Over time, some draft classes will give the league multiple superstars, but most produce 15 or so quality players who last for a decade or so in the NBA, with perhaps a star or two mixed in. For the class of 2010, though, aspiring to be even average may be too heady, despite gaining one phenom from the previous year thanks to an injury.
For starters, five of the guys who went in the lottery are no-shows on our top 20 list just a year after the draft. By my count, 22 of the first-round picks are in danger of not even sticking in the NBA for five years. That's bad.
Still, there are success stories, while others are showing signs of life and can be counted on to represent this class until 2020 and beyond. Who stands tallest today and who might be making waves in the future? Let's explore.
The top two
1. Blake Griffin, Clippers
As if there's another choice? This class is exceedingly weak by any measurement, except one: star power -- thanks to Griffin. Griffin is still racking up monster plays in the paint and finishing even better than he did last season, though some of that is due to the Clippers' upgrade at point guard. He's breathtaking when he attacks the rim, which is often, and he's one of the two most feared big men to tangle with in the NBA, along with Dwight Howard.
Unfortunately, he shares something else in common with Howard. Griffin's free throw percentage has dropped significantly and is now even lower than any of Dwight's end-of-season percentages. In addition, Blake shoots too many perimeter jumpers, zones out too often on help-side defense and doesn't make nearly enough impact plays defensively (he ranks 94th in steals per game and 52nd in blocks). His poor defense is a big part of why the Clippers are a bottom-six defensive team.
Still, I'd be a fool to get caught up in his negatives, because he's one of the most electrifying players in basketball and a good part of why the Clippers are a top-six offensive team.
I expect solid improvement from Griffin on the defensive side of the ball as the season evolves, as he begins to understand the importance of every possession (he did not play many meaningful games last season). I also don't think we'll see as many long jumpers come later in the season, and he'll make more of the ones he shoots. That comes with experiencing pain from tough losses, which will force him to exercise better shot selection.
The one question I have come playoff time will be about his free throws. Lack of improvement there could be a killer come spring. Of course, even if he drops to 25 percent from the line, he'll still be the best player in this class.
2. Greg Monroe, Pistons
How good has Monroe been this year? Not good enough to get Detroit out of the bottom five of the league, unfortunately, but I'll tell you this: If Detroit was a better team, then Blake Griffin would have some competition for "best of class."
Monroe is top 12 in the NBA in PER and offensive rebound rate and top 20 in overall rebound rate. And while Detroit is an awful defensive team, only Ben Wallace is playing better defense than Monroe, who has to carry an offensive burden far more than Wallace does.
There are still questions about how Monroe would perform on a better team, or if he's good enough to be a top-three player on a good team. But all things considered, no one in this class besides Griffin can touch Monroe right now.
Top candidates to one day replace Griffin as tops of this class
3. John Wall, Wizards
When he's on, he's untouchable. Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall. That's the list of elite athletes with size at the point guard spot. Wall is the fastest of the three, to my eye, and the best natural passer. So yes, he's got multiple All-Star appearances in his near future, if he and his franchise get things figured out.
Simply put, the Wizards have steered off course -- which might be by design -- and Wall has taken a step backward this year. Not his overall game, but his shooting. He still can't shoot and is not a great paint finisher, either. There's every reason to believe he'll improve this part of his game, but until he does, he just can't be nearly as effective on offense.
4. DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
There are those who believe that some players are "coach killers" -- guys that are good enough to raise expectations but who rarely deliver, so consequently they get their coach fired. I, too, believe in that concept. However, I do not put Cousins in that category. At least not yet.
He may be enigmatic, but Cousins is still efficient and productive and has been more under control this season. There aren't five tougher guys to keep off the offensive glass than Cousins, and if he'd learn to explode when finishing, he'd be even tougher to stop in the paint. He gets over six shots per game near the rim, but makes just half of them.
Players with starting, if not starring, potential
5. Tiago Splitter, Spurs
What's not to love about a second-year player with years of pro experience globally? Especially one who makes shots, takes only great shots, rebounds, defends and plays his role beautifully. Splitter is good or very good at almost everything and has few weaknesses that matter because he plays to his strengths.
The only question left about Splitter is: Can he be a top-line player, or is he destined to be an excellent role player? As the Spurs move forward in the coming two years, we'll get our answer.
6. Evan Turner, 76ers
If the NBA handed out its Most Improved Player award now, Turner would be a finalist. He has been much closer this season to what Philly expected of him in his rookie campaign; he is doing lots of little things to help his team win.
Can he score 20-plus points in a game? Yes. Can he grab 10-plus rebounds in a game? Yes. Can he control the ball for long stretches and help run the team as an off guard? Yes.
He has also shown much better shot selection this season and is now one of the two biggest bench producers for perhaps the league's best second unit. His herky-jerky style of a dribble attack is roasting defenders, and he's making more rim shots this season than he attempted last season.
7. Paul George, Pacers
George has proven to be a solid wing player for a solid team, thanks to two key ingredients -- his 3-point shooting and his defense. He's struggled overall on offense, but 40-plus percent from 3 combined with an ability to create turnovers and slow scorers down is a valuable commodity in the NBA.
If he never figures out how to score more efficiently and productively, Indy will still have a wing they can trust as a starter. If he polishes up his offense, then his stock will soar.
8. Omer Asik, Bulls
This is the second season that Asik has helped solidify one of the league's best defenses as a reserve. The Bulls win a lot of their games thanks to having such a strong bench, and that alone helps him rank this high.
He has also shown that he's a more-than-adequate replacement for Joakim Noah -- one of the league's best defensive centers -- when he has to spell Noah and play alongside the starters. That suggests he can be a starter for a good team that doesn't need offense from its center. In terms of value, being a starting center for a good team is the next best thing to being a star.
9. Nikola Pekovic, Timberwolves
There is no doubt that Minnesota has played better since replacing Darko Milicic with Pekovic in the starting lineup. And the Timberwolves have been winning games, too. This season, Pekovic has proved to be better at almost everything, finishing better than 70 percent of his rim shots and rarely straying far from the basket.
He's also banging everyone around on the glass, which only helps banger supreme, Kevin Love, find even more angles for rebounding or scoring off an offensive rebound. Once Pekovic adjusts to playing with Ricky Rubio, preparing for a pass at all times, I can see him getting more involved on offense and creating more space for Love on the perimeter.
10. Patrick Patterson, Rockets
After a rough start this season following summer surgery for bone spurs, Patterson is finding his form again and reminding us why everyone was excited for his future. He has excellent body control for a big man with agility and has good touch with solid shooting range.
Although he has shown only signs of his outstanding defensive potential in Houston, it's fair to guess that Patterson will be a longtime starter in the NBA. And if Luis Scola continues to struggle, it may happen soon.
11. Derrick Favors, Jazz
Forget about any kind of "bust" talk concerning Favors. He's still only 20 years old and will be so much better in two years. Meanwhile, he's already solid on both ends of the floor.
12. Landry Fields, Knicks
The NBA can be a zero-sum game for some players, and Fields became one of those guys once Carmelo Anthony arrived in New York last season. However, he's showing signs of life lately. With Melo nursing some wounds, Fields has a chance to find his mojo again.
13. Jordan Crawford, Wizards
Crawford is a blur on the court, slowing down only long enough to shoot the ball, which he does lot. He may not be making many shots now, but he's someone to keep an eye on. As the Wizards mature, his efficiency should grow, because when he learns to slow down and read, the game will become much easier for him.
14. Jonas Jerebko, Pistons
Jerebko is proof that tall guys who compete really hard can find their way on an NBA roster and even get playing time on bad teams. JJ hustles everywhere, even when he shouldn't sometimes, like when he catches in space and tries to dribble attack. As a decent midrange shooter and an adequate defender, his energy is what ultimately gets him on the court.
15. Gordon Hayward, Jazz
Hayward is a tough guy to peg because just when you think he's a definite bust, he'll have a beautiful game. There is an NBA player inside of Hayward, but until he learns to shoot, we'll probably see it only on rare occasions.
16. Gary Neal, Spurs
Neal will never win any kind of PER contest because he has such a specific role: finish plays, shoot from deep or float in after a quick drive. But he's great at what he does. Even though his overall game has slipped a bit since last season, he's still a specialist who is thriving at his craft.
17. Trevor Booker, Wizards
I find Booker to be one of the most intriguing players of this class. He's probably the most athletic player overall, which makes up for his smaller size as a power forward. When he tries to do too much, he's turnover-prone. But when he plays within himself, he's a very valuable player who helps his team by scoring efficiently, rebounding and earning extra possessions through sheer hustle.
18. Ed Davis, Raptors
As expected (read John Hollinger's player profile on Davis), Davis has not had the same impact thus far that he had last season. Dealing with a new coach, Dwane Casey, who had some terrific veterans as a Dallas assistant last season, is not helping. Still, Davis has had some good moments and is playing decently on defense.
19. Greivis Vasquez, Hornets
Although he's on a new team now, Vasquez has picked up where he left off last season, when he helped Memphis get to the playoffs. He has proved he can run a team and move the ball to the right man, currently ranking 16th among all point guards in assist rate. Now he just needs to learn how to shoot. Unless he learns that skill, it's going to be tough for him to make any more progress on an NBA team.
20. Timofey Mozgov, Nuggets
Mozgov buys in beautifully to coach George Karl's request to race the floor as much as possible. Mozgov frequently beats his defender down the court, even though he usually likes to drift outside instead of banging inside. Starting for one of the league's top teams, his upside is considerable.