When Golden State plays at Minnesota on Monday night it will be the latest chapter in a book of painful reminders from the 2009 NBA draft. A draft that was questioned at the time — David Kahn, presiding over his first draft as Timberwolves personnel boss, selected Ricky Rubio No. 5 and Jonny Flynn No. 6, with Stephen Curry going to Golden State at No. 7 — has come to look like one of the worst blunders in league history now that Flynn is out of the league and Curry is in the discussion as the best player on the planet. When it comes to draft mistakes, the gold standard for more than 30 years has been Portland’s decision to pass on Michael Jordan, taking Sam Bowie No. 2 overall instead in 1984 (the Rockets, picking No. 1, did just fine with Hakeem Olajuwon). But it might be time to ask the question. Was 2009 worse? Let’s take a look:
Bowie over Jordan
The case for this being the worst: As great as Curry is, he has a ways to go before he is mentioned in the same breath as Jordan — a six-time NBA champion, a six-time NBA Finals MVP and a five-time NBA MVP who is the face of the era that defines the league and is considered by many to be the greatest of all time. So in terms of the quality of player passed over, Jordan still wins by a significant amount.
The Blazers’ drafting of Bowie was also suspect because his college career was marred by a stress fracture in his leg. Passing on Jordan for a big man with an injury history isn’t smart.
The case against this being the worst: That said, centers dominated the NBA three decades ago, and if Bowie had managed to get healthy he could have been a great pro. Portland also already had chosen Clyde Drexler to be its shooting guard of the future in the 1983 draft. Plus, Jordan averaged 17.7 ppg in three years at North Carolina — nice numbers, but nothing that guaranteed anything close to the level of success he would achieve in the NBA.
Flynn over Curry
The case for this being the worst: The Wolves had the right position. In fact, both Rubio and Flynn were point guards. So you can’t say they passed on one type of player to fill a different position of need.
And you could argue that the difference between the careers of Curry and Flynn has been even more stark than that between Jordan and Bowie. Flynn, also hampered by injuries, hasn’t played an NBA game since the 2011-12 season. Curry — last year’s MVP while winning his first NBA title — is averaging 30.3 ppg this season as Golden State (62-7) tries to break the NBA record 72-10 mark set by Jordan’s Bulls.
The case against this being the worst: Curry was undersized coming out of Davidson, a small school. He could score and shoot the lights out, but there were no guarantees his skills would translate to the NBA. Flynn was a consensus top-10 pick. Even if the pick was debated at the time, it wasn’t a reach.
Final analysis: Jordan/Bowie is still worse. Taking out all the circumstances, you’re still talking about a player many consider the greatest of all time. However, if Curry keeps up this trajectory and becomes the Jordan of this era … I might have a different conclusion a decade from now.