HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The ugly ducklings of the 2013 Draft class aren’t amused.
When Team USA held its annual July minicamp in Las Vegas with a couple dozen invited NBA players, a college star also got the call. Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart — a projected top-five pick in next summer’s draft class, the one the gurus already gloat is lined with gems — was a must-see in Vegas. Team USA didn’t even pretend to look for a diamond-in-the-rough among this year’s crop of NBA rookies.
Perhaps the 76ers’ new center, Nerlens Noel, would have been that hot-shot rookie, but he was rehabbing from ACL surgery. The injury ruined his near-consensus No. 1 status in the 2013 NBA Draft, where he eventually landed at No. 6.
Remember who went No. 1? Anthony Bennett. He probably isn’t on the tip of your tongue, either.
Yet the kid who is projected to be the top pick in next June’s Draft, Andrew Wiggins, already has gone viral in terms of his popularity among NBA teams.
See how this might rub the NBA’s current rookie class the wrong way?
“They have their judgment of us being a weak draft class and that’s fine,” Orlando Magic rookie and No. 2 overall draft pick Victor Oladipo said. “But I feel as one of the players in the draft class, that means they are taking a shot at not only the draft class, but me personally. I’m just going to continue to work hard and just keep getting better.”
Oladipo, an explosive, high-intensity and intelligent shooting guard out of Indiana, broached the topic with his 2013 brethren in New York during the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program. He discovered he wasn’t the only one scratching this itch of disrespect.
“Yeah, that’s definitely been on my mind,” Noel said. “I recall even Oladipo mentioned that as well. Me and him and another couple of guys were talking about how we’re being overlooked. We do have players that will make an impact.”
Oladipo is among the favorites to follow Portland’s Damian Lillard as Rookie of the Year. C.J. McCollom, the No. 10 overall pick by Portland, will have the chance to back up Lillard. No. 9 Trey Burke will take over as Utah’s starting point guard. No. 7 Ben McLemore will get opportunities to shoot the lights out in Sacramento. No. 14 Shabazz Muhammad could get unexpected playing time to prove his worth in Minnesota in the wake of Chase Budinger‘s knee injury. Noel’s season in Philadelphia won’t start until his knee is 100 percent, but the Sixers ultimately see the center as the foundation of their ground-up rebuild. No. 3 Otto Porter will play alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal in Washington.
“We’re taking a lot of criticism,” Porter said. “At the end of the day, we want to be a class that makes a difference. I can only speak for myself, but I’m working hard to make a difference. It’s more motivation. I think we pretty much all knew that they’re saying this and we have to do the opposite.”
At the bottom end of the first round, maybe Germany’s tantalizing point guard Dennis Schroeder (at No. 17) emerges as a star in Atlanta. Potential for Michigan’s long-and-lanky Tim Hardaway Jr. at No. 24 with the Knicks? How about No. 29 Archie Goodwin, the one-year Kentucky Wildcat, who put in an impressive Summer League with the Suns?
Draft classes are pre-judged. And, true, there isn’t an obvious superstar-in-the-making among this one. But who saw Kawhi Leonard as the next face of the San Antonio Spurs at No. 15 in 2011, another draft considered to lack star power at the top (at least outside of Kyrie Irving) and depth at the back end? Who even knew how to pronounce “kah-WHY”? Kenneth Faried, in the same draft at No. 22, is taking charge in Denver. We know now that David West at No. 18 (Class of 2003) was a find. He came 16 spots below Darko Milicic.
Take heed class of 2013. Now it’s time to rise from ugly ducklings to darlings.
“They feel like we’re one of the weakest classes that has been in the NBA Draft, which is fine,” Oladipo said. “Like I said, that is their opinion. But at the end of the day we’re going to use it for fuel. I know I am.”