We did our "upside rankings" in December, but we intentionally ignored variables that could impact the rookies' careers, such as a team's style of play, future draft picks, management and coaching issues and free-agent signings. Instead, we focused only on their raw talent.
This time, we're taking a realistic look into the future, factoring in everything possible. Who will end up as the best players from this draft class when all is said and done?
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors
I'm projecting Curry based on the potentially flawed assumption that he'll end up being a long-term point guard in this league. In other words, if the Warriors somehow land John Wall in this year's draft, I don't see how Curry would reach his ultimate potential. Because I think he'll end up being the best overall player from this class only if he gets to play the point.
No other rook has Curry's combination of skills, craftiness, feel and work ethic. And thanks to his shooting ability and the fact he doesn't depend on supreme athleticism to be effective, he should be able to play extremely well into his mid to late 30s.
2. Blake Griffin, Clippers
I'll repeat what I wrote when I first covered him in Summer League: Energy is a talent. And Griffin is loaded with it. He's also learned how to produce without the benefit of an outside shot, which he started to pick up this summer. So he should have a strong arsenal of offensive weapons going forward, while being a beast on the boards and on defense.
The Clippers will work to create an environment that best allows for him to grow into a star, rather than limit him to just an energy role. He's going to be a unique power forward, with the emphasis on power.
3. Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves
Every scout I talk to who has seen Rubio play in person this season says the same thing: "He's Jason Kidd without the blazing speed." I see the same things.
Kidd is a spectacular winner who makes everyone around him better, and Rubio has those same gifts. Don't get caught up in his low scoring averages in Europe -- that's as much a product of the system as anything else. Rubio does whatever it takes to come out on top on both sides of the floor.
When he finally comes to the NBA, Rubio's game should grow to amazing heights after a few seasons. His athleticism will improve (an area that is more important here than overseas) and he'll easily adopt more of a scoring mindset. But mostly he'll win and help his teammates play to their potential.
4. Tyreke Evans, Kings
Evans could easily top this list when all is said and done. I'd guess that he needs the least amount of help to reach his maximum potential; he's certainly closest to it now. That's not to say, however, that he can't get much better. His outside shot will almost certainly improve, and once the Kings turn the corner toward relevance he'll be a better defender, too.
Unlike Curry, Evans will be terrific no matter who the Kings draft, this year and beyond. He might end up as their future point guard, but I can also see him playing off the ball with John Wall, or even as a small forward next to Evan Turner.
Evans does not overwhelm with speed, jumping, or quickness, but rather smartly employs his craft and size. He should be able to score 20-plus points per game for a decade or more, and he has an amazing gift for rebounding. Ten years from now, Evans is the surest bet of anybody on this list to be one of the top 5 players from this draft class.
5. Jrue Holiday, 76ers
I have Holiday second to Evans on my "least downside" list; I see almost no holes in his future. He can shoot, handle, pass, think and defend. And he's got a great body to do those things for years to come. If he gets mentored smartly, he can be a Chauncey Billups-type, a multi-time All-Star leading his team as one of its top two players.
If he's asked to be more of a role player, he'll be a Derek Fisher-type -- a key component to lots and lots of winning. Either way, his future is extremely bright.
6. Brandon Jennings, Bucks
I made the silly mistake of assuming that Jennings' rather pedestrian numbers in Europe (and his youth) suggested he'd need a while to adjust to the NBA game. Of course I missed the fact playing point guard in Europe is often a totally different experience. But what I have not missed is Jennings' year of graduate work in "point guard play" with Scott Skiles as his professor.
I believe the past two seasons will serve as amazing reference points for Jennings going forward, and making the playoffs this season will only add to that. As far as true point guards go, Jennings will probably end up having the best combination of quickness and technique in the league.
7. Rodrigue Beaubois, Mavs
We can all see that he's a jet, but we can also see some nuances in his game. Changing speeds, making insightful plays, then exploding somewhere in an instant. Best of all, perhaps, is his excellent shooting stroke. To be that fast and quick and still shoot north of 40 percent from long range is an excellent foundation.
Whenever Jason Kidd retires, Beaubois will be given every chance to be Dallas' starting point guard.
8. DeJuan Blair, Spurs
It's fair to guess that Blair will not have as long a career as many of the guards on this list. But to assume that he won't put together an impressive 10-year run would be a mistake. He's an incredible rebounder, more athletic than people expected, and capable of beating guys off the dribble in space.
The Spurs have worked hard on improving his jump shot, and as that evolves he will become a far more potent weapon. This proud and smart franchise knows it can build a winner with Blair on the floor, and the Spurs are determined to make him the best player he can be. He won't ever be an MVP candidate, but he certainly has the game to start on a title team.
9. Darren Collison, Hornets
If I knew where he was going to play for the next few years, he'd probably be higher on this list. He's simply too talented to stay as CP3's backup for long. But "long" could end up being a few years.
His ability to run a team as a scoring or a passing point is superb, and he is a willing defender. The energy he plays with does make him a great second-team option -- which is why the Hornets will not part with him easily -- but his performance this season should eventually land him on another team that will feature him at the point for a long time.
10. Terrence Williams, Nets
I can't write enough about what this guy has done lately. He's made a believer out of me (no small task, considering how he started the season). And no Nets player will benefit more from the ownership change than he will. There is a famous story of Dr. Jerry Buss taking a young Magic Johnson under his wing in L.A. The same possibilities now exist in New Jersey; Williams will undoubtedly respect the Nets' new owner and all that he has accomplished.
As a passer, rebounder, defender and scorer, Williams ranks high among all NBA players -- his talent has never been the question. And now that it seems like he's beginning to understand what "being a pro" means, his chances of succeeding are way up.
Five guys who could end up in the top 10
Earl Clark, Suns
We've written about Clark's talent and unique physical combinations before. And seeing how Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic have improved so much in just one season, it's fair to assume Clark can do the same in Phoenix. He has enormous potential in every phase of the game.
Last year, many experts said that as good as Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were for the Lakers, it was Lamar Odom who made that team special, and ultimately, champions. Clark has the same potential to be an impact player for a champion.
Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies
Thabeet's roller-coaster ride will continue for a while; big guys often develop late, and Thabeet looks like he fits that mold. If Memphis stays motivated to get the best out of him, Thabeet can be a force. If not, then he'll be in the running for bust of the decade.
Omri Casspi, Kings
Is Casspi the guy who took the NBA by storm from his first preseason game on through January, or is he the guy who struggled with his focus, emotions and playing time as the season unfolded? If it's the former, then the Kings could have the perfect combination of shooting, heart and passing skills to play next to Evans for a decade.
NBA Rookie 50
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The problem for Casspi is that Donte Greene has enormous upside as well and will be fighting to keep his starting small forward spot next season. Add in Sacramento's likely top six pick, which could easily be a forward, and you begin to see the difficulty in predicting Casspi's future.
James Harden, Thunder
I'm a huge Harden fan, but I also think Thabo Sefolosha is one of the league's most underrated players. So for the foreseeable future, it's possible that Harden continues to be a second-unit guy. If that's the case, he'll be a key player on a contending team for years, but never reach his potential.
But if the Thunder decide to move him into the starting lineup, he'll become the best passing sharpshooter on the wing behind LeBron James.
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
It's difficult to gauge DeRozan's future for a few reasons. First of all, he's a non-shooter playing a shooter's position and he's not a pure scorer, either. Factor in Chris Bosh's murky future and the potential for a Raptors coaching change, and nothing is clear for DeRozan in Toronto. Except this: With proper coaching and managing/planning, DeRozan can be an excellent player.
He plays within himself and is a terrific athlete, both good starts for a career. Next season will be an important one for him, as the NBA typically does not wait more than two seasons for a young guard to arrive before moving on.
Ten guys who will be good, but likely won't crack the top 10
Marcus Thornton, Hornets
It's obvious that I'm high on Thornton. But his game and lack of size for his position suggest he'll always be most effective coming off the bench. That's not to suggest at all that he won't be a valuable player for a decade or so. It's just that there will be 10 or more guys from this class that will be starters that whole time and rack up more productive statistics and careers. But I'll tell you this, every guard on this list will get lit up by Thornton at least once a year.
Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves
Flynn is trying his best to do what's being asked of him, but a hunter is a hunter, so it's hard to project much change from him. Thus, as I've said all year, I see him as an excellent game-changer coming off the bench. He can be a dynamic scorer and an amazing leader as part of the second unit.
If a team can start someone better than Flynn at the point and then bring Flynn off the bench, then that team is going to be a very good offensive team. In other words, a Rubio-Flynn tandem can be the best point guard pairing in the NBA one day (and they'd be able to play together some, too).
Serge Ibaka, Thunder
I love Ibaka's upside as a defensive presence and a glue guy overall. I still think he'll get better on offense, too. Regardless, he'll be a help to his team whether he ends up as a better scorer/shooter or not. And he's going to be an impact player in transition as well, in both directions.
Jeff Teague, Hawks
Projecting lots of minutes for him in the next few years is difficult, despite his talent level. And once a player fails to break through after a few seasons, he tends to get marked as a complementary guy. This could easily happen to Teague, but I think he ends up being a solid pro.
Jordan Hill, Rockets
I wrote about Hill last week -- he's going to be a rotation player for a long time. And he has a chance to be a strong starter, without question.
Taj Gibson, Bulls
Gibson has to be giving the Bulls' personnel guys goose bumps. He's just been terrific and steady. Will he end up being one of the top 10 players from this draft class? Doubtful. Could he end up being a backup to a big-time free agent? Sure. But will he be a guy who plays lots of minutes for years to come? Absolutely.
Chase Budinger, Rockets
Budinger may be capable of breaking into this top 10 list going forward, but might not get many chances to do so on this Rockets team. If the Rockets become the team they expect to be with a healthy Yao Ming back next season, then Budinger will be an X factor for them in every playoff series. His transition game is excellent, and he's going to be a very good perimeter shooter.
Jonas Jerebko, Pistons
A great example of how this draft class is deeper than anyone anticipated, Mr. Hustle is going to be a presence in the league for years to come. He may not be a long-term starter, but he'll be a contributor on a winning team.
Wesley Matthews, Jazz
He'll have to compete with future draft picks and potential free-agent pickups in Utah, but he's certainly done enough to score opportunities going forward in Utah or elsewhere in the league.
Austin Daye, Pistons
He's got the talent and size to make a mark in this league. If Detroit gives him every chance to play next season, he'll end up being a solid pro.