Continuing our tour of All-Rookie teams, we head to the newly created Southeast Division, where 60% of the teams didn’t exist before 1988. Let’s take a look at what they’ve produced….
-Atlanta Hawks: People tend to forget that the Hawks are an original NBA franchise with some illustrious history. For the purposes of our inquiry, however, that history pretty much stopped by the mid-1970s. The Hawks have had scads of great rookies before that time. Since then…not so much. In fact, since 1980 the Hawks only offer a few viable All-Rookie candidates: Dominique Wilkins, Stacey Augmon, Josh Smith, and Kevin Willis.
At point guard, the Hawks have virtually no real good point guard seasons. Lenny Wilkens, Doc Rivers, and Tom Henderson were okay in part-time duty but none really provided much. As such, I’ve chosen Pete Maravich, who was more of a shooting guard. Still, he had many more assists than any other Hawk rookie, the team had plenty of two guards, and Pistol Pete could’ve handled the point if necessary.
Going to shooting guard, we, again, have positional definition issues. John Drew (18.5 ppg and 10.7 rpg!) and Lou Hudson (18 ppg, 5.4 rpg) were both quite good, though neither could pass at all (they both averaged under 2 apg). Indeed, they are both 6’5 but they both were closer to small forwards than guards. We could theoretically take them both and stick the surprisingly strong rebounding Drew at small forward. But we also have Nique (17.5 ppg, 6 rpg) at small forward) and he certainly deserves mention. In the end, Drew is by far the best of the group and he was really more of a small forward. That means we’ll stick Hudson at two by default (Nique could not really swing to the shooting guard).
At power forward, we have the only Rookie of the Year for the Hawks in the past 52 years, big Bob Pettit. I won’t get into Pettit’s story too much but suffice it to say that he has a claim for best power forward in NBA history and is likely the best pre-1980 power forward. Well, I can’t resist….here are a few excerpts about Pettit from Terry Pluto’s “Tall Tales”:
-Chick Hearn: “Bob Pettit is one of those great players who is forgotten. He was a guy who couldn’t make his high school team, a guy whose features were soft, almost feminine. He just developed into a helluva scorer and rebounder, and from just looking at him, you never would have believed it.”
-Rudy LaRusso: “If he got the ball inside the foul line, he owned you. He was so tall, he could shoot the ball over you. He also had one-dribble moves to either side. And he was protected by the refs. It was horrible. Bailey Howell told me that he was at a game were Pettit made a free throw and the announcer said, ‘That’s Pettit’s 15,000th career point.’ Bailey said, ‘Yeah, and 12,000 of them came at the foul line.'”
As for center, there ain’t much. The only true rookie centers for the Hawks are not very inspiring, Jon Koncak (8 ppg, 6 rpg) and Tree Rollins (7.6 ppg, 7 rpg). Zelmo Beaty was also okay as an undersized center (10 ppg, 8 rpg). But I’ll go with another undersized option in Kevin Willis, who eventually learned to play some center and was okay as a rookie. That leaves us with the following team:
Atlanta’s Forgotten Rookie: First off, we shouldn’t forget that Josh Smith is pretty much the only rookie of note since Augmon back in 1991-92. But I think the true forgotten rookie is Jeff Mullins. Mullins was no great shake as a rookie for the Hawks (5 ppg, 2 rpg, 1 apg in 11 mpg). After one more year sitting on the bench, Mullins was selected by the Bulls in the expansion draft. Mullins was then swiftly traded to Golden State for veteran point guard Guy Rodgers, where he had a nice decade run with Golden State where he maxed out at 22.8 ppg, 6 rpg, and 4 apg in 1968-69 and made three All-Star games.
-Charlotte Bobcats: There’s not much to say about the Bobcats, a team that’s existed for only three seasons but does have a Rookie of the Year in Emeka Okafor during their inaugural season. Just for the sake of curiosity, here is a list of each NBA expansion teams and how long it took them to get a Rookie of the Year:
Buffalo Braves and San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers: 2 years (Bob McAdoo, 1972-73)
Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets: 3 years (Larry Johnson, 1991-92)
Chicago Bulls: 18 years (Michael Jordan, 1984-85)
Chicago Packers/Zephyrs and Baltimore/Washington Bullets, and Washington Wizards: 1 year (Walt Bellamy, 1961-62)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 32 years (LeBron James, 2003-04)
Dallas Mavericks: 14 years (Jason Kidd, 1994-95)
Miami Heat: None
Milwaukee Bucks: 1 year (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1969-70)
Minnesota Timberwolves: None
New Orleans/Utah Jazz: 6 years (Darrell Griffith, 1980-81)
Orlando Magic: 3 years (Shaquille O’Neal, 1992-93)
Phoenix Suns: 8 years (Alvan Adams, 1975-76)
Portland Trail Blazers: 1 year (Geoff Petrie, 1970-71)
San Diego/Houston Rockets: 16 years (Ralph Sampson, 1983-84)
Seattle SuperSonics: None
Toronto Raptors: 1 year (Damon Stoudamire, 1995-96)
Vancouver Grizzlies: 6 years (Pau Gasol, 2001-02)
-Miami Heat: The first few years of the Miami Heat franchise mirror the Bobcats’ first few years. The team was loaded with young players, all of whom look pretty good, though there were no clear stars. In the end the Heat turned into a .500 team that made a couple of playoff appearances, until Pat Riley came to town and made things a bit more interesting. Still, the early Heat teams accrued tons of pretty good rookies, while the Riley Era has been almost rookie free (with one notable exception).
At point guard, the Heat nabbed a few decent rookie points over the years (Bimbo Coles, Khalid Reeves) but the best was their first rookie point, Sherman Douglas back in 1989. Despite leading Syracuse for three years, Douglas was not considered a great prospect and the Heat were able to nab him with the first pick of the second round. At two guard, there are also plenty of good candidates between Steve Smith, Kevin Edwards, and even Harold Miner. None was terrible or great as a rookie except, of course, Dwyane Wade.
The rest of the rookie line up doesn’t have much in the way of choice. Glen Rice and Willie Burton, who were drafted in back-to-back years (1988 and 1989) and were both small forwards. They were practically identical talents as rookies but Rice’s future worked out a little better in Miami. Rice is probably the best small forward in Miami history but the best rookie small forward was Caron Butler, who was instantly effective in Miami and has been ever since. The power forward position offers only Grant Long and Kurt Thomas. Long was a nice second round snag for the original 1988-89 Heat. He wasn’t great but would go on to hold the starting job for next six years. Thomas, on the other hand, had better rate stats as a rookie but didn’t play as much because of Riley’s usual aversion to rookies. We’ll go with Long based upon his larger playing time. Finally, the only rookie center the Heat have really had was original draftee Rony Seikaly. Seikaly was actually pretty bad as a rookie but with no other candidates he gets the nod. So here’s the team:
Miami’s Forgotten Rookie: The knee-jerk reaction is to talk about Harold Miner, who had some real fanfare but disappeared so quickly. I think Reeves is probably the more interesting story. Reeves was actually pretty good as a rookie in 1994-95 (9 ppg, 4 apg in 21 mpg) for Miami and projected to be a very good scoring point guard. Miami was all set to give him a starting job in 1995-96 but the opportunity came to get Alonzo Mourning and Reeves, as a marketable commodity, was immediately shipped to Charlotte. Reeves was okay in Charlotte for about 20 games but then the Hornets saw the chance to get nominal All-Star Kenny Anderson from the Nets and shipped Reeves over to Jersey. From there Reeves continued to bounce around as a decent reserve in Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, and, ultimately, Europe. He stopped playing recently and was reported to be an assistant coach at his old high school in Queens, New York in 2006-07.
–Orlando Magic: As another relatively young franchise, the Magic do not have quite the depth of rookies to draw from but man do they have some good ones. Before you even get started, you have three absolute locks for the team, without need for any debate. At point, you’ve got the young Penny Hardaway, at power forward Dwight Howard fits easily, and center is some guy named Shaquille O’Neal. Incidentally only Shaq actually won Rookie of the Year, Penny narrowly lost out to Chris Webber in 1993-94 and Howard to Okafor in 2004-05.
At shooting guard, there is only one viable candidate, and that’s original Magic draftee Nick Anderson. Though he was a very good player and a great post-up guard, his career is best remembered for a lot of things from 1994-95: his Game 1 clinching steal of off MJ in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls, his quasi-criticism of Michael Jordan (who was rusty having just come out of his first retirement) right after that Game 1 win, and then his painful missing of four straight free throws against the Rockets to help lose Game 1 of the Finals. Just for a nice bit of nostalgia, here is a bit on Anderson and Jordan from Sam Smith’s “Second Coming.” Here’s Smith background on Anderson after his big steal in Game 1:
“Nick Anderson had been the star for the Magic. Not only was there the steal from Jordan, but Anderson hit for 20 points in showing off a playoff trend that no one had ever done before. He would go into the post against Jordan and demand the ball. It became humbling for Jordan, as he could no longer fight off the youngsters…Anderson was a native Chicagoan, an often troubled young man, likable, but sensitive and insecure. He still wore the number of high school classmate Ben Wilson, who was murdered outside their Chicago high school with Nick nearby. He had escaped the streets and was in process of bringing an older brother to Orlando after the brother was released from prison….A sign that day in the stands read: NO. 23 WAS GREAT. NO. 45 IS JUST AVERAGE. When asked about Jordan that day, Anderson said. ‘I just try to keep him in front of me and contest every shot. I’m not going to say I’m going to hold him off. I don’t want to get him pissed off.'”
With that background, Smith next went into the whole Jordan criticism issue:
“At the Orlando practice the day after Game 1, Nick Anderson had drawn a large media contingent after having outscored and outplayed Jordan the night before. Anderson was trying to offer some perspective. ‘Age, it catches up with.’ Anderson was saying, sort of in defense of Jordan. ‘When Michael was a twenty-eight, twenty-nine-year-old player, he was like a space shuttle taking off. Now he’s like he’s still trying to rev up, trying to get ready. Before he retired, he had quickness and explosiveness. Not that it’s not there now, but it’s not as sharp as when he was number 23 [Jordan had adopted number 45 in his unretirement in 1994-95]. He still does some of the things, but not like number 23 did. Number 23, he could blow right by you. Number 45, he revs up, but he doesn’t really take off. He looks tired,’ said Anderson, not realizing the firestorm he just set off. ‘Shots he normally makes, somehow doesn’t make now. And I didn’t see him once go to the basket with his right hand. I don’t know if he’s injured or what, but I’m not seeing number 23.'”
Anderson’s statement became a huge controversy at the time because he had dared to “dis” MJ. Of course, the statement didn’t really seem to be criticism as much as the honest truth that Jordan was not the same athlete he was before. The Magic would win the series but Jordan (who was then 31) would go on to adjust his game and return to top status, albeit through slightly different methods and Jordan ended up aging very, very well (he was an All-Star player until the day he walked at age 40). Anderson’s observations about the aging process proved to prophetic, however, about himself. Anderson was done as a regular at age 32 and was out of the NBA by age 34.
At small forward, we have a close competition between Mike Miller (who actually won the 2000-01 Rookie of the Year), Matt Harpring, and Dennis Scott. Harpring was a surprisingly effective rookie during the funky 50-game 1998-99 strike season but he averaged only 22 mpg. Based upon his limited playing, we’ll cut him out and choose between the two scorers. Scott and Miller were pretty comparable players as rookies, both shooters. Scott scored much better on a per-minute basis and Miller did slightly more in other categories. (Miller might’ve been the worst Rookie of the Year of All-Time but that’s a story for another day). Given that they were both primarily expected to score, I’ll go with the better scorer in Scott at the small forward. Here’s how the team stacks up:
Orlando’s Forgotten Rookie: You don’t get more forgotten than Dutch big man Geert Hammink. Hammink was Shaq’s backup at LSU and, for some reason, Orlando felt a compulsion to bring him to Orlando to do the same. Hammink didn’t average more than 8 mpg his first three years at LSU but when Shaq left, Hammink put up 15 ppg and 10 rpg in 30 mpg as a senior. His peripheral college stats didn’t indicate much athleticism (only 0.9 bpg) but the Magic took a shot with a late first-round pick anyway. His rookie year with the Magic consisted of one game and 3 minutes but he was quasi-famous for his goofy name and his goofy look. He lasted two more seasons in the NBA but still barely played (a career total of 8 games, 27 minutes, and 14 points). Hammink would go on to have a moderately successful career in Europe and was last seen working as an agent.
As a side note, there have been six Dutch NBA players: Hank Beenders in the late1940s and in more modern times, Swen Nater, Rik Smits, Hammink, Dan Gadzuric, and Francisco Elson.
Don’t mess with Geert
-Washington Wizards: The Wiz are also the progeny of a very old franchise. The Wizards are just the latest incarnation of a constantly changing franchise. The team was born in 1961-62 as the Chicago Packers. The next year they changed their name to the fearsome Chicago Zephyrs. That didn’t take and the team moved the next year to Baltimore to become the Bullets. By 1974, the team moved to Washington and they changed their name to the Wizards in 1997. Throughout that time, they’ve had four Rookies of the Year, Walt Bellamy and Terry Dischinger in Chicago and Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld in Baltimore, with Unseld being the unique MVP and Rookie of the year.
As you can tell, then, this franchise is loaded with good rookies from over the years at every place but point guard. Indeed, the only point guards worth mentioning are Frank Johnson and Muggsy Bogues. Two guard, on the other hand, is quite impressive. Monroe is the best but you also gave Dischinger, Jeff Malone, and even Ledell Eackles. Reluctantly, we’ll move Monroe to point guard and give the two guard slot to Dischinger. Dischinger actually was more a forward than guard but given the talent distribution of rookies, he’ll fit well at shooting guard.
At small forward we have a nice choice between Gus Johnson (17 ppg, 13.6 rpg), Tom Gugliotta (15 ppg, 9.6 rpg), and Juwan Howard (17 ppg, 8.4 rpg). This is a truly tough choice. Johnson’s stats look better but he did play in a really fast paced era. In Johnson’s rookie year, the average NBA team grabbed 5,269 rebounds. By contrast, during Goog’s rookie season, the average NBA team grabbed 3,537 in 1992-93 and for 1994-95 (Juwan’s rookie season), the average was down to 3,408. This is an object lesson in adjusting stats to context. So, Johnson is arguably better than the other two but to blindly take his 13.6 rpg at face value isn’t really a good basis. We’ll go with Gugliotta, who was a very solid player, by a hair, as he seemed to most well-rounded as a passer, shooter, and rebounder of the three rooks. Like with the Magic, power forward and center are locked down by two MVP-style performances of Bellamy and Unseld. When looking at the All-Time team, Bellamy’s numbers really stick out:
Washington’s Forgotten Rookie: Eackles would make a pretty good story but I think the old Chicago teams merit a mention. The Chicago teams had Rookie of the Year each of its two season in town with Bellamy and Dischinger but they couldn’t win or draw any fans. Bellamy actually peaked as a rookie, having a season that looked like it could’ve been put up by Wilt Chamberlain (incidentally, 1961-62 was the same season that Wilt went crazy and score 50 ppg, Bellamy came in second by and was nearly 20 ppg lower than Chamberlain). Bellamy’s first couple of years with Chicago/Baltimore were so good that it eventually got him into the Hall of Fame.
Just for the fun of it, let’s normalize Walt’s rookie numbers to as though they were put up today. In 1961-62, the average NBA team scored 118.8 ppg, went 45.9 for 107.7 from the field per game, and had 71.4 rpg, 23.9 apg, and 25.9 fouls per game. In 2006-07, the average NBA team scored 106.5 ppg, went 36.5 for 79.7 from the field per game, and had 41 rpg, 21.3 apg, and 22.2 fouls per game. Clearly, it’s a different world. But for the sake of argument, if we measure Bellamy’s numbers against NBA average in 1961-62 and apply those factors to the 2006-07 NBA we get Walt as a still impressive 28 ppg and 10.9 rpg in the modern NBA. Of course, that doesn’t account for higher level of competition or any other factors but it’s interesting to take a look at.
As for Bellamy the person, there is very little written that I could find. Bellamy is mentioned in passing as a character by Mike Tulumello in “Breaking the Rules,” where he examined Bellamy as one of the characters that Cotton Fitzsimmons coached in his career: “During [Fitzsimmons’] 20 seasons of leading NBA teams, he’d coached the likes of Peter Maravich and Walt Bellamy, players who made [Charles] Barkley seem as rational as your average calculus professor….Bellamy was a high-scoring big man who liked to talk to refs in the third person: ‘Walter said this,’ or, ‘Mr. Bellamy said he wasn’t in the lane for three seconds.'” Clearly, a good story or two could be written about this guy.