CRAWFORD | An exercise in greatness: U of L, UK and IU, the all- - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | An exercise in greatness: U of L, UK and IU, the all-time draft lottery

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Wes Unseld, Isiah Thomas and Dan Issel (AP photos) Wes Unseld, Isiah Thomas and Dan Issel (AP photos)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — If we had the benefit of hindsight, we’d all be NBA Draft experts. Or would we?

With the NBA Draft coming Thursday night and all of the lottery projections flying, I undertook a little exercise. I took our Big Three basketball programs and decided to hold a draft lottery of all-time pros from the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky and Indiana University.

Three teams, 14 best players. And even with the benefit of many pro careers in the rear-view mirror, there were some difficult decisions.

Who should be No. 1? Which current players should make the list? How high can we project those players to be?

It’s not as easy as it looks. So here’s what I came up with. I feel pretty good about the group of 14. I tended to give actual performance a little more weight than what we might project (or Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns might've been higher). Hall of Famers earned extra status, as did league MVPs. You could argue about the order all day.

And maybe you will. If I’m way off somewhere, I’m open to discussion. Did I leave someone off the list? Let me know in the comments.

So here goes, with the first pick of the Big Three All-Time draft, WDRB’s Eric Crawford selects . . .

1. WES UNSELD, LOUISVILLE. He’s one of only two players ever selected NBA rookie of the year and league MVP in the same season (Wilt Chamberlain was the other), and the only player on this list to be named a league MVP. He also was the NBA Finals MVP in 1978. He led the NBA in rebounding in 1975 and was a five-time All-Star. He was one of the best defensive players of his time, a rebounding machine, and perhaps the best outlet passer in the history of the game. In addition to winning the Finals in 1978, he took the Bullets to the Finals in three other seasons. In 984 NBA games, he averaged 10.8 points and 14 rebounds, and nearly 4 assists per game.

2. ISIAH THOMAS, INDIANA. He was a 12-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion. He was the Finals MVP in 1990, and twice was the NBA All-Star game MVP. He finished his career as the Detroit Pistons’ all-time leading scorer. He set an NBA Finals record with 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the 1988 Finals in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers, but came back a year later to win the first of Detroit’s back-to-back titles. He averaged 27.6 points and 7 assists to win MVP of the Finals in 1990.

3. DAN ISSEL, KENTUCKY. He missed only 24 games in 15 seasons — almost unthinkable today. With 27,482 points scored as a professional in the ABA and NBA, he trailed only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain and Julius Erving at the time of his retirement. He played his first six seasons in the ABA, averaging 25.6 points per game, then played his final nine seasons with the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, averaging 20.5 points per game. He was a six-time All-Star in the ABA and made the NBA All-Star game once. He led the Kentucky Colonels to the 1975 ABA championship.

4. WALT BELLAMY, INDIANA. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1961 NBA Draft by the Chicago Packers (which later became the Baltimore Bullets). He went on to average 31.6 points per game as a rookie, second-best all-time, while averaging 19 rebounds per game and being named NBA rookie of the year. He also led the NBA in field goal percentage that year. A four-time NBA All-Star, he finished his career with 20,941 points (20.1 points per game) and 14,241 rebounds (13.7 per game).

5. CLIFF HAGAN, KENTUCKY. He scored 14,780 NBA points over 11 seasons (one in the ABA), but could’ve had more. Instead, he served two years in the military after being drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 21st overall pick in the 1953 NBA Draft. The Celtics dealt Hagan and another player to the St. Louis Hawks after his military service, thereby trading away a Hall of Fame player. But they got the draft rights to Bill Russell in return. In 1958, Hagan’s second in the NBA, he and Bob Pettit won the NBA championship. Hagan was a five-time NBA All-Star. As an aside, Hagan was widely praised for his role with the Hawks after David Halberstam wrote in his book, “The Breaks of the Game,” that Hagan was the only white star on the team that welcomed African-American teammates like Lenny Wilkens, and treated them well.

6. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, KENTUCKY. The No. 1 overall draft pick and NBA rookie of the year was the first-ever UK product to be named NBA rookie of the year and the first from one of the local Big Three since Darrell Griffith in 1980-81. Towns averaged 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves in his rookie season.

7. ANTHONY DAVIS, KENTUCKY. In four NBA seasons, Davis has been a three-time All-Star and twice led the league in blocked shots. He has a four-year scoring average of 20.8 points per game, shoots 51.6 percent from the field and averages 9.7 rebounds per game. He averages 2.4 blocked shots per game. In 2015, he was named a second-teamer on the NBA’s All-Defensive team.

8. DARRELL GRIFFITH, LOUISVILLE. Dr. Dunkenstein was known for his aerial artistry, but his mark on the record books came from long range. In 1983-84 he led the NBA in three-point percentage at 36.1 while making a league-record 91 threes. The next year, he bettered his own league mark by one and averaged a career-best 22.6 points per game. Griffith was the second overall pick in the 1980 draft, and earned the NBA’s rookie of the year award, averaging 20.6 points per game. Injuries slowed Griffith a bit in the mid-1980s, and the arrival of Karl Malone and John Stockton changed the focus of the team. He missed all of the 1985-86 season and was out of the 1988 season after knee surgery in March. He scored 12,391 points over his 10-year NBA career. The franchise retired his No. 35 in 1993.

9. GEORGE MCGINNIS, INDIANA. He won a pair of ABA titles with the Indiana Pacers before teaming up with Julius Erving to take the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1977 NBA Finals. A three-time NBA All-Star and the ABA’s MVP in 1975, McGinnis averaged 17.2 points per game in 11 pro seasons.

10. LOUIS DAMPIER, KENTUCKY. His best years were spent in the ABA, but his accomplishments were noted in his being elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last year. He played all nine seasons of the ABA’s existence and was a seven-time all-star. He played for the ABA champion Kentucky Colonels in 1975 and averaged 17.1 points per game over 12 professional seasons, including three in the NBA. He could be called the game’s first three-point specialist. He made 199 threes as a rookie for the Colonels and 794 in his 7-year ABA career.

11. DEMARCUS COUSINS, KENTUCKY. He was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and while controversy often swirls around him, the numbers don’t lie about his talent. Cousins has been an NBA All-Star the past two seasons, and has been a second-team All-NBA pick in each of those. He has averaged 20.2 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per contest over his first six NBA seasons. He has ranked in the top 10 in the league in free-throw attempts four times, and has been third in the league in free throws made in each of the past two seasons. His defensive rebounding percentage has been in the top 10 in the league five times, and was No. 1 in 2013-14. His usage percentage — that is, proportion a team’s plays in which he was used while he was on the court — was 35.4 percent in 2015-16, tops in the NBA. League MVP Steph Curry was second at 32.6 percent.

12. ANTOINE WALKER, KENTUCKY. Taken by the Boston Celtics with the No. 6 overall pick in 1996, Walker was a three-time All-Star and played for the NBA champion Miami Heat in 2006. He led the Celtics in scoring (17.5) and rebounding (9.0) as a rookie. He was a reserve on the All-Star team the next season while averaging 22.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Walker played 14 seasons in the NBA, and parts of three other sin Puerto Rico and in the NBA Developmental League. He averaged 17.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in his 12 NBA seasons.

13.  FRANK RAMSEY, KENTUCKY. He probably was basketball’s first recognized sixth man, a role that Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach is credited with creating. Ramsey could’ve started for most teams in the NBA, but contented himself with playing behind Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. Still, Ramsey was often on the court at the end of games in big situations. He drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 1953 NBA Draft (ahead of teammate Hagan) but came back to UK, as did Hagan and Lou Tsiropoulous (also drafted by the Celtics) to play one more season in Lexington. Ramsey averaged 13.4 points per game with the Celtics and was part of seven NBA championship teams. His No. 23 is retired by the Celtics.

14. JOHN WALL, KENTUCKY. The first overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, Wall has been a three-time All-Star for the Washington Wizards and was named NBA All-Defensive second team in 2015. He has averaged 18 points and 9 assists per game over six NBA seasons.

NEXT FOUR:

15. JAMAL MASHBURN, KENTUCKY. An NBA All-Star in 2013, averaged 19.1 points per game in his 12 seasons in the NBA, and was an NBA All-Star in 2003. He scored 50 points in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies that year, when he averaged a career-best 21.6 points per game and shot 39 percent from three-point range. Some of his  best years came near the end of his career with the Charlotte — then New Orleans — Hornets. He averaged better than 20 points per game his final three seasons, and was on his way to another big year when sidelined by an injury after 19 games in 2003-04. He retired after that season.

16. JUNIOR BRIDGEMAN, LOUISVILLE. He was the first pick of the eighth round by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1975 NBA Draft, and immediately was traded with three other players to Milwaukee for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While more recognition went to Ramsey and John Havlicek, who made the role famous with their play in Boston, Bridgeman was a popular sixth man in Milwaukee and his number was retired there.

17. ADRIAN SMITH, KENTUCKY. The MVP of the 1966 NBA All-Star game, Smith still has the Ford Galaxie he was presented for winning the award. He played on what could be termed the first U.S. Olympic Dream Team, with Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Jerry West, which won the gold in Rome in 1960 with an average winning margin of 42.4 points. Smith led the NBA in games played four times and led the league in free-throw percentage at 90.3 in 1966-67. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

18. DICK VAN ARSDALE, INDIANA. It’s hard to pick between Dick and his brother Tom. Both were three-time NBA All-Stars and their scoring numbers are nearly identical. Dick also made the NBA’s All-Defensive second team in 1974 and has his number retired by the Phoenix Suns, who also put his name into their Ring of Honor. He averaged 16.4 points over a 12-year NBA career with the New York Knicks and the Suns.

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