The NBA season is nearing closer and the excitement will only continue to build up over the next several weeks. Among the topics to be excited about is the new batch of incoming rookies, who together make one of the strongest draft classes we've seen for the past several years.
In anticipation of these rookies, it is time to start ranking them and making some predictions. Though draft position is close to useless when evaluating these new players, the NBA summer league in Orlando and Las Vegas last month was a good indicator of which players could potentially step onto the stage and instantly have an impact on their teams. Though it was only a few games, the summer league gave a good idea of which rookies will surprise, which will bust and which will live up to expectations.
Considering the season has not even started, a lot could change by the time the Rookie of the Year award is given out. But having caught a first glimpse at this year's draft class, here are the current top 10 front runners for the award.
Before the draft, Robinson made it clear that he thought he could win the ROY award this year. After all, he also thought that he should be taken over Anthony Davis as the first pick in the draft. After being taken as the fourth pick by the Kings, he should still have every opportunity to succeed, seeing as how Jason Thompson is his only real competition at the PF spot.
The Kansas product struggled a little in the summer league, putting up just 13 points a game over the five games he played. On the bright side, Robinson showed the potential to be a great rebounder. He averaged 9.8 boards a game in the summer league, more than any other rookie, and had some strong performances on the glass including the Kings' 91-82 win over the Cavs in which he grabbed 15 rebounds.
If Robinson really wants to contend for ROY honors, he'll have to improve his shot a little and hold onto the ball better. He shot just 34 percent from the floor and averaged an awful 4.8 turnovers a game. Even so, he has the potential to form one of the best young dynamic duos in the league with DeMarcus Cousins down low.
Following playing a few seasons in Lithuania and Italy, the Lithuanian forward Motiejunas was selected by the T-Wolves with the 20th pick in last year's draft. Though he decided to spend a season in Poland due to the lockout, Motiejunas joined the Rockets this year to participate in the summer league, and it's safe to say that he was a nice surprise for the team.
In just his first game of the summer league, Motiejunas (or D-Mo as Kevin McHale calls him) scored 25 points and grabbed nine boards on an outstanding 11-13 shooting. The 7'0" forward played four games and put up averages of 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game on 62 percent shooting from the field.
With Luis Scola in Phoenix, the forward position is open to almost anyone right now in Houston. There is a huge amount of youth at that position, including Motiejunas, fellow rookie Royce White, fellow rookie Terrence Jones, Marcus Morris and JaJuan Johnson, but if Motiejunas can start the season playing like he did in the summer league, then he can secure a starting spot for himself and become an essential part of the Rockets rebuilding process.
Even more impressive than forward Donatas Motiejunas was Terrence Jones, the 18th pick of the draft and Houston's 3rd first round pick. Jones was a complete beast in the five games he played in the summer league, putting up 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds a game and shooting 50 percent from the field. Those 18.2 points a game were also in the top five among all rookies.
For someone who is 6'9", Jones has proven to be a great shot and is also not such a bad ball handler. He did what he had to do this summer and earned himself some playing time. In a couple seasons, maybe he can even be the star player of the Rockets. That's jumping the gun a little though, considering as how he played just five games this summer.
Barnes struggled near the end of his five games played in Las Vegas, but still managed to average 16.8 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Those numbers are a little disappointing for the UNC forward, especially considering he shot just 40 percent from the field, but Barnes will see a fairly large role for Golden State this season.
He'll start from day one, but the advantage other players such as Kidd-Gilchrist have over him is that Kidd-Gilchrist is playing for the Bobcats and will get a huge amount of touches. Barnes' success may be limited, especially considering that Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Klay Thompson are all priorities over him in the offense and will receive more touches.
If the Warriors can make the playoffs and Barnes proves to have a large role in their success, then maybe he'll be considered for the ROY. But none of that seems very likely to happen.
Perhaps he would be higher if a knee injury didn't sideline him, but the second overall pick was still fantastic in his summer league debut, putting up 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. I still question whether MKG will ever really be a main scoring threat at any point in his career, but it's certain that he'll at least provide great hustle and energy to the team and will give 110 percent night in and night out.
The great thing for Kidd-Gilchrist going into the season will be that he'll have the opportunity to be a main option. He'll get all the touches he desires and will form a great duo out in transition with Kemba Walker.
Who knows if he'll really be able to make a large impact on the team and help the Bobcats win more games, but if he can and he's scoring, rebounding, playing defense and just filling the stat sheet, then he will be strongly considered for the ROY award at the end of the year.
Henson was the 14th pick of the draft and came as a great surprise for the Bucks in the summer league. The 6'11" power forward averaged 18.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game as well as shooting 54 percent from the floor and adding a steal and a block per game.
At age 21, Henson is one of the older NBA rookies and seems to be ready for the transition into the NBA. He showed that he has both a consistent jump shot and some good low post moves, making him a potentially dangerous offensive weapon.
With Ersan Ilyasova as his biggest competition, Henson should earn ample playing time and get plenty of touches and opportunities to score. If he continues the level of play he showed in Las Vegas he could easily be in ROY discussion at the end of the season.
Valanciunas was selected 5th overall by the Raptors in the 2011 draft, but had his international team allowed him to play in the 2011-2012 season, he likely would've been drafted even higher.
Valanciunas did not participate in the summer league, but is considered one of the greatest international prospects of the past several years. Though international players are often busts, it is hard to imagine the 6'11" Lithuanian center to be a bust. After all, he has plenty of experience. He's played pro basketball since 2008 and has been Lithuanian Player of the Year, FIBA European Young Player of the Year, Eurocup Rising Star, has been to two Lithuanian Basketball League all-star games and has made the LKL finals twice. All that experience abroad should help him make an easy transition to the NBA, even if the competition is harder.
A large reason Valanciunas is at number four is because he hasn't played any college or summer league ball in the U.S, but he definitely has the potential to be Rookie of the Year. Even though the Raptors are projected to finish dead last in the Atlantic division, maybe Valanciunas can even help the team make a run at a playoff spot.
Beal was not nearly as good in the summer leagues as some of the other prospects on this list, but he was solid for the most part. He was the main scorer for the Wizards and got the ball more than any other player. That will obviously change when Beal plays with Nene and Wall, but he'll still get plenty of opportunities to shoot on a rebuilding roster.
Beal put up 17.6 points and 4.6 rebounds a game, and although he shot just about 42 percent from the field, he wasn't afraid to shoot and was also unselfish at the same time. With big new additions in Beal, Okafor and Ariza, the Wizards are a much different team this season and will definitely improve. If they improve enough to make the playoffs, Beal will be a big candidate for ROY.
Lillard was without a doubt the best rookie and possibly the best player in the whole summer league. The Weber State point guard executed the pick and roll very well and was able to get to the rim at will even while being double teamed. After four games, Lillard averaged a league high 26.5 points and 5.3 assists a game, and had a couple of beautiful performances, including a 31 point and seven assist game. If any player is the MVP of the summer league, it's Lillard.
With his performance in the summer league, Lillard successfully earned himself the starting point guard spot and it's pretty obvious that Portland sees him as their their future point guard and very likely a franchise cornerstone. He was double teamed a lot during college, but sharing the court with Batum and Aldridge could draw attention away from Lillard and make him an even more dangerous scorer.
Now, is Lillard going to be as good a scorer as Westbrook or Rose once he develops? It's too early to tell. But at least right now, if anyone can make the ROY race interesting and give Anthony Davis some competition, it's Lillard.
While Lillard was tearing it up in the summer league, Davis was in London playing basketball with the big boys. If you thought learning from other young players was a good prep course, Davis got to learn from the league's best while in London and also competed against teams that are far greater than his competition in the summer league.
Davis may be young, but playing with the league's elite in London should have prepared him for the NBA better than anything else could have this summer. There is a lot of pressure on Davis, being the first pick of the draft and also being a focal point of the Hornets future plan. Davis is a player the Hornets want to build around, and so it'd be extremely dissapointing if he were to be a bust. But Davis had no problem adjusting to college his freshman year and should have no problem adjusting to the NBA.
Though he may not immediately be superstar material, he'll get the minutes and touches he needs to be a force on the court and will help the Hornets win some games. They won't be great this season, but Davis should be the team's anchor for years to come and at this point is the front runner for the 2012 ROY award.