6 NBA Rookies Who We Know Are Wasted Picks Already
With the 2012-13 NBA season still a little more than two months away and the transaction mill now hitting its August dry months after a flurry of offseason activity, it's finally time to judge prospects from June's draft based on how they fit with their NBA franchise.
Some teams went out and tried to find pieces via free agency or trades that will fit perfectly with their young prospects. Others totally ignored draft choices and simply went for the most talented (or cheapest) players on the market.
For those franchises that fit in the latter strata, picks from June might as well already be chalked up as sunk costs.
And other draft prospects were already destined for failure before the draft process began.
So with a couple months left for prospects to improve on their game, which are the ones we already know are lost causes? Follow along as we take a look at the biggest wasted picks of the 2012 NBA draft.
Festus Ezeli (C, Golden State Warriors)
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Perhaps it's just as unfair to judge the last player selected in the first round as it is the first player in the second, but Ezeli's contract is guaranteed, so he's fair game in my book.
After most of the formative years of his life in Nigeria, Ezeli did not even pick up a basketball until the age of 14 after arriving in the United States.
For fans of the NBA draft, this isn't an unfamiliar story. It seems that every year there is one (or five) players taken who come from a foreign land having never picked up a ball until a late age.
But those players almost never enter opening night of their rookie year at 23 years old like Ezeli will this season. And despite playing four years of college ball at Vanderbilt, Ezeli is quite possibly the rawest player of the 2012 draft class.
And for a player pushing his mid-20s, there isn't as much room to grow as you think. I'm all for people getting paid, but it's not likely Ezeli is still on the Warriors roster three years from now.
Miles Plumlee (PF, Indiana Pacers)
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In the pre-draft process I figured that Plumlee would go higher than in the mid-40s range that most analysts projected.
He was a big name with tons of athleticism coming from one of the five most prestigious basketball programs in the nation. Those types of players always get drafted too high.
But for Miles Plumlee, a guy whose career-best stats in four years at Duke were 6.6 points and 7.5 rebounds, to be drafted in the first round ahead of Baylor's Perry Jones is still one of the more inexplicable occurrences of the 2012 draft.
At nearly 24 years old, the eldest Plumlee brother will walk into the 2012-13 NBA season with a ton of catching up to do and very little growth time to do so. He has nearly zero post game to speak of, and his inconsistency isn't rare for someone who puts in this much effort.
It's doubtful he's out of basketball completely in a couple of years like Ezeli, but a career in the D-League may be what's in store for Plumlee.
Tyler Zeller (C, Cleveland Cavaliers)
Let's just get the obvious out of the way so we don't have to discuss it again.
Zeller is a two-by-four athletically. He doesn't move well going down the court, is weak on the inside and has very little vertical leap to speak of.
The 22-year-old former Tar Heel won't rebound well as a pro and will get overpowered by nearly every strong defender of similar size. Those were his problems in college, and they will follow the seven-footer to the NBA.
But, as we've seen in recent years, "weak" big men can contribute at the next level if they develop consistency between 15 and 18 feet. Zeller is just yet to show any indication of that improvement in his game.
Already blessed with a refined finesse post game, Zeller could fit as a serviceable starter alongside star point guard Kyrie Irving and No. 4 pick Dion Waiters.
Or he could find the fate of many stiff centers before him and wind up at the end of an NBA bench, simply getting "tall guy" minutes.
Meyers Leonard (C, Portland Trail Blazers)
If you want an indication of how much the Blazers organization as a whole believed in its selection of Leonard at No. 11 overall, look no further than the team's stringent pursuit of 25-year-old center Roy Hibbert in free agency.
The Blazers can try to spin the situation any way they want, but you don't offer a four-year, $58 million contract to another young player who plays the same position as your lottery pick.
If you do, you're either incompetent as an organization or don't believe that the draft pick can make a meaningful contribution for the next four years.
Despite the fact that Hibbert returned to the Indiana Pacers, neither scenario bodes well for Leonard's NBA future.
Coming into Illinois completely raw and relatively unheralded, Leonard played just 8.2 minutes per game as a freshman before exponentially expanding his role last season. But he's still not a consistent force and got shut down against nearly every above-average center he played last season.
He was one of my guaranteed busts coming into the draft process, and that won't change until we see something positive in the regular season from Leonard.
Austin Rivers (PG/SG, New Orleans Hornets)
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Though he may have gone about it in a more tactful way, disgruntled shooting guard Eric Gordon wasn't wrong with his criticism of the Rivers selection.
At No. 10, Rivers is the type of low-risk, high-reward player that's usually a smart move this late in the lottery. But with Gordon, a player that's essentially a better version of Rivers, already in place, the young Duke guard serves as nothing but a talented redundancy for the Hornets.
Instead of taking a true point guard to pair with Gordon and No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, coach Monte Williams will instead try to convert Rivers into New Orleans' primary ball-handler.
Rivers is not and will never become a good NBA point guard. By putting Rivers and Gordon in the starting lineup together, the Hornets are asking for a dueling banjos scenario on offense. Both players thrive on creating shots for themselves and getting teammates involved when it's convenient.
That can work if just one player in the lineup has that mindset. Not two.
Terrence Ross (SG, Toronto Raptors)
We're using relative terms here because Ross projects as a starting shooting guard at the next level in all of my evaluations.
The former Washington Huskies standout is a big-time athlete who can stretch beyond the NBA three-point line with consistency and has the quickness to take defenses to the rack if he can ever fix the ball-handling issue.
But the 21-year-old Ross also has questionable (at best) shot selection at times and is one of the most rail-thin prospects in the entire class.
These are problems that can be fixed over time as the coaching staff works on acclimating Ross to the next level.
However, with a better prospect in UConn's shooting guard Jeremy Lamb still on on the board, the Raptors had a chance to bring in a potential future all-star and went with a potential future starter.
Toronto chose the correct position, just the wrong player.