I believe it was Red Auerbach who once said "you can't teach height." Considering he was one of the most-successful persons ever associated with the NBA, it's not a surprise that many people have been following that axiom for decades.
It's thoughts like those that lead to draft picks of Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, and Yao Ming. It's also why high draft picks are wasted on Hasheem Thabeet, Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, and Darko Milicic.
The news yesterday was that Thabeet - the second pick in the 2009 draft - became the highest-drafted player to ever be sent down to the D-League. I've written about him before, and I really thought he was going to make it, but it's not looking good. Yes, he's young and has a long way to go, and Memphis knew he was going to be a project, but he couldn't even beat out Hamed Haddadi for a spot at the end of the bench.
(Devil's advocate for a minute, but what's wrong with sending him down? He needs a shot of confidence, and he really needs playing time. He should get both if he plays well.)
Anyway, the recent lottery is littered with players 6'11" or taller who never make it or look like they won't make it. Some of the better players have been injury prone (like Greg Oden and Yao). Some of those draft picks that were taken for their height aren't playing big (like Andrea Bargnani and Channing Frye). And a good half of them aren't really contributing at all.
How did the last ten drafts shake out for those bigs? Consider:
2009: Hasheem Thabeet (2). So far, so bad.
2008: Brook Lopez (10). Ok, I like this one. Lopez looks like he has a bright future.
2007: Greg Oden (1), Yi Jianlian (6), Joakim Noah (9), Spencer Hawes (10). This has the potential to have three hits out of four (Hawes looks like a future journeyman), but it could also be 0-for-4 if Oden and Yi keep getting hurt and if Noah decides to go live in an igloo or something. I wouldn't put it past him.
2006: Andrea Bargnani (1), LaMarcus Aldridge (2), Patrick O'Bryant (9), Saer Sene (10), Hilton Armstrong (12). As I said before, Bargnani doesn't play big, so why use a top draft pick on him. At least he's been decent, as has Aldridge, but the other three? I don't think so.
2005: Andrew Bogut (1), Channing Frye (8), Andrew Bynum (10). Much better here, as Bogut and Bynum are showing signs of becoming stars, and Frye is a good contributor.
2004: Rafael Araujo (8), Andris Biedrins (11), Robert Swift (12). Biedrins has had a few good years, but his free throw shooting is so bad it's affecting his whole game. Then again, at least he has game. What are Araujo and Swift doing these days?
2003: Darko Milicic (2), Chris Bosh (4), Chris Kaman (6). Bosh and Kaman have been excellent (especially Bosh), but the Darko pick is one of the most-infamous picks in history. Again, in case you didn't know, Darko actually got drafted while Carmelo, Bosh, and D-Wade were all on the board. Really.
2002: Yao Ming (1), Nik Tskitishvili (5), Jared Jeffries (11). Ming was a no-brainer, but he just can't stay healthy. That pick at #5 is pretty hard to defend, especially with Nene Hilario and Amare Stoudemire still on the board.
2001: Kwame Brown (1), Tyson Chandler (2), Pau Gasol (3), Eddy Curry (4), DeSagana Diop (8), Troy Murphy (14). There it is. The worst draft pick ever. A lot of other bigs in this draft, but only Gasol, and to a lesser extent, Chandler and Murphy, become a star.
2000: Chris Mihm (7), Joel Przybilla (9). Przybilla has carved out a long career, but his numbers have been pedestrian.
So there you have it. In ten years, there have been 31 lottery picks at 6'11" or greater, and only three (Yao, Gasol, and Bosh) are stars. Another 10 are above average and could have good long careers (Lopez, Noah, Bargnani, Aldridge, Bogut, Bynum, Biedrins, Kaman, Chandler, Murphy). Three can go either way (Oden, Yi, Frye), and the rest are busts.
Not a great batting average, but it's something to keep in mind when your team is thinking of going big in the 2010 draft. They don't have to do it. They can always pick up a big man off the scrap heap.
I hear Kwame Brown might be available.