While talented young players are the biggest draw in sports, especially for teams that are not in contention for a championship, most sport fans know that having a young talent roster is just the beginning. Truth be told, the talent a player has must be complimented by many intangible elements. These include maturity, supporting cast and health. Many of these elements rely purely on luck, while others are honed and mastered over a long period of time. Some players are born with them, while others need to learn them.
In the NBA, these elements are magnified, as chemistry in a star-driven league riddled with spooky non-contact injury potential is more difficult to find than ever. In addition, it is nearly impossible to predict how a player in the NBA will act off the court. Often times these players get caught in the glamorous lifestyle and forget about winning and hard work. This leads to them being in the headlines more for their antics than their play.
With the “social media generation” in full-force both on and off the court, the opportunity to become a washed up NBA ex-star is bigger than ever. Let’s break down some of the youngest NBA stars who are already washed up, and a handful of young NBA stars that aren’t only the real deal, but perhaps one of the most talented and likely successful cohorts of stars in decades.
15 Washed up: Jahlil Okafor
After being a likely #1 draft pick for most of his tenure at Duke University, most figured the Philadelphia 76ers to be incredibly lucky when he slid down to them at the 3rd overall pick. Boy, were they wrong! The talented big man was considered one of the best (and these days, only) bigs who can play with his back to the rim. Boasting a post game wasn’t enough, however, to seal the deal.
He quickly fell out of favour in the rotation, as Philly’s tank job left them with plenty of other talented options to throw minutes at.
Worst of all, it took the 76ers a good long time to strike a deal and get him out of captivity, but eventually he found his way to the Brooklyn Nets. Now out of shape and out of luck, Okafor will be lucky to see a meaningful NBA career through.
14 The Real Deal: Clint Capela
A lot of people consider Clint Capela the luckiest beneficiary of stats in the history of the game, playing the role of the lead pick and roll partner for James Harden, who will likely go down as one of the greatest court vision and scoring combo guards in the history of the game. True, he is certainly lucky in that sense.
But most will forget that Capela had to fight for his role with a lot of other talented centres in Houston over the past few seasons.
Now in his fourth season, the Swiss born centre has a huge opportunity in front of him, being the 3rd of a big three with James Harden and Chris Paul, all with the potential to knock off the mighty Golden State Warriors. He is the real deal.
13 Washed up: D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell got a bad break after some boneheaded decisions with social media during his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers. After being shipped out for a pick that ended up being the enigmatic power forward Kyle Kuzma, it was clear that D Lo didn’t live up to the 2nd overall pick that the Lakers spent on him. To make matters worse, he has been severely limited in his time in Brooklyn, playing in only 24 games so far in this 2017-18 seasons (that’s just about half!). In his absence, players like Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LaVert have thrived... good news for the Nets, but certainly bad news for Russell, who is now clearly never going to be the star he was pegged to be by the bulk of the basketball world.
12 The Real Deal: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid was a huge question mark when the Philadelphia 76ers selected him 3rd overall in 2014. Yes, he had tantalizing upside but he was already at that time known to be unable to play in the upcoming season due to injury. Bad news struck during that season, when 76ers Nation learned that he would be sitting out yet another season due to the same nagging injuries. Unfortunately for Embiid, most didn’t trust the process, but now that he has arrived (and finally is playing in back to back sets), most realize why the 76ers were so patient with him. The truth is that Embiid is a vintage NBA centre, a shadow of Hakeem Olajuwon, with untold potential. Now looking at their first playoff run in recent times, it’s obvious that at just 23 years of age, Joel Embiid is indeed the real deal.
11 Washed up: Nerlens Noel
Another victim of the Philadelphia 76ers tank job, Nerlens Noel was traded for by the 76ers in 2013 in exchange for their then-All Star point guard Jrue Holiday. At the time, Noel was an exciting player for his versatility in shot blocking and rebounding, as well as his athleticism.
Unfortunately for him, the guy who was once thought to be Philly’s franchise player turned out to be injury plagued, particularly in the last two season.
With injuries keeping him on the sideline, it’s kind of hard to see his growth happening any time soon, even with his current team, the Dallas Mavericks, in much need of an athletic centre to run the floor. Bottom line, even though he is just 22 years old, it is going to be highly unlikely that Noel ever lives up the hype he received in June of 2013.
10 The Real Deal: Julius Randle
For a while there, Laker fans were sweating with their Julius Randle jerseys on, as the log jam at power forward in Lala Land was causing problems for his growth. Randle had enjoyed more and more growth and success in each of his three NBA season, and was pegged to be a breakout All Star candidate this season. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Randle got locked into a bad situation where coach Luke Walton was giving him as little as 15 minutes of floor time on certain nights.
Capped growth would be an understatement. But with a recent deadline trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Randle is already building off the monster stat lines he has boasted in his limited playing time. He is the real deal, and the Lakers are loving it.
9 Washed up: Ben McLemore
After being pegged a top three selection for most of his last season at the University of Kansas, most were surprised to see the promising young scorer Ben McLemore slide down to the Sacramento Kings at #7. But the truth is that the Kings really gave him an ample shot to score and produce for them. He simply couldn’t do it at the NBA level. One could perhaps blame the poor culture developed by the Kings, where star-chasing is the norm, or perhaps he just couldn’t get the fortitude required of a knock down shooter at the NBA level. Whatever it was, McLemore became quickly discarded, as he was shipped to Memphis Grizzlies where he currently plays a meaningless back up role for a team that is not playoff bound.
8 The Real Deal: Karl Anthony Towns
Karl Anthony Towns isn’t just the real deal for his skill set, as he has proven in under three seasons to be a double double machine, but he has also shone in the NBA for his poise, maturity and something you can’t teach, durability. Yes, in his third season this year, he has not only earned his first (well deserved) All Star, he has missed zero games in his career so far.
Towns will be a household name across the country in a few short years, and the Minnesota Timberwolves couldn’t be happier to have him.
Having learned from Kevin Garnett in his final season as a locker room presence in Minnesota, Karl Anthony Towns is now officially ready to take the torch and lead Minnesota to contention for a good long while. Oh yeah, he is the real deal.
7 Washed up: Trey Burke
There was a point that the whole country was impressed with Trey Burke when he was flashing his upside at the University of Michigan. Unfortunately for him, that just didn’t last. After a three year run with the Utah Jazz, it was clear that his shot selection was a real problem. After being sent to the Washington Wizards, he was eventually cut and found himself in Upstate New York playing for the Knicks G League affiliate... yeah, not exactly a glorious path to stardom. Now rostered by a largely rebuilding New York Knicks, he may end up a viable part of their rotation, but he certainly has lost his allure to be a real NBA star. Things fall apart pretty quickly.
6 The Real Deal: Devin Booker
In 2014, Devin Booker was ranked 23rd in his recruiting class. In that same year, the Phoenix Suns drafted the 1 and done Kentucky Wildcat at 13th overall. Fast forward a few season, and it is pretty obvious that he is a super star in the making. As he finished up the second half of his 3rd season, he still is just 21 years old, and clearly has the upside to be one of the best combo guards in the league, and perhaps the best shooter. The proof of this is in the stats... last season he became the youngest to enter the elite company of highest individual scoring performances when he racked up 70 points in one contest... pretty impressive!
5 Washed up: Michael Carter-Williams
Once upon a time, Michael Carter-Williams was a nightly triple double threat and eventual rookie of the year. Unfortunately, that once upon a time was only four years ago! Sadly, MCW never lived up to the hype after his rookie season, and ended up being traded several times, putting up abysmal stats, largely due to his carelessness with the rock and his awful field goal percentages. It is always going to be hard for a guard to thrive in the NBA without a consistent jumper, and MCW is the perfect example of a long limbed guard with all the upside who ended up a complete bust.
4 The Real Deal: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons joined the ranks last summer of draft lottery picks who simply couldn’t stay healthy for the Philadelphia 76ers... and like his teammate Joel Embiid, he is now showing the basketball world why he was worth the wait. In this technical rookie season of his, he is widely considered the favorite for rookie of the year and is one of the most enigmatic players in the league, averaging a gaudy 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 dimes per contest... all of that of course, he has accomplished as a six foot ten inch point guard. At his height, he is a nightmare matchup and will be an elite NBA leader in multiple categories for a long, long time. Patience is truly a virtue!
3 Washed up: Anthony Bennett
When Greg Oden declared for the BIG 3 draft for the second season (set to kick off this summer!), everyone shook their head at the shame of this #1 overall lottery pick draft bust, but perhaps even more of a bust is that of Anthony Bennett. Unlike Oden, Bennett didn’t get drafted right before the likes of Kevin Durant, but Bennett has proved to be so irrelevant at full health that people are still scratching their heads over how scouts didn’t realize how poor he would perform in the NBA. While this young fella has been on a crazy ride so far, he is still only 24 years old. Yikes!
2 The Real Deal: Donovan Mitchell
The only thing standing in the way of Ben Simmons and his Rookie of the Year trophy is undoubtedly the high flying and high volume scoring Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz. The Jazz may have struck gold when they drafted him this season at 13th overall, because Mitchell stormed the league proving night in and night out that he is the most polished rookie, and way more polished than many other point guards who have been in the league for years. In 54 contests this season, he has averaged 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He will also be featured in the NBA All Star Weekend at the Dunk Contest, where he will hope to add to his young yet long list of accolades.
1 Washed up: Stanley Johnson
Stanley Johnson was once touted by the Detroit Pistons as the athletic three-and-D wing player of the future. Unfortunately for him and the Pistons, he has failed tremendously. After a dominant summer league performance after being drafted in 2015, Johnson has done next to nothing with his unlimited minutes. Perhaps one of the most embarrassing parts is that coach Stan Van Gundy has left him on the floor the play through the growing pains, and Johnson simply hasn’t been able to perform.
While this list of washed up young players can be painful and in a sense tragic to read about, the upside of the real deal players at their young ages can give NBA fans everywhere something to be excited about... the future! With a league that is more divided than ever, and with a franchise as dominant as the Golden State Warriors looking at yet another championship run, it is clear that that is exactly what will continue to motivate fans and players to play hard and show what they are capable of doing.