Jury still out on some Tom Izzo, John Beilein draft picks; others solid pros
With the selections of former Michigan Wolverines Jordan Poole (Golden State) and Ignas Brazdeikis (New York) in Thursday’s NBA Draft, another subsection of the John Beilein-Tom Izzo rivalry — if you want to call it that — writes its final chapter.
The pair of elite coaches produced a combined 19 draft picks since Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor in 2007, and while some have come short in their quest for NBA glory, there’s still quite a few members of that group who’ve achieved some longevity.
We'll take a look at four draft picks from each program — three recent picks whose NBA careers are still very much up in the air, and five more who have become established in the league.
One note: Deciding whether to include Denzel Valentine or Miles Bridges was a toss-up, but with Valentine missing the entire 2018-19 season due to ankle reconstruction surgery, exploring Bridges’ situation in Charlotte just seemed more sensible.
Alright, let’s get on with it.
Michigan State F Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies — No. 4 overall, 2018)
Jackson is the highest draft pick on this list. Since 1970, only two players from either program have gone higher than fourth overall: No. 1 overall picks Magic Johnson (1979) and Chris Webber (1993).
No pressure, eh?
The 2018 Big Ten Freshman of the Year did measure up admirably against expectations of a top-five pick, though, finishing sixth in points per game (13.8) among rookies and earning first-team All-Rookie honors in a campaign hampered by a quad injury and Memphis’ lackluster supporting cast.
The Grizzlies dealt Mike Conley, also a former fourth-overall pick (2007), to Utah earlier this week and selected All-American Ja Morant with the second pick in Thursday’s draft. Regardless of whether its rebuild attempt is successful, expect the 19-year-old Jackson to be a co-pilot in Memphis’ search for a new direction alongside the electrifying mid-major talent.
Michigan State F Miles Bridges (Los Angeles Clippers — No. 12 overall, 2018)
One of the best parts about the Wild West nature of the NBA Draft is all the “Oh, yeah. Remember that?” photos of players shaking the commissioner’s hand while wearing the hat of a team they’ll never wear.
Charlotte Hornet Miles Bridges, originally drafted by the Clippers, belongs to that club. And all jokes aside, Bridges was not satisfied with his first NBA season — even though some were surprised with his absence from the two All-Rookie teams. He’s actually been pretty open about it.
The Flint native came off the bench for much his rookie year, finally cracking Charlotte’s starting lineup for the last 25 games of 2019. He averaged 9.6 points on 49-percent shooting, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists during that span.
Given Bridges’ top-15 status and increased usage near season’s end, conventional thinking would say that the former McDonald’s All-American is poised to become a regular in the Hornets’ starting rotation next year. Well, at least until Michael Kidd-Gilchrist reportedly opted into his $13 million deal on Wednesday and they drafted Kentucky’s PJ Washington (6-8, 228), who holds nearly the exact same measurables as Bridges (6-7, 225) and was also taken with a No. 12 pick, on Thursday.
Michigan F D.J. Wilson (Milwaukee Bucks — No. 17 overall, 2017)
Wilson was the hottest commodity of that magical 2017 Michigan team whose plane skidded off the runway en route to the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C., which they then won — after playing the first game in practice jerseys — and later advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
You wanna talk draft stock?
We haven’t heard much from him since (unless you caught him during garbage time in one of Milwaukee’s four consecutive beatdowns of the Detroit Pistons in this year’s playoffs), though it’s not entirely his fault.
Occasionally lost in the shuffle of a 60-win team, Wilson averaged 5.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 18.4 minutes in 48 games this season after missing the first 22 with a hamstring injury. And on a positive note, there’s also this: Compared with the rest of his draft class, Wilson’s 0.90 Win Shares Rating over two seasons ranks 15th, two spots ahead of his No. 17 selection.
Michigan SG/F Caris LeVert (Indiana Pacers — No. 20 overall, 2016)
Despite matching his maize and blue suit with a blue and yellow Pacers hat on draft night, LeVert’s draft rights were acquired by Brooklyn.
After putting up respectable numbers in 20-plus minutes per night over his first two years in the league, LeVert, 24, had somewhat of a coming-out party to start the 2018-19 season. He put up a career-tying 27 points in an opening-night loss to Detroit and followed that up with a career-high 28 two days later.
The 24-year-old wing was an important piece early for an intriguing Brooklyn squad that snapped a three-year streak with under 30 wins and eventually made playoffs. Though a dislocated foot limited his third season to just 40 games, LeVert was averaging 18.4 points per game at the time of injury and is officially on watch as a potential breakout star in 2019-20.
Michigan State SG Gary Harris (Denver Nuggets — No. 19 overall, 2014)
Harris collected Freshman of the Year honors and was named to the first-team All-Big Ten, All-Defensive and All-Freshman teams during his two seasons at Michigan State.
Both he and former All-Rookie Jusuf Nurkic, taken three slots earlier, ended up in the hands of Denver that night.
And since? Harris, 24, has quietly put together a rather strong resume in a smaller market out west with a few years still standing between him and his prime. He started in all 76 of his sophomore-season appearances and has averaged 31.8 minutes, 15.4 points on 46-percent shooting over the last two seasons. Denver, meanwhile, challenged Golden State for the West’s best record this past spring, eventually falling short by three games.
Michigan G Trey Burke (Utah Jazz — No. 9 overall, 2013)
One spot before Burke was selected by the Utah Jazz, Detroit took Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons’ decision to pass on the Naismith Player of the Year — from their own backyard, no less — was met with contention at the time, but Burke has yet to reach the caliber of player that those pining over the pick were probably imagining.
Still, Burke, 26, was named to the 2013-14 All-Rookie team and has since carved out a role as a reliable depth piece, averaging more than 10 points and 19 minutes in all but one season of his six-year NBA career.
He certainly was never in a position to command an $18 million contract from the Lakers, though.
Michigan G Tim Hardaway Jr. (New York Knicks – No. 24 overall, 2013)
The second of many draft picks from Michigan’s 2013 national runner-up squad, Hardaway arguably has the strongest NBA resume of his Wolverine teammates.
The All-Big Ten first-teamer earned All-Rookie honors alongside Burke and has maintained steady growth over his six years in the league, coming into his own as a full-time starter during a second stint with New York in the 2017-18 season.
Hardaway, 27, was dealt to Dallas in January as part of a blockbuster deal involving Burke and 7-foot-3 star Kristaps Porzingis. Coming off a career-best season in points (18.1), he’ll be a name to keep an eye on as the Mavericks look to match the talented duo of European big men Porzingis and Luka Doncic with a steady mix of veterans to put forth a playoff contender.
Michigan State F/C Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors — No. 35 overall, 2012)
Green is the only player on this list to be drafted in the second round, and as the well-circulated story goes, he’ll be the first to remind you of that fact.
And why shouldn’t he? A three-time NBA Champion and All-Star, Green, 29, is the most decorated player to come out of either program during the 12 seasons Izzo and Beilein manned rival benches.
The Saginaw native also has five All-Defensive and two All-NBA team honors to his credit and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016-17. His career-best per-game averages in points (14), rebounds (9.5) and assists (7.5) came a year prior, during Golden State’s historic 73-9 season.
As Golden State prepares to enter next season without All-Star Klay Thompson and former MVP Kevin Durant, Green’s reputation as the heart and soul of this decade’s top dynasty will be put to the test.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.