He was a can’t-miss prospect with limitless potential. He had jumping ability and simply looked bigger than the other high schoolers. He seemed like a no-brainer in a relatively weak draft. The Washington Wizards sure seemed happy to take him.
Kwame Brown had a lot of promise. It is hard to remember that. Ten years after he was drafted, that promise is unfulfilled. Instead of being an NBA All Star, Brown is the poster boy for why the NBA has tried to prevent players from jumping straight from high school to the NBA.
A bright future was dimmed quickly after averaging 4.5 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game in 57 games his rookie year. He was reportedly ripped by teammate Michael Jordan in practice and he never recovered the confidence that made him the top pick and the number one high school prospect in the nation.
There would be no recovering for Brown. He has averaged 6.8 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game in his 10-year career. His career-high came in 2004, when he averaged just 10.4 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game in a career-high 30.3 minutes per game. He could produce with playing time but not at the levels of a number one overall pick.
The burden was too much for Brown. Not with the weight of being the first high school player drafted with the top overall pick. Not with the weight of being drafted ahead of perennial All Stars Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph and Tony Parker. Not in a draft that also featured Tyson Chandler, Gerald Wallace, Shane Battier and Richard Jefferson in the first round and Gilbert Arenas and Memo Okur in the second. Heck, Brian Scalabrine might have turned out to be a better pick.
The truth of the matter is in 2001, the league was coming to grips with this influx of high school players storming their shores. There were five first round picks straight out of high school and three in the first four picks of the draft. Tyson Chandler was the only one to really make it as the league has long forgotten the names of Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, Kedrick Brown and DeSagana Diop.
And in large part the league is still dealing with this issue, even if delayed a year.
Much like there was a Korleone Young for every Rashard Lewis, there is a Kosta Koufos for every Derrick Rose. The odds of mising on a prospect after one year playing at the NCAA level are much lower than missing on a prospect when all you have is high school tape to watch.
Yet, the Draft is still as much of an unknown as it has ever been with the influx of early entry candidates.
The 2010 Draft saw four freshmen go in the first 12 picks and freshmen and sophomores in nine of the first 13 picks. At one end, it might say something that those upperclassmen were Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, Cole Aldrich and Ekpe Udoh who were all decidedly underwhelming in their rookie years. Very realistically we could see five underclassmen taken in the first seven picks this year.
The change in the last 10 years might be a recognition from college coaches that recruits are coming to college more ready to play than in years past. Freshmen are inserting themselves into starting lineups from the moment they step on campus. We saw it when John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson took Kentucky by storm in helping the team reach the Elite Eight. They then took the NBA by storm to varying degrees of success by getting drafted in the first round.
Now we are preparing to see Kyrie Irving (who played a total of 11 games as a freshman at Duke) and Enes Kanter (declared ineligible to play at Kentucky before the season began) get drafted in the top 10 — and quite possibly both by the Cavaliers in the top four.
In the new collective bargaining agreement, there will be discussions about raising the minimum age to enter the NBA Draft. Still, that one year of scouting has helped players prepare immensely and helped NBA coaches and general managers make more informed selections.
There are still misses. It is the NBA Draft after all. But we may never see a miss like Kwame Brown again.
Photos via DayLife.com.