One win down the stretch, one bad coin flip or one smart general manager would have prevented this from ever happening.
When the Golden State Warriors drafted Harrison Barnes in 2012, they had already won. Sure the North Carolina product hadn't set foot on an NBA court yet, but the Warriors had still landed a marquee talent—an automatic top-three pick in a typical draft year—when they could have just as easily walked away with nothing.
Barnes is now one of the most promising young players in the league, and the Warriors' future looks so much brighter now that he is in the fold.
The Warriors are not strange to young, potential-filled ballers. Along with 20 years of futility comes 20 years of high draft picks.
Of course, bad drafting also comes along with 20 years of futility, but those poor picks aren't necessarily bad rookies. Many of them are traded, fail to develop year-by-year or succumb to injuries and off-the-court issues.
The following is not a list of the five young players who went on to become the biggest stars. Rather, it is a list of the highest-potential prospects to play their rookie seasons in Oakland. The criteria are potential entering rookie season, rookie-year performance and potential after rookie season.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
Before getting into this list, some honorable (or dishonorable) mentions must be made. The following players appeared to be destined to reign over this league after the draft, but bombed during rookie campaigns.
Mike Dunleavy, Jr.- He was the No. 3 overall pick in 2002, but undrafted free agents such as Anthony Morrow and Kelenna Azubuike have shown more during their rookie seasons than Dunleavy did.
Adonal Foyle- Foyle went No. 8 in the 1997 draft and was supposed to fill a void at center for Golden State. His 3.0 PPG and 3.3 RPG as a rookie immediately changed his career outlook.
Brandan Wright- The Warriors traded away star SG Jason Richardson for PF/C Wright's draft rights. The team was horribly wrong in doing so.
Klay Thompson- Thompson's raw rookie numbers (12.5 PPG, 41.4 percent three-point shooting) are extremely impressive. In fact, the rookie shooting guard showed so much potential that the team went out and traded Monta Ellis to make room for him.
What keeps Thompson from cracking the top five is the fact that, after the Ellis trade and Stephen Curry's ankle injury, he was the go-to scorer in Golden State's backcourt—thus deflating the impressiveness of his numbers.
Donyell Marshall- The No. 4 overall pick in 1994 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Marshall came to Golden State at the trading deadline midway through his rookie season.
The forward's numbers (14.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG) were extremely strong for a rookie and earned him All-Rookie Second Team honors, but no one was ever fooled into thinking that Marshall was a star in the making.
Antawn Jamison- Clearly the Warriors were high on Antawn Jamison's potential, because they traded Vince Carter for him on draft day.
This has gone down in Warriors history as a classic blunder, but Jamison did prove his worth that year by averaging 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds.
The Warriors drafted Barnes No. 7 overall in the 2012 NBA draft, but the strength of that draft class is the only reason he fell so far. The fact is that Barnes was instantly the most hyped Warriors rookie since Stephen Curry.
Barnes went on to start 81 games and average 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds during his rookie season, helping the Warriors to the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. This was enough to earn him All-Rookie First Team honors, but his postseason performance is what cements him into this top five.
Through 12 postseason games, Barnes averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds, carrying his team offensively for long, long stretches at a time.
A 20-year-old that can win his team playoff games doesn't come around all that often.
There has never been a Golden State player more hyped than Joe Smith entering their rookie season. Smith was the first overall pick in 1995, and the 6'10 power forward was expected to turn the franchise around.
Smith showed a game developed beyond his years as a rookie, scoring 15.3 points, grabbing 8.7 rebounds and blocking 1.6 shots a night.
While he never became a star, was out of Oakland in less than three seasons and will go down in history as a draft bust, Smith was certainly one of the better Warriors prospects of all time.
Jason Richardson won a national title at Michigan State University before entering the NBA draft, so his potential was sky-high as he entered the NBA not only an accomplished athlete, but an accomplished winner and leader.
He went No. 5 overall to the Warriors in 2001. While Smith's rookie season was seen as less than stellar due to his draft standing, Richardson proved to be even better than a No. 5 pick.
His 14.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.0 APG and 1.3 SPG were certainly the numbers of a future fixture at shooting guard, but it was his all-time great performance in the Slam Dunk Contest that made him look like he could be a special player in the league.
Stephen Curry's potential was off the charts coming out of college. Not only did he lead Davidson to a magical NCAA Tournament run, but he was known as the best shooter and scorer in the 2009 NBA draft class.
He was a hot enough commodity that New York Knicks fans booed profusely when Golden State snatched him up at No. 7 just before their team could.
However, Curry's family ties, college performance and draft position say nothing of where his potential was at following his rookie season. That's because the point guard averaged 17.5 points, 5.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals on 46.2 percent FG shooting, 43.7 percent three-point shooting and 88.5 percent FT shooting.
It's a little bit frightening that a rookie put up numbers like that and didn't win Rookie of the Year, but there was no doubt in the minds of Dubs fans and other rational basketball watchers that Curry had future superstar written all over him.
Simply put, Chris Webber blows everyone else on this list out of the water.
Barnes and Smith showed All-Star-caliber promise as rookies. Richardson was that plus one, and Curry revealed that he was a superstar in the making.
Webber showed that All-Star promise plus one in college, showed superstar potential early on in his rookie year and established himself as one by the end of it.
Don't believe me? Does 17.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.2 BPG and a 55.2 FG percentage change your mind?
Sadly, Webber never realized that potential with the Warriors.
Here's to hoping that Curry, Thompson and current prodigy Barnes transcend the obstacles that eventually stopped the rest of this list from achieving greatness in a Warriors uniform.