The true value of a draft class is often measured years down the road, but that doesn't prevent us from observing the potential, skill level and talent of each year's prospects. Just as college basketball suffered from no truly great teams in 2010-11, the same could probably be said for this year's NBA draft class.
When Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Harrison Barnes decided to stay in school, three Top 10 picks essentially left the class. Add in the decision of forward Terrance Jones from Kentucky to stay and another possible lottery selection went by the wayside.
Truth is, even before these three decided to stay, there were numerous doubts of the class in general. Sullinger's game is going to be hard to translate, Perry Jones was unimpressive, Terrance Jones seemed erratic at times, and Barnes took most of his freshman year to get going.
With these players out of the draft, the 2011 class looks to be chalk with potential on top of potential. The consensus Top Five is usually a spot for future All-Stars, but this year it looks to be full of unknown futures for the most part.
Enes Kanter has been mentioned as a possible No. 1 for the past few weeks, and he remains as unproven as can be, considering he was ruled ineligible and failed to play one game at Kentucky. Regardless of where Kanter goes, I see him as an Andrew Bogut or Chris Kaman type; maybe an All-Star level player, but probably not a consistent all-pro center.
Kyrie Irving has been mentioned as a possible No. 1,, but can we really trust that he's going to show the same type of intensity, aggressiveness and decision making he displayed at Duke before he succumbed to injury last year? Irving may have the most talent and potential in the entire draft, but the little exposure leaves his future a major question.
A sure thing in the NBA draft is usually a player who combines talent and potential with experience and other important skills necessary to make it in the league. We've had guys like Blake Griffin and John Wall the past few years, and while both seem destined to live up to their high pick status, finding a sure thing in the 2011 class is going to be tough.
If there is anything close to a sure thing in this year's class, it's probably Derrick Williams from Arizona.
Compared to some of the other names floating around the lottery, Williams probably comes from the most humble background. Barely recruited as a three-star player, Williams defied expectations through hard work to become a college superstar. He does mix height with athleticism and, in some regards, is sort of a poor man's Blake Griffin. WIlliams' NBA-ready body will likely be the main reason he could contribute early.
Beyond the first few names, a couple different groups of players with some similar characteristics flood the draft.
The groups split into unknown Europeans and experienced veteran players who may not translate as well to the pro game. Beyond those groups, of course, we have the rest of the freshman class who decided to bolt after a year of college. Aside from the potential of Brandon Knight and maybe Tristan Thompson, there is little to be excited about as far as the one-and-done's go, and even that is a stretch.
Even though Kanter is from Turkey, I'll leave him out of the Euro group because I don't feel like he has as much bust potential as some of the others. While picking lengthy Europeans became a trend in the first half of the decade, the consistent busts have kept many owners away recently.
Certainly Dirk just won a title, but how many times has a European player been compared to him? Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tskitishvili come to mind as major busts right off the bat. Then you think about players like Fran Vazguez who never even made it to their respective teams.
Not to say that Jan Vesely, Jonas Valanciunas or Donatas Motiejunas fit into the mold of busts, but they all seem to match up with the common Euro Top 10 pick characteristics. Tall, long and talented shooters are the common breed coming from Europe. Aside from Bargnani, who was probably overvalued as a No. 1 pick, it has been awhile since a European player has really lived up to the expectations of a Top 10 selection.
Until the next Euro star comes along, I will continue to question whether these players have the toughness to compete and not just shoot jumpers.
The third group includes some experienced college players like Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker. While these players have lit up the stat sheet and win columns in the NCAA, their games are questioned moving to the next level. In my opinion, the most important factor in the success of these two is where they end up. Being buried with little opportunity could doom one or both of these players into a career of sitting on the bench.
For example, ending up in a place like Sacramento or Milwaukee could be troublesome for both. What kind of time would either get with Tyreke Evans or Brandon Jennings in the fold? Both could probably stand to do well in places like Charlotte, Detroit or Utah. There, they will have extended minutes early on as their confidence will likely play a large part in the translation of their games to the NBA.
When it comes down to evaluating a draft class, there is little that can be done in the first couple years. Looking at the last decade or so of classes, there is usually an average of about three players a year who attain All-Star status. The 2003 class ended up with eight and is usually regarded as the strongest in recent memory. In the end, even though this upcoming class doesn't generate a ton of excitement right now, there will probably be one or two gems who surprise down the road.
As far as the worst class in recent memory, the crown goes to the 2000 draft which was full of notable busts like Eddy Curry, Darius Miles, Stromile Swift and the forgettable Marcus Fizer. Even the three players who reached All-Star games from that class (Kenyon Martin, Michael Redd, Jamaal Magloire) were probably lucky to make the team in their respective years.
So while the 2011 class may not seem impressive on paper, the high level of potential must be sorted out over time. Lets hope for the sake of some of these franchises (Cleveland), that the high picks end up better than the Top Five selections did in 2000.