We have already heard so much hullabaloo about the 2014 NBA Draft, even though it's a long 10 months away. Andrew Wiggins is the most touted high school wing prospect since LeBron James, and the rest of the draft class is expected to be loaded with future All-Stars. Given the explosion of internet coverage the last few years, we are bound to see an incredible amount of news and opinions concerning the top prospects, and probably a frightening amount of hyperbole.
All this is well and good, but I can't help but feel that we are going to be hearing too much blather about this draft, and not enough facts. The truth of the matter is that it is very hard to know how good a draft class will be, and that there are few guarantees.
That is not to say that I think this draft, or Wiggins, will disappoint us. It is just that people sometimes put too much of a label on something - in this case the extolled 2014 NBA Draft - and then are not patient enough to let it play out.
Most future stars are not immediately great right out of the gate. Superior prospects that turn into great NBA players usually take a few years to develop, and that transitional process can often be painful for a team. Teams like the 76ers, Suns, Magic, Bobcats and Celtics are currently going through obvious rebuilding processes, where they are trying to develop through talented youth. The developmental progress of such teams might look very ugly - and may cost coaches and executives their jobs, even if they are doing the right thing.
Often prospects who we think will be great end up being only good, and sometimes we undervalue a prospect who turns out to be an All-Star. Development is a tricky and uncertain thing, and if we are banking too much on a particular draft class to "save" a franchise, then in the very least we need to be patient. And we should fully understand that our expectations might be misguided.
Which brings us back to Wiggins. When a high school prospect is as highly regarded as Wiggins has been, he is almost certain to be good. Although the college basketball season is not even close to starting, Wiggins very likely will be the #1 pick in next year's draft. That is high praise for a wing prospect.
If Wiggins turns into a superstar, becoming a perennial first team All-NBA player, then it is unlikely another player in the 2014 Draft will join him in this elite stratosphere. That is not a bad thing, and at the same time it is worth noting that it is rare for two of the absolute best players in the league to be drafted in the same year. The one recent exception is the 2003 Draft, which the class of 2014 seems likely to be annoyingly compared to for the foreseeable future.
Let's look at the 9 best NBA players drafted from 1995 through 2007. These are the true "franchise-changing" players that Wiggins someday hopes to join:
1995: Kevin Garnett (drafted 5th)
1996: Kobe Bryant (13th)
1997: Tim Duncan (1st)
1998: Dirk Nowitzki (9th)
2003: LeBron James (1st) & Dwyane Wade (5th)
2004: Dwight Howard (1st)
2005: Chris Paul (4th)
2007: Kevin Durant (2nd)
This is an interesting list, and in my mind nicely simplifies things for us. The first 6 players have all been the best player on championship teams, and perennial top 5 players. Howard for a long stretch was the most dominant center in the league, and still might be. Chris Paul is maybe the best normal sized point guard ever. And Durant is clearly one of the best players of the last 15 years.
The point, simply, is that lightning does not usually strike twice in a draft class, and often it does not strike at all when it comes to drafting the best of the best. A draft class can be full of stars - like in 1999 when 9 future All-Stars were drafted - and still have no perennial superstars. That's obviously not a problem, but to hang too much hope on one "normal" star prospect developing and transforming a franchise is a little too risky for me.
Drafting well is the most important thing an executive can do to make his team better, but you usually need a few good drafts to truly turn a franchise around. So while the class of 2014 sounds great, let's not get too jacked about what it could mean for a franchise, and instead let the process develop organically. Even superstars - like Garnett, Duncan, Bryant, Nowitzki, James and Wade - needed a lot of help before they could become champions. This is doubly true for great players who are not quite on that elite level. Yes, there are probably at least a few tremendous players in this upcoming draft, but finding them and developing them successfully will take both time and luck.