After a player has been in the NBA for a few years, it's usually clear if he can play. Sure, some blossom later in their careers, like Rashard Lewis and Jermaine O'Neal. But one thing's for sure: If a high pick doesn't produce quickly, fans don't wait long to label him a bust. Because of that, these five players -- all top-six picks from the 2007, 2008 or 2009 drafts -- need to show serious improvement this season, including the two former Ohio State teammates pictured below. -- John Galinsky
Yi Jianlian, F, Washington Wizards
Drafted sixth by Milwaukee Bucks in 2007 An athletic 7-footer with a fluid jump shot, Yi was expected to be China's biggest and best NBA export since Yao Ming. Indeed, over 200 million Chinese watched their first NBA matchup on television, with Yao declaring Yi's talent to be "unbelievable." After moderate early success, however, Yi has proven to be soft and (like Yao) extremely fragile. Injuries have cut short all three of his NBA seasons. Now he'll get a fresh start with his third team, the Washington Wizards. If he can stay in the weight room and off the injury list, he still might become an All-Star, if only because the Chinese are eager Internet voters.
Hasheem Thabeet, C, Memphis Grizzlies
Drafted second by Grizzlies in 2009 The Grizzlies knew Thabeet was a project when they plucked him out of UConn with the No. 2 pick last year. But this much of a project? The 7-foot-3 Tanzanian was so raw on offense, and so foul-prone on defense, that he could barely justify his paltry playing time, averaging just 13.2 minutes per game. Memphis even sent him to the D-League for a short stint, an appropriate but embarrassing move for such a high pick. If he simply develops into a shot-blocking force like Dikembe Mutombo or Manute Bol, the Grizzlies should make the playoffs. If not, he'll be like "Star Wars" missile defense, another expensive project that protected nothing and went bust.
Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
Drafted fourth by Grizzlies in 2007 When people talk about all the dynamic young point guards in the NBA, Conley isn't part of the conversation. That's disappointing for a 22-year-old lottery pick with three years of starting experience. Conley isn't exactly a bust. He's fast and effective in the open court, and he can make a wide-open 3. But he's generally a nonfactor in the halfcourt, standing aside as Memphis runs its offense through O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph. He's also a lousy defender. For now, Conley ranks as a below-average NBA point guard. The Grizzlies need him to at least become average.
Michael Beasley, F, Minnesota Timberwolves
Drafted second by Miami Heat in 2008 Remember all the arguments two years ago about who the Bulls should take with the first pick? Those have been settled. Not just because Derrick Rose has been that good, but because Beasley has been that mediocre. Forget the off-court issues like pot use and his stint in a rehab center; flags were raised about his character long before the draft. What's surprising is his lack of on-court production. After averaging 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in his lone collegiate season, Beasley hasn't been remotely dominant in two NBA seasons. Though he's scored big in spurts, he's looked like a dreaded tweener -- too small for a power forward, too slow for a small forward. A failure as Dwyane Wade's sidekick in Miami, he was ushered off to Minnesota, where he'll get every opportunity to be a star ... or go up in smoke.
Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers
Drafted first by Blazers in 2007 He's not Sam Bowie yet, but he's well on his way. Thanks mainly to microfracture surgery on his right knee and a fractured left patella, Oden has missed exactly two-thirds of Portland's games in his first three seasons. When he's been on the court, he's lacked confidence and only shown glimpses of being the franchise player the Blazers expected. (The Thunder got just such a player with the next pick in Kevin Durant.) Then again, the big fella is only 22 and seems to be genuinely humble and likeable. Here's hoping for a healthy, happy season for Oden, who could make Portland a championship contender if he busts out in 2011.