Playing NBA Boom or Bust with Every 2012 First-Round Pick for His Rookie Season
Aside from Kyrie Irving, when looking back at the 2011 NBA first-round draft picks, only Kawhi Leonard, Iman Shumpert and Kenneth Faried received first-place votes in the Rookie of the Year voting.
If you’re keeping score at home, those players ranged from pick No. 1 through pick No. 22 in last year’s draft, and only Irving was drafted in the top 10 at No. 1 overall.
Not every player taken in the first round of the draft will be in contention for the Rookie of the Year award next season. In fact, it’s more likely that half of the players taken won’t even play a relevant role on their team.
It's with this in mind that I’ll come up with an admittedly optimistic boom/bust list for every first-rounder taken in the 2012 draft.
Just to be clear, if a player is a labeled a “bust,” it doesn’t mean that said player’s career is completely written off. It simply means that his rookie year won’t lend itself to huge numbers or solid contributions.
Given past trends, that’s the likely outcome for more than 50 percent of incoming rookies, so it’s fair to assume bust over boom.
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
As the early favorite to win the 2012-2013 Rookie of the Year award, it’s hard to imagine that Anthony Davis won’t have a great rookie season barring an injury.
He’ll be a starter from day one with the New Orleans Hornets, and after the team’s addition of Robin Lopez, Davis likely won’t have to play out of position at center, where his slender frame would get muscled around by bigger NBA stars.
The experience he gained from playing in the 2012 Summer Olympics and winning a gold medal beside LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and other NBA superstars will be invaluable toward transitioning to a new lifestyle in the NBA.
If nothing else, Davis will play elite defense, block a ton of shots and continue to make a name for himself by doing exactly what he did at the collegiate level.
If his offensive game develops more quickly than what critics expect, he should be a lock to win Rookie of the Year.
2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
Although Michael Kidd-Gilchrist only played one summer league game before injury prevented him from playing further, he looked better than advertised.
MKG poured in his usually gritty stats: eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Where he really excelled, however, was scoring the basketball.
Leading up to the NBA draft, critics said that Kidd-Gilchrist would be a great defensive player, but his offensive game had a long way to go before he could be considered solid at the NBA level.
In his only game this summer, Kidd-Gilchrist scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting (he also knocked down his only three-point attempt).
Like his former college teammate Anthony Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist will undoubtedly play great defense during his rookie year. If he continues to raise eyebrows on the offensive end in addition to that, he could be a ROY candidate by season’s end.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
I wouldn’t be the first to say that Bradley Beal has been hyped a bit too much. In fact, some Washington Wizards fans may agree that the early Ray Allen comparisons are a bit much for a guy who shot just 33.9 percent from beyond the arc at Florida.
With that said, Beal doesn’t need to have an explosive season offensively to be considered a solid choice for the Wizards.
Now that the Wizards have revamped their starting lineup with Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, all they needed to round out the starting five beside John Wall in the backcourt was a solid outside shooter and all-around scorer.
Whether or not he lives up to the Ray Allen billing, Beal is the perfect fit for this Washington offense.
At the end of the day, or perhaps by the end of the season, all Beal has to do is play with effort and prove that he can efficiently knock down open looks to spread the floor for his teammates.
4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
Dion Waiters sparked the first “Wait, what?” reaction of the 2012 NBA draft. His draft stock had been skyrocketing, and many mock drafts had Waiters in the top 10, but when he went in the top five, it was a bit of a shock.
Moving forward, Waiters’ NBA career will be juxtaposed with Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond and others.
The Cavaliers hit a home run last year when they drafted Kyrie Irving first overall, but they may have struck out by gambling on the sixth man from Syracuse.
According to Terry Pluto of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Waiters showed up to summer league 10 pounds overweight and out of shape for his transition to life in the NBA. That’s not a good early sign for Cavs fans.
It doesn’t help that Waiters struggled in the summer league, often standing flat-footed on offense when he didn’t have the ball in his hands and drawing ire for his inability to play efficient defense.
It’s certainly too early to tell what the Cavs are getting with Waiters, but comparing him to Ricky Davis at this juncture is safer than the lofty comparisons to Dwyane Wade that have been circulating.
5. Thomas Robinson, Sacramento Kings
Where Dion Waiters had a lackluster NBA Summer League showing, Thomas Robinson’s was an absolute disaster.
Over the course of five summer league games, Robinson averaged 4.6 fouls and 4.8 turnovers per game while shooting just 34.4 percent from the field.
Needless to say, his consistently poor performance has to have Sacramento Kings fans on edge.
However, the NBA Summer League rarely defines what players will become during the regular season. For instance, Derrick Rose struggled during summer league play and went on to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards.
Robinson has a lot to improve upon moving forward, but his pedigree as a tenacious rebounder and the fact that he’ll be playing beside DeMarcus Cousins in the post should alleviate a great deal of the pressure during his rookie season.
Of all the players who performed poorly in the summer league, Robinson has the greatest chance to make a 180-degree turn in production when the season starts.
6. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
As I’ve previously stated, Damian Lillard has the best chance to upset Anthony Davis’ chances at winning next season’s Rookie of the Year award.
Lillard will be the starting point guard from day one. He is taking over for Raymond Felton, who had a disastrous season in Portland a year ago.
Based on playing time alone, Lillard should be a threat to win Rookie of the Year next season.
He’s a score-first point guard who has great range and an uncanny ability to penetrate to the basket and score efficiently.
Lillard is also an underrated passer, as he was relied upon for his scoring at Weber State. Having an All-Star-caliber sidekick in LaMarcus Aldridge could create a powerful dynamic duo in Portland for many years to come.
7. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
Harrison Barnes may be the most NBA-ready prospect from a purely offensive standpoint.
He never hesitates to take open shots, and he simply has a solid feel for the game of basketball.
The Golden State Warriors will likely be among the league’s most high-octane, uptempo offenses next season with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Barnes leading the way.
There should be plenty of open looks to go around, and if this group can develop solid chemistry, they could run like a well-oiled machine from the get-go.
Don’t be surprised if Barnes leads all rookies in scoring a year from now.
8. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Assuming that Terrence Ross won’t have a stellar rookie season is more of a gut feeling than anything else.
He’s quick and athletic and can shoot the ball from the perimeter. However, the NBA has seen its fair share of hyper-athletic players that haven’t translated to the level of competition in the pros (see: Terrence Williams).
Ross should play an important role on an upstart Toronto Raptors team next season. However, with the addition of Kyle Lowry to run the offense with Jose Calderon coupled with the $20 million dollar signing of Landry Fields, Ross may be relegated to a sixth man role as the best-case scenario.
Ross should have some impressive performances strewn with some average and below-average showings. For that reason, his rookie year may be a mere stepping stone on the way to the remainder of his NBA career.
9. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
It wasn’t until the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft that the reward associated with Andre Drummond outweighed the risk that he may become a bust.
The fact that Drummond slid until the ninth pick in the draft shouldn’t come as a huge red flag considering that other talented NBA big men have been drafted at around the same range.
Amar’e Stoudemire was drafted ninth overall by the Phoenix Suns, and Andrew Bynum was drafted 10th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, for example.
The comparison between those two is night and day. Stoudemire won the Rookie of the Year award with the Suns, while Bynum only played 7.3 minutes per game during his rookie year.
So will Drummond be the next Stoudemire? Will he bloom late like Bynum and take a few seasons to reach his potential? Perhaps he’ll be the next Darko Milicic or Kwame Brown and never live up to the hype at all.
Drummond could be a terrific NBA talent a few years down the road, but I think he’s too raw at this stage to have a breakout season as a rookie. However, his presence should help Greg Monroe a great deal.
10. Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets
Austin Rivers has no shortage of confidence and swagger. He fully believes in his abilities to play at the highest level and isn’t afraid to take clutch shots during huge moments.
However, Rivers will be asked to play point guard next season for the New Orleans Hornets after they matched the Phoenix Suns’ max offer sheet to keep Eric Gordon in town.
Rivers may be capable of playing the point guard position, but his skills as a pure shooter hint that he’d be better suited as a shooting guard at the NBA level.
Considering that Gordon is better suited as a score-first guard and Rivers’ ideal play style isn’t as a willing passer, the Hornets could have a case of dueling banjos on their hands.
Rivers may have been better off spending another year in school to develop his game, but as a cocky and confident shooter, he has the reputation needed to succeed in the NBA down the road.
His rookie year, however, may prove to be a struggle.
11. Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers
Meyers Leonard has something you can’t teach: height.
As a shorter guy, I had to work my rear end off for every point I scored, so I know that fact quite well.
Even though he has the ideal frame for an NBA center (although he could afford to pack on some muscle), Leonard is still a raw basketball talent.
He has soft hands around the basket, decent footwork and great passing ability for a guy his size. However, getting acclimated to the level of competition in the NBA is often more of a process for big men.
Playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge in the post should aid Leonard’s NBA development, but it could still take the former Illinois skyscraper a few years to grow into himself as a player, especially since he was never dominant at the collegiate level.
12. Jeremy Lamb, Houston Rockets
Jeremy Lamb took a lot of flak prior to the NBA draft for his interesting interview persona (see video).
As a result of viewing his expressions over and over again on YouTube, the nickname “Sleepy” suits the former UConn Husky.
All joking aside, Lamb is one of the most dynamic scorers of this year’s rookie class. The only factor hindering his chances of putting up huge numbers is that Kevin Martin is still on the Houston Rockets’ roster.
Martin is entering the final year of his current contract though, and he could certainly be moved via trade to open up a starting job for Lamb.
Now that the Rockets have officially missed out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, they need to embrace the youth movement to the best of their ability. Allowing Lamb to flourish without being buried on the depth chart would be a good first step toward achieving that goal.
13. Kendall Marshall, Phoenix Suns
As a Phoenix Suns fan, I can tell you with complete honesty that I haven’t been thrilled with the franchise’s lackluster drafting prowess.
With that said, the choice of Kendall Marshall this year is a step in the right direction.
He’s a pass-first point guard with vastly underrated scoring abilities (he just never looked to score at North Carolina because his game is so unselfish).
However, knowing the general trend associated with rookies in the Suns’ coaching staff, it’s unlikely that Marshall will get much time to shine.
When Steve Nash left for the Los Angeles Lakers, it appeared as if the starting point guard job was Marshall’s for the taking. The Suns, however, went out and signed former Sun Goran Dragic, who will undoubtedly receive the bulk of the minutes as the starting point guard.
Marshall could still be efficient in limited time as a rookie, but if he struggles, Sebastian Telfair is waiting in the wings to take over the backup point guard spot.
Bassy did so last year, snagging the backup job away from Ronnie Price midseason. Don’t be surprised if Marshall finds himself struggling to get consistent minutes behind Dragic.
14. John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks
Leading up to the NBA draft, I was one of John Henson’s critics. His physical frame could be compared to Stinky Peterson from Hey Arnold, and he failed to show significant year-to-year improvement during his time at North Carolina, even digressing in a few stats.
However, that outlook has changed a bit since the draft. Henson may have found himself the perfect landing spot with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Having traded away Andrew Bogut, who was the Bucks’ only true interior defender, the Bucks needed to add size in the post in order to compensate for that loss.
They went out and traded for Sam Dalembert to fill the void at center, and then Henson fell into their laps at No. 14 on draft night.
Henson may not be a physical hulk, but with his lengthy physique and shot-blocking skills, he’s been described as a poor man’s version of Anthony Davis.
Henson could have some trouble competing with buffer NBA athletes, but he could still find a niche as a shot-blocking help defender who will help the Bucks protect the rim.
15. Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic
Maurice Harkless was one of the main pieces sent to Orlando via the four-team Dwight Howard deal, but given how poor that deal was for the Magic, that isn’t saying much.
There are some aspects of the rookie’s game to be excited about, but Harkless is buried on the Magic’s depth chart at the moment.
The Magic still have Hedo Turkoglu and Quentin Richardson on the roster at the small forward spot. Both players are earning a ton of money next season, so benching them in favor of the rookie may simply be a waste.
Since the Magic also have incoming rookie Andrew Nicholson on the roster, who will likely get a fair share of playing time at power forward, don’t be surprised if Harkless gets bumped further down the bench to accommodate the likes of Glen Davis and Al Harrington.
Harkless is a humble kid with the right attitude and work ethic, but Orlando’s grab-bag of players at the same position could stifle his growth as a rookie.
16. Royce White, Houston Rockets
Royce White has become a bit of an oddity in NBA circles.
Some NBA scouts projected White as a top-10 talent, but his anxiety issues highlighted by a fear of flying dropped him down some draft boards.
The Houston Rockets gambled with White at No. 16 overall, and I don’t suspect they’ll regret it.
This summer, Houston allowed both Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic to slip through their fingers in favor of signing Jeremy Lin to a back-loaded "poison pill" contract.
The youngster from Harvard certainly made a name for himself last season; there’s no denying his fantastic run. However, the small sample size and the undeniable fact that Lin was turnover-prone even on his best nights needs to be a concern.
White can fit in with the Rockets as the unorthodox, yet usually effective, point forward. If he can take some of the passing duties away from J-Lin so Lin can operate on offense by scoring the ball, White could become a valuable piece in Kevin McHale’s offense.
17. Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers
Tyler Zeller isn’t a “boom” on the basis that he’s going to come in and tear up the NBA. He isn’t going to put up eye-popping numbers and could be relegated to a role as a backup big man on a solid team.
However, in the middle of the first round, that’s not a bad guy to add.
The Cavaliers had to trade draft picks in order to acquire Zeller, but he’s a high-motor guy who is going to give a team maximum effort.
Zeller may not play huge minutes, but he should be efficient when he gets court time.
18. Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
Terrence Jones may draw comparisons to a lot of underachieving NBA small forwards who have been taken in the mid-first round: Austin Daye, Earl Clark, Terrence Williams, Al Thornton, etc.
However, Jones had a very solid collegiate career at Kentucky and could come into the league with a huge chip on his shoulder after falling all the way to No. 18 in the draft.
Jones is an athletic southpaw who may have the most NBA-ready body in the entire draft class.
He has size, skills, athleticism and opportunity. In short, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t succeed at the NBA level.
How about that, Rockets fans? Three-for-three. That makes up for losing Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola and not getting Dwight Howard, right?
19. Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic
Leading up to the 2012-13 NBA season, Andrew Nicholson is my dark-horse candidate for Rookie of the Year.
He has a solid post game and can rebound the ball, block shots and even step out and knock down three-pointers at a steady clip.
Nicholson’s success as a rookie will come down to playing time. With Dwight Howard out of the picture, Nicholson could step in and take the reins as the premier post player in Orlando.
However, the additions of Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and Gustavo Ayon create quite a logjam with Orlando’s post presences. And that’s not even counting Glen Davis, who may be the Magic’s best player moving forward.
Nicholson should shine if he gets the court time to display his wide array of skills, but if he doesn’t get a shot behind the veterans, he could have a very forgettable year.
20. Evan Fournier, Denver Nuggets
Evan Fournier is just 19 years old. Although it’s not uncommon for young NBA players to succeed (see: Irving, Kyrie), there’s often more of a learning curve with foreign-born players.
Not only will Fournier have to deal with the culture shock of living in a new country, but he’ll have to play against the best competition in basketball.
In my opinion, Fournier would be much better suited spending a couple more years in Europe, honing his skills. That mantra worked very well with Ricky Rubio, Luis Scola and others, so why fix what isn’t broken?
Well, according to Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post, Nuggets’ director of scouting Mike Bratz has the impression that Fournier wants to make the leap to the NBA next season.
I think that this decision is a mistake and that Fournier will struggle to adapt to the NBA. But I’d love for him to prove me wrong, because the Nuggets, at least on paper, will be a fun team to watch.
21. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
Jared Sullinger is going to a winning team. He’ll be mentored by the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He could have been a top-six pick if he wasn’t medically red-flagged for a back issue leading up to the draft, and the great Doc Rivers will be coaching him.
What am I missing?
Sullinger may not be able to put up Rookie of the Year-type numbers next season since he’s playing behind a future Hall of Famer in Garnett and a solid NBA player in Brandon Bass, but Sully should fit in perfectly as a young role player on a winning squad (a la DeJuan Blair as a rookie with the San Antonio Spurs).
You can be sure that Sullinger will remember exactly which teams passed on him in the draft this year. My guess is that he’ll make them pay via the box score.
22. Fab Melo, Boston Celtics
At this juncture, Fab Melo is a one-trick pony. He’s a solid interior defender who is known for blocking shots. But having one steady skill doesn’t usually lend itself to a breakout rookie season in the NBA.
Yes, Melo will be under the tutelage of Garnett, Bass and Doc Rivers. However, he will have a steep learning curve coming into the NBA after a brief collegiate career.
He never asserted much dominance at the collegiate level, and he got suspended while at Syracuse for academic reasons, according to USA Today.
Meyers Leonard was earlier labeled a “bust” for his rookie season, and I believe Melo to be an inferior talent. Because of this, he has the “bust” label until further notice.
Danny Ainge made the right choice with Sullinger, but Melo is still a huge question mark.
23. John Jenkins, Atlanta Hawks
Speaking of one-trick ponies…
Well, John Jenkins may bring more to the table than Fab Melo on the basis that he’s a lights-out shooter, but that’s still his one trick.
In the past, the NBA has seen great shooters fizzle out and become irrelevant. Luther Head, Salim Stoudamire and Acie Law are just a few of the names that come to mind (and two of those three actually played for the Atlanta Hawks…hmm).
Anyway, Jenkins will have to fight for playing time behind Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson.
Could he come into a game and knock down some shots? Sure.
However, the chances that Jenkins gets enough playing time to make a splash amongst the veterans who have already proven their worth seems remote at best.
24. Jared Cunningham, Dallas Mavericks
I watched Jared Cunningham play a lot in college. He appears to be the kind of talent that puts up some legitimate numbers at the collegiate level but just doesn’t translate well to the NBA.
The chances he gets much playing time on a Dallas Mavericks team that already has Darren Collison, Rodrigue Beaubois, Delonte West, Vince Carter, O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones manning the guard spots seem mighty slim.
Cunningham will likely be relegated to minutes in garbage time, since he’s smothered on the depth chart by a slew of capable guards.
25. Tony Wroten Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Tony Wroten Jr. could have stayed another year in college to add more to his basketball repertoire. If he did so, he may have been a top-10 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
Instead, Wroten decided to leave school after his freshman year for the perks of the NBA. He still got drafted in the first round, but some negatives prevented him from being a lottery pick.
First off, Wroten is a bit of a tweener, as he doesn’t have a defined niche as a point guard or shooting guard. He’s great at penetrating to the basket and scoring inside, but his offensive game is extremely limited outside of that skill.
Last year, Wroten shot just 16.1 percent from beyond the arc at Washington. His range was all but nonexistent, but his performance at the charity stripe is worse. Wroten shot a pathetic 58.3 percent from the free-throw line as a college freshman. This means he’d be close to competing for the title of worst free-throw shooter in the NBA…as a guard.
If Wroten wants to lead a team in the future and have the ball in his hands during crunch time, he can’t be making just 58 percent of his foul shots.
26. Miles Plumlee, Indiana Pacers
I was not a fan of this selection, and I’m not in the minority.
Sure, Plumlee will hustle and grab some rebounds, but outside of that, he may never contribute much to an NBA franchise.
Plumlee’s job will likely be to back up star big man Roy Hibbert, but the Pacers traded for Ian Mahinmi this summer to have that job at $16 million over four years. He could back up David West at power forward, but that position is filled by the high motor of Tyler Hansbrough.
Plumlee brings a sense of toughness now that Jeff Foster has retired, but his playing time will undoubtedly be limited behind other players on the current roster.
27. Arnett Moultrie, Philadelphia 76ers
Arnett Moultrie could end up as one of the steals of this draft. The fact that he fell all the way to No. 27 on the draft board was rather head-scratching in my opinion, but I’m sure scouts have their reasons.
As a 6’10” power forward, Moultrie’s ability to spread the floor with his three-point shot draws comparisons to Rashard Lewis.
Will he be a poor man’s version of Lewis or a rich man’s version? Well, Moultrie appears to be the superior rebounder by comparison, but he’s also an unproven rookie.
The 76ers have Andrew Bynum, Spencer Hawes, Kwame Brown and Lavoy Allen on the depth chart, so Moultrie will have to win over Doug Collins and the coaching staff to carve out a niche amongst that grouping.
A few years down the road, Moultrie could emerge as a solid option on the Sixers, but the outlook for his rookie year isn’t great.
28. Perry Jones, Oklahoma City Thunder
Perry Jones was widely considered as a lottery pick leading up to the draft, but he fell all the way to the end of the first round for a variety of reasons. The Oklahoma City Thunder snatched him up.
It’s a great fit for Jones to be able to learn from Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, but with so many teams passing on him, there had to have been a skeleton in the closet we don’t know about.
Anyway, Jones won’t get the bulk of the playing time in OKC considering that Durant and Ibaka are both All-Star-caliber players playing ahead of him on the depth chart. However, Jones could show his athletic ability in short stints and carve out a nice niche with a team contending for a championship next season.
Will he have a dynamic rookie year? Probably not. Will he be able to contribute to a winning team by adding his skills to the roster? Certainly.
29. Marquis Teague, Chicago Bulls
During the regular season last year, the Chicago Bulls had an 18-9 record when Derrick Rose was missing in action due to injury.
A big reason for that was not only the supporting cast led by Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, but also the backup point guards on the roster: C.J. Watson and John Lucas III.
Both of the backup point guards from last year are now gone. The Bulls replaced the pair with a familiar face in Kirk Hinrich and a rookie in Marquis Teague.
Those two players have a lot of pressure on their shoulders, considering D-Rose will miss a chunk of the year recovering from an ACL tear.
If they don’t come out of the dust cloud with a record higher than .500, they won’t help build their fanbase in Chicago.
With so much pressure, Teague may struggle to find traction in his first NBA season. Don’t expect the Bulls to be as consistent without Rose this season.
30. Festus Ezeli, Golden State Warriors
Festus Ezeli has an NBA-ready body, but his skills on the court have some catching up to do.
The Golden State Warriors had a great first round in 2012 by grabbing Ezeli and Harrison Barnes. However, unlike Barnes, Ezeli will be relegated to a backup role, whereas Barnes can flourish with a starting job.
When Andrew Bogut gets injured (yes, “when,” not “if”), Ezeli will see a bigger role and may even start a few games. He could play steady basketball in that role, but the Warriors will be better off if he’s limited to learning the game on the bench behind Bogut and playing in short stints as a defensive stopper.
A few years down the road, he could develop into a monster on both ends of the floor. As a rookie though, Ezeli is better off busting his butt in practice and learning the NBA game from coaches.