Below is a recent interview with Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, whom the Golden State Warriors selected seventh overall in the 1985 NBA Draft. Mullin, who appeared in five All-Star games and later starred on the 1992 Dream Team, provided tremendous insight for a story on former seventh overall picks, highlighting their successes and failures and how that ties into the uncertainty what impact the 2014 seventh pick can provide for the Lakers.
What memories stuck out to you when the Warriors drafted you?
Mullin: Obviously a lot has changed since then. The ’85 draft was the first lottery and also back then for the most part, guys were still staying in school for three or four years. The process itself wasn’t as involved. I didn’t do all of these workouts and trips and combines and everything. The scouts, coaches and GMS have already watched you for four years. They pretty much have a good read on us playing, what you can do and can’t do. That whole process was totally different.
As far as myself, I was born and raised in New York and went to school in New York. My mindset was different. I was not really comfortable where I was. I would have been fine playing in New York or on the East Coast. The lottery balls went the way that they went. So I was picked by Golden State. I had no idea where it was and initially I didn’t care to tell you the truth. But for every player no matter what level, you have to figure out what your game is and what you’re going to base your game on. How are you going to fit in, not only to succeed individually being a solid NBA player, but and figure out how your skills fit into the team concept. So it’s a process all players go through, some quicker than others.”
What was the biggest adjustment for you?
Mullin: The biggest thing is the amount of games. That’s something every player has to go through. Now teams play 35-40 games and it’s way different than playing 82. Physically, the travel and all of those things you can’t simulate or prepare for. You have to go through it and take the ups and downs with that. The other adjustment depends on where guys are drafted and what teammates they’re going to have. Are they going to welcome him and help them adjust? It’s a little bit better now with players being more apt to take young guys and help them with their transition. I’m not sure it was always like that. I think many years ago, it was the young guy coming in and being looked at as someone taking someone’s job. There is a lot more, I wouldn’t say it antagonism, but I felt like it was more competitive. The veterans were making sure the transition wasn’t easy for a rookie.”
I understand that happened with you where your contract wasn’t resolved until after training camp. You had also said the team wasn’t really that close. What challenges did you go through with that?
Mullin: You have to take everyone individually. I was coming from a comfortable place. I would’ve stayed at St. John’s for another four years if I could’ve. I was in a great situation and I was playing 20 minutes from home. I loved my college coach. We were winning. We were playing at Madison Square Garden in front of sellout crowds. When I came to Oakland, the first game I played there was 4,000 people at the game. I thought it was a downgrade. Then there’s a reason the team was in the lottery. The team was not a winning team and that creates a lot of tension and frustration. Back then, there was not the pay scale that the draft has now. So I actually held out with a contract dispute. So I didn’t show up until mid November.
I’m sure that was not welcomed. I came in as one of the highest paid players on day one. There were a lot of things I didn’t think about. My agent was doing everything, and then I just showed up and played. But I did walk into some different conditions that I wasn’t prepared for.
How about when you went through rehab to address your drinking?
Mullin: It was just another adjustment. When I addressed that situation, that’s really when my career took off. Consequently, Nellie [former Warrors coach Don Nelson] also made a bunch of roster moves. So they all kind of coincided. Deep down, no one knew it would work the way it did. Deep down, they were preparing for me not to make it. I wasn’t quite sure I would either. So I thought, ‘You do what you can and put all your effort into not only being the best player you can be, but also have the discipline in being prepared and being a good person.’ I made the adjustments there. Nellie made adjustments within the roster. Then it became a different organization and franchise. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by not only Nellie, but some great owners. They guided me through the early part of my career. I’m forever grateful to them.
So with this current draft coming up, what advice would you give to those future prospects?
Mullin: You have to be able to do deal with success with humility and deal with failure from a learning experience instead of letting it get you down. Don’t blame anyone else. Use it as a learning tool. If you can use success and be grateful with it and humble with it, when the failures come, use it as a motivational tool or learning tool. As a young kid, a lot of these guys are top picks and coming from successful careers. When things don’t go their way right away, it’s very important to be able to not overjudge or blame and feel like this is what your career is going to be. This is the start of something great. Everyone has a different path. Some guys get off to quick starts. Then they fizzle out. Guys get off slow and then they get it and blow up. Each and every person has their own story. To a degree, you can create your own story with your work ethic and dedication and things like that.
What impact do you think seventh overall picks usually make on a team?
Mullin: I think it varies on each and every draft. I haven’t really researched seventh picks. So I couldn’t show you that. But each situation depends on talent, I’d say the biggest thing for these young players and hardest thing for GM’s is that you can test a guy’s size, wingspan, his body fat and his vertical jump. But how do you measure the guy that’s going to really work on a daily basis throughout his career? If you have the skillset and the will, you will succeed. But having that match up at the right time is difficult. Sometimes you have the guys with skill, and maybe the will is not what it should be. Who knows what the reasons are. It could be so many different things. But when they match up together, and you have the skill and the will and you have a good situation where guys are motivated, welcomed and a part of the team, I think you can be the fifth pick, seventh or 26th pick, and still succeed.
I found the seventh pick has three pretty distinct categories. There’s success stories, such as yourself, Kevin Johnson, Damon Stoudemire, Richard Hamilton, Stephen Curry, and Greg Monroe. There’s a flurry of role players that had fairly long careers. And then the other third entails players that only had a few years in the league without much impact.
Mullin: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. That’s some good names. Some are still developing. As we speak, they’re writing their story. Things will change. Teammates will change. Coaches will change. I think the consistent guy who with all the variables around him maintains his work ethic and love of the game will likely succeed.
The Kings selected Ben McLemore seventh overall last year. With your advisory role with the team, what’s your evaluation on McLemore’s play?
Mullin: I think he’s going to be your typical success story. He has great athletic ability, but is younger than the guys that I was competing against coming out. He is much younger and has only played one season. He has so much growth ahead of him, but he has the work ethic and he has the desire. Now it’s about him figuring out what he’s going to base his game around. Will it be one thing that he can bring every night? This is a big summer to him. Each and every summer, you have to add a little bit to your game. That’s my personal opinion. If you polled most people around the league, they would say the same thing about him. They see a lot of pride. He’s a young player developing.
So what’s the next step for him?
Mullin: I’m more old fashioned than most. I don’t buy into the three-point shot, dunk theory. I’m still a big believer in running for layups, shooting open 15-footers and free throws and then adding the three-point shot. I’m not heavy on all three’s and dunks. I don’t subscribe to that style of basketball. So for him, it’s about total involvement.
I would like to see him be more active on the offensive end and play without the ball. Be a screenrer or a slasher and knock down open three point shots. I think he can be a tremendous defender because of his athleticism. So really it’s about having a total evolution of his game. He’s got all the pieces. We’ve seen everything from him. We’ve seen him knock down 3’s and we’ve seen him have tremendous blocks on defense. We’ve seen him get to the rim and dunk on people. On a nightly basis, it’s about putting it all together. You have to figure out how to do that not only individually, but how to fit that in with five other guys trying to get their games together.
I always felt like the offseason is a really good team. Basketball to me is a total team game. There’s really no room for selfish play. But in the summer time is when I dedicated to myself in individually honing my skills and developing my game. Then when I came back to training camp, if there was some roster moves or coaching changes, then I figured out how do I fit into the team concept right now? I always felt like if you had multiple skills and were as fit as possible, it didn’t matter where you played. You break out your toolbox and use this for whatever team you play on and be successful.”
How would you evaluate this year’s draft class?
Mullin: “We’ll have to wait and see. They got that special on the 1984 draft and that’s considered the best ever. If you asked people then, people would say that. I was on the ’84 Olympic team and a lot of those guys got cut from that team. It all depends on the players’ work ethic, how they can maintain the love of the game through the ups and downs and handle the natural turbulence of the NBA business part. No matter what anyone says on if it’s been a very hyped draft or overhyped draft, I don’t think either is right. You’ll have to wait and see. Just like you’re finding in that that research for No. 7 pick, the outcomes may vary.”
NBA Draft: Seventh picks offer unpredictable gauge for success
Photos: Will it be Lucky No. 7 for the Lakers in the NBA Draft?
NBA Draft: Lakers open toward how they will use seventh overall draft pick