Most observers agreed that this year's draft class was one of the weakest in recent memory, both because of the coincidence of a relatively poor group of talent available and due to the lockout scaring several top college prospects (like Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones) from leaving school early. Still, this draft was not without star power, most notably in the figure of new Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving and Wolves forward Derrick Williams. While the former has been considered a top prospect for some time, the latter came on strong during his sophomore season at Arizona and impressed during the NCAA tournament with a combination of skill and athleticism.
Williams' stock was never going to be higher, so he left school and became the second pick in the draft. However, the lockout could make him regret his decision. In fact, he said as much to Holly MacKenzie in an interview for The Basketball Jones:
TBJ: So you would have stayed if someone said you have to wait a year for games?
DW: Yeah. If they told me I was going to miss all 82 games next season I would have stayed in college and enjoyed myself and enjoyed all of my teammates and everybody else who is involved with Arizona. I definitely would have went back.
It's worth noting that Williams isn't saying that he already regrets his decision or that missing any games would make him do so -- this statement is just about missing the whole season. It's tough to argue with him on that subject, because that circumstance would rob Williams and his fellow rookies of a key developmental season that could affect their entire careers. It's a little like how kids who graduate college during a financial crisis earn less over the course of their lives than those who enter the workforce during a boom period. (I am part of the former group and my life is in shambles because of it.)
On the other hand, Williams' decision may turn out fine either way. While his career-long development is a serious issue, it's unlikely that he would have helped his draft positioning with another year at school. That's not to say that Williams wouldn't have become a better player, but extra years in college tend to make scouts point out flaws, to say nothing of the fact that Williams could have sustained an injury or seen his Wildcats team have a disappointing season. No matter what terms are reached regarding rookie pay in a new collective bargaining agreement, Williams will be paid like the second-overall pick. If he'd stayed a season and entered the 2012 draft, he may have been selected near the end of the lottery.
It would be a real shame if this year's rookies don't get to play this season, but we can't say with certainty if players like Williams made bad decisions until we see how their careers play out. There are too many factors at play to pass judgment at such an early stage. Williams may regret the decision in June, but his opinion won't be validated until at least a decade down the line.
- Derrick Williams