5 Rookies to Watch in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

Haddon AndersonAnalyst IApril 29, 2012

5 Rookies to Watch in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

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    Some of the league's top rookies—Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Ricky Rubio—will not be making their first playoff appearances in 2012.

    However, there are a handful of rooks who will take center stage in the 2012 playoffs. And not only will they take center stage, but they also have the opportunity to play pivotal roles for their respective clubs.

    Some of these rookies could even become the "X-factors" that spark their teams to deep playoff runs, and perhaps even a championship.

    Here are the top rookies to watch throughout the 2012 playoffs.

    (Note: New York guard Iman Shumpert would've surely been on this list, but he will no longer be a factor. He tore his ACL in Game 1 against the Miami Heat.)

Norris Cole, Miami Heat

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    Season Stats: 6.8 PPG (39.3% from the field), 2.0 APG, 0.7 SPG 

    Norris Cole has shown flashes of potential in his rookie year, but he's also had games where he simply looks like a rookie.

    Is he ready to play crucial minutes for a Heat team desiring nothing short of a championship?

    Cole will need to provide pop off the bench at the point guard spot. Miami's bench is average at best, and Cole must assertively make plays throughout the playoffs.

    This hope is a question mark for Miami, but if Cole does become an "X-factor," expect Miami to take home the 2012 crown.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

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    Season Stats: 10.2 PPG (58.6% from the field), 7.7 RPG, 1.0 blocks per game

    Kenneth Faried has been a beast in the past couple of months. That might even be an understatement.

    Faried's defensive and rebounding abilities are undeniable, and he's even shown signs of promise offensively. His all-around abilities warrant comparisons to Dennis Rodman.

    Faried could surely make things difficult for the L.A. Lakers in the playoffs, because he could cause major trouble for Pau Gasol as well as Andrew Bynum.

    If Faried breaks out against the Lakers and posts a handful of double-doubles while limiting Gasol, the Lakers could be in hot water.

    What's more, Faried's name would be placed on the NBA map, if it isn't there already.

Greg Stiemsma, Boston Celtics

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    Season Stats: 2.9 PPG (54.5% from the field), 3.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG

    Greg Stiemsma's numbers aren't very eye-opening, but he has received quality minutes for the veteran Celtics.

    Boston is lacking depth in the frontcourt, so Stiemsma has the opportunity to fill the void and prove to be a difference-maker.

    He can primarily do this on the defensive end, where he's a proven shot blocker. If his presence in the paint is sufficient, the Celtics could be on the verge of another deep playoff push; potentially even to the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    Season Stats: 7.9 PPG (49.3% from the field), 5.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG

    Kawhi Leonard might be the rookie who's most poised to break out in the playoffs. He's a crucial member for the top seed in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs.

    Leonard's value is seen in his versatility. He shoots a quality percentage, rebounds and defends exceptionally well for a rookie.

    If Leonard can average 10-15 PPG and supply shutdown defense (especially on elite wings such as Kevin Durant), the Spurs could return to the NBA Finals and snag another Larry O'Brien trophy.

Alec Burks, Utah Jazz

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    Season Stats: 7.2 PPG (42.9% from the field), 2.2 RPG

    Alec Burks will likely not become a known commodity in the 2012 playoffs, but you never know.

    He plays a role for the eighth-seeded Utah Jazz, and if he has a coming-out party against the San Antonio Spurs, the Jazz could make this series interesting.

    But San Antonio lost in the first round last year, so don't expect them to go down easy again this year. Because of that, it's unlikely that Burks will have much opportunity to shine.