The NBA Draft: Perception Isn’t Reality

The media doesn’t often come to a consensus, but regarding this year’s NBA Draft class, there seems to be widespread agreement: it blows. From bloggers to radio show hosts to television pundits, everyone is saying this could be the weakest draft class in years.

“I tend to think that there’s so much media out there that there’s no way we’re going to think just one way,” says basketball analyst Jay Bilas. “Sometimes it pays to be contrarian in the media. [But] you just don’t hear the contrary view this year.”

As Bilas is quick to point out, just because the media is in agreement doesn’t mean it’s predictions will prove correct. Unfortunately, it will be years before we know for sure whether this class is as bad as it is hyped up to be.

One thing we can do now, however, is take a look back at previous classes that had a bad reputation heading into the draft and see how they panned out…

Excitement was limited leading into the 2000 NBA Draft. Mateen Cleaves had just finished his career at Michigan State by leading his squad to its second title in school history, but nobody was calling him the next Magic Johnson.

“I don’t think it’s an extremely strong draft,” Chris Wallace told The Spectator’s Sam Martin in 2000. “I don’t know who is a franchise player out of it. You can’t have a real blockbuster draft without franchise players.”

Kenyon Martin had just finished up at Cincinnati and was slotted to be the first overall pick. But the hype surrounding Martin and his future was subdued.

“I don’t remember anybody comparing him to Kareem, or saying that he was going to be a dominant force in the league,” says Bilas. “That was kind of the last time a draft class didn’t have a lot of buzz.”

As predicted, the 2000 NBA Draft class has been largely a dud. It produced just three All-Star players – tied for the fewest of any draft class from 1995 to 2005 – and zero players who reached multiple All-Star games.

Despite its overwhelming mediocrity, a handful of players emerged from the class to lead successful careers. Hedo Turkoglu was picked by the Spurs at 16, Michael Redd was drafted in the second round by the Bucks, and Mike Miller went at five to the Magic. (Finals heroes Brian Cardinal and DeShawn Stevenson were also drafted in 2000).

Although it’s still early to evaluate the 2006 Draft class, it also wasn’t expected to produce league-altering players. It was the first draft with the NBA’s new age minimum so high school seniors Kevin Durant and Greg Oden were restricted from the draft.

“There was no consensus No. 1 pick that year,” says Bilas. “There were a lot of question marks about a lot of players. That draft wasn’t as good or as deep.”

The Toronto Raptors settled on Andrea Bargnani, a 20-year-old Italian, at No. 1. The seven footer has since posted 15.1 points per game during his career with the Raptors.

While a number of the lottery picks from the 2006 draft – such as Patrick O’Bryant, Mouhamed Sene, and Adam Morrison – have had terrible starts, some stars have emerged from the class. LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy were picked in the top 10 while Rajon Rondo and Paul Millsap were snagged with later picks.

The moral of the story? Stars can be found in every draft class – even ones as weak as the class of 2011.

“This doesn’t look like the best of classes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be some really good players that come out of it,” says Bilas. “There just aren’t as many sure things as we’re used to seeing.”

Who from this draft class do you think will be an All-Star?

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