Predicting How This Year's NBA Rookie Class Will Stack Up Against Last Season's

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2012

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 02:  Marcus Morris #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Thomas Robinson #0 during the game against the UCLA Bruins on December 2, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You might expect every rookie class to be more or less as good as the last one, but they tend to take on identities of their own.

And there's no question that, when all is said and done, some years are much stronger than others.

Without taking anything away from 2011 first-overall pick Kyrie Irving, the 2012 crop of rookies should be a step above last year's. Of course, making that kind of judgement still requires a lot of speculation. It's hard enough to know how 2011's class will turn out in five or six years, much less what will become of Anthony Davis and company.

There may not be a single rookie who matches the 18.5 points Irving scored last season, but a draft class can't be measured by the top alone.

Still, you can rest assured Anthony Davis will make some contributions that exceed those of 2011 lottery bigs like Tristan Thompson or Bismack Biyombo. There's also something to be said for a draft that yield's an elite big man as opposed to a point guard.

Guys like Davis are harder to come by than guys like Irving.

But the even more exciting thing about this season's NBA entrants is just how many of them have a chance to be really good. This summer's draft was deeper than last year's draft with potential All-Stars, even if neither draft was especially loaded with sure things.

For the record, some of the very best rising sophomores weren't taken in the lottery: Kawhi Leonard (15th), Iman Shumpert (17th), Kenneth Faried (22nd), MarShon Brooks (25th), Chandler Parsons (38th), and Isaiah Thomas (60th). Their first-year performances certainly speak well of just how deep that 2011 draft class.

They also say quite a bit about how unpredictable this whole draft endeavor is in the first place. Chances are we'll see a similar distribution of above-average non-lottery talent this year too.

The difference is that prospects like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Thomas Robinson, Damian Lillard and Harrison Barnes appear poised to make more of an impact than Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Jan Vesely.

Though 2011 late-lotto gems like Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Klay Thompson and Alec Burks have the makings of potential All-Stars, it's hard to argue they have a better shot than Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers and Jeremy Lamb.

Perhaps the most striking difference between the two drafts were the big men though.

Even after you get past Davis and Robinson, the presence of legitimate centers like Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard and Tyler Zeller sets this draft apart. You just didn't see those kinds of names on the board in 2011.

Nor did you have the opportunity to snag an elite interior defender like John Henson with the 14th pick, or grab sliding medical risks like Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III after that.

It's hard to find quality interior players in this league, but the 2012 draft might have a handful of them.

Finally, there's something to be said for the 2012 draftees that slipped just out of the lottery, namely Maurice Harkless and Terrence Jones. You could make an argument that either of these guys will wind up having a better NBA career than 2011's second-overall pick Derrick Williams.

They're long, talented and versatile–the kind of forwards who were nowhere to be found in 2011. 

Last season's rookie class is obviously still a work in progress. It's takes more than a year or two to really get a feel for a draft's ultimate legacy. That's all the more true when dealing with a draft that had so many international imports who could take some time to make names for themselves.

In other words, there's still more than enough time for 2011's prospects to prove they're here to stay.

Until they do, though, the class of 2012 looks to be the better one.