The 2013-14 NBA season is upon us and now NBA teams finally have an opportunity to see just how smart their GM’s and scouts are as we get our introduction to the rookie class. This year’s class enters the league with more questions than any recently remembered as their was quite the scuttlebutt as to who would be the number one overall pick (the honor went to former running Rebel Anthony Bennett) and as to just how deep this year’s draft actually was.
Now that all the dust has settled and the season has begun its time to see just how good these young kids are, well at least some of them as this year’s class has already seen four of the top 16 picks beginning the season sidelined for various reasons; Nerlens Noel (knee) Trey Burke (finger) C.J. McCullom (foot) Lucas Noguiera (remaining in Spain)
Here’s a ranking of the top ten rookies to watch as the seasons begins. Expect some movement on this list as Burke and McCullom become healthy and players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Alex Len become bigger parts of their respective teams rotations.
10. Tim Hardaway Jr.- New York Knicks
It’s going to interesting to see how many minutes Hardaway Jr. will play on a Knicks team laden with guards, (Prigioni, Felton, Udrich, Shumpert, and J.R. Smith) and Hardaway has struggled early on in the season shooting below 20% from the three point line, but he’s shown a deft touch from the arc as he shot nearly 43% through the pre-season and should begin garnering more playing time on a Knicks team that loves to let it fly and will need to out score teams as their defensive struggles can only deepen with the injury to Tyson Chandler. Fully expect Hardaway Jr. to be right up there with Ben McClemore among the leaders in three pointers made among rookies.
9. Cody Zeller- Charlotte Bobcats
Zeller impressed early on as he led all rookies in rebounding during the summer league, showing the desire to bang inside that the Bobcats had hoped to see from the surprising fourth overall selection. Zeller’s ability to rebound and finish around the rim mixed with a high-reving motor should be a fresh of breath air on the perennially poor Bobcats. His numbers have been a bit under whelming in the early going as the big man is averaging just 5.6 ppg and only 3.6 rpg. In Zeller’s defense his minutes have been a bit limited as he acclimates to no longer consistently being the most imposing physical force on the floor.
As the season progresses the big question is going to be how well he will mesh with fellow pivot man Al Jefferson. If Zeller can develop a legitimate mid range jump shot, helping to open up spacing for the two bigs, he could have a very good rookie season. If the jump shot doesn’t come around still expect the seven-footer to be among the leading rookie rebounders on a relatively weak big-man class.
8. Dennis Schroder- Atlanta Hawks
Schroder’s game has been riddled with inconsistencies early on and he’ll have to dramatically improve his outside shot to force defenses to play him close enough to provide an opportunity to exploit his water bug quickness. The young German guard is as quick as they come off the dribble and has shown a commitment to defense rarely seen in European imports. This combination has many comparing him to a smaller Rajon Rondo, unfortunately that’s right down to the broken jumper.
That being said Schroder’s been a legitimately productive back-up on an Atlanta team within a thimble-shallow bench. Schroder’s averaging a respectable 6.3 points per and 4.3 assists. Continue to expect some flashes, but Schroder will struggle as teams force him to beat them from the perimeter.
7. Anthony Bennett- Cleveland Cavaliers
The former UNLV star has shown flashes (16 points on 6-11 shooting in a preseason game against Orlando) of the skill-set that made him the number one overall pick. But questions remain about both his conditioning, he’s been hurt at the end of the last three seasons he’s played and is clearly overweight, and his position. Bennett shows a reluctance to bang inside and spends too much time floating out to the three point line and has struggled mightily so far (1-20 from the field, including1-11 from behind the arc) Though blessed with a nice touch from the perimeter, Bennett would be better served to exploit that skill as a stretch four than as the small-forward he seems to desire to be.
From a pure physical ability standpoint, Bennett has the capacity to be a Kevin Love light; a rebounding force who can stretch defenses. But Bennett’s proclivity for staying on the perimeter mitigates some of his athletic advantages. The talent is their and the Cavs have enough productive big men to allow Bennett to develop, the hope is just that he doesn’t become more Derrick Coleman or Rodney Rogers than Love; productive big men who never quite met expectations due to poor conditioning and excessive perimeter shooting. Six games in he’s scored 5 points in total, and is averaging only 2.8 rebounds per game, not quite the stats you’re looking for from the number one overall pick.
6. Steven Adams- Oklahoma City Thunder
The seven foot Kiwi is a high energy big man who has shown a surprisingly soft touch (he’s shooting just under 60% from the field) and great activity (averaging just under 7 rebounds per contest.) Adam’s rebounding ability and shot-blocking should have him eventually supplanting the unjustifiably ensconced Kendrick Perkins in OKC’s starting lineup.
Adams doesn’t take plays off and has shown more skill on the offensive end than was expected from him coming out of the University of Pittsburgh. As a guy who doesn’t need the ball to be impactful on the game, Adams should be a great addition to a Thunder squad that already knows where it’s going to get its scoring. Don’t expect huge number from Adams, so he may not be in the R.O.Y discussion, but he’s one of only a few rookies that will be productive players for playoff teams.
5. Kelly Olynyk Boston Celtics
The former Gonzaga star wowed people with his Swiss-army knife array of versatility on the way to garnering a Summer a League MVP. Gm’s in the league also voted the big man as the best steal in the draft. Now as the season is upon us it’s time to see if Olynyk can maintain his early success. So far through six games he’s averaging just 8.2 points over game on a little over 37% from the field, and seems to be struggling to find his offensive game.
Olynyk’s shooting touch and crafty game should have him amongst the leaders in rookie scoring, but if his early struggles continue he may find it difficult to continue to get minutes on a Boston team rife with productive big men. But as Boston does seem committed to be an active player in the Andre Wiggins tank job you can probably expect Olynyk’s numbers and playing time to increase as Boston will most likely be trading one of those big men (Brandon Bass?) to a playoff contender.
4. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope- Detroit Pistons
The young Georgia product was thought to initially see light minutes in his rookie campaign, as the third shooting guard behind Incumbent Rodney Stuckey and the return of veteran stalwart Chauncey Billups. But as Stuckey battles an early injury and Billups battles Father Time, the uber athletic KCP has shown the athleticism and shooting stroke that helped make him the number eight overall pick and looked good early with a 13 point effort in his second game of the season.
While the Pistons knew that Caldwell-Pope could score (he was second in the SEC in scoring last year), it’s his tenacious defense that’s had him playing a larger role on an upstart Pistons team. KCP has exploited his superlative athleticism on both ends and really impressed early on. As one of only two rookies playing for a legitimate playoff team (along with Adams) Caldwell-Pope’s numbers won’t be as conspicuous as some of his rookie cohorts on lesser teams, but his productivity will matter on a very good Pistons team. His minutes have dwindled a bit as of late as Stuckey has gotten healthy. But both Stuckey and Billups are notoriously injury prone, so expect KCP seeing more minutes as he continues to find his game.
3. Ben McLemore- Sacramento Kings
Not since Jesus Shuttlesworth entered the league three decades ago has a prettier pure stroke been on display than McLemore’s instructional video-esque jumper. McLemore’s jumper and athleticism (a 42" pure vertical) should have the former Kansas star among the leaders in points per game and three pointers made among rookies.
Unfortunately McLemore’s game seems to be enigmatic and he’s shown a tendency to become too inconspicuous during stretches. McLemore has had a 15 point and 19 point performance, but he’s only averaging 2 points per in his other three outings. On a Sacramento team that needs McLemore to be an offensive threat, expect McLemore to get plenty of opportunities. With his pure shooting ability he’ll have some 20 point explosions, but expect some quiet nights as well as McLemore struggles to find ways to score when his jumper isn’t going.
2. Michael Carter-Williams- Philadelphia 76ers
Carter-William’s size (6’5) and skill (he’s averaging 18.3 points per game along with 7.3 and a paltry 2.7 steals per game) along with the ample opportunity he’ll get logging significant minutes on a Sixers team bereft of quality point guard play, will have the number 11th overall pick in the running for rookie of the year this season.
Carter-Williams’ biggest question will be if he can improve his perimeter shooting (he shot below 40% for his college career) enough to take the next step. Carter-Williams has star potential and will probably lead all rookies in minutes played, but expect an up and down season from a pure offensive output standpoint. Expect Cater-Williams and Oladipo to be the front runners for rookie of the year as both will be primary options on struggling squads.
1. Victor Oladipo- Orlando Magic
The early front-runner for R.O.Y, Oladipo combines incredible athleticism with a high basketball I.Q. and great court presence. The former Indiana star has a knack for filling the stat box and has shown great promise- he’s averaging 12. 5points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game- on a surprisingly feisty Magic squad. All this while possibly being the best defender amongst this rookie class. Expect Oladipo to continue to flourish as Orlando will lean very heavily on their second overall pick. It’s worth watching how he handles the transition to point guard, but Oladipo is the type of player to find a way to have an effect on the game no matter where he’s at on the floor. Fully expect Oladipo to be holding the Eddie Gottlieb trophy at the end of the year.