The high schoolers selected in the 2005 NBA Draft were truly the last of their kind. Barring a stunning reversal in the NBA's policy, they will be the last of the league's preps-to-pros players. Eight high-school products were selected in 2005, and this group is now well into their third NBA seasons. This seems like as good a time as any to evaluate their progress.
If your reaction is to think it's much too soon to draw any conclusions, you clearly don't read any of the numerous rookie reports around the Internet.
In all seriousness, preps-to-pros players have, historically, established their ability by their third year. That's not to say those players don't continue to develop--Dwight Howard's performance in this, his fourth season, is a sure demonstration of that--but, for the most part, we have a pretty good idea of what kind of player even high schoolers are going to be by the time they've completed three years in the league.
Of the 30 early entrants between 1995 and 2004, 14 played fewer than 1,500 minutes in their third season. There are players in this group who developed into valuable contributors, including DeShawn Stevenson (760 minutes) and DeSagana Diop (730). Outside of Tyson Chandler (783), who missed 43 games due to injury, the only player in this group who took an enormous leap forward was Jermaine O'Neal (508).
(Click here for a complete list of minutes played by players in this group over their first three seasons.)
Given the history, this is an important season for the preps-to-pros class of 2005. So, a quarter of the way in, how are they doing?
6. Martell Webster, Portland
Early on, it looked like this would be a breakthrough year for Webster following two up-and-down seasons with the Blazers. Webster averaged 17.7 points in the preseason and scored in double figures in all seven exhibitions he played. That was followed by a 21-point outing on opening night at San Antonio. Webster was averaging 17.2 points five games into the season, but has slid since then and has scored in double figures just once in the last five games. Webster has improved his defense, and is rebounding better as well, but the fact is he'll have to score--and shoot--to be a productive NBA starter. 35.3% shooting from three-point range isn't going to be good enough. The opportunity is clearly there for Webster, and his talent has never been in question, but he has to put it together this season before Portland thinks about addressing the small-forward position next summer.
10. Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers
Famously better than Kobe Bryant (or perhaps not?), Bynum has made strides each season. Now he's nearly averaging a double-double (10.9 points and 9.7 rebounds) in just 26.1 minutes a night. Last season, my concern with Bynum was that he was taking an Eddy Curry career path--big numbers that don't necessarily help his team--but Bynum has become a better post defender. His net plus-minus is a strong +7.2 points per 100 possessions, and Bynum was a big reason the Lakers bench was so effective before he stepped into the starting lineup.
Stamina was the focus for Bynum in the offseason, and while he has increased his minutes per game, for him to be a star he's going to have to get to the point where he is playing at least 30 minutes every night. That and playing a bigger role in the Lakers offense are all that stand between Bynum and being a major impact player in the NBA. Keep in mind Bynum was extraordinarily young even for a high schooler in the draft. He turned 20 just before the start of the regular season, and is still the league's sixth-youngest player. Yikes.
18. Gerald Green, Boston
Before the 2005 NBA Draft, no prepster got more hype than Green, the talented athlete compared to Tracy McGrady by NBADraft.net. Green ended up slipping to the 18th pick in what seemed to be a coup for the Celtics. After scarcely playing as a rookie, Green became a regular last year in part because of injuries and did all right, averaging 10.4 points per game but shooting inefficiently (52.1% True Shooting Percentage). His first two seasons were disappointing but not hugely so, which made it something of a surprise when the Minnesota Timberwolves (who added Green to their fleet of young swingmen as part of the return for Kevin Garnett) opted in October not to pick up Green's fourth-year contract option. Antoine Wright was the only other player from the Class of 2005 not to have his option picked up (three others are already out of the league).
It seems apparent Green is not in Minnesota's plans, having played even 20 minutes in a game just once this season (a 13-point effort against Cleveland). Green could be a nice low-cost flyer next season. Despite my pessimism about the prospects for this group to change its stripes after this season, Green would be an example of the "second draft" concept coined by John Hollinger; Diop and Stevenson both fell into this group. That said, it looks a lot like winning the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk at last year's All-Star Weekend might be the highlight of Green's career.
34. C.J. Miles, Utah
An odd fit for a coach who's hardly a big fan of raw players, Miles has played just 667 minutes in three seasons, including 92 this year in 12 games. There have been some flashes, like scoring eight points in 12 minutes in San Antonio last week, but not much production so far. That's disconcerting because it's not like Miles is trapped behind a deep group of quality players; shooting guard has been the Jazz's big hole for some time. Utah has spent back-to-back first-round picks on shooting guards. The first of those two, Ronnie Brewer, is apparently in the process of seizing the position this year. Playing on a one-year contract, Miles needs to show something this year.
40. Monta Ellis, Golden State
The NBA's Most Improved Player a year ago, Ellis looked like a contributor in his rookie season--a pretty mean feat for a high schooler taken in the second round, even if Ellis was (and is) almost exactly two years older than Bynum. As a sophomore, he broke into the starting lineup and averaged 16.5 points per game for a playoff team. However, there were some negative signs: Like a surprising number of players in this group, Ellis primarily contributes with his scoring. While he shot an impressive 47.5% from the field and was hard to keep out of the lane, Ellis' True Shooting Percentage (54.5%) was uninspiring. More troubling were his 2.9 turnovers a night. Well, Ellis has slashed the latter number to 1.6 per game this season. While that owes to some extent to the fact that he hasn't been forced to start at the point, Ellis has also made better decisions, and that's an excellent sign. To take his game to the next level, Ellis will have to improve his efficiency, either by getting to the free-throw line more often or by adding the three-pointer to his game. His free agency this summer will be interesting to watch.
45. Louis Williams, Philadelphia
There's an outside chance that, should the 76ers trade veteran point guard Andre Miller at some point in the near future, Williams will make it two straight Most Improved Players from this group. Williams has flashed more than enough potential so far this season to earn a starting spot, and Miller might not be the right fit for the rebuilding Philly squad, so new GM Ed Stefanski has a decision on his hands. After playing sparingly as a rookie and spot minutes as a sophomore, Williams has blown up this season, averaging 20.5 points and 6.3 assists per 40 minutes. (For comaprison's sake, Ellis is averaging 19.3 and 3.9.) Like Ellis, Williams isn't a pure point guard, but he's enough of a distributor to man the position, and a dangerous scorer who is getting to the free-throw often line and hitting the three at a 45.0% clip (though sample size is a caveat). One reason to move slowly when it comes to starting Williams: Like Ellis, he'll be a restricted free agent next summer and a coveted one at that.
49. Andray Blatche, Washington
Blatche averaged just 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in his second season, but showed enough of his versatile skill set that he earned a five-year contract over the summer as a restricted free agent. Sometime during the summer, Blatche became a shot-blocker; he averaged 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes last year, which isn't bad, but gave no indication he was going to nearly double that to 3.7 per 40 minutes this season. Part of it may be a position change--mostly a forward last season, Blatche is now backing up Brendan Haywood at center because of Etan Thomas' heart surgery. The position agrees with Blatche, who is doing a solid job on the glass (10.5 boards per 40 minutes).
Now, Blatche could stand to improve his offensive game. He is probably spending a bit too much time on the perimeter--45% of his shots this season have been outside the paint. Touted as a big man with the ability to stretch the floor, Blatche has yet to show that part of his game, hitting just 28.4% of these shots. A player of his athleticism should be getting more easy buckets at the room, which would improve his shooting percentage. Still, Blatche is clearly on the right track.
56. Amir Johnson, Detroit
From the outside, it did seem a bit head-scratching that Johnson, veteran of 163 NBA minutes in two years, become a priority to keep for the Pistons last summer as a restricted free agent. "There is no way we are going to allow that kid to get away from us," Detroit President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars told ESPN's Chad Ford in a podcast last spring. "We want him here for years to come. He has tremendous upside." Johnson ended up with a new three-year deal and has seen spot minutes this year but is still not a part of the Pistons rotation. It's difficult to read much into Johnson's statistics in spotty playing time (both his 5.4 blocks nor his 7.8 blocks per 40 minutes figure to come down in more regular action).
If anyone is likely to be the Jermaine O'Neal of this class, it's Johnson, like O'Neal stuck behind a veteran frontcourt for a contending team. That's not to say Johnson will be an All-Star, but clearly he has the athleticism and skills to be a contributor at some point. The one question is whether he will be held back by his lack of playing time. O'Neal, it is safe to say, was not. Another interesting comparison might be another Detroit draft pick who had a tough time breaking into the lineup, Darko Milicic, who has proven a competent regular since getting his chance.
Player Draft Pk Yr1 Yr2 Yr3
Kevin Garnett 1995 6 2293 2995 3222
Kobe Bryant 1996 13 1103 2056 3109*
Jermaine O'Neal 1996 17 458 808 508*
Tracy McGrady 1997 9 1179 1813* 2462
Al Harrington 1998 25 262* 854 1892
Rashard Lewis 1998 30 238* 1575 2720
Korleone Young 1998 40 25* 0 0
Jonathan Bender 1999 5 130 574 1647
Leon Smith 1999 29 0 0 100
Darius Miles 2000 3 2133 2228 2007
DeShawn Stevenson 2000 23 293 1134 760
Kwame Brown 2001 1 818 1774 2236
Tyson Chandler 2001 2 1389 1826 783
Eddy Curry 2001 4 1150 1571 2154
DeSagana Diop 2001 8 109 944 730
Ousmane Cisse 2001 46 0 0 0
Amare Stoudemire 2002 9 2570 2024 2889
LeBron James 2003 1 3122 3388 3361
Travis Outlaw 2003 23 19 793 1153
Ndudi Ebi 2003 26 32 54 0
Kendrick Perkins 2003 27 35 548 1332
James Lang 2003 48 0 0 0
Dwight Howard 2004 1 2670 3021 3023
Shaun Livingston 2004 4 814 1525 1611
Robert Swift 2004 12 72 987 0
Sebastian Telfair 2004 13 1330 1641 1578
Al Jefferson 2004 15 1051 1062 2319
Josh Smith 2004 17 2050 2559 2647
J.R. Smith 2004 18 1859 989 1471
Dorell Wright 2004 19 27 132 1292
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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