Continuing with our examinations of each franchise’s top rookies of All-Time, here is the Central:
-Chicago Bulls: The Bulls have two Rookies of the Year in their franchise history and they are doozies. Elton Brand was great in 1999-00 and one can only wonder where the Bulls would be the last few years if they would’ve kept him. The other is some guy named Michael Jordan in 1984-85. With the shooting guard slot and power forward locked up, can we find any other decent rookies for the Bulls?
At point guard, the Bulls have had all sort of decent young point guards but no stars. In fact, before 1999 there were virtually no rookie point guards for the Bulls. Veterans Guy Rodgers and Norm Van Lier ran the point for most of the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1970s, Reggie Theus led the team in assists as a rookie but he was actually more of a two guard then a point. Theus was actually the best theoretical rookie point guard but since he didn’t play the point (Wilbur Holland really did) and Jordan couldn’t stand him, I am loath to put Theus in the backcourt of even a theoretical Bulls team. Need more details? Sam Smith’s ever trusty “The Jordan Rules” lays it out:
“Jordan hated Theus as much as he did any player in the league. Jordan disliked hot dogs like New York’s Mark Jackson, but his face always turned hard and cold against Theus. He’d angrily slap Theus’s hands away hard, with a short, chopping slap, when Theus tried a hand check. It was a common defensive move against Jordan and he’d usually just push away the defender’s hand. Against Theus, his response was more like a karate blow. ‘He tried to undercut me in Kansas City my first year in the league,’ Jordan said once when asked about why he disliked Theus so. ‘I hate his game,’ Jordan said another time. ‘He’s so selfish, always berating the referees and yelling out there.’ None of the reasons made sense. The story around the Bulls, though, was that Theus had briefly date Jordan’s wife, Jaunita, before Jordan met her.”
It’s certainly possible that Jordan’s antipathy has subsided (I do remember MJ consenting to an interview conducted be Theus in the late 1990s) but we’ll keep Theus off the All-Time Bulls and use Kirk Hinrich, who didn’t put up the number Theus did but was a better defender and passer anyway.
This leaves us with small forward and center to deal with. At small forward, there are no stars. Scottie Pippen was a part-time player and Ron Artest was okay so we’ll go with Toni Kukoc, who had a solid rookie year back in 1993-94. At center, there is little in the way of true big men. David Greenwood was a quasi-center and Charles Oakley was a nice part-time power forward. Likewise, Clifford Ray was okay undersized big man. The only real center, size-wise, was Tom Boerwinkle, who developed into a decent player but really wasn’t that good as a rookie. Being a bona fide seven-footer and being a starter gets Boerwinkle the nod, albeit barely. Here is the Bulls squad overall:
Chicago’s Forgotten Rookie: Could any forgotten old timer be more interesting than the Quintin Dailey? Dailey was a scoring guard who played at the University of San Francisco in the early 1980s. Dailey was a controversial figure in college when he was accused of sexual assault by a campus nurse, who brought a civil suit. The action was settled but Dailey was considered tainted. While rape accusations against athletes have met varying ends, Dailey’s was the first major case I could remember and he was marked man in the public, particularly since who was no contrite about the matter. It also didn’t help that he was caught taking illegal payments in college that put the school’s basketball program in jeopardy.
Despite all these issues, the Bulls still drafted Dailey seventh overall in the 1982 draft. Dailey had an odd rookie of the year, putting up a solid 16 ppg but was subject to picketing by women’s rights groups. By the end of the year Dailey missed time and underwent given psychiatric counseling that was later said to be drug/alcohol rehabilitation. But the next season was better. The protesters disappeared and Dailey upped his scoring average to 18 ppg in 1983-84 and looked like he could be a nice scorer (indeed his most comparable player as a second-year player was Ben Gordon, another instant offense player). But the most interesting thing about Dailey from a historical perspective was how he was dislocated as a starter by some rookie named Michael Jordan. Dailey didn’t take to the demotion kindly and even boycotted the third game of the 1984-85 season for “personal reasons” in what seemed like an ostensible protest for having to come off the bench.
Dailey lasted one more season as a reserve in Chicago and then lasted a few more season with the Clippers and Sonics and never really was a starter again (except for a brief run in 1988-89). The last reported story I could find on Dailey goes back to the late 1990s where he moved to Nevada and had settled into a normal post-NBA life counseling kids. Still, he’ll always be remembered for his tumultuous time with the Bulls in the early 1980s, particularly his refusal to accept MJ taking his feature slot. Of course, Dailey’s behavior toward Jordan, however strange it might seem to outside observers, is precisely how most NBA players would have behaved…not willingly acceding any playing time or shots to anyone, even if the player knows he’s fighting a losing battle. Indeed, it seemed that Dailey understood that it was a losing battle, no matter how hard he fought it. In an old issue of Hoop Magazine, the write followed Jordan’s first training camp in 1984 and described Dailey’s interaction with MJ from the first few days of October 1984: “A morning eye-opener: Jordan, on a move to the hoop, gets clipped in mid-air. He does a 180-degree turn and puts up a reverse layup that just drops off the rim. General Manager Rod Thorn smiles and shakes his head. Quintin Dailey has yet to take his first backward step as he plays Jordan in practice. Using his muscle and experience, Dailey is doing a slow bump-and-grind. During a break, Dailey walks to the edge of the court. ‘Michael’s great,’ Dailey says. ‘But don’t tell him I said that.'”
-Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs’ All-Time roster has some relatively set parts. Obviously, LeBron James takes the small forward slot in a landslide but he is the only Rooke of the Year for the franchise. The other positions all have some legitimate issues to consider. First let’s start with the backcourt…At point guard, the Cavs have only really tried to start two rookie point guards and they aren’t who you might think. The two best Cav points, Mark Price and Terrell Brandon were both bench players as rookies. Price sat behind John Bagley and Brandon sat behind Price.
After losing both Price in Brandon in 1996, Mike Fratello installed Brevin Knight as a rookie in 1996-97 and he was pretty good (9 ppg, 8.2 apg in 31 mpg). Miller got the starting job halfway through the 1999-00 under Randy Wittman (11 ppg, 5.8 apg in 25.5 mpg). The two seasons are very close are so close that I can’t say one is truly better but I’ll go with Brevin if only because he was a full season starter. At the two guard, Ron Harper takes the slot pretty easily. Austin Carr had at least as good a rookie year on a per game basis (scoring about 21 ppg) but he played in only half a season.
At power forward, it comes down to two part-timers in Hot Rod Williams and Carlos Boozer. Hot Rod had 14.6 ppg and 8 rpg and 2 bpg as a rook. Boozer, like Andre Miller, didn’t get a starting job until partway through his rookie year. He still had a great per minute stats (10 ppg, 7.5 rpg in 25.3 mpg). I’ll go with Hot Rod because he played a bit more and he didn’t actually screw over the franchise come free agency time (though Hot Rod’s restricted free agent status was an interesting story too).
Finally, at center the Cavs are pretty loaded. Brad Daugherty was a top overall pick in 1985 and had a nice season (15.7 ppg, 8.1 prg in 33.7 mpg) but Zydrunas Ilgauskas was plenty good as a rookie too (13.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg in 29 mpg). Ilgauskas came out of nowhere to become a pretty good player (he was one of the first big Eastern European centers) and he missed his actual rookie season of 1996-97 with a broken foot. In the end, he had the more impressive rookie year than Daugherty and we’ll take him at center. So here’s the overall squad:
Cleveland’s Forgotten Rookie: No one really jumped out at me for the Cavs, so I went with Bill Laimbeer, who had a pretty good season for the Cavs in 1980-81 (10 ppg, 8.6 rpg in 30 mpg). The only surprise about Laimbeer was the he was ever a Cav. Laimbeer was traded to the Pistons in the middle of the next season for Phil Hubbard and Paul Mokeski and the rest was history for Detroit.
One more point on the Cavs…they’ve had a couple of really nice rookie crops. In 1986-87, the team had the following rookies: Ron Harper, Brad Daugherty, Hot Rod Williams, Mark Price, and Johnny Newman. In 1997-98, the Cavs had a similar nice rookie group, albeit to a lesser extent: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Brevin Kinght, and Derek Anderson (and Cedric Henderson).
-Detroit Pistons: Like the Cavs, small forward in Detroit is set in stone with Grant Hill. In addition, Isiah Thomas locks up the point guard slot easily and Bob Lanier takes center without any fight (Hill and Dave Bing are the only Rookies of the Year in Detroit, Isiah lost out to Buck Williams). Bing also gets the shooting guard slot, though Kelly Tripucka had a fine rookie season that was pretty close. In case you’re wondering, Joe Dumars was only a part-time player as a rookie. Power forward, however, is a mess. There are all sorts of decent players but no clear cut choice. Here’s the candidates:
-Dave DeBusschere was a decent enough rookie but is probably closer to a small forward on a modern NBA team. In any event, his rookie season isn’t that good (13 ppg, 9 rpg) to make you really want to slot him in as a power forward.
-John Salley and Dennis Rodman, the rookie forwards of the Bad Boy Pistons were both okay but definitely not even in DeBusscehere’s territory.
-Terry Tyler and Curtis Rowe put up similar average numbers to DeBusschere.
-Bailey Howell had, by far, the best numbers at 18 ppg and 10.5 rpg but he was only 6’7 210 pounds in a smaller league (he was a rookie in 1959-60). Still, Howell ended up being a very good player and held his own as the NBA became bigger and better, so he’s the pick.
Detroit’s Forgotten Rookie: While Joe Dumars has been a very good GM, he hasn’t always been perfect in drafting. No, I’m not talking about the Darko Milicic pick. Rather, the biggest dud for Dumars was arguably Rodney White, taken ninth overall in 2001. White, who came out after his freshman year at UNC-Charlotte, was touted as a potential power forward starter of the future. In fact, he turned out to be a good scorer but not much else. Rick Carlisle did not appreciate this skill set and White’s rookie line was 3.5 ppg (16 games, 129 minutes and 56 points). He was dealt to Denver after one season and has been out of the NBA the last two years. Detroit obviously overcame the blown pick but there were plenty of good player taken after White in the 2001 draft (Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson, and Zach Randolph).
-Indiana Pacers: If you exclude Indiana’s ABA years (which we do here), there’s not much star power out of the rookies. This is probably the weakest pre-1990s, franchise we’ve seen so far with respect to rookie crops. There is one Rookie of the Year in Indiana history, Chuck Person in 1986-87. Person gets the small forward slot but even he wasn’t that great as a rookie (Person was drafted in the infamous 1986 rookie class that was beset with drug problems and busts and some second-rounders like Jeff Hornacek, Mark Price, and Dennis Rodman ended up having better careers than Person).
At point guard, we’re forced to choose between Vern Fleming, a decent player who was Mr. Reliable for the franchise for 11 years, and Jamaal Tinsley, who has been less reliable but comparable as a rookie. Between the two, we’ll take Fleming’s decent rookie year and give him bonus points for the fact that he was so liked by the franchise. As shooting guard, you won’t be surprised that Reggie Miller takes the spot. More surprising was that Miller was only decent as a rookie but there have been so few good rookie shooting guards in Indiana that Miller still takes the spot.
Power forward is probably the easiest choice on the team. Clark Kellogg was a great player for the Pacers as a rookie (20 ppg, 10.6 rpg), probably the best rookie in franchise history. Kellogg would go on to have three very good season before knee injuries essentially ended his career at age 24 (he played only 19 NBA games after his frst three seasons).
The Pacers have used plenty of picks on centers, some picks (Rik Smits and Herb Williams) working out better than others (David Harrison, Primoz Brezec, Erick Dampier, Scott Haskin, Greg Dreiling, Stuart Gray, and Steve Stipanovich). In this case, Smits (11.7, 6.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg in 25 mpg) and Herb (11.5, 7.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg in 27.8 mpg) are close as rookies. Herb was a better rebounder and shot blocker, which gives him the slight edge.
Indiana’s Forgotten Rookie: It’s probably Kellogg, who was in the same category as Dominque Wilkins, Terrry Cummings, and James Worthy as star scoring forwards of the 1982-83 draft (Worthy, Cumming, and Nique were taken 1-2-3 respectively and Kellogg was taken eight, one pick after the aforementioned Quintin Dailey). Another interesting name is Wayman Tisdale, who was taken right after Patrick Ewing in the 1985 draft. We all remember that Tisdale went on to have a nice career in the NBA but we tend to forget how much hype he had coming out of college. Tisdale’s college numbers by season were damn impressive, especially for a big Oklahoma program:
1982-83 (freshman): 24.5 ppg, 10. 3 rpg
1983-84 (sophomore): 27.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg
1984-85 (junior): 25.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg
As a pro, Tisdale could always score but his rebounding (at times) and defense (most of the time) weren’t quite as impressive. He was good for three years for the Pacers but not the force he was expected to be, a la Karl Malone (who was actually drafted that same year). A fairly succinct recap of Tisdale the player was given in “Breaking the Rules” by Mike Tulumello, a book about the 1995-96 Suns: “Tisdale had a huge body but a finesse game. In the NBA, this was a prescription for earning the label ‘soft.’ At times, it amounted to unfair stereotyping, with racial implications as well….Yet the question about Tisdale ran deeper. He’d never learned to play defense with consistent effect. Moreover, his very availability often was in question. He sat out several games with injuries whose severity was questioned by those in the team’s inner circle.”
Still, Tisdale was a respectable player, if not near a star.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks are another franchise with only one Rookie of the Year, Lew Alcindor a/k/a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem obviously dominates the center spot, as they’ve never come close to replacing his production ever since. At power forward, Vin Baker takes the power forward slot (Milwaukee fans surely would prefer to remember his successful years with the Bucks over his post-1998 career meltdown).
Small forward is the closest and deepest slot for the Bucks, where we pit Marques Johnson (19.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.4 apg) against Glenn Robinson (21.9 ppg, 6.4 apg, 2.5 apg). Both were ballyhooed young players and both had careers that ended abruptly. Marques Johnson had knee injuries while Robinson’s end is still a little confusing. Of the two, Johnson’s rebounding puts him as the favorite.
The backcourt is the weakest part of the team and we find that there isn’t much but a bunch of players with very similar rookie seasons. At point guard, Lee Mayberry, Quinn Buckner, and T.J. Ford were all decent. We don’t love any of these choices but we’ll go with Buckner, who played the most minutes (Ford played a little less and missed about 30 games with spinal stenosis). At two guard, the three great pillars of the franchise (Bobby Dandridge, Sidney Moncrief, and Ray Allen) were not fully formed but all good players. Moncrief was more of a part-timer so it really comes down to Allen (13.4 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.6 apg in 30.9 mpg) and Dandridge (13.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.6 apg in 30.4 mpg), with Dandridge rating a slight edge because of his impressive boarding.
Milwaukee’s Forgotten Rookie: Outside of the guys mentioned above the Bucks’ rookies haven’t been particularly noteworthy. In poring over the Milwaukee draft records I do see Rashard Griffith, who never actually played in the NBA but was a much-followed high school player. Griffith was a bona fide big man and he played two decent years for Wisconsin in college (17 ppg and 10.8 rpg, 2.2 bpg in 29 mpg as a sophomore). But the funny thing happened was that Griffith’s stock plummeted in the 1995 draft to the point where he ended up being a second-rounder. Griffith ended up having a solid career in Europe and was still playing in Romanio last year. The last few years, Griffith would occasionally make noise about coming back to the States but refusing to do so without a guaranteed contract, which was never forthcoming and he didn’t impress in his summer league stint with Orlando in 2001. It’s likely that Griffith could’ve had a decent NBA career as a backup but you do wonder what kept him from being drafted a little bit higher in a draft where George Zidek, Loren Meyer, and Cherokee Parks where taken by teams looking for centers.