Commentary

NBA rookie class: Worst in a decade?

Updated: February 11, 2011, 6:05 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

What constitutes a bad draft?

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin isn't playing like a rookie, which makes him stand out from the other first-year players.

Is it the lack of franchise players? Few, if any, perennial All-Stars? A lottery full of busts?

I ask because lost in all of the hoopla over Blake Griffin's incredible rookie season is the fact that other NBA rookies have all but disappeared.

I bring this up because, while Griffin's a first-year player, he's not a member of the 2010 draft class.

I point all of this out because if it wasn't for Griffin, who did not play his first year because of injury, the rookie of the year award might be going to a player with the lowest scoring average since Mike Miller's 11.9 ppg "took" the honors 10 years ago. That fact is one of the reasons the 2000 draft class is considered by many to be among the worst of all time.

Now, it's too early to slap such an ugly label on the 2010 bunch, but one thing is clear: Griffin may or may not save the Clippers from futility, but he has certainly saved this year's rookies from obscurity.

"I tell you what, after John Wall there isn't another guy out there who you would call a guaranteed future All-Star, that's for sure," said one East Coast scout. "DeMarcus Cousins has put up some nice numbers recently but his attitude is still a question mark. Landry Fields is a feel-good story but he's not a future All-Star. The rest of the guys … I just don't know."

Another East Coast scout put it this way: "It was not a good year to hold a top five pick."

Ouch.

But ball don't lie.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Favors
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDerrick Favors already had his name floated in trade talks for Carmelo Anthony.

Top pick Wall has all the talent to develop into the next great point guard and is in the top 10 in assists. But as of now he's a player averaging 14.8 ppg on 40 percent shooting on a sub-.300 team, and the Washington Wizards pretty much have the same record they had a year ago. No. 2 pick Evan Turner has been struggling since the Summer League. No. 3 pick Derrick Favors has so much upside his name has already been mentioned in trade rumors.

That doesn't say exceptional talent; that screams expendable.

Only five players drafted this year are averaging 8 ppg or more. Last year there were 17. The year before that, 14. Last year's NCAA darling and Jazz lottery pick Gordon Hayward is more apt to log two minutes or less in a game (15 times) than he is to score in double figures (five).

Maybe that's why Jerry Sloan quit.

OK, that was mean.

Still, in a season in which the conversation has been dominated by LeBron James, the Heat and Carmelo Anthony, only a player who's doing something truly special could draw any of our attention for a sustainable period of time. Griffin's doing that. But if he hadn't gotten hurt in October 2009, he would have been battling Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry in an epic battle for top rookie last year. As of now there's nothing "epic" about the 2010 draftees.

"And I don't know if there will be," said a West Coast scout. "I've seen Cousins play a few times now, and I see a guy who could go either way. But at least that option's out there. Right now I see a bunch of players who would be lucky to be role players on a mediocre team."

I know what you're thinking: Maybe they're off to a slow start because they're young. Six first-rounders were one-and-done in college, while Griffin turns 22 next month. That's true, but it didn't take this long in previous seasons to see that other one-and-done players such as Anthony, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo were special. And besides, 13 other first-rounders were upperclassmen, including Naismith Player of the Year Turner. So just how old do they have to be to make an impact?

[+] EnlargeGordon Hayward
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty ImagesGordon Hayward, left, has spent plenty of minutes on the bench as a rookie.

Some may think the teams are bringing their young players along slowly, the way Portland handled Jermaine O'Neal his first four years in the league. I could see that, though as the No. 17 pick in the 1996 draft, O'Neal did not have the expectations of a lottery pick so Portland could wait. Ideally, a top-five pick should have an immediate impact. Also, that 1996 lottery featured five eventual All-Stars, and that's not including later picks Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Peja Stojakovic.

Are there any hidden gems like that in this group?

Maybe.

Experts were lukewarm heading into the 2006 draft, and only eight rookies would go on to score at least eight points a night. Fast-forward a few years and you find current franchise cornerstones Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge as well as talented players such as Rudy Gay, Paul Millsap and top pick Andrea Bargnani.

But man, were the experts right about 2000.

The draft produced no perennial All-Stars, and only Kenyon Martin and Michael Redd spent the bulk of their careers being a vital piece to a successful team. The rest of the guys were either out of the league by 25 or dubious in some other unflattering way: Eddie House playing for nine different teams in 10 years; Jamal Crawford not making the playoffs until last year; Mark Madsen dancing in public.

Will that be the fate of the 2010 guys? I sure hope not, but it's not looking so good.

Let's go watch another Griffin highlight.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

MORE COMMENTARY »

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine