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Ten Year Reunion: Looking Back at the 2004 NBA Draft

With the highly anticipated 2014 NBA Draft approaching, Felipe Melecio looks back at what happened to the equally deep 2004 NBA Draft class.

Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is heating up with the Conference Finals all set to go between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers in the East and the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder in the West. This is why it’s important to get revved up for the upcoming NBA Draft.

The upcoming Draft? But a champion is about to be crowned. Yes, but was the 2014 season not flooded with talk about the 2014 draft class? Were teams not trying to “tank” hard to go hard after Andrew WigginsJabari Parker, and Joel Embiid? We’re about a month and a half away from this year’s NBA Draft. What better way to look forward to a draft than by looking back ten years ago to the 2004 Draft?

The number one pick ended up being Dwight Howard going to the Orlando Magic. A five-time NBA First Team selection and eight-time All-Star, it’s pretty obvious that Howard turned out to be the best pick in that draft. But apparently, he wasn’t always the obvious choice. This mock draft from Gothamist states the following:

This is such a no brainer. It says a lot about that (sic) state of the draft today when the best college shot blocker since Alonzo Mourning doesn’’t get the respect he deserves. Proved all the doubters wrong during his national championship run. The Magic need help right away and Okafor should provide it.

That’s right, Emeka Okafor, it was argued, should go number one in the 2004 draft. And that blog was not the only one as even Sports Illustrated’s Marty Burns wondered if the Magic were better off with the UConn product.

New GM John Weisbrod better hope Howard is more Kevin Garnett than Kwame Brown. If not, Okafor could make him look real bad

Even current ESPN Recruiting Nation editor, Rob Bodenburg, back in his Prep Insiders days, stated that “Emeka Okafor would be the smart pick” in the event that Tracy McGrady would bolt from Orlando (why does everybody want out of Orlando?). So yes, there was a bit of controversy between the high school prep star Howard and the more established Okafor going number one. Even with Howard forcing the Magic to trade him to Los Angeles, the Magic ended up getting a true franchise player, the most dominant center in the league, and made their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995 with him as their center. However, looking back, the writing was on the wall as even Bodenburg wrote in Howard’s scouting report that “some critics fear he lacks passion.” However, Bodenburg did note Howard’s high maturity level as a positive. Very mature indeed.

Howard might have gone first overall, but Okafor won that season’s Rookie of the Year Award averaging 15 points and 10.9 rebounds. Okafor would produce five consecutive double-double seasons to kick off his career. And then, beginning in the 2009-2010 season, the production started to wane. He missed this past season with a herniated disk.

The following report from on the third pick overall, Ben Gordon would prove to be accurate:

Scorer. He has deep range and understands how to run off screens for open shots.

A teammate of Okafor’s at UConn, Gordon would end up getting selected by the Chicago Bulls along with Luol DengUSA Today’s Roscoe Nance loved the picks, suggesting that Gordon can play back up to Kirk Hinrich and play shooting guard as well and Deng possessing the capability to help improve the Bulls’ defense. Gordon would end up being a key scorer, especially off the bench, while Deng’s game would evolve drastically, becoming a fixture of the team for the next decade until he was traded to Cleveland back in January of this year.

A quick look at the mock drafts leading up to the actual draft in 2004 showed that the Bulls were very close in not getting a chance to acquire Deng. Per ESPN, they were sure that Andre Iguodala would go to the Bulls at number three. What the mock draft wasn’t counting on was how impressed the Bulls were with Gordon in his workouts with the team. Meanwhile, a lot of mock drafts had Deng going to the Washington Wizards at number five. Instead, the Wiz ended up picking Devin Harris and immediately packaged him in a trade that helped the Wizards acquire Antawn Jamison.

I’ve always compared Iguodala to Richard Jefferson, but the buzz, theretofore, was that he would be the next Scottie Pippen, which led to the speculation that the Bulls would acquire the former Illinois high school player. Instead, the Bulls went in a different direction, and Iggy ended up being taken at the ninth spot. Doesn’t look like he came close to meeting those Pippen comparisons, but he did end up being a good player, nonetheless.

Iguodala was not the only player out of Illinois creating excitement during the draft. Shaun Livingston came into the draft as the point guard with the most upside. What the lean Livingston lacked in strength and size, he made up for it with his handles and playmaking abilities. The high school phenom would require a couple of years of seasoning, but the consensus was that the finished product would be uniquely special. Instead, Livingston would suffer one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of sports, shattering his left knee. Livingston would never come close to reaching his untapped potential, but was able to play in a career high 76 games this past season with the Brooklyn Nets.

The other point guard mentioned, Devin Harris, was heralded as the Dallas Mavericks’ point guard of the future. In the winter of 2008, not happy with his inconsistent play, the Mavs looked to their past to solve their point guard issues in a trade that sent Harris to the New Jersey Nets in order to bring back Jason Kidd to the team that originally drafted him in 1994. Sure enough, as is tradition in Dallas, the Mavs brought back the point guard they acquired on draft night in 2004 to the team this past season.

A pick after Harris, the Atlanta Hawks selected Josh Childress out of Stanford, not the hometown prep star Josh Smith. At any rate, both players did end up with Atlanta and were part of the revitalization of the Hawks. Childress would end up playing overseas after the 2008 season, leading to speculation that more players would start playing in Europe during their primes than ever before. Meanwhile, Smith would become of the of most polarizing players of the last decade. On the one hand, you have one of the most exciting players in the league as well as one of the sloppiest players in the NBA, most notable for taking some of the most ill-advised shots in the game today.

Other notable first round selections:

Notable second round picks and undrafted rookies:

2004 Draft Starting Five

  1. Jameer Nelson–Livingston, Harris, and Gordon were the top three point guard prospects, but Nelson ended up being the best, pure point guard.
  2. Tony Allen–there are more talented shooting guards in this draft, but “The Grindfather” gets the nod as the starter on this team.
  3. Andre Iguodala–tough choice between him and Deng, but this team is going to need a guy that can score and create his own shot.
  4. Al Jefferson–Quite possibly, the best back-to-the-basket player in the draft
  5. Dwight Howard–It’s not a legit team without the best player in the draft.

2004 Draft Bench

First player off the bench: Luol Deng–the man does everything on the court and does it right.

First scorer off the bench: Ben Gordon–those first few years in Chicago were ridiculous. The number of lucky shots that Gordon made was simply absurd.

First big off the bench: Emeka Okafor–wondering if perhaps this was the best role for him coming out of the draft.

Backup point guard: Devin Harris–also wondering if Harris was better suited as a second unit point guard.

Backup center: Anderson Varejao–hustle and heart, can grab rebounds and protect the paint.

Last two spots: Trevor Ariza and Kevin Martin. Why not Josh Smith? Because I don’t want to put up with this nonsense.

We would make one NBA Finals appearance and then our best player would want to bolt to a bigger market immediately after getting eliminated. Our franchise would have no choice but to sign Josh Smith in the free agent market.

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