The 2012 rookie class is touted as one of the deepest in quite some time, and as a result, there should be a handful of players finding their way into starting lineups next season.
In 2011, the NBA had just one rookie make a starting lineup for the first game of the season: Kyrie Irving.
Whether or not any player in this year’s group has Irving-like potential is up in the air, but with the depth and talent entering the league, the 2012 prospects have too much promise to be known as a one-man show.
While nothing is ever guaranteed, there should be more than one rookie starting opening night, and there should be a group of prospects who find their way into the lineup by the time the year comes to an end.
The transition from college to the pros is never easy, but it’s a jump these players are looking to make, and a select few should make their presence felt all season long.
There are a handful of players whose talents suggest they’re starting-five material, but questions surrounding their readiness and the team's positional needs will make a spot in the lineup more of a challenge.
Thomas Robinson: Thomas Robinson enters the NBA with a physical game that should make the starting lineup in most situations. The talent is there, and he may be the most NBA-ready of all incoming prospects, but following a contract extension this summer, Jason Thompson will likely be given the nod at the power forward position.
Bradley Beal: Bradley Beal has an extremely high ceiling, and while his game is that of a smooth NBA two-guard, he’s yet to win the job over Jordan Crawford. As a No. 3 pick, Beal should challenge Crawford right away, so don’t be surprised if he is in the lineup by the end of the season.
Andre Drummond: Andre Drummond is one of the biggest questions marks from the 2012 draft, and playing behind Greg Monroe his rookie season should do him a ton of good as he continues to develop. He has starting-caliber talent, but his game is raw and his drive is questionable, making him a project for the Detroit Pistons.
Terrence Ross: Terrence Ross was considered a reach in some circles as the No. 8 pick, but the talent is there to compete for a starting spot with the Toronto Raptors. The team is young and improving, but Landry Fields and DeMar DeRozan will make it difficult for Ross to crack the lineup in his rookie season.
Dion Waiters: Dion Waiters is a perfect example of a player who should challenge for a starting spot all season long, but might just miss the cut when the season tips off. He’s not the shooter the team wanted to obtain this summer, but his ability to attack the rim and finish strong will earn him minutes if he can stay aggressive.
The consensus No. 1 pick in the draft should be the easiest player to peg as a starter next season.
Davis is going to come in have an immediate impact on the defensive end. His offensive game is improving, too, and he could prove to be a better option on that side of the floor than some originally thought he would be.
Chris Kaman and Emeka Okafor are both gone from last year’s roster, leaving a wide open spot in the post for Davis to play next year.
His game is already touted NBA-ready in most circles, but his experience with Team USA was exactly what he needed to begin acclimating to the professional game.
International ball is much different than inter-league play, but competing against world-class competition—and playing alongside the best that the NBA has to offer—solidifies his spot in the starting unit next season.
Jonas Valanciunas could prove to be the best rookie center of the entire 2012 class.
Having been drafted a year ago by the Toronto Raptors, Valanciunas is coming to the NBA just in time for a rebuilding Raptors team. With the moves made this summer, they should be ready to compete for a playoff spot in the East.
The 6’11” prospect is a mobile center who can score around the basket. Like most young players coming into the league, he needs to add strength in order to compete down low, but he’s a great free-throw shooter who could benefit from banging with bigger bodies early in his career.
It’s certainly possible that the big man’s game never fully translates to the NBA level, but at this point, he has the best potential of any Toronto center, and he’ll be able to develop with the starting unit next season.
Coming out of North Carolina, Harrison Barnes has a chance to be one of the best scoring rookies of the 2012 draft class.
Having been selected No. 7 by the Golden State Warriors, he should be a great fit in their up-tempo system.
The 6’8” perimeter player has been known to struggle creating his own shots, but if given the opportunity to get out and run, he should show his athleticism and put up the numbers fans are hoping for.
The rookie will be challenged by veteran Richard Jefferson at times throughout the year, but if he can prove to be as good a scorer as some project him to be, he’ll solidify his spot as the starting small forward.
The Portland Trail Blazers lack serious depth at the center position, which is why Meyers Leonard may be called upon to take the starting spot next season.
Leonard is going to be an interesting case in Portland. He’s not going to help the fans forget about what could have been with Greg Oden, but his game is diverse enough to earn him a spot.
At 7’1”, 245 pounds, Leonard’s low-post game is raw, but he is a player who can finish above the rim, shoot from 15 feet and complement LaMarcus Aldridge in the fast break with his athleticism.
It’s certainly possible that the Blazers go another route. Joel Freeland could be a viable option at the five, or the team could go small and move Aldridge to center making J.J. Hickson the starting four.
That being said, Leonard is the only true center on the roster at this point, and with his ability to play up-tempo basketball, he could be a full-time starter even if he never plays true starter minutes.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has proven to be a leader and a down-right winner up to this point in his basketball career.
The small forward has joined the NBA with the league’s worst team, but his presence is likely to be felt in the starting lineup right away.
His shot needs some serious work, and his game is going to have to develop to be considered a star, but his incredible motor and strong defensive presence are what people are going to love about this 18-year-old kid.
Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t going to be great in any one statistic, but he’s a player who can finish at the rim, chase down loose balls and hit the boards on a nightly basis.
Don’t expect Kidd-Gilchrist to stuff the stat sheet next year, but his leadership and basketball IQ are going to help boost a rebuilding Bobcats team in 2013.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been looking for their point guard of the future for years now, and it appears they found him in Damian Lillard this summer.
Lillard saw his stock rise drastically heading into the NBA draft, and the Blazers took a chance by grabbing him with the No. 6 pick.
The Blazers are coming off one of their worst point guard experiments of all time in Raymond Felton. In his first year, Felton showed up out of shape, never fit the system and as a result left the team after one lockout-shortened year.
Lillard is going to be a breath of fresh air for Blazers fans, and with his extreme athleticism and deadly jump shot, the starting spot should be his from day one of the new season.