Class of 2004 not too shabby

Originally Published: November 5, 2004
By Chad Ford | NBA Insider
Dwight Howard, meet Emeka Okafor. The two top rookies in the draft class of 2004 squared off on Saturday night in Charlotte for the first time.

Each is coming off of a solid pre-season campaign. They should battle all season for the Rookie of the Year honors.

And they couldn't be more different.

Okafor is a three-year college player. He flew under the radar as a high school player and slowly built his game from raw to dominant at UConn. He has a national championship ring, a college degree in finance and one of the most humble demeanors you'll ever encounter in pro sports.

Howard is a four year-high school player. He was virtually anointed as the No. 1 pick in the draft before his senior season even started. Like Okafor, he's a grounded kid, but he's also cocky.

While Okafor strictly will talk about his performance in the context of his team, Howard already is on record that he'll win the Rookie of the Year honor and that, eventually, he believes he can be one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

The conventional wisdom heading into the season was that Okafor was the most NBA-ready prospect in the country and that Howard had the most upside.

Through the summer league and pre-season, both players have been turning that wisdom on its head. Okafor's upside is bigger than anyone has let on, especially on the offensive end. And Howard is much further along than we once thought. He's already a starter on a playoff contender.

After the draft, Insider graded each team's draft and gave you a sneak preview of what to expect from the Class of 2004. Now that the summer league and preseason are behind us, where do they stand now?

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer