The 2003 NBA draft class is widely considered to be one of the most talented group of players ever to enter the league at one time.
Players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade are all proven superstars and have become the face of the modern NBA era.
Chris Kaman, T.J. Ford, Mickael Pietrus, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, and Mo Williams were also part of this class and have all gone on to become solid players in their own right.
Since 2003, the quality of players entering the NBA as a whole has dropped off significantly. In my opinion, this degradation of talent greatly influenced the implementation of the new NBA rule requiring players to be at least one year removed from their high school graduation before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft.
Since this rule was put in place, we have slowly begun to see an increase in the quality of players entering the NBA via the draft, culminating in what was widely thought to be an exceptional and star-studded 2008 class, consisting of Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, and O.J. Mayo as the top three picks.
Early draft prognostications were calling this year’s class to be the weakest we have seen since 2006. The top picks, with the exception of Blake Griffin, were all considered to be high-risk prospects with impressive potential but extraordinarily raw talent.
Though it's too early to accurately project the achievements of the 2009 class, I am confident in at least saying the predictions of the class' weakness were highly inaccurate.
Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers PF)
Griffin, the first pick in the draft, was injured during the preseason and is not expected to be back for at least another four weeks. He was considered by most to be the one surefire pick of this year’s draft, and there are not too many questions about his ability to succeed at this level.
Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee Bucks PG)
Jennings is quickly emerging as a superstar and is doing so in historic fashion. On Saturday night, he became the youngest player ever to score 50 points or more. His 55 points were the most scored by a rookie since Earl “The Pearl” Monroe dropped 56 in 1968. On the season, he is averaging 25.6 points, 5.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game.
Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings SG)
Evans has been equally impressive in many respects, but has been overshadowed by some of Jennings’ explosive performances. In Kevin Martin’s absence, Evans has stepped in for the Kings to average 22 points, five assists, and 1.6 steals over the last five games. On the season, he is averaging 16.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.4 spg.
Ty Lawson (Denver Nuggets PG)
Lawson has been perhaps the biggest surprise in this draft. Nobody ever questioned Lawson’s abilities, but he has far and away exceeded everyone’s expectations with his remarkable quickness and ability to finish strong at the rim. He has clearly established himself as the Nuggets' point guard of the future, and is quickly becoming relevant in the Rookie of the Year conversations.
Jonny Flynn (Minnesota Timberwolves PG)
Flynn has also been impressive at times, despite his recent struggles. Remember that Flynn is somewhat constrained by Kurt Rambis’ pass-first triangle offense and doesn’t have as much freedom as some of the other rookies I have mentioned. Despite these growing pains, Flynn is still third in scoring among NBA rookies averaging 14.2 ppg. If he learns how to reduce turnovers and take better care of the basketball, Flynn has all the makings of a star.
Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors PG)
Curry has struggled to start the season amidst the turmoil surrounding the Warriors, but has dominant scorer written all over him.
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors SG)
DeRozan has been quiet thus far, but is still starting for the Raptors and is thought to be their anchor at the shooting guard spot for years to come.
Taj Gibson (Chicago Bulls PF)
Gibson has been thrown into the starting lineup for the Bulls with the injury to Tyrus Thomas and has played well. He looks capable of being a competent starting forward, and is quickly making Thomas expendable.
DeJuan Blair (San Antonio Spurs PF)
Blair has been labeled as the steal of the draft in many circles. He was taken in the second round due to concerns over his knee problems, but has clearly played at a high level this year. He has been perhaps the Spurs' most valuable player not named Ginobli coming off the bench. Assuming his knees hold up, Blair has starting power forward potential.
Chase Budinger (Houston Rockets SF)
Budinger is making a convincing argument to supplant Blair as the steal of this draft. Also taken in the second round, Budinger has put everyone who overlooked him on blast, and has been a key reason for the Rockets early season success. A valuable reserve now, Budinger has all the athleticism and the work ethic to become a solid starter at some point.
Omri Casspi (Sacramento Kings F)
The first Israeli player ever to be taken in the draft, Casspi has been a lightning rod so far for the Kings. He is shooting the three ball at a .474 clip, but beyond his impressive shooting he has also brought a defensive energy to the Kings that is rarely seen in a rookie.
James Harden (Oklahoma City Thunder SG)
Harden has been struggling to find his shooting touch early in the season, but has excelled in other areas. He is said by many of his peers to play with a veteran’s presence, slowing the game down to his pace and making great decisions. He might quietly evolve into the best shooting guard in this class.
Rodrigue Beaubois (Dallas Mavericks G)
Beaubois has moved into the Mavericks starting lineup with the injury to Josh Howard and has shown everybody why he was considered to be one of the most athletic players available in this draft class. He has all of the physical tools, the ability to energize his teammates, and can blow by nearly anybody guarding him at will. He has been the silver lining to Josh Howard's injury so far.
Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis Grizzlies C)
I will put Thabeet into this category based on potential alone. He has shown virtually nothing at this point in the season, but he possesses so much raw athletic ability that it would be impossible not to think he can become a defensive stopper and a starting center at some point.
With five players I consider to be surefire locks to achieve star status, and more than a handful of other players who are already proving their worth as starters in this league, I believe it is becoming obvious that this draft class was drastically underrated.
They may not have the glamour and hype of the 2003 class, or the star power at the top of 2008's, but as a whole I think this class will prove to be as solid as any in recent memory.
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