The Celtics surely had championship dreams when they drafted the high school center in 2004; every team fantasizes of plucking that one phenom whose blossoming talent can be leveraged into a title. But in choosing Jefferson 15 picks into the draft, Boston general manager
Just four years after selecting Jefferson, the Celtics were cracking open champagne bottles in June again in large part due to drafting and developing Jefferson that night. Only, Jefferson -- who became the centerpiece to the trade that brought
That's just one of the oddities of the 2004 draft, one of the most confounding talent markets in recent NBA history. The deepest class of high school applicants ever, plus a growing wave of Europeans, made scouting and player evaluation especially critical -- and eminently unpredictable. Even the No. 1 pick created an uncommon debate, with Orlando general manager
Most scouts say a draft can't be accurately evaluated until five years later. But even with that half-decade of perspective, what's most clear today is how little was clear back then. "The least predictable draft ever,"
Only one scorer from the Class of 2004 has averaged 24 points over a whole season -- and he wasn't among the top 25 draftees, much less a lottery pick. Only one '04 rookie point guard has accumulated a five-assist-per-game average in his first five NBA seasons -- and he wasn't even a first-rounder. (Got a guess? Answer later.)
OK, drafting inexperienced kids in the teens and 20s is a crapshoot by nature, and there are unexpected successes and shocking flameouts each year. But the bizarro '04 class, which saw eight preps and six foreign players drafted in the first round alone, takes the fortune-or-failure ratio to extremes. Three of the first 10 players chosen (No. 8
Meanwhile, All-Star guard
And how often does the second-best player in a draft wind up being picked outside the lottery? It happened to Jefferson, who landed with the Celtics, at No. 15. And after two low-impact seasons in Boston, the 6-foot-10 forward-center lost weight, found a go-to low-post move and burst toward stardom with a 16-point, 11-rebound season that helped persuade former Timberwolves vice president
"I'm glad Al's going to the Western Conference," Ainge said after sending Jefferson and four other players to Minnesota for Garnett, the former MVP who helped deliver the '08 title to Boston. "He's going to be a big star."
Looks like it. Jefferson has averaged 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Timberwolves, and has vowed to return strong from knee surgery that prematurely ended his season last February.
So how would that '04 draft stack up if everyone got a do-over today? Here's a guess at the lottery picks:
That's a lot of NBA history changed, though who could predict how those pairings would have worked? After all, just about everything about the weird 2004 draft was impossible to predict.