Throughout the history of the NBA Draft, it has been driven by hype. Hype is perhaps the strongest and most prevalent factor when it comes to the upcoming generation of NBA players.
It creates the biggest, most fetching storylines that come out of the Draft; the most hyped player is almost always the biggest story in the draft, even bigger than the number 1 pick. One only has to look back about two years to see 1st overall pick DeAndre Ayton get massively overshadowed by lower picks Luka Doncic and Trae Young.
Even in the most recent draft: nobody has been talked about more than 3rd pick LaMelo Ball, who's had the media's attention and the fans' hype since he was in high school. Not even #1 pick Anthony Edwards could get near the clout that Ball amassed over the years. Everybody's been talking about Ball, which is why his underwhelming preseason is magnified.
Now, it is up to these upcoming rookies as to whether or not they live up to the hype that's been set on them. We've seen players do this and more; there's a gleaming example in LeBron James of a player who has lived up to his massive hype and more. James was touted as the greatest high school prospect in basketball history, and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 17; he's eclipsed these expectations very convincingly. Players on the opposite side of the spectrum include players like Kwame Brown, who was another highly-touted high school prospect who famously flopped in the NBA.
In this piece, we take a retrospective look at the most hyped draftees of the past decade, recall their hype coming into the NBA, and what they've done since. We'll then decide whether or not they've lived up to their considerable hype. The list spans the 2010 Draft class until the 2019 Draft class.
Who lived up to the hype? Who didn't? Let's have a look.
The now-Houston Rocket still has one of the greatest high school mixtapes that basketball has ever seen.
John Wall already showed a good glimpse of what he would become back in the Word of God Christian Academy. He exhibited his flashy playmaking style with his stylish passes and exquisite handles. His athleticism was already through the roof; Wall dunking all over the place and outrunning every single opposition player. The soon-to-be Kentucky Wildcat was overwhelmingly athletic, a brilliant playmaker, and a certified scorer. Most of all, he showed his leadership after having a few disciplinary issues beforehand.
Needless to say, he was the consensus best high school prospect in America. He was set to get drafted in the 2009 NBA Draft, but his application was ultimately pulled due to a foreseen complication on his eligibility. It is worth noting that Wall would have been the 1st overall pick of that draft had his application pulled through. Yes, he would have been taken before Blake Griffin, who had an ungodly amount of hype himself at the time. This should speak volumes on Wall's hype, as Griffin was then the most hyped rookie to enter the league since LeBron James.
Did John Wall live up to the hype? It'd be useful to look back at how he played in high school: the words “athletic”, “playmaker”, “scorer”, and “leader[ship]” was mentioned above. He has exhibited all of those qualities in the NBA with the Washington Wizards. In the process, he became a 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA selection, and 1x All-Defensive selection. He's also accumulated more win shares (44.3) than the great Gilbert Arenas ( 41.5).
Yes, Wall's gone only as far as the 2nd round of the Playoffs in his 10-year tenure with the Wizards. However, this is the furthest the Wizards have gone since 2005. Besides, the lack of Playoff success is not all on Wall; the team just hasn't been building the best team around him. Considering all of these, Wall has indeed lived up to the hype: he's become the Wizards' franchise player for the best part of the past decade, and has cemented his place in Washington Wizards history.
There was a reason that he's been given his massive supermax contract. Here's to a strong comeback with his new team.
The 2012 London Olympics men's basketball team was a far cry from the infamous 2019 FIBA World Cup team; the former was filled with undoubtedly the best American players in the NBA, unlike the latter. The team Olympics team consisted of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, and…a rookie Anthony Davis.
Anthony Davis was brought in for the injured Blake Griffin before the final squad was announced in January 2012. That would mean that the star-studded Olympic Team was joined by an Anthony Davis who was, in fact, still playing in college at the time of his selection. This speaks volumes about the immense hype that surrounded the Brow at the time.
It was consensus belief at the time that the franchise that'd get the number 1 overall pick of that year would be getting a transformative player in Anthony Davis. He was the most efficient big man in terms of scoring, while being an immense defensive presence. He could run the floor effectively, and was a deadly threat in transition. Davis single-handedly rewrote Kentucky Basketball's record books, setting records for blocked shots in a game, blocked shots in a season, blocks per game in a season, and rebounds in a season, among others. The hype for the fleet-footed 6'10” power forward was reaching all-time levels.
In his 8 seasons in the league, Davis has certainly lived up to his hype. The Brow has been an All-Star every single year of his career save for his rookie season. He has also been a 3x blocks champion, 4x All-NBA selection, 4x All-Defensive selection, and of course, an NBA Champion.
He has established himself to be the undisputed best big man in the NBA today. The formidable defensive presence, unbelievable speed, and rebounding ability has remained and has been steadily improved. Offensively, he is the fastest, most athletic, most versatile big man in the league. He can shoot the open three, he is fantastic in the midrange, and borderline unstoppable inside.
It's safe to say that Davis would have still lived up to the hype even without his Championship last season.
Take a look back at 2014. LeBron James just announced that he's coming back to Cleveland to fulfill his promise. Waiting in Ohio to play with James is All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, and the most hyped rookie prospect since Blake Griffin and James himself, Andrew Wiggins. At the time, Wiggins has already been dubbed “Maple Jordan”. He's shown incredible potential in Huntington Prep. as a high-flying scorer. He was throwing down lobs with ease, doing in-game between-the-legs dunks, all the works. He was also touted to be an excellent perimeter defender with his length and lateral quickness.
From what we've seen throughout the years, however, high school highlights can be very, very misleading. Good competition is sparse in high school, for one. Very athletic kids would also tend to stand out in amateur basketball. In the NBA, one will have the toughest competition in the world, wherein literally everyone is an incredible athlete.
Here lies the problem for one Andrew Wiggins: he had to continuously improve his game tremendously in the league in order to fulfill his superstar potential, but he just kind of stagnated. He didn't really improve on his weak points i.e. his inconsistent jumper, questionable shot selection, and general aggression in approaching his games. Even before getting drafted, these problems were highlighted, and they remain true to this day.
“His shot-selection leaves something to be desired at times, he has a tendency for settling for long contested jumpers…NBA teams will want to see Wiggins become more aggressive with the way he approaches the game. He has somewhat of a laid-back demeanor on the floor…” – ESPN NBA Draft Analyst Mike Schmitz on Andrew Wiggins (Source: https://www.draftexpress.com/profile/andrew-wiggins-6191/ ©DraftExpress)
Those comments from his playing days before the NBA still strangely remain accurate to this day. Wiggins isn't a bad NBA player by any means; his career scoring average is a very respectable 19.7 points. He seemed to be on the cusp of breaking out at times, too. Last season in particular, he averaged almost 26 points a game while shooting 48% from the field in his first 11 games, prior to getting injured. Again and again, however, he goes back to shooting inconsistent jumpers and shying away from contact around the basket.
So, did he live up to the “Maple Jordan” hype? Obviously not, but rarely anyone lives up to such sky-high expectations. Having these Jordan/LeBron comparisons at such a young age could not have done him (or anyone else) good. He still has time, but it is up to him as to whether or not he'll utilize his gifts to their full potential.
“Lonzo makes everybody better, that's what he's always done all his life.
“LeBron James without Lonzo is not gonna win a championship in L.A. I guarantee that.
“If you get Lonzo you know what you get. If you let him do what he does, I guarantee he wins,”
– LaVar Ball on his eldest son Lonzo.
From the quotes above, one would have a very good idea on where Lonzo Ball's immense hype was coming from the most. His father LaVar has been hyping him up to the nth degree every since he was a Chino Hills Husky.
However, this is not to say that Lonzo wasn't all that. What a prospect he was indeed in Chino Hills; he and his brothers LaMelo and LiAngelo revolutionized the Huskies program. Together with the newly-drafted Onyeka Okongwu, the Ball brothers formed arguably the best high school basketball team in history.
Lonzo, meanwhile, was the team's best player, their leader, and their engine. He was already a 6'6” point guard by the time he was a senior in high school, and continued to evolve in UCLA. There, he solidified his case as a top pick of his draft class as a tall, playmaking 1 with remarkable size and vision. His jump shot looked suspect at best, but he did shoot 41.2% from three on 6.1 attempts. He looked every bit the star that LaVar was harping about all the time.
Come his rookie year, he averaged 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. He looked good at times, while looking average at best for the most part. He still had the most clout of his draft class, but was thoroughly outshone on the court by aces Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell.
He had the weight of his father's words and the subsequent media attention on his shoulders; those couldn't have been good for the more introverted and quiet Ball brother. His flaws were accentuated even more as LeBron James signed for Los Angeles, a move which certainly brought in more media coverage. With this comes more criticism, and Ball didn't help his case much as he averaged fewer points, rebounds, and assists that year. He was subsequently traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, wherein he'll have significantly less media coverage, and a budding partnership with Zion Williamson.
It's well-documented now that Lonzo hasn't lived up to the hype just yet. Every year, he's been touted to make that most-improved jump, but it hasn't materialized as of now. He's still young, and the situation looks promising, so the rest is up to him now. He's improved on his shooting mechanics and has developed a much more attractive jump shot. The eldest Ball brother still has a ways to go, but it's looking up for him.
The man was touted for greatness ever since his AAU basketball days. How could he not? He was big, strong, and extremely athletic. Free throw dunks, standing windmill dunks, between-the-legs dunks… all the works. All these at 6'6”, 284 pounds. Zion Williamson was the most dominant player high school basketball has seen in a long time.
It was clear since high school that Zion was going to be at least a top two pick in his draft. Nevertheless, he continued his superhuman feats of strength and athleticism in college with the Duke University Blue Devils. There, he established his status as the outright number 1 pick in the 2019 Draft, convincingly topping teammate R.J. Barrett, and surprise sophomore sensation Ja Morant. Zion averaged almost 23 points and 9 rebounds in college, on his way to becoming the consensus National College Player of the Year.
There was, however, an injury-related issue with Williamson as he came into the NBA. There's bound to be one with such an explosive player at that size. In Williamson's case, he missed the first half of his rookie year due to a meniscus surgery he underwent prior to the 2019-20 season. When he came back, so did the hype that accompanied him all throughout his career. In 24 games, he averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists; he also came in 3rd for Rookie of the Year voting.
Williamson has played less than 30 games of NBA basketball overall. It's much, much too early to decide on whether or not he lived up to the hype or not. For what it's worth, all signs point to the former. The sophomore Pelican has looked fantastic in his small amount of games played. He looked every bit as athletic and explosive as advertised, and he's changed the culture of the organization. It might indeed be too early to give him the honor of being on the NBA 2K21 game, though. We'll all have to wait and see if it all comes into fruition for the young Williamson.