Looking Back At The 1992 Draft

2007 NBA Draft mirrors the 1992 edition

June 17, 2007

By Steve Aschburner

Special to CSTV.com from The Sports Xchange

 

More than any of the other NBA drafts over the last 15 years, the 2007 edition has the most in common with the 1992 version.

 

That year, too, no one wanted to be picking third.

 

If Greg Oden and Kevin Durant are the gold and silver medals in this year's "competition," forget about bronze; everyone from that point on will be lucky to avoid comparisons to tin or lead. That's how steep the drop is from Nos. 1 and 2 to Nos. 3 and beyond.

 

It was the same in 1992. There was Shaquille O'Neal, there was Alonzo Mourning and then there was everybody else. Or...anybody else?


 

 

 

That, at least, was how the NBA scouts saw it. Your typical fan might have been persuaded by the relative strength of the college game at that time - three years before Kevin Garnett opened the draft gates, for the next decade, to high school kids - that some of their favorite NCAA players would carry their amateur success right into the pros.

 

It didn't happen. Duke's Christian Laettner was as famous as a college player could be, a regular teen idol and People Magazine favorite, but he wound up as an NBA role player and a disappointment in Minnesota's attempt to build its franchise around him. Jim Jackson was reputed to be a future NBA All-Star as he wrapped up three stellar years at Ohio State, but he never made it to that showcase event. Probably a good thing that Jackson didn't have those extra midseason trips, anyway. Spending time on the rosters of 12 different teams in 14 seasons, he did enough packing and unpacking.

 

And so it went. The guys who made it big out of the 1992 Draft almost all had smaller names, from less glamorous programs, than the guys who went splat.

 

After the first two.

 

Funny, how ESPN's announcers, on the night of the draft lottery in May, touted Oden as "the best center prospect since Patrick Ewing in 1985." We can only imagine how the Diesel took that, if he was tuned in.

 

O'Neal was admittedly raw and relatively unrefined after just two years at LSU, compared to Ewing after four at Georgetown, but he was a monster then, he clearly was going to be a monster throughout his NBA career and, there never was any doubt that he was going to play center.

 

Orlando was every bit as thrilled to get the first pick that year as Portland was this year. Actually, it was even more. The Magic, three years into their expansion-franchise history, had an instant All-Star, a charismatic face and a simple plan, one that got them to the NBA Finals within three years. The Blazers will have trouble matching that.

 

Mourning was more ready, at No. 2, than Durant is - 'Zo is the kind of guy who probably was shaving at age 10 - but lugged around the Avis tag from the 1992 Draft through Charlotte, Miami, New Jersey and Toronto. Meanwhile, he suffered from, coped with and, by all appearances, finally licked a kidney ailment that cost him the 2002-03 season, nearly ended his career and required a transplant.

 

But by 2005-06, Mourning had settled in behind O'Neal again, just like on draft night, as the best backup big man in the league. Together, they helped the Heat win the 2006 championship, O'Neal's fourth title and Mourning's first. Two guys who never much liked each other, finally making it work.

 

And if Oden and Durant someday end up on the same NBA roster? The whining and crying from the other 29 teams will be worse than it was on draft lottery night.

 

Here are the 1992 draft's "hits" and "misses":

 

1992 DRAFT HITS

 

Shaquille O'Neal, C, Miami Heat (No. 1, Orlando)

Where would you put him on the short list of the NBA's greatest centers ever? After conceding the top three spots in some order to Chamberlain, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar, one could make a pretty compelling case - based on sheer physical dominance to the way he warps defenses to the four rings with two different franchises - that O'Neal slots in next. Going second to that level of player means 'Zo has nothing to apologize for.

 

Alonzo Mourning, C, Miami Heat (No. 2, Charlotte)

His take-no-prisoners attitude on the court has made him one of the league's most reliable shot-blockers and fearsome defenders. It's the same attitude that enabled him to prevail in his battle with kidney disease, a far more impressive and inspiring success than anything he's accomplished in basketball.

 

Robert Horry, F, San Antonio Spurs (No. 11, Houston)

Horry's timing and good fortune have been as solid as anyone in the NBA since he arrived, from helping the Rockets to two titles in the seam of Michael Jordan's first retirement to building his reputation as a clutch playoff performer during his ring-a-ding stints with the Lakers and the Spurs. But he really needs to talk to an attorney about getting that "Mr. Big Shot" label back from Chauncey Billups.

 

Latrell Sprewell, F/G, out of league (No. 24, Golden State)

He was such an unknown when Don Nelson reached down for him deep in the first round, it took nearly half his rookie season for P.A. announcers to stop pronouncing his name "Sprool," as in jewel. Sprewell played with a fury unsurpassed even by Jordan during his 13 seasons, an intensity that bubbled over and cost him dearly in the P.J. Carlesimo incident and a career-ending contract squabble.

  

P.J. Brown, F, Chicago Bulls (No. 29, New Jersey)

One of the game's true gentlemen, Brown was mortified when his most famous basketball act, years afterward, remained his body-slam of Knicks guard Charlie Ward in the 1997 Eastern Conference playoffs, a flash of temper that triggered a melee and probably won the series for Miami. Brown later polished his reputation way beyond that moment, adding the NBA's sportsmanship award in 2004 to the citizenship award he'd won previously and becoming known as a mentoring teammate and classy opponent.

 

1992 DRAFT MISSES

 

Christian Laettner, F, out of league (No. 3, Minnesota)

Laettner was doomed with the expansion Timberwolves from the start, bringing a Duke superiority complex to his first NBA locker room. Fact is, the Blue Devils were superior to that rag-tag Wolves team, but all the attitude did was alienate teammates. Some of the best entertainment on game nights came afterward, when Laettner and Chuck Person would rip each other to reporters from opposite sides of the room.

 

Harold Miner, G, out of league (No. 12, Miami)

They called him "Baby Jordan" for his shaved head and mad dunking ability, and Miner did nail down a pair of All-Star dunk contest titles in 1993 and 1995. But the rest of his game bore more of a resemblance to Reggie Jordan. Or Eddie Jordan. Or Barbara Jordan.

 

Randy Woods, G, out of league (No. 16, L.A. Clippers)

The slight La Salle product lasted barely three seasons, starting four games for the Clippers and shooting a frosty 34 percent in his backup status. Woods hung on for eight more games with Denver in 1995-96, but it doesn't help his rep, or the Clippers', that Sprewell, Bryant Stith, Tracy Murray, Doug Christie, Hubert Davis and Lee Mayberry still were on the board.

 

Don MacLean, F, out of league (No. 19, Detroit)

MacLean, who broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record at UCLA, earned the NBA's Most Improved Player award in his second season when his scoring average shot from 6.6 points per game to 18.2. But it slipped in his third season to 11.0 and never recovered. Injuries and then a positive test for steroids in 2000 tainted his career, and he played for seven teams in his final seven seasons.

 

Oliver Miller, C, out of league (No. 22, Phoenix)

The Really Big O, as the corpulent Miller sometimes was known, had tremendous skills, a sweet nature and zero inclination to maintain the level of fitness he needed for a truly productive NBA career. His talent made up for his poor conditioning early in his career, but by 2001, even the Harlem Globetrotters got fed up with his lack of discipline and cut him. Miller briefly returned to the NBA with Minnesota in 2003-04 and behaved himself nutritionally until the date in January when his contract got guaranteed. That was that.

 

Steve Aschburner is a senior NBA reporter and columnist, covering the Minnesota Timberwolves for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 13 seasons and serving as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2005-07.