There was always a question of whether Carmelo Anthony’s career would take a different turn in terms of winning if the Detroit Pistons drafted him as the second pick. The Pistons did the unthinkable that night and selected Darko Milicic instead, right behind LeBron James, who went to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Carmelo ended up with the Denver Nuggets, and now 16 seasons after that draft night never played in the NBA finals despite having a great career in terms of individual accomplishments.
In a recent interview on the podcast 120 Watts, the former NBA player and the member of that Pistons championship squad Ben Wallace explained how he believes the Pistons made a smart move by not drafting Carmelo. Even though that might sound a surprise, he thinks it was the right move because of two main reasons. Darko immediately said that he is not ready to play for a team that was aiming to win a championship, which enabled the team to grow and focus on winning. Carmelo, on the other hand, was a type of player that wanted minutes immediately, which in Ben’s mind wouldn’t work and would potentially disrupt the team’s chemistry.
“If we would’ve drafted Carmelo, I honestly don’t think we would ever win a championship. Melo would want to play right away. That would have the potential to disrupt the team chemistry. By drafting Darko, he came in and said that he is not ready to play on this team. Who I am going to play in front of. I’m not ready, and by him doing that and accepting his role, it allowed us to build and grow and get stronger and eventually win a championship.”
Apart from Rasheed and Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, one of the key players for that Pistons squad, was Tayshaun Prince, who was a solid two-way player, and Wallace thinks Carmelo’s presence would allow Prince to grow as a player. It was none other than Prince who delivered perhaps the most significant blocks in playoff history on Reggie Miller in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Wallace, who blocked quite a few shots in his career, believes that is the greatest block he ever saw.
“If we drafted Carmelo, Tayshaun wouldn’t blossom to be the type of a player that he way. We won that championship on the back of the best block I’ve ever seen in my life, and I blocked a lot of shots. That is the type of grit and grind that the team had.”
One of the crucial elements why Pistons were so successful those years apart from a great group of players was their head-coach Larry Brown. Brown is known as a coach who demands a lot from his player and doesn’t have much sympathy for young players, especially rookies. From that perspective, it’s hard to predict how that would’ve affected Carmelo and whether he would have clashed with Brown, which would affect the team chemistry. Carmelo wouldn’t have the freedom and minutes to play as he did with the Nuggets immediately in his rookie season.
“It wouldn’t work because Larry Brown wants to coach. Larry Brown wasn’t the one to play rookies right away, so that would cause some tensions between him and Larry Brown.”