By Ben Fisher
Let’s pretend for a moment that Blake Griffin never broke his left kneecap and enjoyed his eye-popping rookie campaign last season rather than this one.
He would have transformed the 2009 group into one of the greatest NBA freshman classes of all time, likely still emerging with the Rookie of the Year award ahead of the spectacular point guard crop of Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans, Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, Golden State’s Steph Curry and Minnesota’s Jonny Flynn.
But what would it mean for this year’s ROY race? Well, for one thing, there would hardly be much to get excited about.
Not to take anything away from a group of youngsters with plenty of time to prove themselves, but the early returns have been underwhelming. A rookie race pitting Kings’ big man DeMarcus Cousins against Washington’s No. 1 pick John Wall and New York’s scrappy rebounder Landry Fields would hardly generate much buzz aside, perhaps, from the ever-possible scenario of seeing Cousins punch out a team-mate.
So what happened to turn this class into one Blake Show and an awful lot of side shows?
In what wasn’t a great class to begin with, no one atop the draft has particularly dazzled. Wall has played at or slightly above expectations and appears right on par with where he is expected to be, although has hardly set the league ablaze. Wall’s stats – 15.0 points and 8.9 assists – suggest a player who is acquitting himself just fine, but he has yet to display the take-charge assertiveness needed to make the jump towards superstardom.
Meanwhile, Evan Turner has been an early disappointment for Philadelphia, while New Jersey’s Derrick Favors and Cousins remain raw projects high on potential with mixed returns thus far.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some 2010 draftees turning heads. Even the Knicks didn’t expect their second-round pick (No. 39 over-all) Fields to offer such early returns, but the Stanford product remains one of four first year players (along with Griffin, Wall and Cousins) to currently average double digits in scoring and also boasts 7.1 rebounds per game.
In the same vein, Toronto’s Ed Davis has already developed into a trusted frontcourt presence for the Raptors and Griffin’s lesser heralded rookie teammates on the Clippers – Al-Farooq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe – are offering signs of hope that another Western power is rising in Los Angeles.
To call the 2010 draft class a complete flop would be to both discredit the contributions of several perfectly capable rookies in it and dismiss the chances of these talented athletes in their early 20’s to grow into NBA stars.
Still, it’s clear that the early returns simply don’t measure up to previous rookie seasons.
Even with Griffin debuting one year after his No. 1 over-all selection, the 2010 rookies currently have just four players averaging 10 points per game or more, compared to eight 2009 rookies finishing the season in double digits (and that doesn’t include James Harden, who finished just shy of a 10.0 PPG average).
This year’s crop also does not feature a single player (Griffin included) leading their team in scoring, while Evans accomplished the feat for the 2009’ers as the Kings’ leading scorer.
Perhaps basketball fans have grown spoiled from what feels like a never-ending stream of draft classes featuring both top level talent and depth. Derrick Rose was named Rookie of the Year among a class that included Brook Lopez, O.J. Mayo and Russell Westbrook, while Kevin Durant won the 2008 award ahead of the likes of Al Horford and Luis Scola and even Emeka Okafor’s unlikely 2005 win came at the expense of Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala.
Still, from a comparative standpoint, this rookie crop could have risked joining the forgettable 2000-01 and 2006-07 groups in terms of low points of the past decade. But thank goodness for Griffin.