Grant Williams became the ninth Vol in the history of Tennessee’s men’s basketball program to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft when he was taken No. 22 overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2019 NBA Draft. Williams was one of three Vols drafted last Thursday, and he was the second player taken in the first round by the Celtics during the draft.
Expectations for Williams in his first few seasons in Boston likely aren’t sky-high, but as a top-25 overall pick, he’ll be expected to be at least a strong contributor for the next few years. That begs the question: How have Tennessee’s other first-round draft picks performed in the NBA?
Here’s a look at how the Vols’ eight previous first-round draft picks have done in the NBA prior to Williams’ entrance into the league.
Tom Boerwinkle – 4th overall pick by the Chicago Bulls, 1968
Tennessee’s seven-footer was their first first-round pick into the NBA, and he’s still the only Vol to be taken in the first five overall picks of an NBA Draft. Boerwinkle was selected No. 4 overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 1968 NBA Draft, and he spent all 10 seasons of his NBA career with the Bulls.
Boerwinkle was never asked to be a proficient scorer for the Bulls, but he affected the game in many other ways. In his 10-year career, he averaged 7.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the floor in 635 total games. At the time of his retirement, he held the Bulls’ record for most rebounds in a game with 37, and he recorded five triple-doubles in his career.
The seven-foot center averaged double-digit rebounds per game in each of his first four years in the NBA, and he averaged a double-double in both the 1969-70 season and the 1970-71 season. He again averaged double figures in rebounds per game in his eighth season in the league in 1975-76. Boerwinkle was also a proficient passer, averaging over three assists per game in five of his 10 NBA seasons.
All in all, Boerwinkle finished with over 4,500 points, 5,700 rebounds, and 2,000 assists in his 635 career games. He also appeared in 35 playoff games with the Bulls, averaging 7.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in those contests.
Bernard King – 7th overall pick by the New York Nets, 1977
If not for a devastating injury in the middle of his prime, Bernard King could’ve played for two decades in the NBA. As it is, he’s still Tennessee’s best pro basketball player in the modern era, and he’s a Hall of Famer.
King was taken No. 7 overall by the New York Nets in the 1977 NBA Draft, and he went on to have a 16-year career that saw him appear in 874 games across 14 seasons. King was a four-time NBA All-Star and was voted to the NBA First Team twice. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 after being out of the game for two decades.
It all started in King’s first year in the NBA. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1978 after averaging 24.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.5 steals in his first year with the Nets.
The 6-foot-7, 205-pound athlete had a down year in his third season in the league with Utah, but he bounced back in his fourth year with Golden State and won the Comeback Player of the Year award for his 1980-81 season.
In the 1984-85 season, King was crowned the NBA scoring champion after averaging 32.9 points per game for the New York Knicks. That season, he scored 50 points in back-to-back games in the first half of the year, and he dropped 60 points in the Knicks’ game on Christmas day.
In March of that season, King suffered a nearly career-ending injury to his right leg that included a torn ACL, torn knee cartilage, and a broken leg bone. King missed the entire 1985-86 season after reconstructive surgery, and the outlook was grim. No NBA player to that point had ever fully recovered from such an injury and returned to the league.
King, however, was different.
He returned in the 1986-87 season and averaged 22.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in six games, but the Knicks released him for fear that his previous explosiveness was gone for good. King was picked up by the Washington Bullets, and he averaged 17.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in his first season with them. After that, King reeled off three-straight seasons where he averaged 20-plus points per game, including 28.4 points a contest in the 1990-91 season.
At the time of his retirement, King was No. 16 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (he’s now 46th). He finished his career averaging 22.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor.
Ernie Grunfeld – 11th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, 1977
King’s teammate, Ernie Grunfeld, also went in the first round of the 1977 NBA Draft, going No. 11 overall to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Although both players have their numbers retired at Tennessee, King clearly had the better professional career. Grunfeld was no slouch, lasting nine years in the NBA with three different teams, but he failed to reach the acclaim that King did.
Grunfeld played in 693 total games and averaged 7.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists with the Bucks, the Kansas City Kings, and the New York Knicks. His best season came in 1981-82 with the Kings when he averaged 12.7 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.2 rebounds.
The three-point shot was relatively new in Grunfeld’s playing career, but he was one of the best at it by the time his career wound down. He finished third in the NBA in his final season in three-point shooting percentage, knocking down 42.6 percent of his threes.
Reggie Johnson – 15th overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs, 1980
While Reggie Johnson was a standout for the Vols, he had a fairly unmemorable NBA career.
Johnson played for the Spurs for just one season after they drafted him No. 15 overall, and he bounced around the league before exiting it in 1984. He ended up playing overseas for several years after, playing for Marr Rimini, Joventut Badalona, Birra Messina Trapani, and Leon for a combined 13 seasons. Johnson was part of the Philadelphia 76ers team that won the 1983 NBA title, though he only appeared in 29 games in the regular season with Philadelphia and averaged 18.9 minutes a game.
In 305 career games, Johnson averaged 8.4 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting just over 50 percent overall.
Dale Ellis – 9th overall pick by the Dallas Mavericks, 1983
Aside from Bernard King, Dale Ellis has been Tennessee’s most successful NBA first-round pick. He was selected No. 9 overall by the Dallas Mavericks, and he lasted nearly two decades in the NBA.
Ellis played for six different teams in the NBA, but he’s best known for his time with the Seattle SuperSonics. While there, he won the Most Improved Player award in 1987 and was voted an All-Star in 1989. Ellis held the record for most points scored in a season for the SuperSonics franchise when he scored 2,253 points in the 1988-89 season. That record was later broken by Kevin Durant as part of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2009-10 season.
The 6-foot-7, 205-pound wing also set an NBA record for most minutes played in a single game when he totaled 69 minutes in a five-overtime loss the SuperSonics sustained to the Milwaukee Bucks. Ellis scored 53 points in that game. He also became the first player in NBA history to complete two four-point plays in a single game when he did so in 1988.
Ellis averaged over 20 points per game for four-straight seasons in his first four years in Seattle, and he averaged over 15 points a game in nine of his 17 seasons. At the time of his retirement in 2000, his 1,719 career made three-pointers were the second-most in NBA history. That total now ranks 20th in NBA history.
In 1,209 career games, Ellis averaged 15.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while making 47.9 percent of his overall attempts and 40.3 percent of his threes.
Allan Houston – 11tth overall by the Detroit Pistons, 1993
Tennessee’s basketball program was at its worst when Allan Houston donned the orange and white, but he shined despite the muck. He was selected No. 11 overall by Detroit in the 1993 NBA Draft, and he went on to have a strong career, most notably with the Knicks.
Houston played for a dozen years in the NBA, and he was voted an NBA All-Star twice. Houston was a three-point sharp-shooter, making 40.2 percent of his 3,247 career three-point attempts. He averaged over 20 points per game in back-to-back seasons with the Knicks in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, and he averaged over 16 points a game in eight of his 12 seasons in the NBA.
Houston’s 11,165 career points he scored in nine seasons with the Knicks are still the fourth-most in franchise history. His 921 three-pointers made with the Knicks are the second-most in franchise history, and his career three-point percentage of 39.9 percent in New York ranks 10th all-time with the Knicks. Houston was also part of the USA’s Olympic team 2000 that won gold in Sydney, Australia.
In 839 career games, Houston averaged 17.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while connecting on 44.4 percent of his shots and 40.2 percent of his threes.
Marcus Haislip – 13th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, 2002
Marcus Haislip became the second Vol to be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks when they selected him with the 13th overall pick in the 2002 draft. But unlike Ernie Grunfeld, Haislip didn’t last long in the NBA.
Haislip, a native of Lewisburg, TN, played for Milwaukee for two seasons but only appeared in 70 total games and then more or less fizzled out of the NBA in 2005. He came back for 10 games with the Spurs in the 2009-10 season, but he did not return after that.
While Haislip’s NBA career was forgettable, he was solid overseas for over a decade.
The 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward played for various professional teams in Europe, Turkey, and Greece in 2005-09 and again from 2010-17. He was voted a CBA All-Star in 2013, a two-time Turkish League All-Star, and a Greek League All-Star in 2010. He was the Spanish League Most Spectacular Player in 2009.
In six years in the EuroLeague, Haislip averaged 11.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks while making 46.2 percent of his shots and 33.2 percent of his threes. In 89 career NBA games, he averaged 3.5 points and 1.5 rebounds.
Tobias Harris – 19th overall by the Charlotte Bobcats, 2011 (active)
Grant Williams won’t be the only first-round pick of the Vols who will be in the NBA this upcoming season. Tennessee has an active first-rounder from a few years ago who is a solid contributor in the league.
Tobias Harris was a one-and-done player for Tennessee in college, and he’s blossomed into a high-level player in the NBA. He was taken No. 19 overall by the Charlotte Bobcats, but he was later traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s where he spent his first full season in the NBA before being traded to the Orlando Magic during his second season.
Being traded has been a theme for Harris in his eight-year NBA career thus far. He was traded to the Detroit Pistons buying the Magic in the middle of the 2015-16 season, then the Pistons traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2017-18 season. After barely playing a full season’s worth of games with the Clippers, Harris was again traded, this time to the Philadelphia 76ers during this most recent 2018-19 season. Harris helped spur on the Sixers to the playoffs, and he was a major contributor both in the regular season and postseason for Philadelphia.
Now, Harris is a free agent. He has the option to return to Philadelphia, but he’ll be listening to other offers. For once, Harris has full control of his next move.
At 26, Harris is just now coming into his prime, and he put together his best total season to date this past year, averaging 20.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while making 39.7 percent of his threes and 48.7 percent of his overall shots. Harris doesn’t have injury concerns either, as he’s appeared in all 82 games of the regular season in two out of the last three seasons, and he appeared in 80 games in the 2017-18 campaign.
In eight NBA seasons and 546 total games, Harris has averaged 15.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists while making 47.1 percent of his shots and 36.4 percent of his threes.