FanPost

Pervis Ellison - NaBust

There has been one misconception by Kings fans that has killed me for years.  This notion that Pervis Ellison was a terrible draft pick and a bad basketball player.  This came up again today in Pookey's excellent piece on the Top 25 Worst Moments for the Sacramento Kings.

Poor Pervis wound up #8.  Strictly speaking, Pookey isn't wrong.  If we just look at career numbers, Pervis Ellison was a bust.  The same way Jay Williams, Bobby Hurley, and Shawn Livingston were busts.  After playing an injury free college career, Ellison developed chronic injury problems that medicine wasn't equipped to deal with back then.  However, the following paragraph from Pookey’s post got to me:

Here's what not in dispute. Pervis Ellison sucked and did for most of his career. In the time of the lottery, there has never been a franchise that has gotten less mileage and value out of their #1 pick than the Kings. Not a single one. He averaged 8 points and 5.8 boards his lone season in playing a whole whopping 34 games. Any way you slice this, I don't want to think about it. Someone can slice up the awfulness of Never Nervous Pervous without me. It's making me nauseous just thinking about it, and I never saw the guy play.” (emphasis mine)

I don’t mean to pick on Pookey, who I have the utmost respect for.  This is a view shared by many Kings fans.  It comes up often on various message boards.  You’ll even hear analysts refer to Ellison as one of the biggest draft busts ever. 

However, the truth is that unless you consider someone with injuries beyond their control a bust, the numbers really don’t back up that argument.  And personally, I don’t classify injured players as busts, just as tragedies. 

Ask yourself this, if Blake Griffin shattered his leg tomorrow Shawn Livingston-stlye would he be one of the biggest draft busts ever?  I vote no.  I’d call him a great pick by the Clippers whose career was tragically cut short.

The #1s

Now clearly Ellison wasn’t a franchise player.  So I’m not going to bother comparing him to LeBron, Duncan, etc.  However, take a look at the table below showing the best seasons (by PER) of the non-Franchise #1 picks.

Player

PER

TS%

TRB%

AST%

STL%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

ORtg

DRtg

WS/48

Age

Pervis Ellison

19.9

0.57

16.1

12

1.2

4.3

14.5

22.6

109

104

0.13

24

Danny Manning

19.7

0.58

10.8

15.8

2.3

2.6

13.3

23.1

113

104

0.16

25

Ralph Sampson

20.1

0.55

18.3

8.9

1.2

4

15.9

27.1

104

104

0.11

23

James Worthy

20.4

0.61

9

11.5

1.6

1.7

10.9

22.6

120

107

0.19

24

Larry Johnson

19.8

0.56

12.7

18

0.9

1

11

22.9

118

113

0.15

26

Derrick Coleman

21.2

0.54

16.9

16.1

1.7

2.9

14.3

25.8

110

101

0.17

25

Glenn Robinson

20.1

0.53

10.6

16.5

1.6

1.6

12.1

29.2

103

104

0.11

28

Joe Smith

17.2

0.52

14.6

4.6

1.5

3.4

10.3

20.6

111

108

0.12

20

M. Olowokandi

12.4

0.46

15.7

5.8

1.1

3.9

15.3

20.1

90

102

0.03

26

Kenyon Martin

18.7

0.53

16.2

13.7

2.3

2.8

14

25

99

93

0.14

26

Kwame Brown

13.7

0.57

12.6

10.2

1.8

3.3

20.2

15

104

106

0.08

24

Andrew Bogut

20.7

0.54

17.9

10.3

0.9

6.2

11.4

23.3

107

98

0.16

25

Andrea Bargnani

16.7

0.53

8.9

8.4

0.8

1.7

10.8

28.6

103

113

0.05

25

(25 years spans 1982-2006, it’s too early to compare any player who isn’t at least 24/25 as most players on the list had their “best year” then or later)

First, before any evaluation, here’s Ellison’s raw stat line in case anyone thinks I cherry-picked a year where Ellison averaged an efficient 8-6-2.

G

FG%

3P%

FTA

FT%

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

66

0.54

0.33

4.7

0.73

11.2

2.9

0.9

2.7

3

20

(Players who can put up 20-11 and block nearly 3 shots a game don’t grow on trees)

On the list are twelve #1 picks from the last 25 years who Ellison was either better than or very comparable too. 

Immediately you can see there were 5 players who were definitively worse (over 1 point less PER).  So Ellison was  a better player than 20% of the #1 picks from the 25 year sample.

Now look at all of the players whose best PER was +/- 1 point from Ellison’s.

Danny Manning, Ralph Sampson, James Worthy, Larry Johnson, Derrick Coleman, Glenn Robinson, and Andrew Bogut.

That's not a bad group to be compared to.  Yes, Coleman was a head case which lowers his value .  Worthy was blessed to land on a team with Magic and Kareem, so his status as a “winner” will elevate him in most people’s minds.  However, one could argue that if Worthy was drafted by the Kings and hurt himself and Ellison had been drafted by Showtime and received passes from Magic for a decade, our perceptions of these two players would be very different.

Overall though, no one would label the other players on that group as “busts.”  They are Classic Level 2 players.  They were never meant to be franchise players, but in the right situation would (or did) thrive.  And quite frankly that’s what we got in Ellison, a very good basketball player, who was never meant to be a superstar.

Some people might argue that the Kings got terribly unlucky to be in a draft without a clear franchise player.  And while there is some truth to that, you can see 12 of the 25 years featured no clear cut, franchise player.  Some later picks (KG, Kobe, etc.) became superstars, but at the time of the draft, most of the players listed were consensus #1 picks by the majority of NBA analysts.  So overall, in 50% of drafts, you’re not going to have a superstar handed to you.  It’s not bad luck, it’s just the NBA.

 

The 1989 Draft

 

What’s also interesting is that Ellison was not only a good NBA player, but realistically the Kings made the best pick they could have.  Sure we can dream about Tim Hardaway or Kemp, but truthfully there was no way ANY scout or GM would have taken them #1.  It’s not a realistic pick.

While not all of the players below are either.  Here are the same numbers for the players picked in the lottery in 1989:

Player

PER

TS%

TRB%

AST%

STL%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

WS/48

Age

Pervis Ellison

19.9

0.57

16.1

12

1.2

4.3

14.5

22.6

0.13

24

Danny Ferry

16

0.57

6.9

14.4

1.2

1.4

9.9

22.2

0.14

28

Sean Elliot

16.3

0.59

7.6

11.8

1.2

0.8

13.1

23.4

0.13

27

Glen Rice

19.7

0.59

7.4

11.1

1.9

0.4

8.9

25.2

0.16

27

J.R Reid

14.7

0.53

9.2

8.9

1.7

1.2

12.3

22.7

0.11

25

Stacy King

13.8

0.56

12.8

6.6

1.1

2.1

15.5

18.4

0.10

23

George McCloud

17

0.54

9.9

10.5

1.5

0.8

9.8

21.1

0.14

27

Randy White

13.2

0.50

14

5.4

2.1

2

14.8

20.7

0.03

25

Tom Hammonds

14.7

0.61

13.9

6

0.6

1.1

14.2

18.6

0.13

27

Pooh Richardson

18.1

0.49

5.3

37.6

2.2

0.3

10.9

21.8

0.09

24

Nick Anderson

19.6

0.53

10.3

14.1

2.3

1

9.2

25

0.15

30

Mookie Blalock

20.4

0.55

8.1

27.7

3.8

0.5

13

21.9

0.20

29

Michael Smith

14.3

0.51

7.9

16.1

0.8

0.3

14.9

26.9

0.04

25

Tim Hardaway

20.9

0.55

5.7

36.8

3.1

0.2

13.6

24.7

0.15

24

 

Look at the top of that list.  Ellison’s best year was better than any of the top 10 picks.  You have to get down to Mookie and Hardaway before finding someone who had a better peak.  And I don’t think any team would have taken them #1.  More likely, most team’s were evaluating between Ellison, Ferry, Elliot, Rice, Reid and King.  Ellison’s peak was better than all of them.  Not bad and he potentially could have had a higher peak if injuries hadn’t derailed his career.

 

So what’s the point? 

Overall, the point here isn’t to convince anyone that the King’s didn’t have bad luck.  Their #1 pick suffered chronic injuries and the franchise traded him after 1 year for 50 cents on the dollar.  So Pookey was right to have him in the #8 slot of the Kings terrible moments.

However, I believe it’s time we stop referring to Ellison as a bust.  He was a very talented basketball player and a good pick by the Kings.  He had no injury history in college that we overlooked.  He simply had a tragic ending to his career as injuries derailed what was a very promising, young player.  Even if he never improved after age 24, his numbers were good enough to put him in the middle of the pack of other #1 picks.  And he compares favorably to respected NBA players who no one would ever label as busts. 

Ricky Berry and Bobby Hurley made terrible decisions and we remember their careers wistfully - lamenting what could have been.  Mention Ellison’s name and people will shake their head with disgust.  I think Ellison deserves the same respect as the other players.  He is still another Kings' tragedy.  However, it’s time we stop remembering him as a bust, an awful player or a scourge on our franchise.  It’s time we remember him as another potential Kings’ all star whose career was ruined by bad fortune out of his control.

So cheers Pervis.  To what could have been. 

           

(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)

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