Can it already have been 7 years since the Bobcats selected Adam Morrison with the third overall pick in the 2006 draft? Yes, it can. Or, yes, it could. To me, it doesn’t seem that long ago because his career was so disastrous that it continues to wreak havoc today, up to and including causing me to begin articles with atrociously awkward phrasing. True, Adam Morrison didn’t cause the financial bubble to burst and unemployment to soar, but that’s probably only because he badly injured his knee in his second year. I don’t mean to paint Morrison as a bad guy; in fact, I don’t want to paint Morrison as anything at all, including as a solemn old farmer with his wife and a pitchfork. It’s just that his selection exploded in the Bobcats’ faces like Uncle Buck’s car, set fire to the oil spill that was coach Sam Vincent, and probably forced the Bobcats to overcompensate via a careening series of short-sighted moves, leading to the pile-up that is today’s car wreck of a franchise.
But here’s the (sort of) good news! Unlike the vomit-covered, feces-smeared Tyrus Thomas contract I wrote about last week, at least the Bobcats’ decision to draft Morrison was understandable. And anyone who tells you different is either lying or a die-hard Gonzaga hater. I know this because of the internet-strewn trail of positive reviews of the Bobcats’ 2006 draft. Here’s ESPN’s Chad Forde’s appraisal of the Bobcats taking Morrison third: “Adam Morrison will score points and he’ll draw fans into the arena. The Bobcats continue filling the team with solid players who have good backgrounds — and with Morrison they may have found their first star.” Forde gave them a B+, and in a now-comical aside added, “(Ryan) Hollins is a nice pick in the second round as a big, athletic project.” Hollins, as we all know, was actually more like a big, athletic housing project.
It wasn’t just Forde, either. In their mock draft, Sports Illustrated projected Morrison as the eighth pick, and referred to him as someone who “can score from anywhere on the floor. He moves without the ball, uses screens as well as fakes to get open, and has a lightning-quick release.” So perhaps the Bobcats took Morrison slightly too high, except that in a twist with enough irony to choke a giraffe, SI thought Charlotte would take none other than Tyrus Thomas third. The same went for Yahoo, who had Thomas going to the Bobcats third…and Adam Morrison going fourth. Thus, the Bobcats might have selected badly, but a reach this was not (why this way am I typing?).
So what was it that Charlotte saw in Ad-Mo? Quite simply, it was his scoring. Boasting a TS% that had risen from 59% in his freshman year with the Zags all the way up to 61% as a junior, DraftExpress.com thought he was the potential second-coming of Reggie Miller. Morrison could shoot from distance, he could drive, he could create his own shot, and his release was quicker than Jason Biggs’ in American Pie. There were concerns about his lack of athleticism, his upper-body strength (he was a diabetic), and his lack of defense, but that didn’t stop them from giving the Bobcats an “A” after the draft with the following “Mission Accomplished”-esque assessment: “Morrison’s winning attitude, work ethic and incredibly high skill level will be well appreciated by Charlotte’s staff, so it’s really difficult to see how they could have made out any better here.”
Unfortunately, just a few months into the season, it wasn’t so difficult. Despite averaging 11.8 PPG (second overall among rookies), Morrison’s play was more superficial than the naked bathtub lady in The Shining. His efficiency was that of a coal-fired power plant, as he finished with a soot-covered 7.98 PER on a 45.8 TS%. Long-story short, Morrison’s weaknesses (speed, strength, athleticism, and defense) all metastasized as if they’d been bombarded with gamma rays, and his confidence committed suicide. He stopped attacking the rim (layups comprised just 12% of his shots in 06-07, according to HoopData.com) as soon as he realized it was no longer as easy as blowing by a 6-3” guy named Billy from Loyola-Marymount. And his jumpers rimmed out, time and time again; a simple hand to the face was all it took to throw him off. An early-season review from ESPN’s David Thorpe laid all it out in painful detail. I wouldn’t recommend looking at it, Bobcats fans, unless you want the sports equivalent of how the parents of serial killers feel when they come across old written complaints from teachers about their sons being disruptive in kindergarten. What really kills me is that even after the brutal criticism, Thorpe maintains an optimistic tone: “But in spite of all that, I love this guy as a player… Once he figures it all out, expect 16 to 20 points per game.”
Thorpe was ultimately right about the scoring, as Morrison went onto average 15.5 PPG. The only problem was he did it for Red Star Belgrade. This was in 2011-2012, just before he officially retired. Morrison’s entire second season was wiped out by a torn ligament in his knee. He returned in 08-09 and was somehow worse than before, notching a jaw-dropping 5.69 PER. If coaches Bernie Bickerstaff and Sam Vincent, had been the absentee parents letting their youngest child do whatever he wanted, their replacement, Larry Brown was the raging alcoholic with a lit cigarette and a belt. Famously intolerant of developing younger players, Brown reduced Morrison’s playing time to just over 15 MPG, accelerating his bust into full supernova phase. 44 games into the season, Brown had him traded to the Lakers for Vladimir Radmonovic in a transaction that probably held more intrigue for each city’s hairstylists than for its basketball fans. Morrison rode the bench in LA for two years and managed to Forrest Gump his way to two rings before dropping out of the league entirely and ending up in Serbia.
So there you have it. The only remaining question to this tragedy is this: whom might the Bobcats have drafted instead of Morrison? For years the Bobcats looked especially bad because Brandon Roy, taken just behind Morrison at #4 by Portland, blossomed into a potential Hall-of-Famer. But now Roy’s gone from the league, too, done in by knee injuries of his own. Rudy Gay went 8th, J.J. Redick went 11th, Thabo Sefolosha went 13th, and—most brutally of all—Rajon Rondo went 21st. So yes, the Bobcats missed out on some dudes who’ve had far more productive careers. But by and large the 2006 draft was not littered with talent; it was mostly littered with litter. Which would be another sort-of point in the Bobcats’ favor. Nonetheless, a season-and-a-half of sub-sub-par production from your #3 pick is disastrous anyway you slice it, especially when it was Michael Jordan’s first big selection as the minority-and-soon-to-be principal owner.