Out of all of the stars in the NBA right now, nobody was more overlooked during his high school and college career than Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. Despite being the son of a former NBA player, only three small-conference schools offered him a scholarship while his father Dell’s alma mater Virginia Tech invited Curry to walk-on, almost as a courtesy to his father. Even after three standout seasons at Davidson, including 2008 his sophomore season when he led the Wildcats to the Elite 8, not all NBA teams were sold on him developing into a superstar.
In fairness, it only took until the 7th overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft for the Warriors to grab him. However, based on what he’s become, that seems like a steal. More than a decade later, it makes one wonder about the players who were selected before Curry in that year’s draft and whether teams might regret passing up on Curry before Golden State got him. Let’s take a look back at the players who were selected before Stephen Curry in the 2009 NBA Draft.
1. Blake Griffin, Clippers
Griffin was the consensus top pick in the draft in 2009, so it’s tough to blame the Clippers for overlooking Curry. Coming out of high school, Griffin was an athletic freak with elite explosiveness and a highlight reel of dunks that would make just about every NBA player past and present jealous. Griffin was also a lot more polished and skilled come out of college than people realize because most were probably distracted by his dunks.
Despite sitting out what would have been his rookie season due to injury, Griffin hit the ground running in the NBA, averaging 22.5 points and 12 rebounds per game while taking home Rookie of the Year honors in 2011. It wasn’t long before he became a perennial all-star who clearly lived up to the hype of being the top overall pick. Injuries started to get in the way, but Griffin was able to come back healthy and strong in 2018-19 with the Pistons, averaging a career-high 24.5 points and more than five assists per game despite no longer being an elite rebounder. Barring injuries, his career is still far from over.
2. Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies
In defense of the Grizzlies, it’s not that easy to find players who are 7’3’’ tall, so passing up on one is tough. While most of his points in college came from simply being taller than his opponents rather than an amazing skillset, Thabeet won National Defensive Player of the Year and could control things on that end of the floor. Given his upside had he been able to put on muscle and develop offensively, it was worthwhile for Memphis to take a shot on Thabeet.
However, things just didn’t work out for the big man from Tanzania. He was sent to the G League as a rookie and never quite developed as expected. Thabeet was also packaged in multiple trades during his career and was never anything more than a bench piece. While he continues to play in the G League, Thabeet hasn’t played in an NBA game since the 2013-14 season and only started 20 games over five seasons in the NBA, becoming a massive disappointment.
3. James Harden, Thunder
Oklahoma City is probably happy they drafted Harden but upset about trading him before he blossomed. The Thunder at least deserve some credit for seeing his potential after Harden averaged 20 points and four assists as a sophomore on an otherwise mediocre Arizona State team. Those kinds of numbers made him the obvious choice for Pac-10 Player of the Year and an All-American, making him too good for Oklahoma City to pass up with the third pick in the draft.
Of course, the Thunder made the mistake of not offering Harden a max contract, ultimately trading him to Houston when they couldn’t reach a deal. It was during his first season with the Rockets that Harden made the All-Star Team for the first time. He’s been named an all-star in every subsequent year while also leading the league in assists in 2017 and scoring in both 2018 and 2019. In retrospect, Harden was no doubt worthy of the third overall pick. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the team that drafted him didn’t reap the full benefits.
4. Tyreke Evans, Kings
The Kings certainly rolled the dice by drafting Evans, who was a high risk-high reward type of selection fourth overall. During his only college season, Evans made the difficult transition from small forward to point guard. Despite some rough moments, he eventually flourished in the role and became one of the best players in the country while leading Memphis to the Sweet 16.
As a rookie, Evans picked up where he left off in college, averaging 20 points and nearly six assists per game on his way to Rookie of the Year Honors. However, that would turn out to be the peak of his NBA career. After his rookie year, Evans was rarely able to get through a full season without an injury. He was a good player for many years but not the superstar he looked like as a rookie. Unfortunately, his career ended after the 2018-19 season when Evans was banned for violating the league’s Anti-Drug problem.
5. Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves
The Timberwolves have a lot of explaining to do, as they had back-to-back top-10 picks and failed to use either one to draft Curry despite taking point guards with both selections. First, there was Rubio, the mysterious yet enticing Spaniard. At the time, Rubio was considered one of the best point guards that Europe has ever produced. However, there were plenty of lingering questions about whether he was a good enough shooter or could handle the physicality of the NBA. On top of that, Rubio didn’t seem to be an itch to get to the NBA.
As it turns out, Rubio stayed in Europe for two more years and didn’t join the Timberwolves until the 2011-12 season. He ended up on the All-Rookie Team that year with Minnesota ultimately getting six seasons out of Rubio before trading him to Utah for a first-round pick. While he’s been a starter for most of his career, but Rubio hasn’t been anything special and never took the Timberwolves to the playoffs during his time in Minnesota. In the end, he wasn’t worth a top-5 pick or the two-year wait after he was drafted.
6. Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves
At the time, there was a lot to like about Flynn. While a little undersized, he was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school and a star in his two seasons at Syracuse. Flynn was ultra-quick, an elite athlete, and surprisingly strong for a player his size. Playing nearly the entire game for Syracuse in that famous six-overtime game during the 2009 Big East Tournament helped raise his profile and make a top-10 caliber pick, although history would not be kind to Flynn or the Timberwolves after the Warriors grabbed Curry with the next pick.
It’s worth noting that Flynn was advertised as a rookie. He started 81 games, averaging 13.5 points and over four assists per game, which was good enough to be named to the All-Rookie Second Team. However, Flynn underwent hip surgery the summer after his rookie season and was never the same. Post-surgery, he lacked the same kind of explosiveness he once had, making his lack of size more of an issue. Ultimately, Flynn only played parts of three seasons in the NBA before playing overseas. After one good season in Australia, injuries continued to hinder him during stops in China and Europe, ending a once-promising career.
7. Stephen Curry, Warriors
Looking back, it’s tough to be too critical of any team other than the Timberwolves for passing on Curry. Griffin and Harden have both become stars while Evans at least showed flashes of being a genuine star. It’s also worth remembering that Curry wasn’t seen as much more than a great shooter coming out of college. Also, while he put up impressive numbers at Davidson, the Southern Conference didn’t provide an elite level of competition.
Of course, we know now that Curry is far more than a shooter. He’s a point guard who just so happens to be one of the best shooters in NBA history. He’s also a two-time MVP, one of eight members of the 50-40-90 club, and the best player on a team that won three NBA championships in a span of four years. In addition to being arguably the best player of his generation, Curry’s shooting ability has changed the way the game is played, making him one of the most influential players in NBA history. While the 2009 NBA Draft produced plenty of stars, if we were to do it over again, there’s no doubt he would have gone first overall.