The Memphis Grizzlies, as only elder Millennials and Gen-Xers remember, started their franchise north of the border in Vancouver. The team was established during the NBA’s 1995 expansion. That also included the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors survived (ironically because they’re dinosaurs). The Grizzlies migrated to Tennessee (ironically because there are no grizzlies there). After six seasons in Canada, Vancouver had a slew of high draft choices that could have fared better if selected to a different franchise. As NBA Draft busts go, one such player was Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
NBA Draft Busts: Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Shareef Abdur-Rahim Background
Abdur-Rahim was a college standout at California. He was the first freshman in the history of the then PAC-10 to be honored as Conference Player of the Year. That same year, he was selected to the All-American Third Team. Furthermore, he was named PAC-10 Freshman of the Year, and set frosh records for points, field goals, free throws, and scoring average. The forward averaged 21.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in his only college season.
After his successful and brief college campaign, Adbur-Rahim decided to enter the 1996 NBA Draft. That draft was loaded with talent highlighted by Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. There was also Stephon Marbury if you count his contributions in the Chinese Basketball Association. Go Ducks!
Abdur-Rahim was selected No. 3 overall in the 1996 draft. Iverson was picked first by the Philadelphia 76ers. Marcus Camby went second to the Toronto Raptors. Then, Abdur-Rahim became the third drafted player in Vancouver’s history. There was no reason to think he would be part of an NBA Draft busts category.
A Short History
The Grizzlies didn’t have the same success as their cross-country rivals. In their six seasons, Vancouver averaged just 17 victories a year. Their highest win total of 23 came the season before they relocated. That equates to just a .216 franchise win percentage. During Toronto’s first six seasons, the Raptors averaged 30 wins and a .400 win percentage respectively. That included two playoff appearances.
Due to poor attendance and weakening finances, owner Arthur Griffiths, who also owned the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, attempted to dump the franchise on potential American buyers. Michael Heisley eventually purchased the Grizzlies for $160 million. The Chicago-based businessman decided to relocate the team to Memphis in 2001.
Adbur-Rahim was a staple in Vancouver from being drafted until after the move. He could have benefited from less distraction and better surroundings, however.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim Then
The 6-foot, 9-inch, 225-pound forward performed well for Vancouver right from the beginning. He became the centerpiece to build around for the franchise. During his 1996-97 rookie season, Adbur-Rahim was the Grizzlies’ leading scorer, averaging 18.7 points per game. He added 6.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. That led to him making the All-Rookie First Team and finishing third for NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
From his sophomore season on, Abdur-Rahim averaged more than 20 points a game. However. the Grizzlies always remained bottom dwellers in the Western Conference. His talents were seemingly wasted on what turned out to be a failed experiment.
Abdur-Rahim would eventually be traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 2001. There, he would reach his first and only All-Star Game and eclipse the 10,000-point mark. Again, he fell victim to massive franchise changes. This time it was a re-build, and he was traded for the second time in his short career.
The forward spent one season with the Portland Trail Blazers. Then, he signed as a free agent with the Sacramento Kings in the summer of 2005. It took 10 years, but Abdur-Rahim finally made his playoff debut. It ended a streak that labeled him at the time as the player who competed in the most games in NBA history without a postseason appearance.
Abdur-Rahim was a decorated college standout. He was also an outstanding rookie guaranteed by many as a no deposit bonus Canada betting option. Furthermore, he was an NBA franchise centerpiece. He only made one All-Star Game and one trip to the playoffs in his career before retiring after the 2007-08 season.
Re-visiting the top-5 picks of the 1996 NBA Draft, Abdur-Rahim’s career could have been vastly different. He wouldn’t have gone No. 1 overall with Iverson sitting there. But, if he was selected by the Raptors in place of Camby, there was the possibility he would have made the playoffs sooner. Camby ultimately didn’t work out as hoped. Toronto traded him after his second year with the team.
What about if Abdur-Rahim fell one more spot to No. 4 and landed in Milwaukee? He would’ve taken Marbury’s place in the draft-day trade with Minnesota. That would have paired him with Kevin Garnett on the Timberwolves. That was a squad that would go on to reach eight consecutive postseasons. If you were to insert Abdur-Rahim’s rookie stats, he would have been the second leading scorer on the Timberwolves. He wouldn’t have been the centerpiece. However, he would have become part of a dominant frontcourt with Garnett and Tom Gugliotta.
Milwaukee was no slouch at the time either. Starting in 1998-99, the Bucks would make the playoffs six of the next eight years. Abdur-Rahim would have played aside two other 20-point scorers in Vin Baker and Glenn Robinson.
It’s easy to project success in hindsight. It wasn’t necessarily a market issue for Abdur-Rahim, but rather a franchise issue. He was a flop because the Grizzlies were a flop. Think about if he was put in the right group. Or, if better pieces were put in place around him. The forward could have flourished and reached more All-Star Games as well as contended for titles. He proved he had the talent, but basketball is a team game. An individual can only take you so far. Abdur-Rahim’s opportunities were limited in Vancouver, and his chances at glory came too late in his career.
Shareef Abdul-Rahim Now
Abdul-Rahim won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2000 Olympics and has found success since retiring. He became the director of player personnel for the Kings. He is also the general manager of the NBA G League’s Reno Bighorns (now Stockton Kings). Abdul-Rahim is now the president of the NBA G League. Unfortunately, he also finds himself in this NBA Draft busts series.