By Lorenzo Tanos
We're now on to the ‘90s and one of the more underwhelming drafts of recent years. Well, not really – it's no Class of 1986 or 2000, but 1990's NBA Draft class wasn't any great shakes, although it seemed like that at first. More than a few players from this class had promising debuts, only to spend less than ten years in the NBA or play more than ten years but fail to live up to potential. Only one player in the first round had really lived up to the lofty expectations, and we'll learn about him later. But first, here's the usual link to the complete draft class for easy reference.
THE TOP PICK – Derrick Coleman (NJN, F/C, 6'10"-230, Syracuse) had it all. He was a devastating post player with a decent outside shot, a ferocious rebounder, accurate passer and a force on defense. He was quick, strong and athletic and had Hall of Fame potential from Day One. Though he did win Rookie of the Year honors in 1991 and had three straight 20-10 seasons for the Nets, injuries and an overall crummy attitude caused his career to peak before his 30th birthday. Despite averaging 16.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 2.5 apg in a 15-year career and not being a bust per se, Coleman's career was an exercise in "what if?"
THE BEST – No question about this one. Gary Payton (SEA, PG, 6'4"-180, Oregon St., #2) had the best career of all Class of 1990 draft alumni. And the irony about it all is that he was initially gravitating towards "bust" status, averaging in single digits and playing quite inconsistently in his first two seasons. But Payton would turn things around starting in 1992-93, and by the time he retired in 2007, he had collected several All-NBA and All-Defense honors in a 17-year NBA run. He's looking like a cinch for an eventual Hall of Fame induction.
THE BUSTS – Personally, I remember Felton Spencer (MIN, C, 7'0"-265, Kentucky, #6) best for being the basketball "star" that appeared alongside the late Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig in his WWF vignettes. All the other athletes who were in those Mr. Perfect promos were legit stars, or would eventually become standouts in their respective sports – Wade Boggs (MLB), Steve Jordan (NFL), MikeModano (NHL). But Spencer was a journeyman center at best, capable of taking up space underneath and playing good "D", but never proving worthy of being selected sixth overall in the 1990 Draft.
THE STEAL – For his very important role in the Chicago Bulls' championship teams of the '90s, Toni Kukoc (CHI, F/G, 6'10"-192, Croatia, #29) was the biggest steal of the 1990 Draft. Granted, he was expected to put up even better numbers, but he did quite well for himself as the Bulls' sixth man in the team's glory days, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award in 1995-96 and wowing crowds with his point guard-like passing ability. But like Scottie Pippen, Kukoc's career was never the same after he left the Bulls' lineup – 2000 to 2006 was mostly spent as a key reserve, but not exactly a super sixth man, for the 76ers, Hawks and Bucks.
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