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Lack of NBA Success Hurts Wolfpack

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How have NC State 1st rounders performed over their NBA careers?

2014 NBA Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Over the past 25 + years NC State has been in the results-based but media driven “shadow” of its two blue neighbors. Primarily that perception comes from the multiple titles and deep tournament runs they’ve had, while NC State only has 3 Sweet Sixteens to hang its hat on. Yet as much as the talking heads love to perpetuate this narrative, one area that exacerbates that story is success of players beyond college. In football we have Super Bowl champions, franchise QBs, legendary WRs, and highly regarded defensive players in our recent history but basketball hasn’t produced much fruit at all. In order to continue to chip away at the narrative State has to produce more successful NBA professionals. Not only is it a boon for the program’s perception, but it certainly helps recruits when they see you can get them to be successful in the money league.

Dennis Smith Jr has been widely praised across sports media as a tremendous pick for the Dallas Mavericks and that franchise is primed to put him in a position to back that sentiment up. Yet over State’s history that level of success has not been the case and has ostensibly slowed down the progress of us having any chance to label ourselves as top program over the past two decades. Let’s take a look at all of our first round draft picks since the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery was implemented and see what may have gone wrong, in hopes that history won’t repeat itself as we go forward.

(all stats courtesy of sports-reference.com, basketball-reference.com, & ole Wikipedia)

Chris Washburn

College Stats (Career)

1984-1986

16.4 ppg; 6.6 rpg; 55% fg

Draft # & Team

3rd Pick; Golden State Warriors

NBA Stats (Career)

3.1 ppg; 2.4 rpg; 41.2% fg

What Happened

Washburn is an example of a guy who had all the athletic tools but a number of the demons that plague athletes reared their head. His work ethic & attitude were questionable, he suffered from nagging injuries and, what’s worse, drug usage completely derailed his entire career. Had he not be drafted behind Len Bias, considering that tragedy, he’d have been considered the most notable disaster surrounding that year. Golden State gave up on him very quickly and even in his short career he was with two total NBA teams. There is a reason the 1986 draft is considered to be the worst of all time...and in no small part its due to what happened to Chris Washburn.

Tom Gugliotta

College Stats (Career)

1988-1992

13.7 ppg; 7.3 rpg; 40.8% 3pt; 55.3% efg

Draft # & Team

6th Pick; Washington Bullets (Wizards)

NBA Stats (Career)

13.0 ppg; 7.3 rpg; 28.4% 3pt; 46.3% efg

What Happened

Gugs had a very good NBA career by most standards. He was on the NBA All-Rookie First Team, became an NBA All-Star in 1997 and started in playoff games for both Minnesota and Phoenix. While he was a bit of a journeyman, his success at his early stops kept him in the league although no one invested in him long term. Gugs is a success story over his 13 years of professional basketball. His career is a fine blueprint of what most players should strive for coming out of NC State.

Todd Fuller

College Stats (Career)

1993-1996

13.8 ppg; 7.7 rpg; 49.8% fg; 50.6 efg%

Draft # & Team

11th Pick; Golden State Warriors

NBA Stats (Career)

3.7 ppg; 3.0 rpg; 42.2% fg; 42.2% efg

What Happened

Todd Fuller was one of the few bright spots to come out of the Les Robinson era but his stats here didn’t parlay into success in the league. Considering that his draft is considered one of the greatest of all time (it includes Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Ray Allen etc) it’s hard not to consider this a failure in the big picture. Five years Fuller spent in the league with four different teams, each moving him along without any fanfare.

Julius Hodge

College Stats (Career)

2001-2005

15.8 ppg; 6.0 rpg; 3.5 apg; 51.3% efg

Draft # & Team

20th Pick; Denver Nuggets

NBA Stats (Career)

1.2 ppg; .7 rpg; .8 apg; 44% efg

What Happened

Whether we’d like to admit it or not Jules was always going to have a tough time in the NBA. He was never a great shooter, plus at 6’6”-6’7” his ball-handling wasn’t great enough to be a lead guard and his frame was too slight to effectively guard/play in the post. Yet Jules biggest asset was his leadership and competitiveness, both of which are hard for a rookie to display out of the gate. Hodge also had a coach he felt never wanted him on the team and seemed to be very insensitive to who Julius was personally. It didn’t help that Jules was shot early in his career adding to unfounded accusations about his character. The former ACC Player of the Year and Wolfpack legend had a completely uneventful NBA career before finding some measure of success spending time in Europe.

Cedric Simmons

College Stats (Career)

2005-2006

7.7 ppg; 4.1 rpg; 56.5% fg; 56.8% efg

Draft # & Team

15th Pick; New Orleans Hornets

NBA Stats (Career)

2.2 ppg; 1.9 rpg; 40.9% fg; 40.9% efg

What Happened

Full disclosure, I enrolled at NC State in 2004, so Cedric was the first WTF guy to declare for the NBA Draft in my Wolfpack fandom. A coaching change and one BIG game at Cameron Indoor gave Ced the motivation to jump in the draft and judging on where he was picked he made the right choice. The Hornets were a franchise in flux and Ced’s skill set didn’t translate quickly to the NBA. At 6’9” with very little range, Ced spent two quick, unproductive years in the league before finding his calling playing professionally overseas.

J.J. Hickson

College Stats (Career)

2008

14.8 ppg; 8.5 rpg; 59.1% fg; 59.1% efg

Draft # & Team

19th Pick; Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Stats (Career)

9.5 ppg; 6.8 rpg; 50.5% fg; 50.5% efg

What Happened

JJ was really good and we barely remember it because those were very dark days. One and done made sense for him considering the numbers he put up and the seeming discontent between he and his teammates. JJ was injured early in his NBA career so he missed the Cavs run to the NBA FInals and then played a very small role in their playoff run the next year before never seeing the playoffs as a player again. Ultimately, Hickson had a solid career length-wise but never could get locked onto a team for very long. The early injury and implosion of the Cavs after LeBron’s decision certainly stunted his growth, so although he had his moments, he never reached his potential.

T.J. Warren

College Stats (Career)

2013-2015

18.5 ppg; 5.7 rpg; 55.5% fg; 57.9% efg

Draft # & Team

14th Pick; Phoenix Suns

NBA Stats (Career)

11.2 ppg; 3.7 rpg; 50.2% fg; 52.2% efg

What Happened

TBD! TJ was drafted to a team that just barely missed the playoffs in its previous season. It looked like Jeff Hornacek was the answer and that Phoenix just needed a few more pieces to start competing. Fast forward to now and the Suns have faded away from playoff discussion and has proceeded to draft other wings that could cut into TJ’s playing time. Good news is he has become a starter and has shown the prowess for “buckets” we all knew he could. The bad news is the league is impatient and with a lackluster defensive identity and a unreliable 3-pointer, TJ has to find his niche and fast.

As you can see, outside of Gugs, no other player has had any consistent success in the NBA (with the jury still out of TJW). Still, it is perfectly fair to note that highly successful NBA role players like Chucky Brown, Nate McMillan & Vinny Del Negro don’t make this list only due to the criteria we set previously...these are all 1st rounders they were 2nd round picks. Hell, Spud Webb had a long, fruitful career and went as late as the 4th Round in the draft. So to be clear on what is being discussed, it most definitely is wonderful to have had multiple guys who had long productive NBA careers. Our problem is that NC State hasn’t produced a perennial NBA All-Star or even enough role players on championship teams. For the whole of our perception to change, we have to start putting players in the league that stay and make an impact. Maybe TJ will start the trend and Dennis will help it grow but until then history tells us that we still a very long road to hoe.