A thought occurs: roughly halfway through his third professional season, Larry Sanders is proving himself to be quite the draft-slot steal. Selected from a purgatorial position most would consider the least or second-least-enviable spot in the NBA draft (15th), Sanders flashed tremendous shot-blocking potential in his first two seasons before taking a major step forward this year.
The rest of his draft class has offered a mixed bag. Despite boasting some major star potential near the top, the lottery is dotted with players who are still trying to cash in on potential despite some early roadblocks. So where does Larry Sanders rank among his draft compatriots? I think there are five definitively better players ahead of him, though he's trending way up.
1. DeMarcus Cousins
I put Cousins on top of this list because when he's at his best, he's a dominant force that hasn't been matched by anybody else in his class. The "character" issues are obviously a concern, but in a more stable organization with a credible coach, is there any doubt Cousins could be an All-NBA-caliber player? There's a reason the Kings were so reluctant to part with Cousins even at the height of his contention with the coaching staff and management.
2. Paul George
All George has done is become arguably the best player on a surprisingly competitive Indiana Pacers team, presumably transforming their previous "best player" into a valuable trade chip. He's now got the only All-Star selection of any player from his class and the second-highest career WS/48 among relevant players. He'll likely hold his post as a top-tier wing in the Eastern Conference for the next 5 years or so. Not bad for the 10th pick.
3. John Wall
Another major talent now hindered by an unfortunate roadblock, Wall has missed substantial time this season due to a knee injury, but even a few games back quickly reminded people of his ability. Wall isn't a great shooter and turns the ball over quite a bit, but his ability to run an offense and blitz teams in transition is excellent for a third-year player. He's also able to buoy his efficiency by getting to the line a good amount. Wall might not be the top-10 point guard many expected he'd quickly become just yet, but his potential is still tantalizing.
4. Greg Monroe
Monroe had a quietly excellent rookie year, a sensational second, and now he's "regressed" to a very good third. The career WS/48 and PER leader among first-rounders from 2010, Monroe is one of those rare, skilled offensive centers who can control the game from his interior position. He's a terrific passer and scorer, despite a shooting slump this season. He's not a great defender and doesn't block shots, but the Pistons future pairing of Monroe and Andre Drummond, likely with Monroe playing PF, should give them a sensational frontcourt for years.
5. Derrick Favors
Favors is the really good guy you probably forgot existed. He's spent most of his career buried on depth charts in New Jersey and Utah, but his career per-36 line of 14 points, 10 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks is really good. A lot of people still believe he should have been the second pick after Wall. With Utah mentioned in tons of trade rumors regarding Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, it's clear the Jazz want to find a bigger role for Favors. He's still quite young by virtue of having been drafted at age 19, so his upside remains huge.
6. Larry Sanders
Larry's next, isn't he? I look at the remaining options and see enough negative about each of them to say Sanders should be next in line. Ed Davis has sneaky-good numbers, but his defensive impact can't match Sanders'. Evan Turner has had flashes, but overall looks like a bit of a bust. Eric Bledsoe is getting a ton of deserved attention this season, but he had a PER of 11.2 last season and hasn't scored 20+ points or registered 10+ assists in either of the past two seasons. Remember that Darren Collison looked like an All-Star at times when he backed up Chris Paul too. Beyond those guys we're mostly talking about specialists who aren't as good at their specialty as Larry is at defense and shot-blocking.
Sanders' ascension is one of the better stories for the Bucks in recent years. It speaks highly of Sanders' talent and dedication to improving his game, as well as John Hammond's ability to find a game-changing player outside the draft lottery.
How would you rank the 2010 draft today? Do you think Sanders should be higher or lower than where I stuck him? Share your thoughts in the comments!