Which Rookies Have Benefited Most from the NBA's Offseason Movement?
Draft night seems like a lifetime ago, and for certain NBA rookies with precarious positions on their respective team's depth chart, it's likely felt even longer than that. Signings, trades and sign-and-trades give the offseason an unavoidable volatility, and those who at one time seemed slotted for starter's minutes—or a bench-warming role—may now be in line for something decidedly different.
The following is a look at those in this year's rookie class who have seen their standing shift in such a way, with a thematic influence on the positive. This offseason's proceedings have been fairly kind to this year's rookie class, after all, but which first-year players have gained the most?
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets
Monty Williams and the New Orleans Hornets remain committed to the idea of playing Austin Rivers as the team's primary playmaker, and thanks to a three-team deal that cleared former Hornet Jarrett Jack off the books, that idea will be an exercise in immersion. With no ticking clock on the team's progress, the Hornets are virtually locked into playing Rivers extended minutes at a trial position.
There are no excuses to hide him in the rotation and no veteran options to siphon off minutes. Rivers will get his fill of on-court action, and while a rookie season alone isn't enough to judge Rivers' long-term viability at the point, his initial—and substantial—foray into the position at the pro level should at least offer some insight into his potential and learning curve.
Plus, New Orleans' decision to match the offer sheet given to Eric Gordon from the Phoenix Suns should provide Rivers with an invaluable set of training wheels. Gordon may not be the kind of player that a team would want handling the ball on a full-time basis, but he has enough of a combo-guard profile to alleviate some of the creative pressure lumped on Rivers' shoulders. That's a huge benefit and a great bridge into the responsibilities that go along with the position.
It could have been potentially useful in a different capacity to have Rivers learn from a veteran like Jack, but it's likely preferable to allow him to figure out how to run an offense in his own style and on his own terms with a helping hand rather than a playing-time impediment.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have managed to position themselves for improvement this season while also leaning on the potential of the team's young core. That's a wonderful place to be for a franchise that has for so long been mired in mediocrity, and it's true in part because of the promise of one Harrison Barnes.
Barnes won't be Golden State's go-to scorer or primary ball-handler, but he figures to make a more dynamic complement for Steph Curry, Andrew Bogut and Klay Thompson than Dorell Wright would have.
That explains some of the rationale behind the Warriors' decision to send Wright to Philadelphia (in exchange for New Orleans' Jarrett Jack) and pave the way for Barnes to have a significant role from opening night.
Offensively, Barnes appears ready for the challenge. The North Carolina product struggled a bit in the Las Vegas Summer League when forced to create purely for himself, but working alongside a team of productive passers should open up a lot of opportunities for one of the draft's more controversial prospects.
Jeremy Lamb, Houston Rockets
The Rockets' offseason isn't yet complete, but the writing is on the wall: Daryl Morey has spent most of the summer cleaning the roster of any veteran player with a decent market and stocked his roster with younger prospects with a chance to make a tremendous impact.
That makes Kevin Martin's future in Houston uncertain, but hardly murky; it's only a matter of time before the veteran scorer is dealt for picks or prospects, leaving ample playing time for Jeremy Lamb to make an impact this season.
Unlike fellow rookies Royce White and Terrence Jones, Lamb doesn't really have a positional incumbent to deal with beyond Martin; Courtney Lee and Chase Budinger were both dealt away this summer, creating an invaluable opportunity for Lamb to contribute immediately.
White, Jones and Patrick Patterson will compete for more or less the same minutes, while Lamb figures to be a prominent part of Houston's rotation from the very beginning, and even more so once Martin is inevitably traded.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
Jared Sullinger's inclusion on this list may seem a bit counterintuitive given that Boston brought back Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox this offseason, but the Celtics have much more to gain from KG staying than they do from Sullinger grabbing some immediate minutes.
The goal isn't for Garnett to take Sullinger under his wing, necessarily, but merely to rub off on him. Garnett's energy and leadership has defined the contemporary Celtics, and now that Boston has stabilized for the coming season, Sullinger will be able to experience the culture of a deeply committed and disciplined ballclub.
The relationship between the two men may not be all that personal, but this is a valuable threshold for Boston's talented rook nonetheless. He'll bear witness to a winning foundation and a tremendous dialogue between player and coach, and hopefully, when all is said and done, Sullinger will prove to be a better player precisely because Garnett chose to extend his NBA career in Boston.
Marquis Teague, Chicago Bulls
Derrick Rose's injury puts yet another Chicago Bulls season behind the eight ball, with rookie point man Marquis Teague being perhaps the greatest unknown of all.
That said, Tom Thibodeau and Gar Forman were clearly confident enough in Teague and the newly re-acquired Kirk Hinrich to allow C.J. Watson to sign with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency, creating a very different offensive dynamic for the team that was prematurely ousted in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
Hinrich wavered from his typical steadiness a bit last season, and if his regression continues, Teague could be in for even more playing time than is anticipated. That could be a good thing for a Bulls team that could use a shot of life for its offense, and if nothing else could benefit from a fresh style and perspective at the point of initiation.
Watson did fine work for much of the 2011-2012 season, but his limitations were problematic in Chicago's first-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers and likely played a substantial part in his exodus.
Teague and Hinrich don't fit in perfectly as replacements for Watson and John Lucas III, but that's by design. Chicago isn't merely looking to replace what was lost, but actually augment its offense with Rose sidelined yet again. Teague will be a big part of that effort, whether he's ready for such an investment or not.