Wednesday afternoon, the NBA announced the rosters for the ‘Rising Stars Challenge’ portion of their All Star Game Weekend. The annual contest is basically an exhibition game reserved for a handful of prolific rookies and second-year players selected by assistant coaches around the NBA. Considering the caliber of player usually getting the most time in the actual All-Star Game, the Rising Stars Challenge provides a similar look at some of the promising youth around the league.
Not surprisingly, the 76ers first round pick Michael Carter-Williams was selected to the eight-player field for the Rookies team. The first-year point guard leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game and it really is not that close. Joining Carter-Williams on the rookies team are the following: Trey Burke (Jazz), Victor Oladipo (Magic), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Knicks), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Kelly Olynyk (Celtics), Mason Plumlee (Nets), and Steven Adams (Thunder). Of the remaining players, only Burke and Oladipo were drafted ahead of the number 11 slot the 76ers picked Carter-Williams at.
Normally, the event is one dominated by the second-year players and 2014 looks as though the result will be similar. Fielding the likes of Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis, the ‘Sophomore’ team should have little trouble against their first-year opponents. Despite all of this, there is something very alarming about the 2013-2014 version of the Rookie team. Not only is the number one overall pick, Anthony Bennett, not on the team for the first time since 2001-2002, but only two of the top ten selections are participating this year.
There was very little buzz about the 2013 class, justifiably so as we’ve found out. Still, the lack of impact players at the top of the draft is approaching historically bad levels. Only two (Burke, Oladipo) of the top-ten picks were selected to the roster. Carter-Williams, Oladipo, and Burke are the only members of the Rookie team averaging over 10 points a game and Adams is the only player on a team with a winning record.
Anthony Bennett is approaching, ‘most forgettable first overall pick of all time’ levels. He just notched his first double-digit scoring game Tuesday in a loss to the Pelicans. He is averaging just under 11 minutes a contest, good for a tie for 26th among rookies. Bennett’s struggles might be getting more publicity were it not for the difficulties by his top-five draft-mates.
People having fun with Anthony Bennett’s first 10+ point game last night (15pts 8reb)… Otto Porter (3rd pick) has 16 points THIS MONTH!
— Eric O’Neill (@MrEricOneill) January 29, 2014
Throw in an unspectacular start to Cody Zeller‘s career in Charlotte and Alex Len finally returning from injury in Phoenix, and the top five of the 2013 NBA Draft is stacking up as one of the worst. Nerlens Noel was the first selection after Len went 5th overall to the Suns. Obviously, the jury is still out on the Kentucky product but updates on his progress continue to inspire hope.
Carter-Williams going off the board at pick 11 is looking like the only true ‘steal’ of the 2013 Draft. Oladipo looks to be an impactful, all-around player. He was also the 2nd overall pick and is well off of MCW’s projected season as it currently stands. Not only is it looking like Philadelphia might be the only team to inherit one, possibly two future key figures in their future but very few other teams look like they reaped any serious benefits from the barren class.
A lot can happen over the course of a young NBA players first few seasons. Patience and teaching are essential to development and the wrong environment can derail a prospect’s career before it even gets going. The 76ers look as if they’ve made the right selection in terms of a head coach that can help with the development of several young players. Judging off his early performances, Nerlens Noel could never play a game and the selection of Carter-Williams would already categorize the draft as a win. Should Noel turn out to be a serviceable starter at the least, the 2013 Draft could be considered a lynch-pin for the 76ers future plans.
At the time, it seemed like the biggest benefit from the draft would be an additional selection in 2014 and cap space cleared. Using high-risk/high-reward mentality, the 76ers tabbed two players in the first round who, despite notable flaws, could end up being among the most impactful draftees in the class. Meanwhile, there are teams like the Cavaliers and Wizards who have been compiling top-five picks for the better part of the last decade and wonder why things have not turned around for them. At the end of the day, drafting in any sport is far from a science and sometimes teams are victim to what year they hold a high pick. The 76ers did not have a necessarily high pick, but were fortunate that the teams ahead of them went about their selections in the manner that they did. Philadelphia looks as if they are positioning themselves for a drat class in 2014 that will require far less creativity and flexibility when it comes to drafting toward the top. Sam Hinkie and the 76ers front office should pat themselves on the back for this past year’s draft, and look around at some of the selections of other teams in the first round to take solace in just how lucky it appears the team might have been.