Synopsis: At the conclusion of his junior season at West Virginia, Joe Alexander led the Mountaineers to better-than-expected finishes in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Peaking at the right time, he went from relative obscurity to a lottery pick in a matter of weeks. As the 8th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2008 Draft, Alexander fulfilled his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA. His dream unfortunately ended after only 67 games, during which he scored fewer than 300 points. In retrospect, his professional career might have been much different with another year to develop in college. With an inability to capitalize on his freakish skills, Alexander has been selected as the #7 NBA Draft Bust.
#7 NBA DRAFT BUST: JOE ALEXANDER
As detailed by the following bullet points, Joe Alexander certainly had a unique path to the NBA.
- Born in Taiwan.
- Spent most of his formative years (from 5th to 10th grade) growing up and playing basketball in China.
- Moved to Maryland to finish high school.
- Received a scholarship from Randolph-Macon college, a Division II school best known for being one exit south of Kings Dominion off of I-95.
- Went to Hargrave Military Academy instead for a post-graduate year.
- Didn’t get much playing time at Hargrave given the other 11 Division I prospects on the team.
- Earned a scholarship to play at West Virginia for John Beilein.
- Progressed nicely each year at WVU before hitting another gear leading up to and throughout the 2008 post-season tournaments.
- Left school early based on a strong close to the season
- Became a projected lottery pick after an incredible showing at the combine.
- Selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 8th overall pick in the 2008 Draft.
Whereas Alexander seemed to come out of nowhere, he showed steady improvement as a player throughout his time in college.
JOE ALEXANDER – STATS AT WEST VIRGINIA
|Shooting %||Per Game Averages|
Mostly a benchwarmer as a freshman, Alexander really started to contribute to the team as a sophomore. He scored in double figures in 20 out of 36 games and averaged 10 points and four rebounds per game in his second season in Morgantown. After the season, West Virginia’s coach made a beeline to fill the vacancy at Michigan. In turn, the school hired WVU alum Bob Huggins as the new head coach.
Alexander blossomed under Huggins and finished in the top 10 in the Big East Conference in both points and blocked shots per game. Heading into the final month of his junior season, Alexander looked like a promising prospect for the 2009 Draft. However, he became a top prospect for the 2008 Draft after an incredible finish to the season
MARCH MADNESS: ROAD TO THE
FINAL FOUR NBA
Like many sports fans, I fully embrace March Madness. To be clear, I’m referring to the conference championships, the selection show, the bracket challenge, as well as the actual tournament games. For me, college basketball and March are inseparable. The only month during which college basketball has relevance is March. And, the only sport that has relevance in March is college basketball.
Based on that sentiment, Alexander picked the absolute best time to shine leading up to the draft. During the month of March 2008, Alexander recorded at least 30 points in three games and 10 rebounds in four games on his way to averaging 24 points and 8 rebounds in WVU’s final nine games of the year.
According to draftexpress.com’s 2008 mock draft, Alexander went from being an undrafted player to a mid-1st round pick after leading his team to the 2008 Sweet Sixteen. Perhaps most impactful for the scouts, he had a 22-point, 11-rebound, 3-block performance in an upset victory over #2 seed Duke. Alexander maintained his projected draft position after recording 18 points and 10 rebounds in an overtime loss to Xavier one week later.
Over the next few weeks, Alexander’s draft stock dipped on the website despite getting recognized as 1st Team Big East and All-American Honorable Mention . However, things really began to change again after pictures and videos of his freakish athleticism started to surface.
JOE ALEXANDER – THE FREAK
At the NBA Combine in early June, Alexander continued to demonstrate his athleticism by finishing second among all participants in three separate tests of strength, speed, and “hops.”
- Strength: Benched 185 pounds a total of 24 times.
- More than DeAndre Jordan (8) and Brook Lopez (7) combined.
- Speed: Ran the 3/4 court sprint in 2.99 seconds.
- Better than both Derrick Rose (3.05 secs) and Russell Westbrook (3.08 secs).
- Hops: Had a maximum vertical reach of 12′ 1/2″.
- Higher than Jordan (by 1/2″), Lopez (by 1″), Rose (by 6″) and Westbrook (by 8″).
Based on the combine, Alexander’s stock continued to rise. He even moved into the conversation as a potential lottery pick. Upon initially hearing about him, I grew concerned that his draft position might be driven by three activities that didn’t include a ball, a basket, or a defender. After all, the combine proved to be completely useless for evaluating Kevin Durant given that the league’s future MVP wasn’t strong (he couldn’t bench press 185 lbs even once) or fast (his sprint time was 3.45 seconds).
After viewing the following montage of assorted highlights, I became convinced that Alexander’s athleticism could transfer onto the court. The highlight reel gets repetitive after a while (it’s basically a power dunk and block fest), but you should be able to see pretty quickly that he wasn’t just a gym rat. Then again, I’m not a scout so I don’t know if his talents were best suited for SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.
JOE ALEXANDER: PROJECTED UPSIDE/DOWNSIDE
Draftexpress.com (as well as 9 out of 12 other mock draft reports) projected Alexander as the 8th overall pick, which was exactly where he went. In addition, the website commented that he had the upside of a more athletic Matt Harpring and the downside of Damien Wilkins (Gerald’s son and Dominique’s nephew). Well, let’s see how it did with that prediction.
|Draft Pick||Team||Player||Games||Points||Rebounds||Assists||PPG||RPG||APG||Win Shares|
|1998 (#15)||ORL||Matt Harpring||665||7,645||3,366||907||11.5||5.1||1.4||41.9|
|2004 (-)||MIA||Damien Wilkins||563||3,571||1,346||787||6.3||2.4||1.4||12.2|
|2008 (#8)||MIL||Joe Alexander||67||282||120||44||4.2||1.8||0.7||0.5|
Before you scoff (like I did) at the thought of a team wasting an 8th overall pick on someone with the upside of Matt Harpring, you might want to consider the following. To start, he averaged 14 points and 6 rebounds per game during his most productive 6-year stretch. Furthermore, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket maxed out at 18 points and 8 rebounds per game for one season.
Based on his career production, Harpring represented someone in the top third of all NBA players taken with a 6th-10th overall pick. On the other extreme, Wilkins represented someone in the bottom third. As such, these players provided a reasonable bracket for a best case / worst case scenario. Unfortunately, Alexander fell far short of the worst case scenario by finishing in the bottom 2% of all 6th-10th overall picks from the last 45 years.
JOE ALEXANDER – T10B CONSIDERATION
When I began researching NBA Draft busts, I considered Alexander as a potential T10B Honorable Mention. I didn’t think he would make the actual Top 10 countdown given that the Bucks seemingly overreached by taking him with such a high pick. Without his freakish combine results, Alexander might have stayed as a mid-1st round pick and avoided the stigma of a high profile bust.
Then, I read an article by David Pick for basketballinsiders.com, which contained the following quote by Alexander.
“Ultimately not being in the NBA is on me, but as far as ‘who is a bust?’ you have to look at Milwaukee and the management that drafted me. If you want to label anyone with the term ‘bust’ — it’s the Bucks. When Milwaukee drafted me, I was touted as a ‘project’ and someone with a lot of potential who could contribute had I learned to play the game. That’s what the Bucks told me. I needed time.
In case you missed it, Alexander believes that the Bucks deserve the credit for his failed career. My opinion of him changed completely at that point. I get it that no one likes being labeled a bust. However, his attempt to shift the blame was completely delusional. Still, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and evaluate his claim that the Bucks ignored its young projects.
JOE ALEXANDER – BLAME THE BUCKS
The Milwaukee Bucks selected two players in the 2008 Draft: Alexander and #37 overall pick Luc Mbah a Moute. Of note, both players were quite similar.
- Same age: Mbah a Moute was three months older.
- Same size: Alexander was one inch taller.
- Same position: Both entered the draft as small forwards.
As rookies, Alexander backed up Richard Jefferson at small forward while Mbah a Moute backed up Charlie Villanueva at power forward. By making the shift to the 2 spot, Mbah a Moute found himself in the starting lineup after Villanueva moved to center following an injury to Andrew Bogut (go figure). With more than twice as much time on the court (26 minutes vs. 12 minutes) Mbah a Moute easily outperformed Alexander that season.
ROOKIE STATS – MILWAUKEE BUCKS 2008 DRAFT CLASS
|Shooting %||Per Game Averages|
|Luc Mbah a Moute||82||46.2%||72.9%||5.9||1.1||1.1||0.5||7.2|
Given the trade of Richard Jefferson to the Spurs after the season, the Bucks had an opening in the starting lineup at small forward. Alexander seemed poised to assume the role. Despite averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds per game during the 2009 Summer League, he apparently didn’t impress the right people.
To start, Milwaukee traded for Carlos Delfino to replace Jefferson. The decision to go with a 4-year NBA veteran instead of a 2nd year player could be understood. However, Alexander must have had a hard time losing the starting small forward job to a backup shooting guard who last played in Russia.
Making matters worse, the Bucks declined the 3rd-year option on Alexander’s rookie contract prior to the start of the season. Obviously hurt by the decision, he publicly questioned the team’s commitment to him. In turn, the Bucks responded by assigning him to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the D-league.
Fortunately for Alexander, the Bulls saw some value and traded for him as a backup to Luol Deng. The outcome, however, wasn’t much different. In particular, Alexander only played in eight unproductive games during his time in Chicago.
As a free agent that summer, Alexander signed with the New Orleans Hornets. Despite a fresh start in a new location, the story had the same ending. Specifically, Alexander got waived two weeks in into the regular season without even getting on the court. The team apparently saw enough given his total production of 7 points and 10 rebounds in 6 preseason games.
Let’s say Alexander has a legitimate gripe that the Bucks gave up on him too soon. Well, what about Chicago or New Orleans? Should those organizations be labeled as busts because he failed there too. With respect to Alexander’s claim that the Bucks should be blamed, I offer the following determination.
JOE ALEXANDER: D-LEAGUE STAR
To his credit, Alexander swallowed his pride and joined the Texas Legends of the D-League for the 2010-11 season. He put up impressive numbers (20 ppg and 9 rpg) with the team and earned 1st-Team All D-League honors. Despite seemingly respectable numbers, Alexander decided to sign with a team in Russia. Perhaps he envisioned returning to the NBA after a year, just like Carlos Delfino did. Unfortunately, any such plans changed due to a stress fracture in his left tibia after only six games
After a two-year hiatus (including a detour in China), Alexander got a shot with the Golden State Warriors. However, they waived him before the regular season even started. To his credit, Alexander went back to the D-League again. This time, he played for the Santa Cruz Warriors.
As the following table shows, Alexander put up respectable numbers throughout his time in the “League of Broken Dreams.”
JOE ALEXANDER: NBA D-LEAGUE STATS
|Shooting %||Per Game Averages|
In the midst of another productive season, Alexander realized that his options in the NBA are nonexistent. In a moment of clarity, he lamented to reporter David Pick:
One season, there might be just 10 call-ups. The next season there could be 35 call-ups, and then there is the factor of who sticks in the NBA? I worked real hard this season to put up another five-or-seven points and grab at least three more rebounds each game, but NBA executives would look at the numbers and be like, ‘Who cares?’
Any empathy I felt for Alexander disappeared when I reread an earlier quote by him in the article. In particular, he pined,
I didn’t start playing basketball until I was 16 years old, but I was the most athletic guy in the entire draft. The Bucks knew that. Everyone understood this. I could’ve been drafted by any other team in the league and they would’ve given me time to develop.
I have read numerous articles about Alexander’s incredible work ethic and his desire to practice non-stop. Despite the quote, he presumably started playing basketball while growing up in China well before turning 16. From there, he played throughout high school before going on to play at West Virginia. If his lack of organized basketball would later become an excuse, he should have stayed at WVU for another year. For as much as he tries, Alexander legitimately cannot blame the Bucks (or any of the other teams which gave him a chance) for his lack of preparedness to play in the NBA.
JOE ALEXANDER – AKA THE BLUE CRAYON
In one of the more interesting sections of the basketballinsiders.com article, Alexander made a veiled complaint about reverse discrimination. Specifically, he said:
There’s an element in the basketball culture, especially in the NBA, that looks at clean-cut guys like myself and assumes what we can or can’t do and that followed me throughout my NBA career.
Any charge of discrimination is not a laughing matter, but Alexander’s reaction to it was. Specifically, he decided to emulate former “clean-cut” guys like Mike Miller and Chris Andersen. Of note, these players changed their hair and got tattoos to alter other people’s perception of them.
BIRDMAN: JOE ALEXANDER’S MUSE
JOE ALEXANDER: BIRDMAN IN TRAINING
When describing his arm sleeve, Alexander said:
I got the tattoo because I was sick of people telling me to shoot three-pointers and I was sick of people telling me to not put the ball on the floor or attack the rim, because that’s my game.
Furthermore, he commented,
In college, I was a bruiser and it was understood I was going to knock people around, and that I was super-athletic and super-skilled. But in the pros, it’s a different culture. It’s assumed, no matter how many times we hit people, that clean-cut players are soft – and I was so sick of that. I want my image to reflect who I am as a basketball player.
I don’t know which part of the quote is more amusing: the self-congratulatory claim of being “super-athletic and super-skilled,” or the belief that he needed to get a tattoo to show that he wasn’t soft.
As the following table shows, the 2008 NBA Draft class had several good players and a few great ones (Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love). However, Alexander proved to be the only negative outlier in the first 10 picks. With respect to posterity, he should be glad that he only went #8 overall because his failure would be even more recognized.
TOP PICKS FROM THE 2008 NBA DRAFT
(Totals updated for 2015-16 season)
|PF||37||MIL||Luc Mbah a Moute||541||3,411||2,435||492||6.3||4.5||0.9||20.0|
[Note: I originally wrote this post expecting that Rose would return to his All-Star form after recovering from a string of injuries. For the first time since his 2010-11 MVP season, he played more than 60 games during the 2015-16 season. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that he will return to the greatness he once showed. Instead, it appears that he will finish his career as a below average #1 overall pick. Regardless, the analysis of Joe Alexander hasn’t changed. If anything, the selection by the Bucks appears worse given the success of lower draft picks like Brook Lopez, Serge Ibaka, and Goran Dragic.]
By definition, a bust is subjective because it relies on a player failing to live up to expectations. However, I’ve tried to make the evaluation as objective as possible by relying on a player’s achievements before and after the draft. As someone who succeeded in college but failed in the NBA, Alexander objectively was a bust. He still appears to be a gifted player who can dominate inferior talent. However, he has flaws in his game that get exposed when playing against the best players in the world. For me, that makes Alexander the poster child for a Top 10 Bust.