Chris Paul moved one step closer to winning his first NBA championship on Tuesday night as his Phoenix Suns defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 118-105, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Even with Giannis Antetokounmpo back on the floor after the two-time NBA MVP missed the final two games of the Eastern Conference Finals with an injured left knee, the Bucks were powerless to stop Paul, who hit 12 of 19 shots from the floor, including four of seven from the 3-point line, and all four of his free throws for a game-high 32 points in his Finals debut, also adding a team-high nine assists.
As Game 1 played out, it was hard not to think back to that night 16 years ago when CP3 was drafted, a night the Bucks just happened to have the No. 1 pick. Remember what happened next?
The Milwaukee Bucks chose to pass on Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA draft to draft Andrew Bogut
During the 2005 NBA draft lottery, the Bucks, coming off a 30-52 season, had just a 6.3% chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick. Yes, even with a 30-52 record, Milwaukee’s odds were that low as there were quite a few awful teams in the league at that time. Hilariously enough, the Bucks’ opponent from this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Atlanta Hawks, had the best odds to get the No. 1 pick that year (25%) as they finished a league-worst 13-69 in 2004-05.
But I digress.
One of the Bucks’ 63 ping pong balls did its job and Milwaukee obtained the No. 1 overall pick for just the fourth time in franchise history, which, of course, they did not use on Paul, who many considered the best player in the ’05 draft coming out of Wake Forest. Instead, they used the pick to select Andrew Bogut, who became the first Australian to be taken with the top pick.
Now, it’s certainly understandable why the Bucks made the choice they did as Bogut, who played his college ball at Utah, had won the vast majority of the National College Player of the Year awards. The only major one he didn’t win was the Sporting News award, which went to Illinois guard Dee Brown, who was drafted in ’06 with the 46th overall pick by the Utah Jazz.
And speaking of the Jazz, they also chose to pass on Paul as they used the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft to select Brown’s Fighting Illini teammate, Deron Williams. Paul, who was a consensus First Team All-American in his second and final season with the Demon Deacons, then went at No. 4 to the New Orleans Hornets.
CP3 beat out Bogut for Rookie of the Year
Bogut had a solid rookie season for the Bucks, earning All-Rookie First Team honors by averaging 9.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. But Paul proved exactly why Milwaukee should have taken him by unanimously winning Rookie of the Year honors (Bogut finished third), averaging 16.1 points, 7.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.2 steals.
Since then, Paul has been selected to 11 NBA All-Star Games, 10 All-NBA teams, nine All-Defensive teams, and is a four-time assists leader and a six-time steals leader. Before leaving the NBA following the 2018-19 season to return to his home country to play in the NBL, Bogut was never selected to an All-Star Game but did make the All-NBA Third Team in 2010 and the All-Defensive Second Team in 2015. He also led the league in blocks in 2011.
One thing Bogut does have that Paul currently does not is an NBA championship ring, which he won with the Golden State Warriors in 2015.
Now, we’re certainly not saying that if the Bucks had drafted Paul that he’d still be with the franchise 16 years later. These NBA Finals are simply a reminder of what could have been and how the landscape of the league could always be different if any draft pick had gone another way. If the Bucks had drafted Paul back in ’05, perhaps they could have been a contender much sooner, which maybe takes them out of the running to draft Antetokounmpo eight years later. Who knows, right? It’s just something fun to think about.
There were rumors about Paul joining the Bucks the last couple of years
Fourteen years after the Bucks passed on Paul, there were rumors floating around that CP3 actually wanted to go to Milwaukee ahead of the 2019-20 season. In July 2019, just after his second and final year with the Houston Rockets, Paul was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who then explored options to send him elsewhere. It was reported that one of the teams CP3 was interested in was the Bucks, who were coming off a 60-win season and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, which they lost to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.
Of course, that would have made the Bucks the instant favorite to win the NBA title as the trio of Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Chris Paul would have been absolutely incredible. But the move was obviously never made and Paul remained in OKC.
In the short offseason leading into the 2020-21 season, there were again rumors that Paul could be traded to Milwaukee, although there were no serious talks between the Thunder and Bucks that we know of. And as we all know now, CP3’s preferred destination was Phoenix, a wish that was granted, and he now has the Suns three wins away from their first-ever NBA championship.
While he’s never come out and said such a thing, at least not to our knowledge, perhaps Paul has even more motivation to win these NBA Finals against the team that passed on him all those years ago. After all, he is pals with Michael Jordan and we all know how MJ feels about those who’ve disrespected him. Maybe these NBA Finals are more personal than we think.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference