2013 Draft Class Forecasts: Ballers or Busts?

The 2013 NBA Draft hit some epic highs for entertainment. Anthony Bennett came out of nowhere for the most stunning No. 1 pick in recent memory. Nerlens Noel slid out of the top 5. David Stern, in final draft before retiring, hit his “charming d-bag” peak. There were trades galore. Thursday night was one for the ages.

But now, with all the melodrama behind us, we’re left with actual players. And that’s when this thing gets depressing, given that this is undoubtedly the weakest draft class of the new millenium. Or are we allowing the lack of a LeBron James (or Andrew Wiggins) to mess with our heads?

A precedent has been set for every pick, based on picks at that number in previous years. There’s always context – the big one being which players are still available at the time of a pick. But, five years from now, when you look at Cody Zeller (the most inexplicable pick of the lottery), judge him by previous No. 4 picks before you designate him a bust.

Folks hear "lottery pick" and jump to the conclusion that any player taken in the lottery — no matter if he's a No. 5 or No. 13 pick — should be a star. But that’s not true. You just have to do your research for the reality smack. Russell Westbrook is not a steal because he’s better than we thought he’d be; he’s a steal because he’s outperformed the majority of No. 5 picks. Meanwhile, a dude like Tim Thomas was not a bust. His career falls somewhere in the middle of the pack for No. 7s.

The lottery shakes down like this: You should realistically expect a top-five pick to be a star or one of the two best players on a playoff team; Nos. 6-10 should be career starters with, perhaps, a couple All-Star "caliber" seasons; and picks 11-14 should be either career starters, significant rotation players or specialists.

This year will not be remembered as a deep draft, which is the exact opposite of last year’s crop of studs or the famous 2003 and 1996 classes. But with the Draft in the books, it’s time to look at the lottery picks, set some realistic expectations and predict if we'll be calling any of the young fellas “busts” five years from now.

(Note: Previous picks are in parenthesis listed chronologically, starting in 1995, the year the NBA expanded to its current 29 teams and began organically morphing into the lotteries we see now, dominated by 18- and 19-year-olds) …

1) Anthony Bennett, CLEVELAND

(Joe Smith, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Michael Olowokandi, Elton Brand, Kenyon Martin, Kwame Brown, Yao Ming, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis)

Best Case : Game-changers, like A.I., Duncan and LeBron.

Worst Case : Olowokandi-Brown, busts.

Realistic Expectation : Bennett could remind me of David West. If he sticks around in Cleveland and develops some chemistry with Kyrie Irving, he could become a pick-n-pop demon. But is he mean like West? I guess the Cavs get the physicality from Anderson Varejao and are looking to get some firepower from Bennett.

Good Pick?: It’s the most curious No. 1 pick in my lifetime. I’m confident Bennett will not be the best player in this draft class.

2) Victor Oladipo, ORLANDO

(Antonio McDyess, Marcus Camby, Keith Van Horn, Mike Bibby, Steve Francis, Stromile Swift, Tyson Chandler, Jay Williams, Darko Milicic, Emeka Okafor, Marvin Williams, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, Evan Turner, Derrick Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist)

Best Case : Kevin Durant.

Worst Case : Darko Thabeet (the new name for busts).

Realistic Expectation : Jay Bilas, whose opinion I hold in very high esteem, says Oladipo is a can’t miss. Not a can’t miss star, but a can’t miss player of value. Some compare him to Dwyane Wade. No one is claiming he’s going to have a top-25-of-all-time career, like Wade, but he blossomed late in his college career as an undersized, athletic two-guard.

Good Pick?: Based on the talent pool, sure. Every team needs elite perimeter defenders.

3) Otto Porter, WASHINGTON

(Jerry Stackhouse, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Chauncey Billups, Raef Lafrentz, Baron Davis, Darius Miles, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy, Carmelo Anthony, Ben Gordon, Deron Williams, Adam Morrison, Al Horford, OJ Mayo, James Harden, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Bradley Beal)

Best Case : All-NBAers Williams and Anthony.

Worst Case : Adam Morrison.

Realistic Expectation : Remember Derrick McKey? He played on those frisky Reggie Miller Pacers squads and had a couple good seasons with Gary Payton in Seattle, too. He was a semi-versatile two-way forward. That’s how I see Porter’s career developing. He’ll definitely be a big-minute starter for most of his career. Maybe the more contemporary example would be fellow Hoya Jeff Green.

Good Pick?: The Wizards got their guy.

4) Cody Zeller, CHARLOTTE

(Rasheed Wallace, Stephon Marbury, Antonio Daniels, Antawn Jamison, Lamar Odom, Marcus Fizer, Eddy Curry, Drew Gooden, Chris Bosh, Shaun Livingston, Chris Paul, Tyrus Thomas, Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook, Tyreke Evans, Wesley Johnson, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters)

Best Case : All-NBAers Bosh, Westbrook and Paul.

Worst Case : Busts, like Fizer, and underwhelming performers, like Thomas.

Realistic Expectation : Zeller will not be an All-NBA fixture. People have been bandying about Dirk Nowitzki stretch-four comparisons, but, please, gimme plenty breaks. If you can’t dominate college as a 7-footer, ish ain’t changing in the pros.

Good Pick?: Aye yai yai, MJ.

5) Alex Len, PHOENIX

(Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Tony Battie, Vince Carter, Jonathan Bender, Mike Miller, Jason Richardson, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Dwyane Wade, Devin Harris, Raymond Felton, Shelden Williams, Jeff Green, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, DeMarcus Cousins, Jonas Valanciunas, Thomas Robinson)

Best Case : All-NBAers Garnett, Wade, Love and perennial All-Stars Allen and Carter.

Worst Case : Tskitishvili and Williams.

Realistic Expectation : My gut tells me Len will be a career starter, but there’s a little “playing overseas in five years,” too.

Good Pick?: Len will not be the fifth-best player in this draft.

6) Nerlens Noel, NEW ORLEANS (sent to Philly)

(Bryant Reeves, Antoine Walker, Wally Szczerbiak, DerMarr Johnson, Shane Battier, Dajuan Wagner, Chris Kaman, Josh Childress, Martell Webster, Brandon Roy, Yi Jianlian, Danilo Gallinari, Jonny Flynn, Ekpe Udoh, Jan Vesely, Damian Lillard)

Best Case : All-Stars Roy and Walker and borderline All-Star Kaman.

Worst Case : Forgotten entities Johnson and Wagner.

Realistic Expectation : I think Noel could easily have a Marcus Camby career. Will he have a better career than Jrue Holiday? Well, that’s another issue.

Good Pick?: Anytime the presumed No. 1 pick drops to No. 6, it’s a good pick. Based on the precedent set by previous players drafted in this spot, Noel will likely overachieve.

7) Ben McLemore, SACRAMENTO

(Damon Stoudamire, Lorenzen Wright, Tim Thomas, Jason Williams, Richard Hamilton, Chris Mihm, Eddie Griffin, Nene, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Charlie Villanueva, Randy Foye, Corey Brewer, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, Greg Monroe, Bismack Biyombo, Harrison Barnes)

Best Case : Curry and “All-Stars when on a great team,” like Hamilton, Deng. Jury’s still out on Gordon and Monroe, but they seem to be studs.

Worst Case : Griffin.

Realistic Expectation : All-Star written all over him. The Ray Allen comparisons make sense…Well, some sense. A hallmark of Ray’s game is his aggressiveness and his knack for coming up big in the biggest moments. McLemore was a little passive in college, whereas Ray was hitting game-winners in Big East tournaments against Iverson.

Good Pick?: I feel for every kid drafted by Sacramento, which is, by far, the most rudderless franchise in the league.

8) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, DETROIT

(Shawn Respert, Kerry Kittles, Adonal Foyle, Larry Hughes, Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, DeSagana Diop, Chris Wilcox, T.J. Ford, Rafael Araujo, Channing Frye, Rudy Gay, Brandan Wright, Joe Alexander, Jordan Hill, Al-Farouq Aminu, Brandon Knight, Terrence Ross)

Best Case : Potential All-Star, Gay

Worst Case : Quick-exit players, like Respert.

Realistic Expectation : The Pistons got a nice chip here in Brandon Knight a couple years ago. This was a measured pick from Joe Dumars, since it’s unlikely he’s expecting for Pope to turn into a star.

Good Pick?: The expectation here should be getting a starter; so, yeah.

9) Trey Burke, MINNESOTA (sent to Utah)

(Ed O’Bannon, Samaki Walker, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Joel Przybilla, Rodney White, Amar’e Stoudemire, Mike Sweetney, Andre Iguodala, Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant, Joakim Noah, D.J. Augustin, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker, Andre Drummond)

Best Case : All NBAers T-Mac, Dirk, Stoudemire, and even borderline All-Stars Iguodala and Noah. (The No. 9 spot is somewhat of an aberration.)

Worst Case : Invisible men, like O’Bryant.

Realistic Expectation : This is my favorite player in the draft. I see Derrick Rose in his game. I see Tony Parker in his game. He’s knocked for his size, but Chris Paul is a shrimp, too. I hate that he went to Utah, because Utah is such a boring, non-entity franchise. By the time Burke flees for greener pastures in four years, he’ll be an All-Star.

Good Pick?: Steal of the lottery, in my opinion.

10) C.J. McCollum, PORTLAND

(Kurt Thomas, Erick Dampier, Danny Fortson, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Kenyon Dooling, Joe Johnson, Caron Butler, Jarvis Hayes, Luke Jackson, Andrew Bynum, Mouhamed Sene, Spencer Hawes, Brook Lopez, Brandon Jennings, Paul George, Jimmer Fredette, Austin Rivers)

Best Case : A Hall of Famer, like Pierce, is an aberration. Periodic All-Stars Johnson and Butler were steals, and Lopez and Jennings look to be on that path, too.

Worst Case : Sene and Jackson

Realistic Expectation : He could be a Jason Terry-type — a streaky, smallish off-guard. Portland’s got a nice young backcourt brewing.

Good Pick?: I won’t front and say I’m keenly tuned into this kid’s game. He won’t be as good as his predecessors at this pick, but that’s not his fault.

11) Michael Carter-Williams, PHILADELPHIA

(Gary Trent, Todd Fuller, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Bonzi Wells, Trajan Langdon, Jerome Moiso, Kendrick Brown, Jared Jeffries, Mickael Pietrus, Andris Biedrins, Fran Vasquez, JJ Reddick, Acie Law, Jerryd Bayless, Terrence Williams, Cole Aldrich, Klay Thompson, Meyers Leonard)

Best Case : An All-Star.

Worst Case : The string of busts listed above.

Realistic Expectation : Trading Jrue Holiday will remain the most puzzling move of the draft. Other than Rose, Curry and Irving, Jrue is the best young point guard in the game. He was an All-Star at the age of 22. But, MCW has a high ceiling, so, when the sixers nabbed him at 11, the Holiday trade made a little more sense. You know what doesn’t grow on trees? Six-foot-six point guards.

Good Pick?: Heck yeah. The Holiday trade takes some sheen off the pick, but, in a flimsy draft, it’s a shocker to get a player this good at 11.

12) Steven Adams, OKLAHOMA CITY

(Cherokee Parks, Vitaly Potapenko, Austin Croshere, Michael Doleac, Aleksandar Radojevic, Etan Thomas, Vladimir Radmanovic, Melvin Ely, Nick Collison, Robert Swift, Yaroslav Korolev, Hilton Armstrong, Thaddeus Young, Jason Thompson, Gerald Henderson, Xavier Henry, Alec Burks, Jeremy Lamb)

Best Case : A career starter.

Worst Case : Someone like Radojevic who’s barely played 20 games during his career.

Realistic Expectation : I have never seen this young man play one second of basketball. OKC has proven to be terrific talent scouts, though, so it bodes well for Adams’ future.

Good Pick?: OKC brass has earned our trust.

13) Kelly Olynyk, DALLAS (sent to Boston)

(Corliss Williamson, Kobe Bryant, Derek Anderson, Keon Clark, Corey Maggette, Courtney Alexander, Richard Jefferson, Marcus Haislip, Marcus Banks, Sebastian Telfair, Sean May, Thabo Sefolosha, Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, Tyler Hansbrough, Ed Davis, Markieff Morris, Kendall Marshall)

Best Case : Productive starters Maggette and Jefferson (we won’t consider Kobe) or a specialist, like Sefolosha.

Worst Case : Unused cats, like Haislip.

Realistic Expectation : There’s no reason Boston shouldn’t expect for Olynyk to turn into a productive starter. If Rajon Rondo stays in town, it’ll make life much easier for the rook. If the Cs totally blow things up and ship Rondo elsewhere (those Indiana rumors were sexy), then things for Olynyk get murkier.

Good Pick?: Eh.

14) Shabazz Muhammad, UTAH (sent to Minnesota)

(Eric Williams, Peja Stojakovic, Maurice Taylor, Michael Dickerson, William Avery, Mateen Cleaves, Troy Murphy, Fred Jones, Luke Ridnour, Kris Humphries, Rashad McCants, Ronnie Brewer, Al Thornton, Anthony Randolph, Earl Clark, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, John Henson)

Best Case : Starters Brewer, Murphy, Thornton and Ridnour (Peja was an aberration).

Worst Case : D-Leaguers.

Realistic Expectation : The day after the draft, TSL deputy editor Khalid Salaam wrote the TSL-take on Bazz. “Sleep On Shabazz Muhammad at Your Own Risk.”

Good Pick?: Steal of the lottery. Meanwhile, Minny is looking like they might be the 2014 stickup kids.

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