Time to step up

O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley and others have promise, but face great urgency

Updated: August 6, 2012, 1:56 PM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com
Evan TurnerLayne Murdoch/Getty ImagesThis season, it's time for Evan Turner to live up to expectations.

Although hope springs eternal in the world of sports, especially when it comes to the untapped potential of youth, the actual facts have a sobering way of tempering expectations for a player's career arc. In terms of per-possession advanced stats, the average player improves quickly in his early 20s; development then slows and ultimately stalls at age 26, the most common peak season. From that point on, it's a long march downhill toward retirement, with each year bringing more age-related decay than the previous one.

Which is to say that young players, even those with great draft pedigrees, need to show more than just flashes of potential by the time they hit their mid-20s, or they run the risk of never turning into the players they once seemed certain to become.

We're going to focus on six such players, all 25 or younger, who were top-10 draft picks and have not consistently lived up to their pre-draft billing … yet. The 2012-13 season may or may not be their "make-or-break" campaign, but if it isn't, it's pretty close. These players still have a chance to change their legacies, but as of last season, they're not yet where they need to be.


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Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.