The best way to judge a draft is to wait a few years and see who gets paid the most and the quickest. Which means we know a lot more about the first round of the 2011 class, now that the deadline for contract extensions has passed.
And the verdict is … what, exactly?
Only six of the 14 players taken int the lottery beat the deadline and got richer. That means the draft was so-so at best and disappointing at worst. But complicating matters is the smell of big money down the road. Thanks to the new TV deal and the looming labor negotiations in a few years, some players are willing to place bets on themselves and hold out for a few extra dollars. It’s also known as the Kawhi Leonard route. The MVP of the 2014 Finals and 15th overall pick had hoped for a max deal, didn’t get one from the Spurs, and will try the market next summer during restricted free agency.
But he was the big exception, and so, we survey the scene for the first-round winners and losers.
Klay Thompson (drafted No. 11): Got four years and $70 million from the Warriors to make a big, umm, splash. At roughly $17 million a season, he hasn’t made an All-Star team, yet he’s earning more than Paul George and Russell Westbrook. If you think that’s an overpay, well, the market, which is about to expand, says otherwise. Warriors didn’t want to chance Thompson going on the market and were very comfortable with his growth so far.
Kyrie Irving (1): The Cavs didn’t waste any time giving him the max this summer, and as a bonus, gave him LeBron James. If he gets a ring next June, then it will have been quite the 12-month stretch.
Kenneth Faried (22): There were six power forwards taken ahead of him, including three in the lottery. But Faried worked his way into a four-year, $50 million deal with rolled-up sleeves. The Nuggets are hoping this deadline deal works better than the one for JaVale McGee.
The Morris Twins (13 and 14): Markieff and Marcus Morris didn’t want to test the market, not necessarily because the money wouldn’t have been better, but because they didn’t want to separate. Unless you were born within minutes of your brother or sister, you wouldn’t understand. So the Suns’ forwards agreed to keep the family together. Markieff gets $32 million and Marcus $20 million. Oh, and they keep their money in the same bank account.
Nik Vucevic (16): It didn’t take long for the Magic to find Dwight Howard‘s replacement. Vucevic still needs to refine his skills but big men with double-double ability averaging 13.6 and 11.5 in two Magic seasons) are hard to come by, and that’s why Orlando forked over $53 million over four years. That’s a good, fair price for a young and developing center.
Kemba Walker (9): A day after agreeing to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Hornets, Walker hit the game-tying and game-winning shots in the home opener. He’s a small, shoot-first point guard but is a straight-up baller who craves big moments. A no-brainer for a team desperate for talent and a turnaround.
Ricky Rubio: He was drafted in 2009 but after two years playing in Spain is technically part of the 2011 rookie crop. After the Wolves lost Kevin Love, there was a concern whether Rubio would want to stick around for what could be a lengthy rebuilding process. Yet from the first day of camp, Rubio said he was excited to start a fresh era in Minnesota. His four year, $56 million deal is essentially Eric Bledsoe money, not bad considering Rubio is still looking for consistency and a stretch of good health.
Chandler Parsons (38) and Isaiah Thomas (60): Yes, they were second-rounders, but when one player gets roughly $16 million a season from Dallas and the last pick of the draft gets $6 million a year, as Thomas did this summer from the Suns, they sound like winners to me.
Derrick Williams (2): He’s already on his second team and could fetch a few dollars next summer, but this so-called NBA-ready player from the draft struggles to find a comfort zone between the forward spots. He needs a solid season to decrease his flaws and prove that he can be more than a journeyman in this league. If he can’t do that in Sacramento, you wonder if he can do it anywhere. You only get so many chances before teams simply move on.
Enes Kanter (3): After the Jazz forked over big dollars for Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, they’re done paying for potential, at least for the moment anyway. Not only is Kanter inconsistent, he’s on a team with Derrick Favors, who got paid a year ago, and Rudy Gobert, whom the Jazz are high on. Kanter looks to be the odd big man out and could be bait at the trade deadline.
Jimmy Butler (30): He and the Bulls were a few million apart at the deadline, and even though Butler could get a decent offer next summer, it might not be from Chicago. The Bulls like his defense, but he lacks what they really could use: outside shooting from the two-guard spot. That’s why they didn’t blow him away at the deadline.
Kings: In addition to delaying Williams, they spent their first-round pick on Jimmer Fredette, who was taken one spot ahead of Thompson. In a weird twist, the Kings, whose brain trust comes from the Warriors, were hoping to steal Thompson next summer.
Wizards: Has anyone seen or heard from Jan Vesely, the No. 6 pick in 2011? There haven’t been many players drafted that high who failed to get a third-year qualifying offer. He’s now playing in Turkey after flaming out quickly with the Wizards, then Nuggets.