Here's the tricky thing about the NBA draft: What matters isn't the player you have on draft day, but the player you have a couple of years down the road. Numerous players have bounced back from uninspiring performances as rookies to become superstars later on -- even four-year collegians like John Stockton, Steve Nash and Michael Redd.
Thus, one of the most important things teams want to see in a young player is progress. With the rare exception of a Tim Duncan or, this year, Chris Paul, most rookies struggle. More often than not, it's the ability to learn and adapt from their struggles that separates the Karl Malones from the Kwame Browns.
That's why this year's sophomore class has been such a disappointment. Yes, there are still plenty of talented players in the group, and it could still go down as the best crop of high-schoolers ever to enter the league. But the group hasn't done much to build on the promise of a year ago. Six rookies who started a year ago find themselves on the bench (Tony Allen, Sebastian Telfair, Chris Duhon, Shaun Livingston, Rafael Araujo and J.R. Smith), while several others have regressed after promising rookie seasons.
With the rookie-sophomore game kicking off All-Star weekend, now seems like a good time to evaluate how much progress the class has made from a year ago. With each player, I've included his PERs from last year and this year to help track his performance. As you'll see, a few players have made strides, but in general, the news isn't pretty. I'll start with the bad news:
Taking a step back
These guys showed us tons of promise a year ago, but have broken our hearts a year later.
Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats (16.35 PER in 2004-05, down to 15.18 in 2005-06)
The 2004-05 Rookie of the Year has seen his sophomore campaign swallowed up by injuries. Thankfully they aren't back problems, which was the greatest area of concern when the Bobcats picked him, but lasting only 26 games isn't a feather in his cap either way. Besides, he also looked slower when he was on the court and had a lot of trouble finishing inside.