We are quickly approaching the beginning of the 2014-2015 NBA Season and it is time to look at the rookies for the upcoming season. All of the greatest players that have ever played in the NBA immediately make a name for themselves in their first season. Let’s just consider the top players currently playing in the NBA today and see how they did in their rookie year:
Lebron James: 20.9 PPG 5.9 APG 5.5 RPG 2004 ROY Award
Kevin Durant: 20.3 PPG 4.4 RPG 2.3 APG 2008 ROY Award
Chris Paul: 16.1 PPG 7.8 APG 5.1 RPG 2006 ROY Award
Stephen Curry: 17.5 PPG 5.9 APG 4.5 RPG Finished 2nd for ROY Award
Blake Griffin: 22.5 PPG 12.1 RPG 3.8 APG 2011 ROY Award (Missed first eligible year with knee injury)
Carmelo Anthony: 21.0 PPG 6.1 RPG 2.8 APG Finished 2nd for ROY Award (to Lebron)
Every rookie wants a good first year. A good rookie year provides the player with the confidence needed to excel in their second year and beyond. To be the best you have to show that you can play with the best early on. That brings us to my predictions for the rookie of the year award candidates right before the season starts up. Let’s first take a look at the players that were drafted in the top 10 in this NBA Draft that I excluded:
Drafted 9th overall by the Charlotte Hornets: Noah Vonleh
Noah Vonleh showed at Indiana that he can be a very capable rebounder and a good presence in the paint defensively which is exactly what the Charlotte Hornets need this upcoming season given that Al Jefferson is not the best rim protector. The problem with Vonleh is that he suffered a sports hernia earlier this month that will keep him out for about two months from the time of the injury. While he is expected to be back not too far after the season begins, I believe the Hornets will take a very cautious approach with Vonleh being that this is his first year and they will only play him once he is 100% healthy which might take a while.
Drafted 8th overall by the Sacramento Kings: Nik Stauskas
Stauskas is a sharp shooter and every single team needs one of them. The problem for Stauskas is that the Kings already have Ben McLemore on their roster and it will be interesting to see how they split the minutes. McLemore certainly didn’t show anything last year to keep his spot as the starting shooting guard in Sacramento, but the Kings believe in McLemore and are expecting a great improvement from him. The Kings will already have Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and now newly acquired Darren Collison taking most of the shots so the actual amount of shots available for Stauskas, even if he does crack the starting lineup at some point, will be limited.
Drafted 7th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle
Julius Randle showed us how good he actually was last year at Kentucky while helping them reach the NCAA Championship game. Randle showed excellent footwork and post-moves in the paint during his one year in Kentucky. I truly believe that Randle will one day be a great player in the NBA. He is projected to start behind Carlos Boozer for the Lakers and that is a perfectly good thing. Learning from a vet like Boozer will help Randle come into the NBA the right way. Randle also had foot surgery right after the draft which will raise caution for the Lakers this upcoming season. Time is on Randle’s side now and I believe the Lakers should take their time with his progression into the starting lineup in the future.
Drafted 6th overall by the Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart is a quick, strong, and aggressive player. He is exactly what every NBA coach wants. The problem with Smart being on the Celtics is that they have too many guards in front of him. There now will be minutes open early on in the season with the news that Rajon Rondo has broken his hand, but there is still Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey, Evan Turner, Marcus Thornton, and James Young who are all vying for playing time at the guard positions in the Celtics rotation. I believe Smart’s tenacious defense will get him significant playing time for Boston this upcoming season, but not enough to consider him as one of the top candidates for the Rookie of the Year Award.
Drafted 5th overall by the Utah Jazz: Dante Exum
There really is only one problem with Exum right now and that is that we just haven’t seen enough of him against NBA talent. Fans were looking forward to seeing him play a good amount of minutes for Australia during the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, but that didn’t happen. Exum should get a good amount of playing time behind Alec Burks and Trey Burke off the bench, but it still remains to be seen what he can actually do against NBA level talent.
Drafted 4th overall by the Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon
For one, Aaron Gordon was drafted WAY too early. Gordon has great athleticism and good potential, but he needs to improve a great amount. Channing Frye is a good veteran for Gordon to sit behind this upcoming season and for Gordon’s sake I hope they do indeed choose to sit him. Like Randle, Aaron Gordon needs time. The difference is that Gordon needs significantly more time too improve. Gordon shot just over 42% from the free throw line during his brief stint at Arizona…. 42%! Let’s hope this pick does not come back to haunt the Magic in the future.
Drafted 3rd overall by the Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid
Embiid will be recovering from a foot injury and may not see the court this season. Even if he does, he most likely won’t play enough games to be in consideration for the Rookie of the Year Award.
Now that we have looked at those who have not made my top 5 rookie candidates for the ROY award out of the top 10 selected in this year’s draft, let’s look at those who actually did make my list.
5. T.J. Warren: Phoenix Suns SF
T.J. Warren, in my opinion, has the greatest potential out of any player coming out of this draft. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to see Warren play a couple games live during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year for the Suns and I was honestly shocked by what I witnessed. I saw a 21 year-old kid who just got out of college making the game look easy. That is the hardest thing for young players as they usually seem to make the game too difficult for themselves and then they try harder and harder to dig themselves out of the hole they have created as their minutes continue to rapidly decrease. If Gerald Green was not on the Phoenix Suns bench, I would have Warren first on my list. The reason why I have Warren 5th is because we are unsure of his playing time this upcoming season. P.J. Tucker will most likely start at the three with Markieff Morris starting at the four. That leaves bench minutes for those two positions to Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, and T.J. Warren.
Warren does have flaws, though, like every rookie in this class. He has tunnel vision at times when he has the ball and chooses not to pass at times which can be quite annoying for a coach. If he learns to pass more, which he must, he shouldn’t have a problem fitting right into the Suns rotation. Warren also has to improve his mid-range jump shot to prove that he can score with the best of them. T.J. Warren has the potential to be the best finisher at his position in five or so years. The question with Warren, like most of these rookies, is if he will put the time and effort into improving himself. If he does, then the ceiling is the limit for Warren.
T.J. Warren was drafted 14th overall by the Phoenix Suns in this year’s draft.
2013-2014 College Statistics: 24.9 PPG 7.1 RPG 1.1 APG
4. Andrew Wiggins- Minnesota Timberwolves SF
Andrew Wiggins, the 6’8 small forward out of the University of Kansas, has exceptional upside and is widely considered as the best player out of this draft. The athleticism is definitely there and Wiggins has shown to be a very capable scorer at the rim. The question for Andrew Wiggins will be if he can improve his deep jump shot and especially the 3 point shot which is virtually nonexistent at this point in his career.
Wiggins will have a great opportunity this training camp that he deserves to start for Minnesota right away. Flip Saunders seems unsure at this point whether or not Wiggins will start at small forward as Corey Brewer might fight Wiggins for that spot and win out. Assuming Wiggins assumes the spot as the starting small forward for the Timberwolves, he will still be fourth in line in the pecking order as Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, and Thaddeus Young will have priority over Wiggins in taking most of the shots. Having an exceptional passer in Ricky Rubio as his point guard will certainly help Andrew Wiggins out in his rookie season, but it is still hard to determine exactly what the role of Wiggins will be in Minnesota’s offense this season. It might be better for Wiggins if he starts on the bench as the sixth man for Minnesota which will in turn increase his amount of shots.
Andrew Wiggins was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in this draft.
(Wiggins was then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Kevin Love deal this offseason.)
2013-2014 College Statistics: 17.1 PPG 5.9 RPG 1.5 APG
3. Elfrid Payton- Orlando Magic PG
Elfrid Payton had many question marks surrounding him from NBA teams leading up to the NBA Draft. Being that Payton was coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette, he had not played against too many competitive teams during his time in college. Most teams saw that as a red flag, but not the Orlando Magic. The Magic decided to swap picks with the 76ers after Philly had drafted Elfrid Payton with the 10th overall pick.
This year it is looking more and more like Elfrid Payton will be starting at point guard for the Orlando Magic with Victor Oladipo holding the starting shooting guard position. With the loss of Jameer Nelson this offseason, Payton will only be competing with Luke Ridnour this training camp for the starting position and point. Elfrid Payton has excellent court vision and is very aggressive on the defensive end. One thing that Payton thrived off of in college was dribble penetration. He easily got into the lane and when he did, he showed his capability of finishing with both hands. During the Summer League this year, Payton showed that he could get into the lane and finish or pass the ball to the open man if he drew the double team. Elfrid Payton will clearly get a good amount of minutes for the Orlando magic this season and if he is able to get into the paint and finish at an efficient rate, then he has a great chance of taking home the ROY award.
Elfrid Payton was drafted 10th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in this year’s draft.
(Payton was then traded to the Orlando Magic in the deal for Dario Saric.)
2013-2014 College Statistics: 19.2 PPG 6.0 RPG 5.9 APG
2. Jabari Parker- Milwaukee Bucks SF/PF
Jabari Parker is the most NBA ready player coming out of this year’s draft, and it is not even close. The now former Blue Devil showed it all in his lone season at Duke. He showed every talent in his offensive game from his post-moves to his outside jumper to his athletic dunks. Parker also showed it on the defensive end being a nice rim protector and rebounding at a very high rate.
Jabari would have been my early pick to receive the Rookie of the Year Award if it weren’t for Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is set for a great season this year as it sounds like the 6’11 “Greek Freak” will be playing point guard for Milwaukee. Parker will be playing power forward for the Bucks, according to head coach Jason Kidd, and Parker has said that he is most comfortable there. It seems though Kidd wants to play him at the stretch four position which makes sense as players with his similar size, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, and Lebron James, have had success there. Antetokounmpo will indeed take a little away from Parker’s production, but nevertheless Jabari will still have a tremendous rookie year.
Jabari Parker was drafted 2nd overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in this year’s draft.
2013-2014 College Statistics: 19.1 PPG 8.7 RPG 1.2 APG
1. Nerlens Noel- Philadelphia 76ers C
Nerlens Noel is my early pick to come home with the 2014-2015 Rookie of the Year Award. Noel is coming off of a season where he had to sit on the bench each game with a torn ACL injury he suffered in college. Noel is back healthy and ready to get a large chunk of minutes for the young 76ers team this year. Philly will be cautious with Noel, but progression with the young players is the most important thing for them this season. If Noel can stay healthy, he may have upwards up 35 MPG this season.
One intriguing development during Philadelphia’s training camp will be how they work their starting lineup. It sounds like Noel will be starting at the power forward position and Henry Sims will slot in at center. It makes sense for Brett Brown to do this since Embiid will be starting at center once he becomes healthy. The problem with this is that Noel is a very poor jump shooter right now so it could hurt his numbers in his first official season. Look for Nerlens Noel to have an impactful rookie season on a team that doesn’t figure to have a very impactful push on the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Nerlens Noel was drafted 6th overall by the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2013 NBA Draft.
(He was then traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Jrue Holiday deal.)
2012-2013 College Statistics: 10.5 PPG 9.5 RPG 4.4 BPG