"Awful draft. About five or six really good players." -- An NBA GM on the 2010 draft class.
If you talk to NBA decision-makers around this time of year, you'd come to the conclusion that the draft is the worst event on the NBA calendar. And that's not just limited to this particular spring. Annually, you hear GMs, scouts and other personnel people utter similarly negative comments that sound as if they wonder whether there are even 60 players worthy of being drafted.
Then something happens. The calendar changes to June.
By that point, opinions start to change. More and more optimism creeps into the conversation. Why? Teams have done their homework. They've watched tons of video, worked out groups of players and conducted plenty of interviews. They start to identify qualities they like in players they had previously disparaged.
A longtime GM once described the draft as a "June bride," meaning that no one is all that excited about the wedding in the fall, but the closer you get to the actual date, you can't help but fall in love.
But if you're still not convinced that this year's draft will look better in a month (let alone once the guys actually suit up for teams), then simply gaze back toward this past May. Leading up to the 2009 draft, almost every GM and scout I spoke with said it could be the worst since the lottery began in 1985. It's only been a year, but it's already safe to say that the class of 2009 will never be mistaken for its 2000 counterpart, a legit contender for the title of "worst draft ever."
While it's premature to judge a draft after just one season, last year's first-rounders are off to a good start. Combined, those 30 players started 647 games, more than the 2005, '06 and '07 draft classes did as rookies. (The 2008 first-rounders notched an impressive 833 starts.)
So complaints about this year's crop need to be taken with several grains of salt. For instance, one GM says in comparison to last season, "the No. 7 pick this year won't be Stephen Curry, the No. 10 pick won't be Brandon Jennings and the No. 17 pick won't be Jrue Holiday."
There's just one problem with that reasoning: Last May, hardly anyone projected those guys to make the kind of impact they did as rookies, either. Seriously, did anyone expect Jrue Holiday to be Jrue Holiday? So sure, when you examine Chad Ford's Big Board and see Ed Davis (No. 7), Daniel Orton (No. 10) and Luke Babbitt (No. 17) in those respective slots, it's hard to imagine any of them producing at the same level as Curry, Jennings or Holiday. But that doesn't mean they -- or someone else -- won't.
There have been too many examples of teams growing to love players over time to argue otherwise. Take this anecdote, from someone involved in drafting Josh Howard: "At the beginning of his last year at Wake Forest we watched him a ton and we didn't see it -- he didn't have a great skill set that translated to the NBA floor. He was really long, though, and things seemed to just happen when he was out there. The closer we got the draft, we started talking about him fitting a need as a defensive player. We didn't think he would be there at No. 29. When he was, we were thrilled."
So right now DeMarcus Cousins might scare plenty of teams that are convinced he needs to grow up. But by June many more will see him as their answer to Andrew Bynum. Similarly, teams that can't understand why Derrick Favors didn't dominate at Georgia Tech will have realized he suffered from poor point guard play and be convinced he can be a beast on the block at power forward.
Heck, at least someone's coming around already. "This draft is not much better than last year, but it is deeper," says one scout.
So fear not, 2010 NBA draft prospects. The league has six more weeks left to learn to love you. History says that's exactly what will happen.