As we've worked our way through Brandon Knight's rookie season, the more hopeful among us have pointed to his promise, his much-ballyhooed intelligence and work ethic, and his youth and inexperience as reason to hope that he will show steady progress over the next few years and perhaps emerge at 25 at or near all-star level.
But do one-and-done players regularly exhibit this sort of growth? I found a way to create waaaayyyy too much time for what I had to spare and compiled stats for the 24 one-and-dones who entered the NBA from 2006 - 2009. Trying to upload a goddamned thing on Google Docs from Burma can (and, in this case, did) take hours, so y'all better appreciate the effort, however irrelevant and flawed it may be.
Born All-Stars--these guys hit the league at near the top and have only gotten better
They Blossomed--good players as rookies, who have become stars
Creepin' Up--these players haven't exploded, but the stats suggest that they've gotten better since their rookie seasons
What We Saw Is What We Got--these dudes aren't looking much different than they did during their first seasons. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes that's a bad thing
Slippery Slopin'--at least based on my limited understanding of the stats, these guys seem to be less effective players a few years down the road
Stagnant Non-Factors--They weren't good then; they ain't good now.
Before placing these 24 in their categories a couple of caveats:
1. I don't watch a lot of basketball and about 85% of my Pistons and NBA information comes from this site. I include stats like PER, Win Shares, and Offensive and Defensive Ratings without having any personal sense as to how valid or revealing they are.
2. My ratings are largely a reflection of the development of these players over times, as opposed to their inherent value. In other words, a one poor player who has become serviceable, like BJ Mullens, s Creepin' Up, while Tyreke Evans is Slippery Slopin'. This doesn't necessarily mean that Mullens is a better player than Evans. They key here is to look at to what degree one-and-doners tend to improve over time.
With that out of the way:
Born All-Stars (2)
Kevin Durant (2007)
Derick Rose (2008)
Not much to talk about here. Both were top picks who had really good rookie seasons. One has one an MVP and the other is in most top ten player lists. About the only thing worth mentioning is that I discovered that a quarter century ago, there was evidently an NBA player named Devin Durrant. I find that funny.
They He Blossomed (1)
Kevin Love (2008)
Sadly for those of us hoping to see BK add an assist a game and two percentage points of shooting accuracy while dramatically cutting his turnover rate, Love is the only example of a decent rookie who transformed himself into a star. His rebounding per 36 has remained stable, but he seems to do everything else much better. I don't know how valid the Defensive Rating stat is, but he's at a career best this year.
Modest improvement over the next three to five seasons would seem to be the most that we would realistically hope for. Mullens didn't play much for two years (and was awful when he did), but seems to be useful this year. Jordan has probably shown the biggest jump here, but can't yet be called a blossomer. Hawes was essentially the same player for the first four years, but took a major jump this year until he was injured. Koufas had a surprisingly poor sophomore year, but has rebounded (figuratively) since.
Most relevant to our dreams of developing a good guard would be Gordon and Conley. Gordon has been hurt all year. Statistically, his first three seasons were similar enough, but there is a rise in PER and assists. If BK ends up not being a point guard, this might be his role model for growth.
Conley is a true point guard who has shown a consistent ability to improve. This is maybe how we might hope that BK can develop. He's not an All-Star, but a good point guard, it would seem. His assists are up, his FG% remarkably steady, and he gets to the line more than in his early years. He is the clear example of a point guard who has improved enough to have some hope for BK's future development.
Remember, this isn't necessarily a bad category to be in. Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday are major parts of a division-leading Sixers team. Both could possibly be bumped up to Creepin' Up, but neither seems to have shown enough statistical improvement to quite warrant that. Holiday's stats are actually down across the board this year. Young suffered a dip in season three, but the past two have been much stronger. If he finishes this year like he's started it, he'd probably be Creepin'. Otherwise, none of these guys shows any signs of being significantly better than they ever were.
Slippery Slopin' (4)
Evans went from Rookie of the Year to a disappointing second season; he's rebounded some, but still looks to be less than he was when he first arrived. Mayo is shooting more poorly and appears to be more of a mere rotation player. Hickson has gone from promising to terrible in Sacramento. Beasley...man, that has been one steep and greasy slope.
Williams is very bad. Oden is very injured. Crittendon was pretty bad and has had, um, some "issues".
Looking over these numbers, it would seem that those of us holding out for Brandon Knight to blossom into a star are likely to be disappointed. Out of the 22 players who weren't immediately elite NBA players, only Kevin Love has blossomed into one. More sobering is that of the 9 guards (not including immediate sensation Rose) on this list, seven are at best the same players they were as rookies, and Mike Conley is the only one to develop into an above-average point guard.
But, of course, Brandon Knight isn't a collection of comparisons or statistics. He may be one of the rare ones to truly break out. It may well be that missing his first pre-season camp has had a genuine effect on his play and that there is reason to hope for more growth. And perhaps his intelligence and work ethic will set him apart. But Brandon Knight ever getting anywhere near an All-Star game would be surprising, based on others who've been in his situation.
In the end, I'm surprised by these numbers. I had an instinctive sense that good, very young players would generally get better--often a lot better--with a little more experience. But this seems not to be the case. Over 60% of the One-and-Dones from these years are about what they were or worse and only one made a huge and unexpected jump.