1992 NBA Draft revisited: Shaq, Zo, Spree & Co.

The ’92 Draft produced an all-time great (Shaq), a franchise player (Mourning), three other All-Stars (Sprewell, Guliotta, Laettner) and a 7-time champion (Horry).

As was the case with the 1990 Draft, the top two picks actually turned out to be the top two players – something that has not happened since.

Two players picked outside of the top 20 ended up having top-five careers – further evidence that there are always gems to be found outside of the lottery.

Here are the top 10 picks, re-ordered to reflect each player’s NBA accomplishments:

1) Shaquille O’Neal (picked No. 1 by Orlando)

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1,207 games, 34.7 minutes, 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.3 blocks, 58.2% FGs, 26.4 PER.

Best season: 1999/00 – 79 games, 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.0 blocks, 57.4% FGs, 30.5 PER, 67-15 record, MVP, Finals MVP.

Most memorable moment: Alley-oop dunk to seal the Lakers’ Game 7 win over Portland in the Conference Finals

An easy pick then and an easy pick now.

An unstoppable combination of size, power and athleticism, Shaq was the most dominant big man of his generation. He averaged a monstrous 28 points and 12 rebounds over his ten-year prime (’94 to ’03), led his team to the Finals six times, won four titles, and sits alongside Kareem, Russell and Wilt on the Mount Rushmore of NBA centers.

He may not have always come into training camp in shape and he may have somewhat underachieved by winning only one regular season MVP award, but having a prime Shaq on your roster meant you were an automatic contender. His NBA Finals stats during the Lakers’ early-2000s three-peat: 33.6 points, 15.2 rebounds, three Finals MVPs.

2) Alonzo Mourning (picked No. 2 by Charlotte)

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704 games, 31.0 minutes, 23.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.8 blocks, 52.7% FGs, 21.2 PER.

Best season: 1999/00 – 79 games, 21.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 55.1% shooting, 25.8 PER, 52-30 record, Defensive Player of the Year, 3rd in MVP voting.

Most memorable moment: Game winner to eliminate the Celtics from the playoffs as a rookie

A two-time Defensive Player of the Year and 7-time All-Star, Zo was a ferocious competitor and rim protector who ranks sixth all-time in blocks per game and just as high in angry scowls and bicep flexes.

He had an immediate impact for the Hornets, helping them to their first Conference Semifinals appearance before being traded to Miami two years later as a result of a contract dispute and locker room tensions with Larry Johnson.

As a member of the Heat, Zo became an MVP candidate and even bumped a prime Shaq off the All-NBA first team in ’99. He was never quite good enough to lead a team to the Finals – losing in the playoffs three straight times to the Knicks – but he was a legitimate franchise player. Moreover, he deserves credit for doing what few franchise players have ever done: reinventing himself as a game-changing energizer off the bench late in his career (after kidney disease cut short his prime).

He finally won a ring in 2006 thanks in no small part to a turn-back-the-clock 5-block performance in Game 6 at Dallas (and some dodgy officiating).

3) Latrell Sprewell (picked No. 24 by Golden State)

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913 games, 38.6 minutes, 18.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 42.5% FGs, 15.1 PER.

Best season: 1996/97 – 80 games, 24.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 44.9% shooting, 19.7 PER, 30-52 record.

Most memorable moment: 25-point second half in Game 5 of the ’99 Finals

A four-time All-Star and the master of the angry two-hand tomahawk dunk, Spree leads the ‘92 draft class in accumulative assists and steals and is second in points and minutes. A lock-down defender and a bundle of hops and energy as a youngster, he was also the first ’92 draftee to make the All-NBA first team – in his second season, when he led the league in minutes and led the Warriors to 50 wins.

He was not built for being the leader of a team, however. A complex, slightly unhinged character, he struggled to get along with teammates and infamously choked and threatened to kill coach PJ Carlesimo. Following his suspension, Spree returned to the court with the Knicks and was instrumental in their run to the ’99 Finals as an eighth seed, averaging 20.4 points in the postseason (and 26.0 points in the Finals). He proclaimed himself the “American Dream” in an And1 commercial, but was ultimately traded to the Timberwolves four years later for “lacking character.”

In Minnesota he again excelled in the postseason, averaging 20.8 points in the T-Wolves’ 2004 playoff run as KG finally got some help. But he again burned his bridges, calling their offer of a 3-year, $27 million contract extension “insulting” whilst reasoning that he had a “family to feed,” before falling off the face of the NBA map altogether. He was a steal at No. 24 all the same.

4) Robert Horry (picked No. 11 by Houston)

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1,107 games, 24.5 minutes, 7.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 blocks, 42.5% FGs, 13.4 PER.

Best season: 1995-96 – 71 games, 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 41.0% FGs, 13.7 PER, 48-34 record.

Most memorable moment: Season-saving buzzer-beating three for the Lakers in Game 4 of the 2002 Conference Finals.

Horry was a winner. An intelligent defender and unselfish multi-skilled offensive player whose modest stats belie his impact, he was a key role player on no less than seven championship teams. He did not stress over touches or field goal attempts – nor for that matter did he approach the regular season with the greatest sense of urgency – yet he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time in the postseason.

His clutch shots over 244 career playoff games are too numerous to list in full here, but most notably he singlehandedly swung the 2002 title with his Game 4 shot against the Kings and the 2005 title with his Game 5 masterpiece in Detroit. There are few players in NBA history besides Larry Bird who you would rather have taking a game-deciding three for your team than Big Shot Rob.

Of course, in order to be in the position to win rings, a role player like Horry needs great teammates – and fortunately he was blessed with Hakeem, Shaq and Duncan each in their prime. But they were blessed to have him too.

5) P.J. Brown (picked No. 29 by New Jersey)

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1,089 games, 31.1 minutes, 9.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 blocks, 46.0% FGs, 14.1 PER.

Best season: 2002-03 – 78 games, 11.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 blocks, 53.1% FGs, 17.6 PER, 47-35 record.

Most memorable moment: Throwing Charlie Ward head over heels in the ’97 playoffs.

If Sprewell was a steal at No. 24, so was P.J. Brown at No. 29. Unlike Spree, Brown was never talented enough to be an All-Star or a top-two scoring option on a good team, but he was a valuable role player.

A durable, team-first power forward, he played hard-nosed defense, hustled for rebounds, hit the mid-range jumper at an above-average rate and was a 79% free throw shooter. He never quite moved the needle for any of his teams, but you could win with P.J. Brown as your fourth best player.

Three times he was named to the All-Defensive second team and even received a (completely unwarranted) fifth place MVP vote in New Orleans later in his career. In 2008 at age 38, he finally won a ring with the Celtics. Bostonians will never forget his late Game 7 contributions against the Cavs that year: three offensive rebounds and three baskets in the final 7 minutes.

6) Tom Gugliotta (picked No. 6 by Washington)

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763 games, 30.9 minutes, 13.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 45.1% FGs, 15.9 PER.

Best season: 1996/97 – 81 games, 20.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 44.2% FGs, 19.0 PER, 40-42 record.

Most memorable moment: 39 points and 15 rebounds as a rookie against Karl Malone.

As a rookie Gugliotta was anointed by Pat Riley “the closest thing to Larry Bird I’ve ever seen.” Though he never quite turned out to be Bird 2.0, in ’97 Googs led the T-Wolves to the playoffs and was one of only five players in the league to average 20 points and 9 boards (the other four: Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Vin Baker). Indeed, had this draft been re-done five or six years after it had happened, Googs would have gone in the top three.

Sadly, a life-threatening seizure, a torn ACL, and various other injuries dramatically cut short his prime as he struggled to stay on the court from there on out. He still goes ahead of Laettner here as he was a better teammate, better passer, more skilled at getting his own shot, and was once the best player on a playoff team – something Laettner never achieved – but he cannot go higher than No. 6 due to his short shelf life.

7) Christian Laettner (picked No. 3 by Minnesota)

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868 games, 29.7 minutes, 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 blocks, 48.0% FGs, 16.9 PER.

Best season:1996-97 – 82 games, 18.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 blocks, 48.6% FGs, 19.1 PER, 56-26 record.

Most memorable moment: Game-winning shot for Duke in the 1992 NCAA East Regional.

That Laettner is still defined by his college days tells the story here. A solid but often uninspiring NBA player and somewhat of a bust as the third pick, he developed a reputation early on as a locker room malcontent on losing teams, ill-suited to leading the below-averaged players around him.

In Minnesota he put up good numbers (17 points per game) but won just 60 games total over three seasons, feuded with teammates, and got traded to Atlanta for 20 games of Andrew Lang and a washed up Spud Webb. A local reporter described the deal as “addition by subtraction” – never a good sign.

Laettner’s one All-Star appearance came in 1997, when he peaked as the second leading scorer on the Mutombo/Steve Smith-led Hawks who lost in the second round of the playoffs. By the following season he had lost his starting spot to Alan Henderson and he was never relevant again.

8) Doug Christie (picked No. 17 by Seattle)

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827 games, 31.5 minutes, 11.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 42.6% FGs, 35.4% 3-pt FGs, 14.6 PER.

Best season: 1997/98 – 78 games, 16.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.4 steals, 42.8% FGs, 16.2 PER, 16-66 record.

Most memorable moment: Featuring alongside irritating wife Jackie in the BET reality show, The Christies: Committed.

Christie never played a game with Seattle due to a contract dispute and was traded three times within his first four seasons, struggling to make his mark on the Lakers or Knicks.

He developed into the (rather inefficient) second-leading scorer on a woeful Raptors team before reaching his NBA destiny as a spot-up three-point shooter, defensive specialist and glue guy on the Kings. He was their designated Kobe stopper in the early 2000s and was rewarded with four All-Defensive team appearances. Unfortunately his feckless airball on a wide open look late in overtime in Game 7 of the 2002 Conference Finals was symbolic of Sacramento’s choke job in a year when they should really have won the title.

He is seventh in total minutes, ninth in points and third in assists among the ’92 class.

9) Jim Jackson (picked No. 4 by Dallas)

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885 games, 32.8 minutes, 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 42.8% FGs, 36.5% 3-pt FGs, 13.5 PER.

Best season: 1994/95 – 51 games, 25.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 47.2% FGs, 31.8% 3-pt FGs, 18.9 PER, 36-46 record.

Most memorable moment: Stealing Toni Braxton from Jason Kidd.

Jackson was picked 4th in the draft and promptly staged a public holdout over a contract dispute, refusing to play for the Mavericks until March of his rookie year. An athletic slasher and potent scorer when he was actually on the court, he averaged 20.4 points over the course of his first four seasons. The problem: the team went 86-242 over those four seasons, and Jackson failed to get along with his teammates – most notably Jason Kidd, who demanded (and received) a trade as a result of their personal beef.

Jackson and his baggage were traded to New Jersey shortly thereafter, where he lasted two months, setting the ball rolling on perhaps the greatest of journeyman journeys in NBA history: 13 teams in 10 years.

His scoring ability made him appealing to teams, but his inability to supplement it with enough other winning contributions made him equally expendable. He eventually became a bit-part spot-up shooter, but Suns fans will fondly remember his stepping up in the 2005 Playoffs after Joe Johnson’s injury: his back-to-back 21 and 16-point games helped close out the Mavs in the Conference Semifinals.

10) Clarence Weatherspoon (picked No. 9 by Philadelphia)

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915 games, 30.3 minutes, 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 47.1% FGs, 15.6 PER.

Best season: 1993/94 – 82 games, 38.4 minutes, 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 48.4% FGs, 18.1 PER, 25-57 record.

Most memorable moment: Putting up 35 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks in an out-of-body experience in Toronto in April ’96.

Spoon appeared to have a little Charles Barkley to his game during his early years in the league: an undersized 6’6” power forward who combined great athleticism and great bulk to force his way to the rim, averaging a double-double for the Sixers in his second season. Ultimately he ate his way completely out of shape and toiled on six different teams over his 13 seasons but still finished sixth in points scored and fourth in rebounds among the ’92 class.

Honourable mentions: Anthony Peeler (picked No. 15), Jon Barry (picked No. 21), and Sean Rooks (picked No. 30).

Rest in peace: Malik Sealy (picked No. 14), who averaged 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds as Minnesota’s starting small forward in the 1999/00 regular season and hit a memorable game winner before tragically dying in a car crash the night before Game 1 of the playoffs. A durable player and good teammate, he may have garnered consideration at No. 10 in this list had he lived. Kevin Garnett, who idolized him as a college player, honors him today by wearing his No. 2 jersey.

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3 thoughts on “1992 NBA Draft revisited: Shaq, Zo, Spree & Co.

  1. Pingback: 1993 NBA Draft revisited: C-Webb, Penny, Van Exel & Co. | NBA Observer

  2. Pingback: A deeper consideration of Alvin Gentry’s strengths: Why he is perfect for Anthony Davis and the Pelicans | NBA Observer

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