The Top 5 NBA Rookies at Every Position in 2012-13

Roy BurtonContributor IAugust 22, 2012

The Top 5 NBA Rookies at Every Position in 2012-13

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    With the Rookie Transition Program wrapping up earlier this week, the newest members of the NBA now have a little more than two months to prepare for their pro debut.

    Most of the players entering the league this year had a chance to get their feet wet during NBA Summer League action, but that's a far cry from the rigors of an 82-game season. Lottery picks and undrafted free agents alike will suffer their fair share of growing pains as they adjust to the pro game.

    Some will make the transition better than others, and the select few among those will play so well that one could easily mistake them for a seasoned veteran.

    The NBA's postseason awards won't be unveiled for another nine months, but here's a look at each position's top five players who will be vying for a spot on the league's All-Rookie team.

Point Guard: 5) Tyshawn Taylor, Brooklyn Nets

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    In the "NBA projection" portion of Tyshawn Taylor's draft profile, his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde playing style is described as: "He's capable of making a great play one time down the floor and throwing a pass out of bounds the next, but he thrives on the chaotic nature of his game. Can an NBA coach live with that?"

    Nets head coach Avery Johnson will be able to live with that—primarily because he has Deron Williams ahead of Taylor on the depth chart. That isn't to say Taylor won't get playing time this year; the 6'3" playmaker shot 38.2 percent from beyond the arc last season, and his speed makes him a difficult matchup for opposing point guards.

    Taylor will have his work cut out for him trying to carve out a niche behind Williams and C.J. Watson, but his potential might be too much for Brooklyn to leave on the bench.

Point Guard: 4) Marquis Teague, Chicago Bulls

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    The Vegas Summer League wasn't all that kind to Marquis Teague. Scratch that—it was dreadful (29.4 percent from the floor, 3.0 APG, 3.8 TOs/game).

    The 19-year-old point guard has plenty of work to do as he transitions into more of a natural playmaker. Fortunately for him, he should have ample time to work on those skills since Derrick Rose will be in street clothes for at least half of the upcoming season.

    Teague's baptism by fire begins in a couple of months, but unless he can significantly cut down on the turnovers, the only time he'll have the ball in his hands is in a practice setting.

Point Guard: 3) Kendall Marshall, Phoenix Suns

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    Very few players in the NBA have the court vision of Kendall Marshall, a 6'4" point guard who averaged 9.8 assists last year for the University of North Carolina. If Phoenix hadn't recently signed free-agent guard Goran Dragic, Marshall would have been more than capable of starting for the Suns on opening night.

    Free from the pressure of being his team's primary playmaker, Marshall can now focus on improving his jumper. In the Vegas Summer League, Marshall shot 31.4 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from behind the three-point line.

    Once Marshall develops a consistent mid-range game, the sky is the limit.

Point Guard: 2) Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets

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    Austin Rivers is probably best described as a combo guard, so despite what position he's ultimately labeled with, expected to see him at both backcourt spots this year.

    Rivers isn't a natural playmaker, but it was clear during his brief stint at Duke that he needs the ball in his hands in order to be effective. At 6'4" and roughly 200 pounds, Rivers still isn't strong enough to finish at the rim effectively at the pro level, but he's extremely skilled at breaking his man down off of the dribble.

    It may take a while for Rivers to fully adjust to the NBA game, but he should establish himself as one of the best rookie point guards in very short order.

Point Guard: 1) Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard lit up the Vegas Summer League last month, and if he continues his stellar play when the games actually count, he'll be the best point guard in the 2012 draft class.

    Lillard averaged 26.5 points, 5.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game during his stint in Sin City, showing the explosive scoring ability that led Portland to draft him with the No. 6 overall pick. Lillard also appears to be a better playmaker than many scouts predicted, and he and Wes Matthews should pair to form one of the best young backcourts in the Western Conference.

    "He's unbelievable," said fellow Trail Blazers rookie Meyers Leonard. "His ability to finish around the rim, shoot, create plays for others, defend, play hard—he's a special player."

Shooting Guard: 5) Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    More than a few NBA analysts thought that the Cleveland Cavaliers reached for Dion Waiters at the No. 4 spot last June. Waiters, conversely, later made the case that he could have been taken even higher.

    "I'm an all-around player," said Waiters on a conference call after the selection was made. "I feel like I don't have any weaknesses."

    Waiters was an efficient scorer at Syracuse (he averaged 12.6 points in 24.1 minutes per game last season), and he does enough on both ends of the floor to contribute instantly. The 6'4" shooting guard needs to work on his mid-range game, though he should get a decent amount of open looks playing alongside Kyrie Irving.

    For what it's worth, Cleveland's selection was the first time in NBA history that a player who had gone to college but never started a game was picked in the top five.

Shooting Guard: 4) Jeremy Lamb, Houston Rockets

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    If Jeremy Lamb shoots as well this year as he did at UConn in 2011-12 (60.1 percent on two-point field goals), it won't take long for the Houston Rockets rookie to make his mark in the NBA. He already raised a few eyebrows last month when he averaged 20 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in the Vegas Summer League.

    Lamb's shot selection has more than a little room for improvement, as does his lanky, 6'5", 185-pound frame. But overall, his game is NBA-ready, and he will easily fill Kevin Martin's shoes after the veteran's hefty contract expires at the end of the season.

Shooting Guard: 3) Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Argentina had no answer for Alexey Shved in the bronze-medal game at the 2012 London Olympics. The 6'6" Shved went 6-for-11 from beyond the arc in that contest, displaying the form that Minnesota Timberwolves fans will finally have the pleasure of seeing once the season begins on November 2.

    Minnesota is only on the hook for $10 million over the next three years to Shved—a deal which could potentially look like a bargain based on how Shved has looked this summer. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Ricky Rubio-Shved backcourt will see plenty of time on weekly highlight packages in 2012-13.

Shooting Guard: 2) Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

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    Terrence Ross has one of the more textbook jump shots in the 2012 draft class, and his performance in the Vegas Summer League (37.1 percent from the field) isn't indicative of his true ability to knock down an 18-footer.

    It wouldn't hurt Ross to add a few pounds as well.

    At only 195 pounds, a little more muscle mass shouldn't negatively affect his speed all that much, and it will make him much more effective in creating space for his shot. Ross' size and wingspan were rare for a shooting guard at the collegiate level, but NBA wing defenders will eat him up unless he can match their physicality.

Shooting Guard: 1) Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Bradley Beal is slightly undersized for a shooting guard (6'5", 202), but his prototypical skill set is why he was the perfect draft choice for the Washington Wizards with the No. 3 overall pick.

    Beal made the All-Summer League team back in July after averaging 17.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game out in Vegas. A Beal-John Wall tandem is something that most coaches only get to dream about, but Wizards head coach Randy Wittman will experience that dream next season.

    "I think our chemistry is already building," said Beal when asked about sharing the backcourt with Wall. "I really can't wait to play alongside him."

Small Forward: 5) Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks

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    Every team needs that lunch-pail type of player who can find ways to be productive without having any sets called specifically for him. By all indications, Jae Crowder will fill that role for the Dallas Mavericks this season.

    Crowder may have a look that echoes Denver Nuggets star Kenneth Faried, but the Marquette product is a far more polished (and diverse) offensive player. Crowder averaged 16.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in the Vegas Summer League while shooting 37 percent from long range.

    Crowder's motor is without peer, and because of that alone, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle will be forced to work the 6'7" forward into the Dallas rotation at all costs.

Small Forward: 4) Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic

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    Before he could even unpack, Maurice Harkless was sent away from Philadelphia in a four-team deal that netted the Sixers Andrew Bynum while the Los Angeles Lakers landed Dwight Howard.

    That trade is in no way a referendum on Harkless' ability. The 6'8" small forward has the speed needed to keep up with opposing wing players, and he's just a jump shot away from being a high-end prospect.

    Then again, Harkless is only 19 years old, so as he continues to grow and mature, expect his game to develop as well.

    And for the record, you probably don't want to bet against him; in the span of a year, Harkless went from being ranked as the 41st-best player in his high school class to the No. 15 overall pick in the NBA draft.

Small Forward: 3) Royce White, Houston Rockets

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    His summer league statistics (8.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.6 APG) may not have raised many eyebrows around the NBA, but Royce White established himself as one of the most versatile rookies entering the league this season. How and where he fits in with the Houston Rockets is still to be determined, but he's way too talented not to play 10 to 15 minutes per game.

    White is 6'8", but he can handle the ball as well as a point guard. His ability to run the break is remarkable for a player his size, and while the Rockets may not win a whole lot of games this year, they'll be fun to watch whenever White is on the court.

Small Forward: 2) Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    If Harrison Barnes had consistently shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and create shots for himself, Charlotte might have selected him with the No. 2 overall pick. Instead, he fell to No. 7 for the Golden State Warriors—a situation that might be better for him in the long run.

    Heading into the offseason, the Warriors were set in the frontcourt (Andrew Bogut, David Lee) as well as the backcourt (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson), and they only needed a small forward to round out a potent starting lineup. Barnes fits in perfect at the 3-spot, and without the burden of carrying the load on offense, the former North Carolina star is a solid bet to make the All-Rookie team next year.

Small Forward: 1) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn't have one standout skill, but his ability to do a little bit of everything makes him the best small forward of the 2012 crop of rookies.

    Kidd-Gilchrist struggles from beyond the arc (25.5 percent from three-point range last season at Kentucky), but his boundless energy is exactly what the Charlotte Bobcats need after the 7-59 train wreck that they endured last year. Kidd-Gilchrist is a notoriously hard worker, so his jump shot will develop with time.

    Whether the rest of his teammates develop with him remains to be seen.

Power Forward: 5) Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics

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    Jared Sullinger didn't shoot the ball all that well during his time in the Vegas Summer League, but he was able to display the same aggressiveness on the boards that earned him All-American honors at Ohio State for the past two years.

    For as long as Sullinger is in the NBA, there will always be the question of if and when his balky back will act up again. However, if he can work the glass and pass out of double-teams as well as he did this summer, his health (and lack of athleticism) may soon become a non-issue.

Power Forward: 4) John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Milwaukee's John Henson put up impressive numbers in the Vegas Summer League (18.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game), making a strong case for some serious playing time with the Bucks next season. As it stands, he might be the most athletic forward on the Bucks roster, but he'll have to battle Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden for minutes at the 4.

    But strength is an issue with the 6'10" Henson. The 220 pounds that he's currently carrying won't hold up well through a grueling 82-game NBA season. If he's able to add 10 to 15 pounds to his frame without sacrificing any of his quickness and/or shot-blocking ability, Milwaukee got themselves a steal with the No. 14 pick.

Power Forward: 3) Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets

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    There were games last year in Lexington where Terrence Jones looked like a top-five pick. And then there were games where Jones seemed to float while the action was going on around him.

    Jones can't afford to float in the NBA—his skills are no longer markedly better than those of his competition. If the 6'10" forward brings his "A" game every single night, the Houston Rockets may have gotten the biggest steal of draft night.

    Jones can play either the 3 or the 4 at the pro level, and with plenty of shots to go around for a young Rockets team searching for some direction, the former Kentucky Wildcat has every chance to shine in 2012-13.

Power Forward: 2) Thomas Robinson, Sacramento Kings

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    Thomas Robinson should have used his time in the Vegas Summer League to work on his low-post game, but instead, he settled for mid-range jump shots, failing to assert himself on the offensive end.

    Perhaps his intent was to diversify his game. With DeMarcus Cousins at center, Robinson will have ample opportunity to excel at the 4 this year. The Kings are a team in search of an identity, and the Robinson/Cousins duo could help brand Sacramento as one of the league's toughest teams.

    The 6'9" Robinson isn't a textbook power forward by any means, but the physical gifts that allowed him to dominate at Kansas last year should make him an imposing figure at the NBA level as well.

Power Forward: 1) Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    Despite playing only 53 minutes in the Olympics, the time Anthony Davis spent on the U.S. Men's National Team this summer will give him a decided advantage over his fellow rookies.

    New Orleans is a franchise in desperate need of star power, and all signs point to Davis becoming its cornerstone for the next decade.

    Davis was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft for a reason. The 6'10", 220-pound rookie was a force on both ends of the court for the Kentucky Wildcats last season. He'll need to add a few more pounds to his frame over the next couple of years, but there's no reason why Davis can't fill the stat sheet almost immediately for the Hornets.

    Even at only 19 years old, Davis figures to be the best power forward—and possibly the best player—from the 2012 draft.

Center: 5) Fab Melo, Boston Celtics

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    Fab Melo is a work in progress on offense. Fortunately for Boston, the team has more than enough guys who can put the ball in the basket.

    Celtics head coach Doc Rivers can allow time for Melo to develop in the pivot, but the 7'0" center will have to contribute from Day 1 on the defensive end. Otherwise, he may find himself at the end of a deep Boston bench.

    Early returns on Melo weren't all that glowing, but he does have the rest of the offseason and training camp to prove that he deserves more than garbage minutes next year.

Center: 4) Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    How much better can Tyler Zeller be? That's the question that will plague the former North Carolina center for the early part of his career, since no one seems to have a definitive answer.

    Players who stay in school for four years—especially at a high-profile program like UNC—automatically have their fair share of doubters. Many believe that Zeller is at or near the ceiling of his ability, and if he was truly destined to be a star, he would have declared for the draft a year or two earlier.

    Whatever the case may be, Zeller had a good showing in the Vegas Summer League (11.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG), and he should be a vital part of the Cavaliers rotation next season.

Center: 3) Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Consistency is the key for Meyers Leonard, who has the skills to be one of the league's better centers. Once he figures out how to maintain his focus for a full 48 minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers will have a nice piece to complement LaMarcus Aldridge in the low post.

    Leonard should have destroyed the competition while at Illinois last year, but he only seemed to dominate the Big Ten in spurts. Seven-footers with Leonard's ability are extremely rare, so he'll get by as a rookie on talent alone.

    The step between "getting by" and "excelling" is the hardest, and we'll soon see if Leonard is committed to making that move to the next level.

Center: 2) Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    No center in the 2012 NBA draft has as much upside as Andre Drummond, whose offensive game is reminiscent of Shaquille O'Neal's character in the movie Blue Chips. Shaq had nothing on Drummond from the foul line, however; the former UConn product shot 29.5 percent on his free throws last season.

    Physically, the 7'0", 279-pound Drummond is already bigger than most of the players patrolling the paint today, and that size will get him through his rookie campaign without too much difficulty.

    Drummond needs to improve with the ball in his hands. Otherwise, he'll be known as a defense and rebounding specialist and little else.

Center: 1) Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    Toronto Raptors fans should be giddy at the prospect of Jonas Valanciunas finally arriving in North America this year. Valanciunas should be penciled into the Raptors starting lineup immediately, and before he ever stepped onto an NBA court, the 6'11" center elicited comparisons to both Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler.

    He obviously won't be that productive as a rookie, but the 20-year-old was named FIBA's European Young Player of the Year during his final season in Lithuania.