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What if Pistons drafted Carmelo Anthony in 2003?


A few of the greatest players in NBA history were selected in the 2003 NBA Draft. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony are all future NBA Hall of Famers with accomplished track records.

While the former three became NBA title winners over the course of their career, it was the latter that has come up empty-handed in the ring column. The Detroit Pistons selected Darko Milicic with the second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Anthony went third to the Denver Nuggets. As fate would have it, Detroit won the NBA title the following season. And while Detroit would still be a force in the NBA for the years to come, Milicic never became the key piece they envisioned for the Pistons to stay dominant for years to come.

Anthony, however, became an NBA superstar while taking the Nuggets from cellar dwellers to consistent playoff contenders during his time there.

So the question that begs is: what if the Pistons drafted Anthony instead of Milicic?

The Pistons were already a well-assembled team prior to drafting Milicic. They won 100 games the past two seasons and had an excellent defensive scheme.

However, offensively they were modest at best. Chauncey Billips in 2003 averaged 16.2 points per game while Rip Hamilton averaged 19.7 points per. To compete with the Los Angeles Lakers or even the San Antonio Spurs for longevity, the Pistons needed more than elite defense.

It’s a chance the Pistons saw Anthony as a catch 22, while Milicic was drafted to serve as a developmental remedy. Anthony was a dominant scorer and would have revamped their offense. But could he have fit in with their defensive ethos?

Anthony’s Achilles Heel was always his defense. However, coaches and organizations like to bet on their culture. It’s a strong chance Anthony could have developed into an impressive two-way player if the Pistons took a chance on him.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. The slow development of teenager Darko led the Pistons to acquire Rasheed Wallace. If Melo were to be a Piston, would the Pistons have needed Sheed?

The course of the NBA would be different as we know it. The Pistons more than likely would have developed Anthony into a Kawhi-esque player. While the Pistons did defeat the Lakers in 2004 due to their defense, their lack of offense caused them to fizzle out over time. Anthony could have met their defensive needs while providing offensive stability to keep them in contention.

And let’s not forget he could have been the counter the Pistons needed for LeBron in 2007.

But talents such as LeBron and Melo were taken advantage of in those days. Teams preferred to build their teams around their gifted star with marginal talents. It took LeBron taking his talents to South Beach for the paradigm to shift forever in the NBA. Superteams and duo are the new normal. LeBron saw the writing on the wall in Cleveland with a marginal but older roster. It’s a good chance if things didn’t work out in Detroit, Melo would have done the same.

So while the Pistons missed out on Darko, it still could have been a miss for Melo for the long term.  Denver needed a superstar to build around while Detroit was already established. Could Detroit have won multiple titles with Melo? Absolutely. But it’s also difficult to see Melo buying into the Pistons way with bullheaded veterans such as Billups, Hamilton and Ben Wallace.

In the end, maybe things played out the way it should have.