We are perhaps a few years away before calling the 2013 NBA draft one of the very worst in history, but it's certainly headed in that direction. Feel free to play the "It's Only December" card if you wish. Go ahead and explain how two players taken in the lottery haven't even suited up yet, and at least a half-dozen others are dealing with injuries.
Defend, defend, defend and justify, justify, justify. It's your right to do so. And to a fair degree, you'd have a point. But the early returns are not encouraging -- and they're only getting worse.
Other than Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo, none of the drafted players are showing even the slightest hint that they might be All-Stars and Olympians one day. Of the 14 lottery picks, just four are starting. Some are barely cracking the rotation on lousy teams, a serious red flag. Others are bringing far less than what they promised. For example, take Ben McLemore, who's being groomed as a go-to player by the Kings. Before the draft, the scouts said his jump shot was "NBA ready." That jump shot is finding the net 36 percent of the time. It's not ready, NBA or otherwise.
Of course, the poster boy for the draft is the No. 1 guy, Anthony Bennett, a surprise selection who's looking very Kwame-like. Check that; Kwame Brown at least got off the bench for the Wizards as a rookie. Bennett is so bad the Cavs are doing their best to hide him and his 28 percent shooting and poor physical conditioning as best as possible.
Typically, first-round picks will spend their rookie season trying to remember when the bus and the plane leave. That, and enduring up-and-down stretches which can be quite drastic at times. Then they settle into a comfort zone that lets us know who they are and what they're capable of doing. This process takes about two years, typically. However, players who'll become stars are usually good right away, and then great by the end of their second season. You knew LeBron, Durant, Westbrook, Chris Paul, etc., etc., would be special almost from the start. They didn't need a learning curve or an extended look.
All that said, here's an early status report on the lottery picks of the 2013 draft:
1. Anthony Bennett. Not since Orlando in 1993 has a team with the No. 1 pick traded down in the draft, and Orlando did that for a solid reason: Orlando got Penny Hardaway (for Chris Webber's rights) to team with Shaquille O'Neal. There wasn't an overwhelming No. 1 in this draft and yet the Cavs stuck with their pick anyway. In hindsight, given Bennett's early struggles, and that he wasn't filling a need (the Cavs had Tristan Thompson), was this the right move? Couldn't they have moved down and gotten a pick in the 6-to-10 range, plus another pick or a player? The answer is yes.
2. Victor Oladipo. He's among the most reckless players in the league based on turnovers, but who cares? Some of the sloppiness comes from Oladipo playing the point guard spot, where he's probably out of place. Anyway, he's a very athletic guard with a blue-collar streak and developing skills. The more you see him in Orlando, the more you like him.
3. Otto Porter. Troubled since the summer by a hip flexor injury, Porter is just getting his reps in for the Wizards. He air-balled his first shot and traveled the first time he touched the ball. Who knew that teammate Glen Rice Jr., taken 32 spots lower in the draft, would have more starts at this point than Porter?
4. Cody Zeller. He has shown flashes that suggest he may one day develop into a decent enough player in the right situation. But it's not good when your high lottery selection is spending half his time setting picks. Does Zeller have the ability to be a star? That's what the Bobcats needed to get at the No. 4 spot. They have enough pick-setters on the roster.
5. Alex Len. He's still recovering from a pair of ankle surgeries since May. Lingering soreness, coupled with his overall rawness as a player and a weak upper-body, is keeping Len chained to the Suns bench.
6. Nerlens Noel. At this rate, should he continue to rehab from knee surgery and miss the Sixers season, he'll be eligible to win Rookie of the Year … in 2014-15. That's what happened to Blake Griffin, the top pick in 2009, who missed his "rookie" year after kneecap surgery and took the award the following year.
7. Ben McLemore. In the weeks prior to the draft, McLemore was firmly in the running for first overall pick until he tumbled. Aside from the so-so shooting, what's really scary is the Kings just traded for Rudy Gay, noted shot-gobbler.
8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He's a 36-percent shooter and the fifth or sixth option on the Pistons even though he's starting.
9. Trey Burke. He had a lousy performance in the summer league, then suffered a broken finger that forced him to miss the first 12 games, but seems to be rounding into form for Utah with averages of 13 points and 6 assists. The big question is whether Burke will ever be a point guard who sets up his teammates. He wasn't at Michigan.
10. C.J. McCollum. Still out with a fractured foot with no return date. The Blazers, leading the West, don't really need him now, anyway.
11. Michael Carter-Williams. OK, who blew it? Who needed backcourt help and let MCW slide to the Sixers? How much better off would the Kings, Blazers, Jazz and Pistons be had they taken MCW instead? For that matter, can you imagine if the Cavaliers traded down to get him and teamed him with Kyrie Irving? Carter-Williams is clearly the class of the draft because he's effective in so many areas: scoring, rebounding, passing, defending. You know a quadruple-double is in his future, maybe a few of them.
12. Steven Adams. One of the more intriguing big men among rookies, the New Zealander isn't polished because he's only been playing American basketball for about 20 minutes. But he might replace Kendrick Perkins in the OKC starter lineup fairly soon. That's progress, right?
13. Kelly Olynyk. He was a starter before suffering a sprained ankle, and in his absence, the Celtics started winning and took ownership of the Atlantic Division. He'll have to work his way back up the pecking order, and he might.
14. Shabazz Muhammad. He was poor in the summer league, kicked out of rookie orientation for rules violation and now finds himself locked on the bench by Wolves coach Rick Adelman, a no-nonsense guy. And nobody is surprised by any of this.