This month's NBA All-Star Game will, as usual, feature a collection of the NBA's brightest young talent in addition to the more familiar veteran stars. Much of the young talent should seem familiar to fans who were at a different all-star matchup a little less than four years ago: the 2007 McDonald's All-American Game, played at Louisville's Freedom Hall.
An interesting hidden storyline of this season has been the emergence of players from the 2007 recruiting class as dominant forces throughout the league. While this group would be seniors in college had they stuck around four years, as a handful have (like Duke's Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and Georgetown's Austin Freeman and Chris Wright), most of the elite players are now in their third NBA seasons. That includes Derrick Rose, whose development we highlighted yesterday, as well as fellow All-Star Kevin Love. The group looks even better when we remember a third All-Star whose NBA ascent was slowed by his decision to spend a second year in college followed by a season-ending knee injury: Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, the surefire Rookie of the Year.
The stars give the 2007 recruiting class three of the NBA's top 13 players in terms of Wins Above Replacement Player, none of them yet 23 years of age. Nobody really compares recruiting classes, but I suspect 207 has a chance to end up as one of the best of all time. Let's take a look back at the RSCI recruiting composite tracked by DraftExpress to see how other top players from the class have panned out--and the top prospect still waiting for his breakthrough.
1. O.J. Mayo, SG, Memphis Grizzlies
Mayo is the player from the 2007 class who got left behind. He was considered the biggest star of the group while at Huntington High School and was taken third overall in the 2008 Draft, but instead of the third-year breakout many of his peers have enjoyed, Mayo has instead regressed. First benched by Lionel Hollins, then suspended by the league for testing positive for the banned substance dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), Mayo has had a season to forget. There's still potential here--SCHOENE thought Mayo was due for a big improvement and his comparables were terrific--but Mayo's hype has long exceeded his production.
2. Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Is it safe to say we can close the books on the Love-Mayo trade on draft night? I'm going to call that one a win for the Timberwolves and Kevin McHale.
3. Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Until suffering a wrist injury, Gordon was enjoying a fine season as the Clippers' perimeter complement to Griffin. Earlier this season, we made the case that Gordon is the league's best young shooting guard. If he continues to develop at this pace, there are multiple All-Star appearances in his future.
4. Michael Beasley, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
The MVP of the McDonald's Game was also the best of this group during the one season they all spent together in college. Playing alongside Love in the Minnesota frontcourt, Beasley has put up points--19.9 a night. What is not yet clear is whether that Beasley can produce efficiently. At this point, Beasley is like a poor facsimile of Carmelo Anthony. By drifting to the perimeter, he's become heavily dependent on two-point shots, which is a hard way to live. As a result, Beasley's True Shooting Percentage (.521) is well below average. His rebounding is no longer anything better than average and Beasley's defensive focus is spotty. The whole package is just marginally better than replacement level at this point.
5. Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
The only thing that is tough to believe, in hindsight, is that Rose was ever ranked this low.
6. Kyle Singler, SF, Duke Blue Devils
The best of the prospects yet to leap to the NBA, Singler's draft stock peaked after his sophomore season. Since then, Singler has failed to show much improvement. An NCAA Tournament run like the one he enjoyed last year en route to the title could lift Singler's draft stock, but at this point it is unclear that Singler is a first-round pick.
7. Bill Walker, SG, New York Knicks
Walker has enjoyed an eventful four-year journey since he was Mayo's running mate. By the time of the McDonald's Game, Walker had already debuted at Kansas State and torn his ACL playing for the Wildcats. Another knee injury caused Walker's draft stock to tumble and sent him to the second round. He showed promise after being dealt to the Knicks at last year's trade deadline, but has had a difficult time finding minutes in a crowded New York wing rotation this season. An Anthony trade could be Walker's salvation.
8. Jerryd Bayless, PG, Toronto Raptors
A few weeks ago, Love went on the BS Report podcast with Bill Simmons and was asked which of his peers had the most unrealized potential. Simmons' answer to his own question was Mayo, but Love went with former Pac-10 opponent Bayless. Already on his third team of the season, Bayless is still looking for a situation where he can thrive as an undersized shooting guard rather than be forced to play the point. Beyond that, Bayless must become more efficient as a scorer to justify his high usage rate.
9. Donté Greene, SF, Sacramento Kings
Maybe Greene came out too early and was not ready for the NBA. Maybe his skills were never suited to being a successful pro. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery and a more consistent role than Paul Westphal has provided him to date. Right now, we can't be sure yet.
10. J.J. Hickson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
If not for Mayo, Hickson would be the most disappointing member of the class of 2007 this season. (Maybe it's something about initials?) Not only has Hickson failed to improve on his terrible defense, his high-percentage shooting has been exposed as largely a product of LeBron James' presence. Forced to create for himself, Hickson is making just 44.3 percent of his two-point attempts.
11. Patrick Patterson, PF, Houston Rockets
In limited action as a rookie, Patterson's performance has been encouraging. He's making 56.0 percent of his two-point tries and has been excellent on the offensive glass. Patterson's upside is limited, but he figures to be a consistent contributor in the league for many years.
12. Nick Calathes, PG, Panathinaikos
You may remember Calathes as a favorite of stat-based analysis before the 2009 Draft. By that point, Calathes had already agreed to play in his ancestral homeland of Greece for Panathinaikos. A backup for the Euroleague power, Calathes is shooting a high percentage on twos this season but has more turnovers than assists. The Dallas Mavericks hold Calathes' rights should he decide to return stateside when his contract ends after next season.
13. Kosta Koufos, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
We have identified, presumably for the first time, a Greek bias in the rankings. Like Calathes, Koufos has been less effective than the recruiting rankings indicated. About the best that can be said about his last two NBA seasons is that the Timberwolves--who have collected players from the class of 2007--decided to pick up his option for next year.
14. DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
In terms of his college potential, Jordan was wildly overrated. His single season at Texas A&M was a major disappointment. The talent, however, was real, and Jordan has developed into a competent starting center during his third NBA season. From the long-term perspective, this ranking was just about right.
15. Austin Freeman, SG, Georgetown Hoya
A fine NCAA player whose game is unlikely to translate to the NBA level, Freeman is averaging 18.7 points and is in the nation's top 20 in True Shooting Percentage.
16. Anthony Randolph, PF, New York Knicks
FREE ANTHONY RANDOLPH!
17. Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
Griffin was a good prospect entering Oklahoma, but hardly the special talent he has subsequently developed into as both a collegian and a pro. Remember that the next time you're obsessing over recruiting rankings.
18. James Harden, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Harden appears to be getting it more and more all the time, and given the combination of his 37.1 percent accuracy beyond the arc and the Thunder's glaring need for perimeter shooting, I suspect it's a matter of when, not if he replaces Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup.
19. Nolan Smith, SG, Duke Blue Devils
Smith's NBA stock has crept slightly ahead of his teammate Singler, and it would be a bit of a surprise at this point if he dropped out of the first round. Add in a championship and Smith's career would seem to be going nicely to date.
20. Gani Lawal, PF, Phoenix Suns
With just two NBA minutes to his name, Lawal suffered a torn ACL in practice last month and is done for the season.
Other McDonald's All-Americans:
Cole Aldrich, Oklahoma City Thunder; James Anderson, San Antonio Spurs; Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves; Taylor King, Concordia; Jai Lucas, Texas; Corey Stokes, Villanova; Chris Wright, Georgetown.
The best of the rest of the class of 2007:
Austin Daye, Detroit Pistons (35); DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs (37); Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers (53); Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks (56); Robbie Hummel, Purdue (62); Demetri McCamey, Illinois (66); Jon Leuer, Wisconsin (89); Darington Hobson (130); Matt Howard, Butler (134); Jacob Pullen, Kansas State (153).
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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