Who's the Best No. 10?
It's the 10th day of February and the Washington Wizards are in Atlanta taking on the Hawks in a matchup of the top two No. 10 picks taken this decade -- Joe Johnson and Caron Butler. It might not seem like a big deal to be the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft, but Boston Celtics all-star forward Paul Pierce has raised the profile of that draft position since he was taken in 1998.
I also came across an interesting stat the other day. Since the league started rewarding NBA Finals MVPs in 1969, the winner has been the top overall pick 19* times, the No. 3 overall pick seven times, the No. 2 overall pick four times and ... the No. 10 overall pick three times (*Wilt Chamberlain is officially listed as a territorial pick, but he was the first player chosen in 1959). New York Knicks legend Willis Reed had been the only No. 10 pick to lead his team to an NBA title -- in 1970 and 1973 -- until Pierce got out of a wheelchair to lead the Celtics to their 17th NBA championship last summer.
Pierce used the slight of being picked after the likes of Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz and Robert "Tractor" Traylor to fuel his potential Hall of Fame career. Butler has said slipping to No. 10 in 2002 -- behind players like Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Dajuan Wagner, who are longer in the league -- has been a career-long motivator.
Pierce is the most accomplished No. 10 pick in the lottery era, amassing 17,981 career points and he was recently named to his seventh all-star team. But Johnson and Butler are right behind. Other notable No. 10s are Dallas Mavericks sixth-man Jason Terry and Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
Who's the best No. 10 after Pierce? Don't think for a minute that it doesn't matter to Butler. "That does matter. That's what you want. You strive to be best," he said. "Obviously, Paul Pierce has got a championship. I'm chasing that down, trying to get one of those. I hope I can be the best at the pick, one day."
The Celtics took Johnson in 2001, and the Miami Heat selected Butler a year later. Johnson and Butler have been traded twice (from East to West and back to East) and both made their first all-star appearances in 2007 with their third team. Johnson is averaging 21.5 points, 6.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds and will make his third consecutive all-star appearance this weekend in Phoenix. Butler is averaging 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists and his string of back-to-back all-star appearances was vanquished by the Wizards' horrendous season.
Although he was selected a year ahead of Butler, Johnson is still just 27 while Butler will turn 29 next month. Johnson has a slightly better career average (17 points, compared to Butler's 16.4), was a member of Team USA in the 2006 World Championships and he recently topped 10,000 career points last week. Johnson has been the more durable player, playing all 82 games five times and averaging 78 games his first seven seasons. Butler has averaged 70 games played his first six seasons.
Johnson has also been a part of better teams, reaching the Western Conference Finals with Phoenix in 2005. His teams carrying a winning percentage of .478 (299-326). Butler made it to the conference semifinals with Miami in 2004 but has never won more than 43 games. His teams have had a winning percentage of .438 (238-305) -- which has been severely damaged this season.
So tonight should provide an interesting individual matchup of two No. 10s.
"Me, him, Paul Pierce. All of us have been the 10th pick and perform pretty well each game," Butler said. "I just like competing against the elite guys, LeBron, Kobe. I like raising my game to the challenge."
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