I've spent the past year ranking the top prospects in the 2014 NBA draft. The anticipation and hype around this class is truly remarkable. Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have become household names. The expectations surrounding their future NBA careers are off the charts.
That got us thinking about other drafts. I've been covering the NBA draft for more than 15 years, and some players came in with even higher expectations than Wiggins, Parker and Embiid. Of all the prospects to enter the draft from 2000 to 2014, how did they rank coming into the draft?
Note that this ranking has nothing to do with how a player has -- or has not -- performed in the NBA. Rather, it's solely based on each prospect's perceived potential coming into the draft.
Here are the top 25 prospects from the past 15 years to enter the NBA draft.
1. LeBron James, SF, St. Vincent-St. Mary HS (Akron, Ohio)
Drafted: No. 1 in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers
Has there ever been a player, in any professional sport, who came into a professional league with more expectations and fanfare? LeBron was anointed a superstar while still in high school. At 18, he was a supreme athlete, played like a point guard with the body of a power forward and could do just about everything. "If God were to design a perfect basketball player," I wrote in 2003, "it would look exactly like LeBron James."
Impossibly, James has lived up to the hype. He's a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP. He has won Most Valuable Player four times. Has played in 10 All-Star Games. In his 11-year career he has been to the NBA Finals five times. While he might never live up to the legacy of Michael Jordan, he recently has been dubbed by many as the best small forward to ever play the game.
2. Greg Oden, C, Ohio State
Drafted: No. 1 in 2007 by the Portland Trail Blazers
Oden was supposed to rekindle the legacy of a bygone NBA era when giants ruled the paint. He was an old-school, freakishly big, freakishly athletic back-to-the-basket center who drew comparisons to Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. He was supposed to win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards. He was a lock to average 25 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks per game.
Then Oden fell apart. He had microfracture surgery on his right knee before his rookie season. Then, at the start of the 2009 season, he fractured his left patella. Before he ever stepped back on the court, he had another microfracture surgery, this time on his left knee. In 2012 he went through a third microfracture surgery. The Blazers waived him in March 2012. He played a total of 82 games for them. While he showed enormous potential when he played, his career was a disaster by virtually every standard. Oden was signed by the Heat this season and played sparingly, averaging 9.2 MPG in 2013-14.