Predicting Which NBA Rookies Will Have the Most Impact in 2012-13

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIJuly 21, 2012

Predicting Which NBA Rookies Will Have the Most Impact in 2012-13

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    A number of NBA teams will be looking for their draft picks to make big impacts on the squad for the coming season. Some 2012 playoff teams, like the Orlando Magic, hope that their picks will help them retool quickly with their uncertain roster outlooks.

    Other teams, like the Charlotte Bobcats, need theirs to come through to aid the rebuilding process.

    Lottery picks are generally relied upon more to make a difference in the first year. However, not all of those players are good enough or mature enough to fill the role immediately.

    Some players who were taken later in the first round, such as one player coming out of the Atlantic 10 Conference, will make a bigger difference than many of the lottery picks.

    Following is a prediction of which rookies will make the biggest impact on their teams.

Austin Rivers

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    Austin Rivers is an interesting player to study. Initially, after the New Orleans Hornets drafted him, he seemed like someone who would share minutes with Eric Gordon, forcing teams to confront a dynamic scoring guard all 48 minutes. Then he might grow into a larger role.

    He might also be featured in a three-guard lineup with Gordon and Greivis Vasquez, with him and Gordon posing that tantalizing scoring threat at the same time.

    Now, the Hornets are trying to see if they can feature him and Gordon together as the two starting guards. That would mean starting Rivers as the point guard. According to The Times-Picayune, the Hornets are trying to see if Rivers can play point guard.

    “Our future’s really bright, and hopefully Austin’s that guy that can take that point guard position and run with it,” said Hornets assistant and summer league coach James Borrego.

    Borrego said that the team is trying to get Rivers adjusted to being a point guard.

    “His instinct is to score,” Borrego said. “But we’re trying to slow him down, learn our offense, learn our pace, learn our rhythm, and I think those are things he’s going to get.”

    No one can be too sure of that, though. Rivers will likely lean more towards his scoring tendency. Also, the effort to make him more of a facilitator for others than a creator of his own shots could hinder his growth.

    That effort seems to have hurt him. He shot 21 percent from the field and had seven assists in two summer league games before getting injured.

    Fortunately, Hornets coach Monty Williams clarified Borrego’s statements about the work being done with Rivers at the point guard position.

    Williams told The Times-Picayune, “Obviously, during the season, we’re going to have him play both positions.”

    The Hornets have an interesting set of talent that doesn’t fit the classic NBA system but could work out however Williams puts it together. Whatever Rivers’ role is, he’ll make sure that his scoring presence is felt.

    His ability to create for himself is unquestionable. Rivers will break guys down in isolation and drive past opponents for points inside.

    He might neglect to pass while satisfying his desire to score, but he will ensure that the Hornets aren’t among the lowest-scoring teams like they were in 2011-12. He’ll join Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon as the three Hornets scoring at least 14 points per game to turn that offense around.

Andrew Nicholson

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    The Orlando Magic will be missing key players from seasons past in their frontcourt. Ryan Anderson was traded to the New Orleans Hornets. Dwight Howard will surely follow him out the door.

    While Gustavo Ayon will arrive to try to fill Howard’s shoes, Andrew Nicholson will slide onto the scene and replace what is lost with the departure of Anderson. Not only that, but he’ll also pick up a bit of what Ayon can’t do in the place of Howard.

    Nicholson is a fantastic all-around talent. He plays strong on the inside. His length and nose for the ball will make him a solid rebounder in the pros. He and his Mexican frontcourt mate will be a terrific rebounding pair.

    The St. Bonaventure product is a promising shooter who hits shots both inside and out. He’ll even hit threes, which will provide the spacing that the Magic need to adequately replace Anderson’s outside shooting ability.

    Nicholson’s impact may be stunted a bit by his tendency to foul. In his summer league games, he had a habit of taking himself out due to fouls.

    Against the Brooklyn Nets, he fouled out, but not before dropping 24 points and 12 rebounds. He held himself to 27 minutes against the Detroit Pistons by committing five fouls.

    He’ll have to work through this, as young players often do. Nonetheless, he’ll be able to survive this fault to be a big difference-maker for the Magic as a rookie.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    After the Charlotte Bobcats set a dreaded NBA record for the worst winning percentage, few moves helped more to change the attitude of a sad franchise than the pick of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    Kidd-Gilchrist is a gamer who, despite not being a big-time scorer, can help change the complexion of the team.

    He goes hard and does many of the things that energize a team. His length, athleticism and tenacity on defense will help force turnovers. He’ll run out and score in transition. He’ll do little things in the half-court offense to help create opportunities for others, setting screens and grabbing loose balls.

    His drive to help the Bobcats improve will inspire young players like Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, who didn’t have many reasons to push themselves during the lost 2011-12 season.

    Having the competitive MKG at least gives this young Bobcats team enough purpose to win 30 games.

Tyler Zeller

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers struggled in 2011-12 at the center position. Anderson Varejao missed much of the season with injury, leaving the Cavaliers to mostly run a double power forward set with the aging Antawn Jamison and uninspiring rookie Tristan Thompson.

    Zeller will give the Cavaliers a consistent presence at the position that has been a weakness in many ways in recent years. His remarkable combination of size and speed will create mismatches.

    By jumping out to take jump shots, he’ll be able to space the floor and open up opportunities for others. His tremendous defensive skills will place him in the role Varejao has filled for the past several years.

    He’s also a solid free-throw shooter. His terrific work at the line will help boost a team that was third-worst in free-throw percentage.

    Zeller gives the Cavaliers a second true building block, along with Kyrie Irving. The two will make a dynamic duo. Irving will eagerly feed the ball to Zeller—both in the post and in mid-range.

    For his part, Zeller will give Irving a good target to pass to and the ability to create in various spots by using his speed to get off the block and open up space.

Damian Lillard

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    The name “Damian Lillard” will make opponents nervous for several years. Lillard’s rookie campaign will have people ready for what’s to come from this atypical point guard.

    He’s a playmaker who isn’t very well known as someone who creates for others. Lillard made a name for himself by dropping buckets. He averaged a cool 24 points per game in his last season at Weber State.

    While those numbers seem inflated by the fact that he played in the Big Sky Conference, scouts saw an explosive player who could get to the basket with ease.

    Also, no one could doubt this guy who rarely turned the ball over. He committed a turnover just once every 10 possessions.

    The Portland Trail Blazers’ pick of him at No. 6 validated that at least a little.

    His performance in the summer league has validated it a little more. He’s second among all summer league players with 26.5 points per game. Also, he’s showing some ability to distribute the ball, tossing around 5.3 assists per game.

    Whether he’ll continue to grow in this area during his rookie season is a big question mark.

    What the Trail Blazers can be sure about is that Lillard will make wonderful plays and handle the ball extremely well. He’ll be looking to score with the sort of zeal that Derrick Rose would show for scoring.

    Certainly, he’ll keep the other scorers on the team in mind, namely LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum. Surely, Lillard will be mindful enough to share with them to make his offensive impact more complete. The combination of their scoring abilities will bring Portland closer to playoff contention.