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NBA re-draft: The class of 2003

The Sports Fan Journal logo The Sports Fan Journal 5/22/2020 Matt Whitener, The Sports Fan Journal
LeBron James holding a football ball: LeBron James without question would still be the top pick in 2003 NBA Draft. © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports LeBron James without question would still be the top pick in 2003 NBA Draft.

Revisionist history is something that permeates throughout sports. “What could have been” resonates when another scenario could have been better than the chosen reality. This is especially true years after draft classes have been selected. TSFJ scribes Johnathan Tillman and Matt Whitener have set forth not only on redrafting the past two decades of the NBA, but also changing how history will play via our NBA Re-Draft series.

Previously: 2000, 20012002

It is not hyperbole to say that the class of 2003 is one of the most pivotal in NBA history. Only the star-studded classes of ’84 or ’96 could equal the sheer magnitude of stars that emerged from this group. Nine future All-Stars and players that accounted for 26 championship wins emerged from the group, while at least four future Hall of Famers are counted among it as well. It set in motion the direction that the league would take on over the better part of the next decade, as the legacies of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh would come together to shape both the on- and off-court direction of how the game would be competed.

In the moment, it also featured the intersection of all three significant draft prospect approaches, as it featured an elite high schooler (James), a college star (Carmelo Anthony) and huge international talent (Darko Milicic) at the top of the board. Beyond that, it was the largest pool of international players taken (a record-setting 31 declared) mixed in with an impressive group of seasoned, well-known college talents.

As it stands, this is one of the most pivotal moments in NBA history. So how big of a difference will could a Re-Draft? Let’s see, as Whitener kicks things off with a still easy pick for the Cavs, followed immediately by Till inevitably changing the course of history at No. 2….

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s HS

Original pick: same

Some history doesn’t need revision. You make this pick every possible time it is available to be made. No player in professional sports history has both lived up to — and surpassed — the hype like LeBron. The perfect player, staying home and turning the tides of one of the longest suffering franchises in NBA history. The greatest number one overall pick in history. Moving right along.

2. Detroit Pistons (from Grizzlies): Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech (+2)

Original pick: Darko Milicic

Chris Bosh was questioned for coming out after one season at Georgia Tech. There were concerns about his readiness to play right away. Then-Raptors exec Isiah Thomas said that if he drafted Bosh, he’d only have him play the 41 home games his first season. That surrounding doubt with the curiosity surrounding Darko Milicic allowed the foreign left-handed big to be taken over the American one. Not here. Bosh would have added depth and versatility to a championship-caliber Detroit front line and becomes what Darko did not.

3. Denver Nuggets: Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse

Original pick: same

An admittedly surprising name to still be on the board, after my brother Till opts for the upgrade on the logic of the Darko pick. Melo lands back in Denver and becomes the centerpiece of the franchise from day one. He averaged over 20 points for 14 consecutive seasons, including leading the league in scoring at 28.7 in 2013 and topping 25 PPG in four of his eight seasons in Denver. Overall, his 23.6 PPG is the 22nd best total in NBA history and he ranks among the top 20 in total points all-time.

Melo is the only NBA player in history to win Olympic gold three times and was named an All-Star 10 times. Again, an easy pick to make that doubles down on what we already know.

4. Toronto Raptors: David West, Xavier (+14)

Original pick: Bosh

The NBA Draft has punished upperclassmen since the late 90s, believing that a player’s potential is closer to being reached despite him still being in his early 20s. West was a four-year player at Xavier and a presence on every All-American team. In 2003, post players were still valued, and Toronto needed a power forward, especially with Bosh now off the board. West is the next best option here, so he starts his career in Toronto.

5. Miami Heat: Dwayne Wade, Marquette

Original pick: same

Once again, the dice fall in a favorable fashion that aligns with real life. This a perfect fit for Wade landing spot perspective, as his combo guard skills fit into the many needs of this roster. For the Heat, they land the type of hungry future franchise centerpiece that rarely is available at the fifth slot. He averaged over 24 points per game for seven straight years between 2004 and 2011, led the league in scoring at 30.2 PPG in 2008-09, was an eight-time All-NBA selection, three-time All-Defense pick and 13-time All-Star.

Wade’s 120 career win shares ranks second behind James in this class and he quickly became one of the most fearless and ferocious guards in NBA history.

6. Los Angeles Clippers: T.J. Ford, Texas (+2)

Original pick: Chris Kaman

Ford is one of the best floor generals of the last 20 years. If not for a gruesome injury, he is probably at the helm of some really good contending teams. The young Clippers need stability and a conductor for all that electric athleticism, and Ford is perfect for them, even as a rookie.

7. Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Kansas

Original pick: same

A solid all-around contributor, Hinrich is capable of contributing at either guard role. For the purposes of this team, he is a solid presence at point guard that provides a substantial defensive upgrade from day one. He would also go on to become the Bulls’ all-time leader in three pointers, with 1,049.

8. Milwaukee Bucks: Luke Ridnour, Oregon (+4)

Original pick: Ford

Speaking of steady point guards, Ridnour ends up in Milwaukee a few years earlier than his actual career path took him there. Of the three Oregon players drafted this year, he’s probably the least talented, but had the longest career by far. A defined skill set can keep players around longer than undefined potential.

9. New York Knicks: Chris Kaman, Central Michigan (-3)

Original pick: Mike Sweetney, Georgetown

The Knicks need help on the inside and Kaman addresses that immediately. His semi-slide from his original No. 6 slot makes this possible for NY, and gives them a solid big that can be a bookmark in the middle for years. Kaman played 13 seasons, averaged 11.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and made an All-Star team in 2009-10.

10. Washington Wizards: Josh Howard, Wake Forest (+19)

Original pick: Jarvis Hayes

As was the case with West, the 2003 ACC Player of the Year got knocked down being 22 years old instead of 19 or 20. Howard was a very capable two-way wing, able to drive and defend. After some comments about marijuana that were controversial for the time, his career was shortened. But he certainly is an upgrade over Jarvis Hayes for Washington.

11. Golden State Warriors: Mo Williams, Alabama (+36)

Original pick: Mickeal Pietrus

Williams topped north of 15 points a night in four seasons in his career, including an 2008-09 season where he was named an All-Star. He certainly is one of the best second round picks of this decade, originally going 47th overall back in 2003. He is a fitting boost for a Warriors team that loses Gilbert Arenas to the Wizards headed into the next season.

12. Seattle SuperSonics: Boris Diaw, France (+9)

Original pick: Nick Collison

On an episode of the “All The Smoke” podcast, Stephen Jackson said the most talented player he was teammates with was Diaw. Coming out of France, he was a 6-foot-8 point who had incredible vision and feel for the game. While he didn’t turn into a superstar, he became a vital member of multiple contending teams’ rotations. He was a mismatch for the times — too big for quick wings and too agile for post players.

13. Boston Celtics (from Grizzlies): Leandro Barbosa, Bauru Tilibra (Brazil) (+15)

Original pick: Marcus Banks, UNLV

The Celtics are starving for point guard here and adding Barbosa adds a dynamic playmaker to the backcourt. While never a pure PG that could have the keys left to him to run a team, he became one of the premiere energy guards off the bench in his career. He went on to win Sixth Man of the Year in 2006-07, when he averaged 18 PPG and four assists in support of Steve Nash in Phoenix.

14. Seattle SuperSonics (from Bucks): Jose Calderon, Tau Ceramica (Spain) (Undrafted)

Original pick: Ridnour

Oh, to be a smallish point guard capable of making shots and not turn the ball over. Calderon made a career spanning over a decade specializing in those two things. Pairing him with Diaw in Seattle raises the team’s offensive chemistry and efficiency. The defense certainly suffers, but at least Calderon isn’t an offensive liability, too.

15. Orlando Magic: Mikeal Pietrus, Pau-Orthez (France) (-4)

Original Pick: Reece Gaines, Louisville

In some regards, Pietrus was ahead of his time: a lengthy, three-and-D type that could matchup easily with most any small forward or shooting guard. He was nice rotational piece throughout his career, averaging 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.

16. Memphis Grizzlies (from Celtics): Kyle Korver, Creighton (+35)

Original pick: Troy Bell, Boston College

Korver is one of the purest shooters to ever play. And at 6-foot-8 (!), his quick release is nearly unblockable. He loves to use screens the same way Reggie Miller and Ray Allen did, becoming the greatest second-round shooter of all-time. He’s no threat off the dribble, but teams still have to worry about him whenever he’s on the floor.

17. Phoenix Suns: Darko Milicic, Hemofram Vrsac (Serbia) (-15)

Original pick: Zarko Cabarkapa, Serbia

Alright, its time to address some realities and truths about the infamous Darko Milicic. The main truth is pretty clear: he was incredibly overrated and never fit in with the deep, championship contending (and winning) Pistons team he landed with. He landed with the worst possible coach for him in Larry Brown and never got a chance to get the type of minutes or exposure needed to develop until it was too late. Add in the pressures of being surrounded by successes of his legendary classmates in the top 5, and the pressure was immense. Darko never lived up to it and collapsed.

However, to cast the Serbian big as a completely untalented, waste of a jersey is also inaccurate. He had productive runs in both Memphis and Orlando, albeit not the ‘European Kevin Garnett’ that he was tagged as being coming in the door. Darko is a prime ‘what if’ candidate for what could have been if he landed in a better situation. With Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced style that was a better fit for European big like Milicic, this could have been a much better story crafted for him here.

18. New Orleans Hornets: Brian Cook, Illinois (+7)

Original pick: West

Around this time, “Stretch 4s” were beginning to pop up more frequently. If Brian Cook and David West could combine into one player, they’d be one of the best power forwards to play. Cook could absolutely shoot it and wanted get little parts of the interior frontcourt game. He adds space to a New Orleans team but with Vladimir Radmanovic being there in our reality and playing the same position, it would be a battle for minutes.

19. Utah Jazz: Nick Collison, Kansas (-7)

Original pick: Sasha Pavlovic, Serbia

Is there a more natural matchup for team and type of player in this draft than Collison and the Jazz? He fits right into the post-Malone (nasty pun there, but here we are) and Stockton era for the Jazz. Alongside Andrei Kirilenko, Nenad Kristic, Mehmet Okur, Raja Bell, Gordon Giricek and Carlos Arroyo, they may have painfully boring to watch, but this is an effective team that Gene Hackman’s Norman Dale from "Hoosiers" would have loved to lead.

20. Memphis Grizzlies (from Celtics): Dahntay Jones, Duke

Original pick: Same

Coupling the physical nature of Jones with shooting touch of Korver brings a versatility to an already fundamentally sound Grizzlies roster. Jones is a really good athlete and strong for a guard. Without Pau Gasol in this alternate reality, Memphis is a perimeter-oriented team in a Western Conference still built around strong frontcourt performers like Shaq, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. It’d be interesting if they would have made the playoffs this way.

21. Atlanta Hawks (from Pacers): Jarvis Hayes, Georgia (-11)

Original pick: Diaw

Hayes was an exciting perimeter scorer for the Georgia Bulldogs, whom he averaged 28.5 points for in 2003 NCAA tournament. He never reached that ceiling as a pro, but the Atlanta native is good fit here for his hometown Hawks. After trading Stephen Jackson for Al Harrington, ATL needs his type of presence on a roster grossly undermanned on the wing.

22. New Jersey Nets: Carlos Delfino, Skipper Bologna (Italy) (+3)

Original pick: Zoran Planinic (Bosnia)

Delfino is a shooting guard who helped a few rotations during his career. He’s skilled enough offensively that he could take advantage of weak defenders, but didn’t elevate his game enough to become a consistent starter.

23. Portland Trail Blazers: Travis Outlaw, Starkville HS

Original pick: same

Its fantastic symmetry that THESE Blazers get a guy named Outlaw. Much like it played out in real life, Outlaw works out well here. He got the time to develop coming out of high school on a veteran team that didn’t need him from day one. By the time he was needed, he was ready to be a steady contributor too, averaging double figures in 2008 and 2009. However, he never made the next step to stardom, that the Nets believed he would after signing him to a $35 million deal in 2011.

24. Los Angeles Lakers: Kendrick Perkins, Ozan HS (+3)

Original pick: Cook

Perkins playing behind Shaq for a season might have improved his career trajectory from that of just a role player, offensively. Navigating the NBA straight out of high school is difficult without tutelage, and Perk’s stout defense inside would have complemented by a hopefully better-developed post game. He certainly would have been a help during the 2004 Finals.

25. Detroit Pistons: Keith Bogans, Kentucky (+18)

Original pick: Delfino

While the aforementioned Larry Brown was never one big on playing college kids quickly, Bogans may have been able to be an exception. Its easy to see how his tough and versatile style of play would have blended well between a front court with the Wallace ‘brothers’ and a backcourt of Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker. He could have contributed playoff pushes immediately as a ninth man.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jason Kapono, UCLA (+5)

Original pick: Ndudi Ebi, Westbury Christian HS

Shooters shoot, and Kapono is an outstanding standstill shooter. He’d have a ton of open looks playing around Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. The 2007 Three-Point Contest champion had a solid career in the NBA. This is a solid and needed pick for a team that has missed so many over the past few years due to their shady salary cap situation.

27. Boston Celtics (from Grizzlies): Matt Bonner, Florida (+18)

Original pick: Perkins

It’s easy to envision Bonner being adored in Boston. From the just the eye test alone, he fits in amazingly well with everything from the 1980s Celts to the Dino Radja days that followed. But as a credit to himself, Bonner emerged from a mid-second rounder to accumulating the 12th most win shares from this draft class. His outside shooting (41% from three) played an important part of two championship teams in San Antonio.

28. Phoenix Suns (from Spurs): Luke Walton, UCLA (+4)

Original pick: Barbosa

Walton was the least talented of an Arizona Wildcats team that had four All-American players (including him) and Gilbert Arenas as their leading scorer. He was a tremendous passer and always made the proper play. He gives Phoenix another decision-maker that keeps the ball moving alongside Steve Nash.

29. Dallas Mavericks: Marquis Daniels, Auburn (Undrafted)

Original pick: Howard

As opposed to having the good fortune of landing Daniels after he went undrafted, the Mavs call his name with the last pick of round one here. Capable of playing the point through small forward, he is a huge win to land at this point of the draft. Daniels played with the hunger of guy that had to earn everything he got, which ultimately became a six-year, $38 million extension in Dallas.

Biggest Risers: Jose Calderon (Undrafted), Marquis Daniels (Undrafed), Mo Williams (+36)

Furthest Fall: Darko Milicic (-15), Jarvis Hayes (-11), Nick Collison (-7)

Out of the picture: Mike Sweetney (No. 9), Marcus Banks (No. 13), Reece Gaines (No. 15)

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