Which First-Round 2012 NBA Draft Picks Will Surprise Their Rookie Season?
I wouldn't exactly be going out on a limb if I were to suggest that Anthony Davis will shine as a rookie. After all, the kid out of Kentucky wasn't the No. 1 overall pick by the New Orleans Hornets in the 2012 NBA draft by some happy accident, but rather because he projects as the most surefire star in his class.
The same could be said if I predicted that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick, would stuff the stat sheet on a Charlotte Bobcats squad that's practically devoid of talent.
Or if I were to offer that Bradley Beal, the No. 3 pick, might hit a few threes for the Washington Wizards, who have nary another outside shooter at their disposal.
That's not to say that there aren't at least a handful of first-rounders primed to surprise (if not outright shock) the basketball world. If anything, all the attention paid to The Brow and his pals atop the draft should allow these five rookies to sneak up and take the Association by storm.
Don't let Jeremy Lamb's Sleepy Floyd-like demeanor fool you—the kid can flat-out play. The scoring guard out of UConn performed remarkably well in the Las Vegas Summer League, putting up 20 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 46.7 percent from the field.
He likely won't start for the Houston Rockets from the get-go, but may find his way into Kevin McHale's "Fav Five" at shooting guard if/when GM Daryl Morey decides to swap out Kevin Martin's expiring contract for more pieces to fit into his ever-changing puzzle.
As such, Lamb will have an even better opportunity to show off the smooth game and deceptive athleticism that made him a star in college next to Kemba Walker two years ago and landed him at No. 12 in the draft this past June.
Lamb won't likely be the only rookie making noise in H-Town come fall, though. He figures to be joined in that regard by Royce White, a 6'8", 260-pound point-forward out of Iowa State.
White was widely considered a top-10 talent prior to draft night and would've likely gone higher than No. 16 if not for concerns about an anxiety disorder he's struggled with in the past.
Not that he appeared to be particularly anxious on the court in Vegas last month. White averaged 8.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists, with two double-doubles and two games with seven or more assists.
He's still rather raw and has a tendency to play out of control at times, as his 3.2 turnovers and 4.4 fouls indicated.
But given Houston's dearth of talent at power forward, White should see his fair share of minutes for a Rockets team destined for tank mode. And, more importantly, use those minutes to open some eyes around the NBA.
Speaking of tanking, the Orlando Magic are bracing for a painful campaign after dealing Dwight Howard to LA, though there should be some pleasant surprises in store.
Look no further than Andrew Nicholson, the 6'9", 250-pound PF out of St. Bonaventure. Nicholson came to basketball later than most—he didn't take it up seriously until his junior year of high school—but has managed to develop into a skilled, inside-out big man since then.
Nicholson demonstrated as much during the Orlando Summer League, wherein he averaged 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds and posted a 24-12 in his debut.
Nicholson, the 19th pick in the draft, should see his fair share of time behind Glen Davis at power forward, depending on where and when new head coach Jacque Vaughn decides to feature Al Harrington.
In any case, Nicholson, who was a physics major in college, won't likely have much trouble picking up the finer points of the pro game and giving fans in Orlando something to smile about in the wake of Superman's escape.
Some in the penthouse of the Eastern Conference will be putting rookies to work in a serious way, as well. Most notably, the Boston Celtics figure to have grand plans for Jared Sullinger this season.
The two-time All-American from Ohio State fell from a surefire top-10 pick to the 21st selection after concerns about his back came to the fore. Sullinger also caught plenty of flak from analysts for being too short, too pudgy, too slow and too physically grounded to survive at power forward in the NBA.
What Sully's critics tend to ignore, though, is that he's smart and remarkably skilled for a kid his size and age, and he understands quite well how to use his stocky frame to his advantage. Sullinger showed as much while piling up 12.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game between Orlando and Las Vegas in July.
The C's won't expect him to start at power forward—they'll probably ask Brandon Bass to hold the fort again—but will count on him to add some size, skill and depth to what was a woefully thin frontcourt last season.
And if he turns out to be a poor man's Kevin Love, then Grantland's Bill Simmons will have that much more to gloat about this season.
At this point, it's tough to tell how exactly John Jenkins fits into the hodgepodge that the Atlanta Hawks have become. They're already well-stocked with shooters on the wing after acquiring Anthony Morrow in the Joe Johnson deal, trading for Kyle Korver and signing Lou Williams.
Nonetheless, Jenkins' stroke from the perimeter is too picturesque to be denied for long. The Vanderbilt product hit 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts in Las Vegas on the way to averaging 15.6 points per game for the Hawks' Summer League squad.
Jenkins figures to have his fair share of chances to impress the coaching staff and the front office in Atlanta. And when he does, don't be surprised if the purity of his shot puts the rest of the gunners on the Hawks roster on notice.
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