Inevitably, any time you offer instantaneous analysis about something, there will be someone there to reflexively respond that judgment is being made too soon. And they're completely right. It isn't fair to rule on a victor in a trade or dismiss a player's potential without allowing for a substantial amount of time in order to see how things play out. Of course, we do it anyway. Fair or not, instant analysis has become a staple of the contemporary experience of consuming sports.
This compulsion for immediate evaluation is partly a product of the digital era and 24-hour news cycle. We want to make an original point by beating others to the punch. From a sports media standpoint, this also holds true, with the added component of needing material that will make audiences take notice and fill time. Regardless of the reason behind it and whether it's fair, this rush to judgment may not necessarily be wrong. For every Hassan Whiteside who comes into his own late, there are many more Greg Odens, who never quite shed that early 'bust' label. The "never believed in us" rallying cry by players and teams set on proving critics wrong is easy to latch onto, but the critics win pretty often.
This list of 15 former college stars who are failing in the NBA might feature some entries who will one day come back to haunt me. After all, these are primarily players still in their early 20's with plenty of time to turn around slow starts to their pro careers. But let's be real here. Some of these players have already been given up on by the team that drafted them, while others have been out-shone by players taken well after them in the draft. While there's still time for these 15 players to avoid entering Kwame Brown territory, the early pro returns haven't shown the same players that stood out at the NCAA level.
15 Jabari Parker
The timing of Jabari Parker's ACL tear in early February could not have been worse. Parker was quietly enjoying a breakout campaign that, although overshadowed by the remarkable season of teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, saw him averaging career-bests in points (20.1), rebounds (6.1) and assists (2.8).With Antetokounmpo and Parker simultaneously rounding into form, Milwaukee Bucks fans were witnessing their club's future take hold. The good news is that the former Duke standout and 2014 No. 2 pick may well pick up right where he left off next season. But the injury offers yet another reminder of the fragility of a player who got into just 25 games in his rookie season and has seen his development slowed considerably. In hindsight, Parker has probably been surpassed in his draft class by fellow injury-plagued top five pick Joel Embiid and second round revelation Nikola Jokic, at least.
14 Denzel Valentine
Even as he embarked on a decorated four-year college career at Michigan State that culminated in an AP Player of the Year award in his senior year, NBA scouts were skeptical of Denzel Valentine's pro potential. Sure, he could score and rebounded extremely well for a guard, but a lack of explosive athleticism and questions about his defensive ability raised questions about how he would fare at the next level. Valentine's efforts as a Spartan still swayed the Chicago Bulls into using the last pick in the lottery on him last summer. Early returns have illustrated precisely what scouts feared. Valentine's offensive production hasn't been enough to counteract his defensive problems, thereby limiting his minutes to just about 15 per contest. That should change somewhat with Dwyane Wade's season-ending elbow injury, but it remains to be seen how high the 23-year-old's ceiling is.
13 Alex Len
Don't worry too much about Alex Len - he'll be fine. Given that 7'1" 23-year-olds don't exactly grow on trees and the NBA salary cap will still continue its rapid ascent this summer, the pending restricted free agent has a substantial pay day to look forward to in his near future. The question is whether that pay day will come as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix, who drafted him fifth overall in 2013, represent his only NBA home to date, but seem to be slowly nudging the Maryland product further down the rotation. Now in his fourth season, Len has seen his minutes drop at a time when most players remain on the rise. While perfectly solid in the paint, the Ukranian big man has never averaged double digits in points or rebounds. In fact, the writing may have been on the wall as early as last summer, when the Suns added two bigs - Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss - taken in the top 10.
12 Willie Cauley-Stein
The selection of Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth pick of the 2015 NBA Draft was something of a head-scratcher, even at the time. After all, the Sacramento Kings already had a franchise center in fellow Kentucky product DeMarcus Cousins and Cauley-Stein was seen as more of an immediate contributor and somewhat finished product. The good news for the seven-footer is that Cousins, as we now know, has been dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans, thereby opening up some minutes in the front court. But the second-year big man hasn't exactly offered Kings' fans reason to believe that he will make a difference with a greater opportunity. After exploding for 29 points and 10 rebounds in the team's first game after the trade, Cauley-Stein has shown flashes of breaking out but has been burdened by a slew of uneven performances. More impressive has been Kings' rookie big man Skal Labissiere, who might be surpassing Cauley-Stein on the depth chart.
11 Doug McDermott
During his record-setting four-year career at Creighton, Doug McDermott earned himself both a catchy nickname (Doug "McBuckets") and a reputation as a pure scorer. Even amidst questions about how his athletic and defensive abilities would carry over at the pro level, a decorated college career that included NCAA Player of the Year honors and saw him rise to fifth on the all-time scoring list prompted the Chicago Bulls to take a flyer on McDermott, working out a draft day trade with the Denver Nuggets to acquire him after he was selected 11th overall. While McDermott the scorer didn't really make his way to the Windy City - it wouldn't be until his fourth season that he cracked 10 points per game - McDermott the slow, defensive liability did. Recently shipped to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline, the 25-year-old hasn't yet been sparked by the change of scenery.
10 Brandon Ingram
The somewhat underwhelming Rookie of the Year race in the NBA this season appears to be absent of any of this year's top draftees. It's somewhat forgivable in the cases of No. 1 pick Ben Simmons (broken foot) and No. 3 Jaylen Brown (part of a crowded rotation on the talented Boston Celtics). It is less so for No. 2 selection Brandon Ingram of the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite opportunities that have included 31 starts and nearly 30 minutes of floor time per game, the Duke standout is averaging just 8.8 points on less than 40% shooting. Those numbers place him several notches below unlikely ROY front-runners Dario Saric and Milwaukee Bucks 2016 second rounder Malcolm Brogdon. Even injured Sixers rookie big man Joel Embiid has posted more points than Ingram this season despite playing almost 1300 fewer minutes.
9 Evan Turner
Surely no one would be more surprised to see Evan Turner's name on this list than Turner, himself. The ever-quotable shooting guard has raised eyebrows by comparing himself to Michael Jordan and Jesus, all the while averaging a notch over 10 career points per game. Of course, that's the type of confidence that will come from starring at Ohio State and being the No. 2 pick (behind John Wall) of the 2010 NBA Draft, not to mention going on to sign a whopping $70 million contract. But if Philadelphia made the first Turner-related mistake by drafting him ahead of the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, then Portland made the next costly error by handing the 28-year-old $17.5 million per season. That type of money would ideally be reserved for stars, not chuckers who are on their fourth team in four seasons and who is three years removed from his peak NBA campaign.
8 Jahlil Okafor
The Philadelphia 76ers snapped up Jahlil Okafor with the third pick of the 2015 NBA Draft and some still expressed surprise that he lasted even that long. Strange as it is to look back on now, Okafor entered the league as practically a sure thing, drawing Tim Duncan comparisons for his early mastery of the post. But what in 2015 looked like a calm, laid back demeanor now appears to be more of a passe ambivalence and an unwillingness to truly assert himself. While fellow 2015 lottery big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis are on the fast track to stardom, Okafor seems lost amidst a jam-packed Sixers' front court that features Rookie of the Year contenders Saric and Embiid. While the club ultimately decided Nerlens Noel would be the first big man to go, hearing Okafor's name so rampantly thrown about in trade rumors does not bode well for his future in Philly.
7 Ben McLemore
On paper, Ben McLemore looked like a perfect fit in Sacramento when they drafted him seventh overall in 2013. He was fresh off starring for Kansas while upping his draft stock from fringe first rounder to lottery lock by averaging 15.9 points on 50.7% shooting in his freshman year. The Kings jumped on the chance to draft a shooter and slasher who could serve as an ideal complement to blossoming star DeMarcus Cousins. But while Cousins continued to dominate inside and hone a perimeter game - at least before being dealt to New Orleans, anyway - McLemore languished and has never quite found his footing. His only season of double-digit scoring came in 2014-15 when he averaged 12.1 points in 32.6 minutes per game for a Kings team that couldn't crack 30 wins. In the two seasons since, his minutes have dwindled right alongside his numbers. The addition of Buddy Hield might be a sign that his time in Sacramento, much like Cousins', is coming to an end.
6 Aaron Gordon
Quick, think of an Aaron Gordon memory you have that isn't Slam Dunk Contest-related. Yeah, it isn't easy. Gordon would hardly be the first Dunk Contest champion to earn fame from little else beyond the All-Star Weekend event. While he isn't quite yet in the same boat as Desmond Mason, Fred Jones, Jeremy Evans and Terrence Ross, the former No. 4 overall pick hasn't developed as the Orland Magic would have hoped over his first three seasons. The first problem is his miscast role as a small forward on account of the Magic's glut of big man, with the likes of Bismack Biyombo, Nik Vucevic and Jeff Green preventing Gordon from shifting to his natural power forward position. The other issue is that Gordon's explosive dunking abilities are hard to practice in game when defenders don't have to respect his shot. He owns a 28.2% career mark from three-point territory to date.
5 D'Angelo Russell
Lakers fans will undoubtedly not be happy to see two of their key building blocks make this list, but that's the reality of the club's hit-and-miss rebuild to date. Now, both Ingram and D'Angelo Russell very much remain integral components of the young club as they move forward, but both have already raised questions over whether they are ready for the pressure-packed bright lights of La La Land. Russell showcased his potential as a dynamic scorer at Ohio State, but hasn't enjoyed the same type of success at the NBA level. Sure, he's averaging 15.4 points this season, but he's doing so on just barely over 40% shooting. His 2.7 turnovers per game this season have prompted coach Luke Walton to shift him over to shooting guard. But more concerning than any on-court indiscretions was his head-scratching decision to record a locker room conversation in which teammate Nick Young admitted to cheating on fiancee Iggy Azalea, thereby losing the trust of some of his teammates.
4 Trey Burke
It seems like forever ago that Trey Burke was the best player on a Michigan Wolverines squad that advanced as far as the NCAA championship game. Indeed, Burke racked up national player of the year and Cousy Award honors before being drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2013. Shipped to the Utah Jazz on a draft night deal, he even earned First-Team All-Rookie honors thanks to impressive scoring (12.8 points) and assist (5.7) totals in his first year in the league. Unfortunately for Burke, things would quickly go downhill from there. He didn't make any significant progress in his sophomore season and already seemed to be regressing in year three. In fact, so much shine had already been taken off the one-time top ten pick that he was dealt to Washington for a meager 2021 second round pick. With the Wizards and still just 24 years of age, Burke is averaging just 12 minutes of floor time per game and might not even crack their playoff rotation come April.
3 Kris Dunn
It seemed like a no-brainer pick for the Minnesota Timberwolves when they drafted Kris Dunn with the fifth pick of last summer's draft. Dunn had starred for Providence for four years, earning two Big East Player of the Year awards along the way, and was joining a Timberwolves team seeking another playmaker to find looks for the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. To this point, however, Dunn has struggled to make any in-roads in taking minutes away from incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio. In fact, Dunn's poor defense and abysmal shooting (37.2% on the season, including 39.4% on two-point shots) have prompted coach Tom Thibodeau to hand his minutes to Tyus Jones. A rookie averaging 16 minutes a contest would be less discouraging were Dunn not already 23 years of age, older than both Wiggins and Towns.
2 Thomas Robinson
Around the time of the 2012 NBA Draft, the optimism surrounding Kansas star Thomas Robinson (#15) was so high that his No. 5 draft slot was actually lower than many mock drafts had projected him to go. Even though the Sacramento Kings probably thought they had reeled in a steal in the athletic, versatile power forward, that excitement didn't last long. The Kings needed to see just 51 games from Robinson before deciding he wasn't what they had hoped for, quickly turning around and trading him to Houston in a multi-player mid-season deal. Changing addresses has become an on-going theme in Robinson's young career, suiting up for six teams over his first five seasons in the league. He now finds himself playing just 10 minutes a night for the lowly Lakers. He remains just 26 years of age, but it's tough to see a clear NBA future for the one-time Big 12 Player of the Year.
1 Anthony Bennett
In today's era of exhaustive scouting, data-based draft research and consensus-building mock drafts, it is uniquely difficult to make a draft selection - let alone a No. 1 overall pick - that looks bad both in the moment and in hindsight. But the Cleveland Cavaliers, still more than a year ahead of their LeBron reunion, managed to do just that with the top pick in the 2013 Draft. To be fair, there was no clear No. 1 choice in a year where the prospective best player - Nerlens Noel - had spent the better part of the previous year sidelined with a torn ACL. But Bennett seemed like a reach at the time, a sense that has been proven correct after the UNLV big man's trying four seasons in the league for four different teams. After being waived by the bottom-feeding Brooklyn Nets early in 2017, Bennett found himself out of the NBA before his 24th birthday and has since signed a professional contract to play in Turkey.
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