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The 2013 NBA Draft Appears to Be a Bust, but There’s Still Time to Turn It Around

There won’t be many contract extensions for the top of the class, which says as much about them as it does their situation

AP Images/Ringer illustration
AP Images/Ringer illustration

C.J. McCollum and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the first two players from the 2013 NBA draft to agree to extensions on their rookie deals, weren’t seen as future stars on draft night. McCollum, the no. 10 pick, was an undersized guard from the Patriot League who played in only 12 games as a senior before breaking his foot, while Giannis, the no. 15 pick, was a complete unknown who played in empty gyms against lower-division competition in Greece. Three years later, McCollum is one half of an explosive scoring duo in Portland, while Giannis has been given the keys to the franchise in Milwaukee. 2013 was just a weird draft in general. The best players were taken in the middle of the first round, and a lot of average players were taken at the top of the lottery. If there was a redraft, the first three selections would be some combination of Giannis, Steven Adams, and Rudy Gobert — all of whom were taken outside of the top 10.

High draft picks often wind up signing extensions with the teams that drafted them, but that may not happen this time around. On Monday, my colleague Kevin O’Connor broke down the Antetokounmpo deal and looked at the other candidates to sign an extension before the October 31 deadline, and there was a strikingly small number of players on his list. Of the four (Gobert, Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Dennis Schröder), only Oladipo was a top-10 selection. Anthony Bennett, the no. 1 pick, is playing for his fourth different team. There just wasn’t a lot of elite talent in the lottery of the 2013 draft.

A player whose career should give hope to all 2013 busts is Evan Turner, the no. 2 pick in 2010 who flamed out of Philadelphia in spectacular fashion. He didn’t do much better in his second stop in Indiana, where he never meshed with Paul George and Lance Stephenson, and helped accelerate the Pacers’ collapse in the second half of the regular season. It wasn’t until he went to Boston, where Brad Stevens reimagined him as a sixth man surrounded by shooters and versatile defenders, that he found the right role for himself in the NBA. After two seasons as a cult hero with the Celtics, he cashed in this offseason, signing a four-year, $70 million contract with the Blazers.

A change of scenery can do wonders for a young player, both in terms of how his team perceives him and how he perceives his place in the league. With much of the 2013 class likely to enter free agency in the coming seasons, the next few years will function as a redraft of sorts. Here are three players from the 2013 lottery who could turn things around playing for a new team.

Michael Carter-Williams

The player in the 2013 draft who most resembles Turner is Carter-Williams, another Sixers refugee. A 6-foot-6 point guard who can do a little bit of everything, Carter-Williams was the Rookie of the Year with the 76ers, averaging 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.3 assists a game. The only thing he can’t do is shoot, which happens to be a big problem in today’s game. The 76ers shipped him out before his trade value around the league collapsed, getting a future first-round pick in a three-team deal that sent MCW to the Bucks. He didn’t keep his starting spot in Milwaukee for long, either, as the decision to turn Giannis into a point guard made his skill set redundant, and the Bucks don’t have enough spacing on the floor to succeed when playing both Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams.

Given MCW’s physique and skill set, the comparisons to Shaun Livingston are clear. Even if Carter-Williams’s fight back to relevance won’t be nearly as dire as Livingston’s journey after his catastrophic knee injury in 2007, he could see a renaissance like the one Livingston has enjoyed in Golden State if he lands in the right situation. Livingston doesn’t shoot 3s, but he doesn’t need to while playing next to the Splash Brothers. He has carved out a niche in the post, using his 6-foot-7 frame to bully reserve guards and shoot over the top of them. Put enough perimeter weapons around Carter-Williams, and there won’t be many second-unit defenders who can handle him, either.

Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel (AP Images)
Nerlens Noel (AP Images)

It would be unfair to call Noel a bust, but he’s probably never going to reach his ceiling in Philadelphia, thanks to the massive logjam the Sixers have at the frontcourt positions. A year after acquiring Noel, the 76ers doubled down by drafting Joel Embiid, and then tripled down with the selection of Jahlil Okafor the following year. Now, the team is in possession of three young centers who need minutes in a league where many teams are spending huge portions of the game without a traditional big man on the floor. There is no time, and there is even less space: The presence of Ben Simmons and Dario Saric gives the Sixers two modern power forwards who sometimes struggle with their outside shot.

The most hopeful comparison for Noel is Tyson Chandler, another offensively limited but supremely athletic big man who entered the league as a raw teenager. After a long and often miserable stint with the Bulls, he found his niche as part of a pick-and-roll tandem with Chris Paul in New Orleans, and he kept on getting better from there, winning a championship with the Mavericks and a Defensive Player of the Year award with the Knicks. Noel would thrive playing with a playmaking point guard who could throw him alley-oops, and a stretch forward who could open up room for him at the rim. He would be the easiest of the three big men for the 76ers to trade, and the right move could be a win-win for Noel and the team.

Ben McLemore

It has been easy to forget about McLemore since he arrived in Sacramento, where he has been one of a number of young players whose careers have gone sideways amidst the chaos surrounding the franchise. The Kings forgot about him almost immediately, drafting Nik Stauskas to replace him the following season, although they fell out of love with Stauskas even more quickly. At 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, McLemore is an elite athlete with all of the physical tools necessary to thrive in the NBA, but he hasn’t shown much of a feel for the game on either side of the ball. It’s easy to forget about a player who often forgets where he’s supposed to be on the floor.

McLemore hasn’t gotten nearly as many open looks in Sacramento as he did at Kansas, where he was one of the best shooters in the country. But he’s still a career 34.6 percent shooter from 3 on nearly four attempts per game in the NBA. McLemore has shot well enough to earn a spot in the league, but he’ll remain on the fringes unless he ever harnesses his athleticism to become an impact defensive player. In a best-case scenario, he could have a career like that of Danny Green, who failed to break out with the Cavaliers before turning into an elite 3-and-D shooting guard with the Spurs. McLemore is still only 23, and there may be a good player in there somewhere once he finds himself in a more stable situation.