Peachtree Hoops is taking a look at past drafts from 1999-2010, with pick analysis, draft day stories, and anything else associated with what has historically been a day of broken dreams for the ATL.
Proceed with Caution.
ATLANTA HAWKS DRAFT: 2000
Unlike the 1999 draft, there was little build up for the 2000 version, even though the Hawks held the 6th pick in the draft. The Hawks had come off a miserable 28 win season, despite the best efforts of Dikembe Mutombo, and had failed in trying to rebuild while staying competitive. They weren't.
Lenny Wilkins was out as coach and, despite plenty of seasoned pro options available to coach (Doc Rivers, Byron Scott, Isiah Thomas, et al.) the Hawks tried (unsuccessfully) to land Tom Izzo as head coach and then settled for Lon Kruger.
LEADING UP TO THE DRAFT:
In the 2000 draft, even going in it was considered weak with very few sure things and plenty of risky upside picks.
Kenyon Martin of Cincinnati was generally considered to be the best of this lot. Martin was the player of the year by all measures and was the closest thing to a sure thing. Chris Mihm of Texas was the only other player throughout the year thought to be worth the #1 pick, though LSU sophomore standout Stromile Swift had games where he flashed massive potential, too.
The rest of the draft was littered with college stars who forecasted as role players, high school standouts like Darius Miles, and the ongoing influx of the international player.
The Hawks were looking to continue to add the best player available at #6, not committing to a single position as they had the season before when they knew they wanted a PG in a PG heavy lottery.
This meant anybody was on the table, leaving the fans to wonder what the Hawks would do. Many, tired of the safe approach that usually landed accomplished college players with limited pro potential (Roshown McLeod, Alan Henderson, Cal Bowdler), wanted the Hawks to roll the dice on a great pool of unproven, highly athletic players.
This pool included the aforementioned Miles, Michigan freshman Jamal Crawford, and Kenyon Martin's exciting collegiate teammate, freshman DerMarr Johnson.
There was more a sense of who are these guys in the CNN Center as the draft began to unfurl, due to the large amounts of unproven talent and unseen international players.
Martin went first to New Jersey, as expected, and then Vancouver took the talented Stromile Swift with the second pick.
High schooler Darius Miles was selected third by the Clippers, and Hawks fans were beginning to hope that Florida's Mike Miller, the one player they had likely seen the most of in the entire draft, and a man who could shoot from anywhere on the floor, might just be there when the Hawks picked at #6.
The Hawks staff had been tracking Miller since high school and was certainly well aware of his fantastic play at Florida, where he had just helped the Gators make their first ever national championship game. Miller was not the most explosive player, but he could certainly make shots from anywhere and wasn't afraid to take and make them late, as his classic buzzer beater in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Butler proved.
But they didn't get him.
Orlando took Miller with the 5th pick and the Hawks were left to select from the kiddie pool, players who hadn't quite accomplished much in college, but had the athleticism to potentially be excellent pros.
In years past, there was no doubt the Hawks would take a player such as Michigan State's Morris Peterson, a solid player with good size and a good shot from a national champion. Or even his teammate, Mateen Cleaves, the charismatic point guard leader of that same team, would fit the Hawks histrorical MO for such a pick.
But Hawks GM Pete Babcock went against that tradition and rolled the dice on the skinny freshman from Cincinnati that his teammates would later call "Slim".
Hawks fans, mindful of the 41 inch vertical leap of Johnson and his part in the exciting play of Cincinnati Bearcat basketball under Bob Huggins, seemed alright with the pick. It would be seen whether this risky play would net a star or a bust.
Full Disclaimer: DerMarr Johnson was one of my favorite Hawks to talk to in my 12+ seasons of covering the club. Johnson was a shy 20 year old when he started with the Hawks, but was a hard worker. There was much for him to learn to be a successful pro, and he went about making sure he would work to make himself an All-Star.
He worked tirelessly with Hawks assistant Eric Musselman to improve his jump shot, a weapon seldom needed in his time before the NBA, but would have to be present to make his skill set effective as a Hawk.
In his first season, Johnson played in 78 games, averaging almost 17 minutes per game. Hawks fans saw the whole raw package in those minutes every night. He was unsure where he needed to be on the floor, awkward with the basketball, and errant with his still new jump shot.
But there was also those transition baskets, his instinctive ability to block shots, and his long 6'9 frame which seemed to stretch out to the wingspan of a seven footer. There was plenty to hope for in the young man, and he seemed to have the determination and work ethic to make good.
His second year Johnson played in 72 games and started 46 of them. His numbers improved all across the board, but there was still much to be improved on if he was to get to even a replacement level player.
Still, there were moments like these in every game it seemed, and fans who had to endure yet another lottery level season were happy to have them, especially if it meant Johnson would continue to improve.
After a successful summer league in Boston, one in which Eric Musselman called Johnson "a real matchup problem for opponents", Johnson returned to Atlanta to get ready for training camp.
Johnson was entering the third year of his rookie contract and Hawks GM Pete Babcock was going to have to make a choice by the end of the summer to pick up his fourth season (about 3M) or let him become a free agent.
There was a lot of excitement about Jason Terry, Dion Glover, and Johnson improving, to go alongside Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff, and newly acquired Glenn Robinson.
Then, in the early morning hours of September 13th, the 22 year old Johnson and his friends were out late, coming home from a night out when he blacked out and crashed his Mercedes, leaving he and his two passengers knocked out and the car burning.
From the account of the accident, his life was spared when a woman driving by saw the men laying in the car and pulled them to safety seconds before the car exploded.
He had broken his neck and had to be placed in a halo to stabilize his neck. He did not play a single minute of the 2002-2003 season and his fourth year option was not picked up.
Slim battled his way back from the injury and played a decent bit of three NBA seasons with the Nuggets, but he never reclaimed the astounding athleticism or promise of that summer of 2002.
I would have love to have seen that guy get his chance, but he's seems to be alright, as he is funny and active on Twitter. Even right now as we sit, the man is only 31.
I believe the Hawks made the right move in the draft, they took a hard working, highly athletic, exciting player who was very raw, and they were making him into something. The team was a lottery team, so a solid player like Peterson would have been just an average joe and Mateen Cleaves didn't work out anywhere either.
Johnson was showing signs of improvement and working his way into a solid, rotational player, realizing ways to use his long frame to cause problem defensively and working hard to get better offensively as well.
I could be very biased because Slim always had time for me from the beginning, but I don't regret this pick at all, though there were definitely some solid guys taken later in the draft. \
Babcock rolled the dice. DerMarr's life and career took a turn because of an accident, but the pick was not.