Brooklyn Nets: Examining historic value at No. 29 in NBA Draft

The Brooklyn Nets selected Bosnian forward Dzanan Musa with the 29th overall pick in last week’s NBA Draft. What’s the history of players taken in the spot?

To be honest, there has been a bit of grumbling to be heard since the Brooklyn Nets chose forward Dzanan Musa from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Cedevita Zagreb with the 29th overall pick in last week’s NBA Draft.

Some have argued that a player deemed more NBA-ready such as Ohio State prospect Keita Bates-Diop (taken 48th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves) would have been a better pick for the Nets.

But when looking at the 20 players taken in the first round at No. 29 overall prior to Musa, one finds a serious dearth of guys who had any real impact on the league.

Pick No. 29 wasn’t a first-rounder until 1995, when the addition of the Toronto Raptors and then-Vancouver Grizzlies expanded the NBA’s membership to 29 teams.

Three times since then, the pick slipped into the second round: In 1997, the Washington Wizards gave up their first-round pick as part of the settlement of Juwan Howard‘s contract, where the deal he initially signed with the Miami Heat was voided because of salary cap circumventions.

In 2001 and 2002, the Minnesota Timberweolves were stripped of their first-round picks because of salary cap violations related to the attempted signing of free agent Joe Smith.

The list of first-rounders taken at No. 29 is not exactly a recitation of a Hall of Fame class in Springfield:

Of those 20 players, there is one lone All-Star Game appearance, by Howard with Dallas in 2007.

Mohammed had the longest career, playing in 1,005 games with eight teams across 18 seasons. He averaged 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, with his career highs in each category set with the Atlanta Hawks in 2001-02, when he started 73 times in 82 games played while putting up 9.7 points and 7.9 boards in 26.4 minutes a night (also a career-best).

It was Howard who had the best career, the lone first-rounder at No. 29 to average double-figures (14.3 points per game) for his career. Howard played 10 seasons from 2003-13, seven with Dallas, and averaged 30.3 minutes and 5.7 rebounds to go with his scoring.

Madsen carved out a nine-year career primarily as a dancing guy at the end of the bench, averaging 2.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game for the Lakers and Timberwolves from 2000-09.

Joseph has evolved into a solid backup option at point guard, going from the Spurs to the Toronto Raptors before being dealt to the Indiana Pacers last July. He is second behind Howard among the first-round picks at 29th overall with his average of 20.8 minutes per game.

Brooklyn’s only previous pick at No. 29 was McCullough in 2015.

He was coming off a serious knee injury sustained in his lone season at Syracuse and only appeared in 38 games across parts of two seasons for the Nets before he was traded to the Wizards in February 2017 along with Bojan Bogdanovic in exchange for Marcus Thornton, Andrew Nicholson and the 2017 first-round pick that became Jarrett Allen.

Given that the odds of finding a star, or even a rotational contributor, are relatively slim, why not swing for the fences on a project with some upside such as Musa rather than playing it safe on a lower-ceiling, higher-floor type such as Bates-Diop?

It’s an area where the thinking can be backwards sometimes. Teams might be better served to play it a little more safely with the high-value picks at the top of the draft, yet many succumb to the siren song of potential and wind up swinging and missing.

But at the bottom of the first round? You’ve got nothing to lose. If you draft a player who produces like Josh Howard did (on the court, anyway), it’s a huge win. If you land a Cory Joseph or Nazr Mohammed who can provide steady rotational minutes for years, it’s a win.

And if your guy ends up playing 15 NBA games and fading away, such as Leon Smith, you took your shot and came up empty at a spot that is historically pretty barren.

I like what I see of Musa’s upside on video and if he can put on some size and maintain his athletic ability and fearlessness to the rim, he could be a guy someone writes about in the future as a rare success story at No. 29.

And if he doesn’t, it was the 29th overall pick, a spot that in 20 drafts has totaled 134.9 win shares, per Basketball-Reference — 102.7 of those (76 percent) accumulated by four players in Howard, Mohammed, Joseph and Toney Douglas.