps one of the most enduring images of the former Kentucky Wildcat is his rundown block of Reggie Miller in a playoff game. That typified the kind of player Prince was and still is – someone who never gives up on a play, someone who goes out there and leaves everything on the floor.

Carlos Boozer (35th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers; career averages of 17.0ppg, 9.9rpg, 53.7 FG%)
A lot of people thought Boozer wouldn’t do well in college simply because he was too small to be a center and too slow to be a power forward. He didn’t have the touch to be anything else either. Those are the big reasons he fell all the way down to the 35th pick.  The former US NCAA champion, however, proved people wrong. He made the Rookie Second Team of 2003, he became a two-time All-Star, and was named to the All-NBA Third Team in 2008. Not bad for a 35th pick, eh? And, yes, he’s still taking names for the Chicago Bulls to this day.

Carlos Boozer -- one of the biggest steals
in NBA Draft history.
(image by Gary Dineen/Getty Images)

The Forgettables:

Jay Williams (2nd overall pick by Chicago; career averages of 9.5ppg, 4.7apg, 2.6rpg, 32.2 3pt%)
Jay Williams was supposed to be THE BIG CATCH of the 2002 class. People laughed at Houston for grabbing Yao, but, a year after, people were shaking their heads at what happened to Jay. The former Duke superstar didn’t exactly play stellar ball for the Bulls in his rookie year (he was inconsistent, and he split time with Jamal Crawford in the backcourt), but the incident that really sunk him was his motorcycle accident in June of ’03. That injured him beyond repair and incurred for him a contract violation. Both were hits from which he would never recover. He might have been one of the greats, but now he’s, sadly, one of the sob stories of the NBA.

Nikoloz Tsikitishvili (5th overall pick by the Denver Nuggets; career averages of 2.9ppg, 1.8rpg, 30.4 FG%)
Google “NBA Draft Busts” and Nikoloz “Skita” Tsikitishvili’s name is bound to come up 99.99% of the time. Perhaps the only time it won’t come up is if you specify your search to before the Y2K virus scared the bejeezus out of everybody. In 2002, everyone was drunk with the idea of landing the “next Dirk Nowitzki.” NBA managers and owners wanted the next big European white guy who could shoot. In the 2002 class, Georgian native Tsikitishvili was a hyped-up character alongside the likes of Slovenia’s Bostjan Nachbar, Serbia’s Nenad Krstic, Croatia’s Mario Kasun, and, gulp, Dutch/Slavic Dan Gadzuric. Needless to say, the Nuggets chose Skita because some scout somewhere told them he could dunk after spinning to the baseline while also having the capability to shoot from 20 feet out. As it turned out, Skita could hardly even collar a rebound. Where is he right now? Who even cares?

Spell Nikoloz Tsikitishvili?
B - U - S - T.
(image by Doug Pensinger/Getty)
Dajuan Wagner (6th overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers; career averages of 9.4ppg, 1.9apg, 1.4rpg, 32.1 3pt%)
Before the 2002 Draft, Wagner was being compared to Allen Iverson. That comparison has now been hidden deep in the annals of “No, that NEVER happened.” One cannot really blame Cleveland for tabbing the 2001 Naismith Prep Player of the Year with the 6th overall pick, and one most certainly cannot blame Wagner for his own debilitating struggles with his colon, but, still, one cannot help but cringe at what happened to this kid. He had flashes of Iverson all right, but flashes weren’t enough to carry him past just 47 games in his rookie season. He played a total of only 103 games in four NBA seasons.

Right now, there are a host of promising rookies helping their teams out. Davis, of course, is at the top of the list with Portland’s Damian Lillard close behind. The likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal have also been contributing. The question, of course, is who will contribute the most and who will last the longest?

Game Recaps (courtesy of the Sports Network):
Atlanta 104, LA Clippers 93
Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia each recorded double-doubles as the surging Atlanta Hawks posted their fifth consecutive win with a 104-93 triumph over the slumping Los Angeles Clippers at Philips Arena. Both players finished with 19 points, with Pachulia adding 12 rebounds and Teague notching 11 assists to help the Hawks earn their longest win streak since a 5-gamer from Jan. 2-12, 2011. Three others scored in double figures for the Hawks, who shot a solid 50.7 percent and never trailed since the initial stages of the second quarter. Lou Williams netted 18 points off the bench, while Josh Smith had 17 and Al Horford contributed 10 to go along with eight rebounds. The Clippers were dealt a third straight defeat following a stretch of six straight wins that included an 89-76 home decision over the Hawks on Nov. 11, despite a 22-point, 11-rebound, 7-assist effort from Blake Griffin and 19 points out of Chris Paul.

Oklahoma City 116, Philadelphia 109 (OT)
Kevin Durant poured in a season-best 37 points and Russell Westbrook added 30, and the Oklahoma City Thunder used sharp long-range shooting in overtime to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 116-109, at Wells Fargo Center. Durant, Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, and Kevin Martin each connected from beyond the arc in the extra session, as the Thunder bounced back from a 108-100 loss at Boston the previous night. Serge Ibaka registered 18 points and nine rebounds, and Nick Collison contributed 14 for Oklahoma City, which missed its final seven shots of regulation but managed to win for the ninth time in 11 games. The Thunder beat the Sixers for a seventh straight time. Thaddeus Young had 29 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for the Sixers, who lost their second in a row. Evan Turner ended with 26 points and Jrue Holiday dished out 13 assists.

Charlotte 108, Washington 106 (2-OT)
Byron Mullens scored a season-high 27 and Reggie Williams hit the go-ahead 3-pointer to lead the Charlotte Bobcats to a 108-106 double-overtime victory over the winless Washington Wizards on Saturday. Ramon Sessions added 21 points and Ben Gordon had 19 for the Bobcats (7-5), who have already matched their win total from last season. Martell Webster dropped 21 points and Nene had 19 points for the Wizards, who are off to their worst start in franchise history. Washington (0-11) is the only team in the NBA without a win this season.

Miami 110, Cleveland 108
Ray Allen drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds remaining and the Miami Heat scored the final nine points to pull out a 110-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday at American Airlines Arena. Allen, who finished with 17 points and five rebounds, scored the game's final seven points. LeBron James poured in a game-high 30 points to go with six rebounds and five assists against his former team. Chris Bosh netted 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Heat, who improved to 6-0 at home this season. Dwyane Wade added 18 and seven boards in the victory. Jeremy Pargo netted 16 points and handed out seven assists, while rookie Dion Waiters added 16 for the Cavs, who have lost two straight since an impressive 92-83 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday. Omri Casspi drained four 3-pointers en route to 15 points in defeat.

LA Lakers 115, Dallas 89
Antawn Jamison amassed 19 points and 15 rebounds to pace a balanced scoring attack that propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a long-awaited first road win of the season, a 115-89 dismantling of the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. In by far their most impressive performance under new head coach Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers had six players finish with double-figure points and dominated the glass in halting a two-game losing streak. Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace also netted 19 points, with Dwight Howard compiling 15 points and five steals in the rout. Los Angeles, which improved to 2-2 under D'Antoni's command and began the season 0-4 on the road, owned a lopsided 61-39 rebounding advantage, limited the Mavericks to 37 percent shooting and led by as many as 37 points. Vince Carter had 16 points and Jae Crowder posted a career-high 15 in Dallas' sixth defeat in nine games following a 4-1 start to the season.

Chicago 93, Milwaukee 86
Carlos Boozer dropped in 22 points on 10- of-15 shooting and ripped down 19 rebounds as the Chicago Bulls topped the Milwaukee Bucks, 93-86, on Saturday at Bradley Center. Richard Hamilton netted 22 points, including a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line, while Luol Deng chipped in 14 points and eight boards for the Bulls, who have beaten Milwaukee nine consecutive times. Kirk Hinrich donated 10 points in the victory. Brandon Jennings scored a game-high 23 points and handed out seven assists, but left the game with 23.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter after rolling his left ankle on a drive to the hoop. He remained on the floor for several minutes and needed help off the court. Monta Ellis added 17 points and six boards while Beno Udrih contributed 12 points for the Bucks, who have lost three straight.

Sacramento 108, Utah 97
Tyreke Evans scored 27 points and the Sacramento Kings beat the Utah Jazz, 108-97, on Saturday night. Jason Thompson added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Kings, who bounced back from a 104-102 loss to these Jazz in Utah on Friday. DeMarcus Cousins tallied 14 points and nine boards. Randy Foye had 17 points to pace the Jazz, who fell to 2-7 on the road this season. Al Jefferson and Jamaal Tinsley ended with 14 points apiece.

Golden State 96, Minnesota 85
Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry combined for 44 points to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Minnesota Timberwolves, 96-85, on Saturday. Thompson had 24 points and Curry poured in 20 to go along with six assists for the Warriors, winners in three of their last four. David Lee finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists and Harrison Barnes notched a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards in the win. Nikola Pekovic scored a team-high 17 points and Kevin Love had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the T'Wolves, losers in five straight. Since returning from a broken hand three games ago, Love has averaged 24.3 points and 14 rebounds per game.

Top 10 Plays of the Night:

Game Highlights:

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