Every year we see a group of players selected in the NBA Draft that exceed their pre-draft expectations. Sometimes it’s a top pick turning into a franchise player; others it’s a second-rounder developing into an All-Star. In the spirit of Draft Day, let’s take a look at the best value pick from each ACC school. [For the purpose of the article, value is based on a combination of where a player was drafted and their success in the NBA.]
Boston College: Michael Adams (1985: Round 3, Pick 66, Sacramento)
An undersized guard at 5’10”, Adams averaged just 2.2 points per game his rookie season with Sacramento. Two years later, he landed with the Denver Nuggets, where he found his stride and blossomed into one of the game’s top shooters. His best season came in 1990-91, when he averaged career highs in points (26.5), assists (10.5), and steals (2.2). The following season, Adams made the All-Star team. His record of 79 straight games with a made 3-pointer stood until another pretty good shooter – Steph Curry – broke the record this season.
Clemson: Horace Grant (1987: Round 1, Pick 10, Chicago)
The Bulls expected big things out of Horace Grant when they drafted him in 1987, but I doubt they saw him as an integral part of one of the best dynasties in all of sports. The Bulls traded for No. 5 pick Scottie Pippen the same night they drafted Grant, and the duo emerged as Michael Jordan’s right- and left-hand men a couple years later. Seventeen seasons in the NBA (12,996 pts, 9,443 rebs) and four championships make Grant a serious steal at No. 10.
Duke: Carlos Boozer (2002: Round 2, Pick 34, Cleveland)
No disrespect to Grant Hill (No. 3 pick), but Carlos Boozer had a career that most GMs hope for out of a top 5 pick, let alone a second-rounder. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds throughout his 13-year career. At his peak in Utah, Boozer posted back-to-back All-Star seasons (2007, 2008) averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Florida State: Sam Cassell (1993: Round 1, Pick 24, Atlanta)
A 15-year NBA veteran, three-time NBA Champion and 2004 All-Star, Sam Cassell made and immediate impact for the Rockets as one of the most clutch players in the NBA. As a rookie, he dropped 22 points and seven assists off the bench to help Houston win Game 7 of the 1993 Western Conference Finals. He followed that up by scoring seven points in the final 32 seconds of a 93-89 win over the New York Knicks in Game 3 of the 1994 NBA Finals. Over the course of his career, Cassell played for eight teams and was traded six times – a testament to his talent and ability to contribute no matter where he played.
Georgia Tech: Mark Price (1986: Round 2, Pick 25, Dallas)
A second round pick whose jersey is retired? Yep, that’s Mark Price. Standing at an even 6-feet tall, scouts said Price was too small and too slow to be an NBA point guard. The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t see it that way and traded to acquire Price from the Dallas Mavericks on draft day. He spent the first nine years of a 12-year NBA career in Cleveland, where he made four All-Star teams and helped turn the Cavs into an Eastern Conference power. He retired from the NBA in 1998 and had his No. 25 jersey retired by the Cavs in November, 1999.
A No. 2 overall pick is expected to make an impact, but not quite like the one Wes Unseld made his first NBA season. Unseld’s averages of 13.8 points and 18.8 rebounds won him 1969 Rookie of the Year and league MVP honors. He and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players in NBA history to win both awards their rookie seasons. Unseld was a five-time All-Star, won the 1978 NBA title as Finals MVP and was elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.
Miami: Rick Barry (1965: Round 1, Pick 2, San Francisco)
Coming into the 1965 NBA Draft, the scouting report on Rick Barry was simple: he gets buckets. Barry’s senior year average of 37.4 points per game helped propel him to the No. 2 overall pick by the then San Francisco Warriors. Barry picked up where he left off at Miami, averaging 25.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per game as Rookie of the Year. Barry made the NBA or ABA All-Star team in each of his first 12 professional seasons. His crowning achievement was winning the 1975 NBA title with the Warriors, where he was named Finals MVP. The Warriors retired his No. 24 jersey, and Barry was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1987.
North Carolina: Michael Jordan (1984: Round 1, Pick 3, Chicago)
In what many consider the biggest steal in NBA Draft history, Michael Jordan was passed on twice before the Chicago Bulls picked him third overall in 1984. The Rockets still landed a Hall of Famer at No.1 in Hakeem Olajuwon, but the Portland Trailblazers’ No. 2 pick, Sam Bowie, never made an All-Star game. The Bulls reaped the benefits to the tune of six NBA titles. Had the greatest player of all-time been drafted first overall, he’d still make the list.
Before there was Muggsy, there was Spud. At just 5-foot-7, scouts saw Webb as a European or Harlem Globetrotters prospect. Instead, the Hawks took him in the fourth round of the 1985 draft and Webb turned the opportunity into a 12-year NBA career. Most famous for being the shortest player to compete in and win the NBA Dunk Contest (1986), Webb was also a solid point guard and Dominique Wilkins’ sidekick in Atlanta. His best statistical season came in 1991-92, when he averaged 16.0 points and 7.1 assists as the full time starter for the Sacramento Kings.
Notre Dame: Bill Laimbeer (1979: Round 3, Pick 65, Cleveland)
Laimbeer isn’t the best player to come out of South Bend, but he certainly is the most valuable. The Cavs picking Laimbeer in the third round is today’s equivalent of signing as an undrafted free agent – making Laimbeer’s 15-year career even more impressive. After just two seasons with Cleveland he was traded to Detroit, where he spent the last 13 seasons of his career and became one of the NBA’s all-time notorious players. Laimbeer was the anchor of Detroit’s “Bad Boys” teams of the late 80’s and early 90s. His hard play set the tone for a team that won back-to-back NBA titles. A starter for the Pistons 1989 and 1990 championship teams, Laimbeer was a four-time All-Star and his No. 40 jersey is retired in Detroit. He and his Pistons teammates are the only players in NBA history to have winning playoff records against Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
Pitt: Billy Knight (1974: Round 2, Pick 21, LA Lakers)
Another second-round pick turned All-Star, Billy Knight is an Indiana Pacers legend. After his first two seasons with the ABA Pacers, the team merged into the NBA. Knight had no problem adjusting, averaging 26.2 points and making the All-Star team in his first NBA season. He played a combined 11 ABA/NBA seasons, scoring 13,901 points (16.9 ppg) and grabbing 4,377 rebounds (5.3 rpg). He is the Pacers third all-time leading scorer and ranks in the top five in a number of other categories.
Syracuse: Carmelo Anthony (2003: Round 1, Pick 3, Denver)
Carmelo Anthony leading Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA National Championship as a freshman was a pretty good indication that he would be a special pro. He’s been all of that and more, establishing himself as one of the best scorers in the NBA for over a decade. Anthony has averaged more than 20 points in each of his 13 seasons in the NBA, including 21.0 points per game as a rookie. He is a nine-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA selection and helped lead Team USA to gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Virginia: Ralph Sampson (1983: Round 1, Pick 1, Houston)
When you’re a three-time National Player of the Year in college, your expectations at the next level are going to be pretty steep. Sampson met those expectations immediately, averaging 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Houston Rockets on his way to the 1984 All-Star game and Rookie of the Year trophy. The Rockets had the No. 1 pick again the following year, selecting Hakeem Olajuwon to form a duo of 7-footers known as the “twin towers.” Sampson and Olajuwon helped transform the Rockets from NBA bottom feeder to Western Conference power. Sampson provided one of the most iconic moments in playoff history in the 1986 Western Conference Finals against the Lakers. With the score tied at 112, no Olajuwon on the court and just one second on the clock, Sampson took an inbounds pass and fired up a twisting turn-around jumper that beat the buzzer, sealed the series for the Rockets and sent them to the NBA Finals.
Virginia Tech: Dell Curry (1986: Round 1, Pick 15, Utah)
The mind-boggling shots Steph Curry makes become a little less shocking when realize that sharp-shooting runs in the family. A 16-year NBA veteran, Dell Curry is best known for his 10 years with the Charlotte Hornets. Primarily used off the bench for instant offense, Curry was one of the most feared 3-point shooters in the NBA and was consistently in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year. He finally won that award in the 1993-94 season, when he averaged a career-high 16.3 point per game. He ranks among the Hornets’ all-time leaders in points, games played, 3-point field goals made and three-point percentage. He retired as the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer with 9,839 points.
Wake Forest: Tim Duncan (1997: Round 1, Pick 1, San Antonio)
Tim Duncan is the equivalent of hitting the lottery with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. When the Spurs picked Duncan first overall in 1997, they knew they were getting an elite big man, but I doubt they expected a 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-Defensive Team, five-time NBA champion, three-time Finals MVP, and two-time league MVP. The “Big Fundamental” will go down as one of, if not the, best power forwards in the history of the NBA. His smooth post moves, use of the glass and stifling defense will be remembered for decades to come.