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Breaking Down The Rookie Seasons Of The 2013 Lottery Class

In a society where patience has gone out the window and only instant gratification matters, the poor play of the 2013 rookie class has many ready to write them off entirely. But while there isn’t an Anthony Davis in the bunch, this year’s draft had plenty of good young players who, for a variety of reasons, were not ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA. With so many freshman and sophomores taken in the lottery, the draft is a long-term project anyway.

If you look at this year’s lottery as a whole, one thing stands out. If a team is good enough to contend for a playoff spot, it’s hard for a rookie to get minutes. If a team is bad enough to where they can afford to give rookie a bunch of minutes, he will be putting up inefficient numbers on a bad team. From a statistical perspective, it’s hard for a rookie to be impressive in either situation. Chalk it up as a learning experience for all these guys.

1) Anthony Bennett: Pretty much nothing has gone right for Bennett since he was the surprise No. 1 pick last June. The GM who drafted him has already been fired, while shoulder surgery in the offseason caused him to show up to training camp out of shape. It was hard for him to find minutes on a Cleveland team that thought it was contending for the playoffs, and when he got on the floor, he didn’t do much besides hoist up a lot of shots and play abysmal defense.

The first thing he needs to do is get in better shape, since there aren’t many 6’8 260 forwards in the NBA. He has the talent - in college, he showed a rare combination of explosiveness, ball-handling and shooting ability for a 6’8 guy. The biggest challenge for him is learning how to impact the game without having the ball in his hands. The Cavs guards aren’t moving the ball too much - if you are going to score, you had better rebound, run the floor and move off the ball.

2) Victor Oladipo: Oladipo had a solid rookie season for a Magic team that had nothing but time to develop him. Going forward, the question is whether they commit to developing him as a PG or move him off the ball. While he has the length and athleticism to swing between both guard positions, he averaged only 4.1 assists on 3.2 turnovers as a rookie, an indication of a player not comfortable creating offense for others. Who they draft with their two lottery picks in 2014 will say a lot.

3) Otto Porter: Like Bennett, Porter hit the trifecta for a rough rookie season. He was drafted to a team with playoff aspirations, he had multiple veterans ahead of him on the depth chart and he got injured in training camp. He essentially took a redshirt season as a rookie, which isn’t the worst thing for a 20-year old who needs to put some weight on his frame. Porter has plenty of skill, the question is whether there will be minutes and touches for him in Washington next season.

4) Cody Zeller: The unexpected emergence of Josh McRoberts consigned Zeller to a small role as a rookie, playing 17 minutes a game behind McRoberts and Al Jefferson upfront. Like most rookie big men, Zeller needs to put on weight in the off-season in order to survive in the NBA paint. His 73 percent mark from the free-throw line is a good sign - he needs to be an outside-in 7’0 who plays in the high post and uses the threat of the perimeter jumper to open up the drive.

5) Alex Len: Like a lot of the guys in this year’s draft, Len was the victim of his NBA team exceeding expectations as a rookie. Instead of playing for draft position, the Suns ended up in playoff contention until the last week of the season, leaving little time to develop a raw 20-year-old lottery pick. Len is big (7’1 255), athletic and reasonably skilled and he’s five years younger than Miles Plumlee, which tells you how patient you need to be with young centers.

6) Nerlens Noel: After tearing his ACL toward the end of his freshman season at Kentucky, Noel was never going to have a big rookie season in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers took him as a long-term project and kept him off the floor the entire season. Noel showed plenty of promise at Kentucky, but he was also incredibly skinny as well as very raw on the offense. Larry Sanders didn’t start turning the corner in the NBA until he was 24 and Noel is still only 20.

7) Ben McLemore: McLemore wasn’t in Kansas anymore as a rookie, as he went from a featured role in Bill Self’s offense to scraping for shots next to Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. He’s got the stroke and athleticism to be an excellent SG in the NBA, but he has a long way to go in terms of shot selection and not too many guys to learn from in Sacramento. Going forward, he needs to focus on defense and moving the ball and the shots will come (hopefully).

8) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope got plenty of opportunities in the dumpster fire that was the Pistons season, but he didn’t do all that much with them. With Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith clogging up the paint, Caldwell-Pope had to serve as one of their main floor spacers and he shot only 30 percent from three-point territory. Like the rest of the Pistons, he would benefit from unwinding the logjam upfront and playing with more shooters around him.

9) Trey Burke: Burke broke his finger in the preseason and by the time he returned to the lineup, the Jazz season was essentially over. No rookie in this year’s class walked into more responsibility than Burke, who played 32 minutes a night in Utah and had the ball in his hands most of the time. He made the players around him better - averaging 5.6 assists on 1.9 turnovers as a rookie - he just needs more help on the offensive end from whoever Utah drafts this season.

10) CJ McCollum: Another lottery pick whose rookie season was short-circuited before it got a chance to get going. Damian Lillard and Mo Williams do everything McCollum does but better and the Trail Blazers were contending for a homecourt advantage in the playoffs for most of the season. Williams is likely gone in the off-season, but with Lillard entrenched in Portland, the question is whether McCollum is going to play next to him or be his backup.  

11) Michael Carter-Williams: One of the real surprises of this year’s rookie class, Carter-Williams had the 76ers flirting with respectability in the first few months of the season. Once they dumped Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, leaving Thaddeus Young as the only proven NBA player in the rotation, things got real bad real quickly. No rookie was going to fix that mess and a 6’6 PG with his athleticism and floor vision has a bright future ahead of him.

12) Steven Adams: The Thunder drafted the 20-year-old Adams as a project, so the respectable numbers he gave them as a backup center were a pleasant surprise. He’s a genuinely massive human being with excellent athleticism who isn’t asked to do much on the offensive end. Of course, it also helps to be replacing Kendrick Perkins. Oklahoma City is a notoriously patient franchise - they are probably grooming Adams to be the starter when Perkins contract is up in 2015.

13) Kelly Olynyk: After a dominant showing in Summer League, Olynyk was hit with a taste of reality in the NBA. While he put up good offensive numbers and he rebounded the ball well coming off the bench, he was never really in contention for ROY. The question is how he fits with Jared Sullinger upfront - does Boston need two offensive-minded big men who can’t move their feet on defense? There may not be minutes for them both long-term.

14) Shabazz Muhammad - Like fellow rookie Gorgui Dieng, Muhammad spent most of his first season with the Timberwolves from the bench watching the playoff push. In the limited minutes he did get, Muhammad showed one thing did translate from his UCLA days - this is a guy who knows how to get his FGA’s. Per-36 minutes, he took 17 FGA’s and made them at a 46 percent clip. Muhammad may never be a great defender, but he’ll be getting buckets off the bench for a long time.

10-Year NBA Win Rank Snapshot

A 10-year season-by-season Win Rank snapshot for an NBA franchise creates an insightful visual narrative.

Toronto Raptors: The quick rise of the 06-07 season ended up becoming an aberration of the Bryan Colangelo/Chris Bosh tenure. The Raptors were never able to become a contender with that roster and they have begun their climb all the way up to 11th this season without a franchise superstar, making Masai Ujiri’s job more difficult and more intriguing.

Brooklyn Nets: The Jason Kidd and Vince Carter trades set the Nets rapidly down to the bottom of the NBA and a costly roster around Deron Williams has brought them back into the top half. A continuation of their M-shaped trajectory is probable due to the nature of constructing a roster via trades and free agency instead of the draft.

New York Knicks: The Knicks haven’t had a top-5 finish since 96-97 and only did the arrivals of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony brought the Knicks out of the twenties, where they’d been in all but one season since 2002. Re-signing Carmelo probably puts them on the M-shaped path of the Nets, while pulling together a better draft pick and multiple max contract slots in 2015 would almost certainly lead to a more sustainable way forward.

Boston Celtics: Since he’s done it before, Danny Ainge appears to again be quickly letting the Celtics get very bad with the hope of getting very good in very quick fashion. The Celtics nearly snuck into The Finals in 2012 despite finishing 10th in the NBA in the lockout-shortened season, but the fairly consistent decline of Pierce/Garnett/Allen is clear in this graph.

Philadelphia 76ers: Sam Hinkie inherited a team visibly on the NBA’s infamous mediocrity treadmill and the decision to begin a full-blown rebuild makes more sense in how badly the previous models were working. The 76ers have had just two top-10 finish since 90-91, as both the Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson eras were unsuccessful in building workable title contenders around future of Hall of Famers.

Indiana Pacers: On the mediocrity treadmill coming out of the Jermaine O’Neal/Ron Artest era, the Pacers very unexpected entered the NBA’s elite with the rise of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, two players not expected to become this good going into the draft.

Chicago Bulls: Squandering their position coming out of the Eddy Curry trade with the Ben Wallace signing and the preference of Tyrus Thomas over LaMarcus Aldridge or Brandon Roy in the short-term, the Bulls shot back up to the NBA’s best with the lottery win for Derrick Rose along with the decision to hire Tom Thibodeau. The Joakim Noah part of the Curry trade is what saved the Bulls from crashing back to the NBA’s bottom third following Rose’s injuries.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The departure of LeBron James in 2010 serves as the first of several L-shaped dives. The Cavaliers’ drop from 7th to 13th after they reached The Finals in 2007 was a stronger indication of the limitations around LeBron in hindsight than we realized when they had the best record in the NBA in 08-09 and 09-10. Despite drafting first overall twice in three seasons and fourth in two of them, there is a lot of work on the roster that needs to be done before they return to the top half of the NBA.

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons were good and then they weren’t very quickly, dropping from 2nd in 07-08 to 17th in 08-09 with the Iverson for Chauncey Billups trading proving disastrous in the short-term that season and the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva with the created cap space mimicking the result in the long-term.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have been moderately up but mostly down since Don Nelson’s departure in the late eighties. With just one top-10 finish since 1989, the Bucks have been consistently average until this 15-win season.

Miami Heat: The Shaquille O’Neal/Dwyane Wade run was always going to be a short one, but the speed of the fall exceeded expectations. Wade was trapped in mediocrity before the arrivals of LeBron and Bosh in 2010.

Washington Wizards: The supposed glory days of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler looks far more modest in hindsight with 12th-15th finishes in those four seasons before injuries hit. The Wizards have been on the Thunder Model since John Wall’s arrival, but they appear to be a James Harden short with Otto Porter being their final high pick before becoming a playoff team.

Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats were unable to parlay successive seasons of high picks into more than a team with the 15th best record in the NBA and improving beyond 16th this season will be equally challenging without a pick in this class.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks escaped an eight-year run in the NBA’s cellar by jumping onto the mediocrity treadmill. Even as Danny Ferry as stripped significant portions of the roster, the Hawks have remained a playoff team somehow.

Orlando Magic: The Magic climbed steadily as Stan Van Gundy figured out how to construct a system around Dwight Howard, but they didn’t have enough young pieces to make it sustainable. When Howard was traded in 2012, the Magic predictably bottomed out altogether as part of the Thunder Model.

Los Angeles Clippers: The Brand/Cassell/Kaman run was a quick rise and fall for Mike Dunleavy, but winning the lottery in 2009 for Blake Griffin and trading for Chris Paul very quickly propelled the Clippers to the NBA’s elite strata with improvement each of their three seasons together.

Golden State Warriors: The 2007 and 2008 Warriors, built around Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and a young Monta Ellis, were high on entertainment but just slightly above average in wins. The Warriors missed the playoffs in 2008 and then fell back to the bottom third of the NBA when Davis left for the Clippers. A healthy Stephen Curry and a better overall roster gave the Warriors a quick climb to the NBA’s top-10 in each of the past two seasons.

Phoenix Suns: The first year of the graph coincides with the arrival of Steve Nash in which they had the best record in the NBA. The bounce back season in 09-10 from 13th to 5th was the final chance for Nash, as the departure oStoudemire that offseason sent them down to the bottom half.

Sacramento Kings:  The Kings were a top-8 team from 00-01 until 04-05 and this graph shows the quick fall to the bottom of the league where they have been stuck without winning a lottery to draft the type of franchise cornerstone that can turnaround the franchise.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers have the most ‘what goes up must come down’ looking graph in the entire NBA. When Shaquille O’Neal was traded in 2004, they dropped to 21st, but quickly returned to 10th in 05-06 and the Pau Gasol trade/Andrew Bynum development made them elite again.

Oklahoma City Thunder: When the Thunder Model is referred to, this is what it looks like in terms of wins. The Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis Sonics fell swiftly from a great 04-05 season to 21st in 05-06 and Sam Presti put his foot on the drowning core. Three bad seasons followed for Kevin Durant, which is even more remarkably bad in hindsight considering how great he’s become, and then their meteoric rise to a perennial top-5 team.

Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers shot up from 24th to 16th to 7th with the Brandon Roy/LaMarcus Aldridge core before injuries derailed their chance at joining the elite. The Damian Lillard/Terry Stotts arrival prevented the Blazers from needing to bottom out and trade away Aldridge.

Minnesota Timberwolves: We’re missing the L-shape franchise player departure we have seen from other clubs since this graph doesn’t include the Wolves’ 03-04 season in which they finished 2nd in the NBA in wins. Kevin Love has brought the Wolves out of the very bottom of the NBA, but several bad drafts has the team weighed down to mediocrity.

Denver Nuggets: The departure of Carmelo didn’t hurt the Nuggets in the short-term, but the absence of an All-Star talent in this past injury-filled season exposed some of the roster construction issues.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz executed a quick rebuild out of the Malone/Stockton era around Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, but they were a little short of ever reaching the top-5 despite making the 2007 Western Conference Finals. The Jazz fully embraced the youth movement this season by letting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk.

San Antonio Spurs: Extend this out to 89-90 and the graph is even more impressive. The Spurs have been 10th or better every season except of course 96-97 when David Robinson was injured. The Spurs have been a top-5 team in wins in 18 of those 25 seasons. The gold standard in every way.

Houston Rockets: The Thunder Model will continue to be more frequently imitated, but the Rockets Model will be interesting to study should Dwight Howard and James Harden reach The Finals in one of the next three seasons. The Rockets never dropped below the middle of the NBA coming out of the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady era, but they were able to construct a well-balanced team around two of the top-10 players in the league.

Memphis Grizzlies: The L-shape appears again with the Gasol trade in 06-07, but the rise back up to the top-10 is quick due to the Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph acquisitions.

Dallas Mavericks: The Dirk Nowitzki/Mark Cuban partnership has only produced one title, but it looks a lot like a slightly lesser version of the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan Spurs. The drop from 5th to 14th and 17th following the championship was part of a short-term plan for a long-term rebuilding with the hopes of landing Howard and Williams, but they’ve successively pieced it back together with undervalued assets like Monta Ellis.

New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul gave the then-Hornets a rapid turnaround, yet it proved unsustainable with an uncertain ownership and injury issues. Anthony Davis gave the Pelicans the chance to replicate the Thunder Model, but Dell Demps has been instructed to accelerate the timeline with costly moves for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans.

Expectations & Timelines: The Curry Warriors

Calibrating expectations for your core coming out of a first promising playoff run is one of the most challenging tasks a franchise must confront.

There is considerable risk in falling in love with the potential of your own players, convincing yourself to do nothing major, while a trade of a key component for a finishing piece endangers the status quo.

The Chicago Bulls won two games in the first round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs against the eventual champion Miami Heat. Luol Deng was becoming one of the league’s best emerging jack of all trades at just 20 years old, while Ben Gordon was a promising 22-year-old individual scorer. Tyson Chandler fit with the roster in regards to his age, 23, but he appeared to be slowing in his development after his fifth NBA regular season and an awful playoff series against the Heat.

The Bulls were positively in love with Deng at that point and their bold move to instantly improve their playoff chances was to sign a 32-year-old Ben Wallace away from a division rival. Wallace had won Defensive Player of the Year in four of the previous five seasons, but while a $60 million commitment over four seasons while trading away Chandler did send the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2007, and to be in position to nearly trade for Kobe Bryant, it also compromised any chance of becoming a sustainable contender with that core.

The Bulls won just 33 games in 07-08 in a disastrous season in which they traded away Wallace and won the lottery to draft Derrick Rose.

The Golden State Warriors were in a similar position last offseason after taking the San Antonio Spurs to six games in the Western Conference Semifinals. But with David Lee’s 2016 expiring contract virtually untradeable and clogging up any potential cap space, Bob Myers had limited paths to improve the roster.

While the Warriors were also a longshot pursuer of Dwight Howard, a deal came together for the Warriors to clear enough cap space to sign Andre Iguodala by sending the contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson (brazenly acquired in order to own the pick that became Festus Ezeli) and Brandon Rush, along with first rounders in 2014 and 2017 to the Utah Jazz.

Iguodala became the Warriors’ version of Ben Wallace, an older player that would accelerate their timeline of contention while also shortening its potential shelf life. Iguodala has been outstanding this season, ranking third in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus, and vastly improving the Warriors’ perimeter defense. Iguodala is a huge net positive and his versatility allows the Warriors to simply play Stephen Curry on the weakest of the three opposing perimeter players. Iguodala has been remarkably healthy throughout his career and has the type of game that should age well similar to someone like Shawn Marion.

With the addition of Iguodala and nearly a full season from Andrew Bogut, the Warriors jumped from 14th in defensive efficiency to 4th while remaining flat on the offensive side of the ball. A team that gives more than 3,000 combined minutes to Lee and Curry that finishes in the top-5 clearly is talented and committed as a whole to that side of the court. The Warriors haven’t been this good on defense since their second season in San Francisco when they had Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond.

Title contenders typically are in the top-10 in both offense and defense while also possessing one or more true superstars. The legitimacy of the Warriors’ title expectations begins with Curry, as he has grown into that legitimate superstar over the past 18 months while also remaining remarkably healthy. Curry will receive a ton of MVP votes this season, including a third place nod from Zach Lowe. The NBA’s biggest truism is that a superstar is needed to win a championship and the Warriors have one right now in Curry.

But even if he’s generously considered the third most valuable player in the NBA right now, he’s still a clear step below LeBron James and Kevin Durant, two players that haven’t even been able to reach the Finals without everything being absolutely right around them.

Bogut and Lee are fine players individually, but the lack of athleticism with them on the floor together limits the capabilities on offense, especially with Curry working as a playmaker off the dribble. The Warriors don’t get a ton of high percentage shots at the rim in the halfcourt, making them overly reliant on outstanding perimeter shooting.

The long-term concerns with acquiring Iguodala are how it stunted the development of Harrison Barnes and their inability to improve the roster with the loss of draft picks and without cap space.

Barnes has been an unmitigated disappointment this season, lacking all confidence and production following a promising playoff performance when he looked like a deluxe small-ball power forward. Those issues that plagued him at North Carolina and caused his stock to drop returned in even a worse way.

Draymond Green has earned his way to being called the most valuable power forward on the Warriors’ roster this season with his excellent defense and versatility on offense. Coincidentally, Green was the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers may be similar to the Warriors in their ability to change their roster in any meaningful way, but they all have two players that can make the overall impact of Curry, while the Warriors just have him and a bunch of very good but not great pieces.

Curry will become an unrestricted free agent in 2017 during the same offseason as Iguodala and Bogut. Those three players will be 29, 33 and 32, respectively, while Klay Thompson and Green will be 27. Lee (34) will almost certainly leave during the previous offseason and it is hard to conceive of Barnes still being around based on what we’ve seen over the past year.

That core strikes me as one that will consistently win between 45 and 55 regular games and win a playoff series here and there to top out in the Western Conference Semifinals in a good season. Without a drastic shakeup or an improbable run similar to the Mavericks in 2011 with all of those perfectly placed veterans around Dirk Nowitzki, the Warriors would be a very unlikely champion.

There’s a quote from Doc Rivers in Paul Flannery’s excellent piece that can be applied just as easily to the Warriors as the Clippers.

"The one thing that I found interesting in Boston [was] when we were losing, we were losing with a championship mindset. We're winning here without one and we have to get that mindset. It's not just the players, it's everyone. When we started winning in Boston, we just fell back into what they were. They knew. They had been about winning. Here we don't because we haven't. That will be a task."

Joe Lacob deserves credit for shifting the expectations for the Warriors, but he appears to be doing so at the expense of appropriate internal expectations.

Lacob’s history with being unrealistic in evaluating his team began when he promised a playoff berth for the Warriors in the 11-12 season that was kicked off with the Charlie Bell amnesty mistake and ended with the club tanking for Harrison Barnes.

With the Warriors in the middle of a stacked Western Conference this season, Lacob has made comments to suggest Mark Jackson has underachieved this season as head coach. While I have reservations about some of Jackson’s coaching strategies, he has his whole roster buying into him (very difficult in today’s NBA) and I can only see the Warriors as being two or three wins better over this regular season with a more widely regarded head coach like Tom Thibodeau or Rick Carlisle.

The Warriors' playoff chances now appear to be dead on arrival with Bogut out with a fractured rib. How that changes the calculus on Jackson and what the team needs to address this offseason further complicates the situation.

But the strongest attribute of Lacob as an owner seems to be his insistence on remaining in the ‘deal flow’ and that constant tinkering by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson around Nowitzki is what eventually led to their 2011 title. Curry has a similarly unique and unguardable offensive game and that will be the Warriors' model for roster improvement for the remainder of his tenure.

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