For every LeBron-Carmelo-Bosh-Wade NBA draft, there is a draft like this year’s, with no clear superstars on the horizon. What drafts like these lack in star power, they make up for in intrigue. Duke point guard Kyrie Irving was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick, and is drawing comparisons to Chris Paul. However, Irving only played 11 college games because of injuries, and carries with him the ominous Duke pedigree—Duke players drafted in the top 3, from Jay Williams to Danny Ferry to Christian Laettner to Grant Hill have had troubled NBA careers. Will Irving provide the spark for the LeBron-less Cavs to guide them back to contender status, or will he become merely a solid Mike Conley-type player? When obscurity surrounds even the consensus number one pick, it is clear that this draft is one with more questions than answers.
Derrick Williams from Arizona was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and is similarly shrouded in mystery. Williams is undeniably gifted on offense, but is a self-admitted positionless player who falls between the power forward and small forward position. In a league that his gotten increasingly quick-footed and point-guard driven (see: Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, J.J. Barea, and Russell Westbrook), it is unclear whether Williams’ tweener status will be a benefit or a detriment to his NBA game. After Williams, the waters become even murkier. The standout of this year’s NCAA tournament, UCONN’s Kemba Walker, danced up and down experts’ mock draft boards, finally landing in Charlotte at the ninth pick. Sharpshooter, Jimmer Fredette, is trying to overcome melanin-based comparisons to Adam Morrison and J.J. Reddick, and provides the Sacramento Kings with an instant NBA scorer. Perhaps the most intriguing prospect is Enes Kanter, a Turkish big man who has played zero college games, and whose YouTube resume largely was shot in prep school gymnasiums. Kanter, drafted third by the Utah Jazz, has a superhero frame and a surprisingly soft touch. He could emerge as the biggest NBA contributor from this draft, or could become the next big stiff.
While the 2011 draft will not necessarily usher in a new era for the NBA, these players will fundamentally dictate the league’s landscape. The emergence of a single player can shape the NBA for years to come. If Kanter becomes a force, teams will need to counter by cultivating big men of their own. If Fredette shines, every team will try to find their own three-point assassin. If Irving lives up to the hype, the league will continue to be point guard-dominated. The NBA finals ended less than two weeks ago, with the Mavericks still savoring their championship at the end of a long and arduous season. But for every other team in the league, today is the day to focus on the future.