In the NBA, youth is important. Very important.
Whether it's a franchise in flux searching for a leader who can provide some direction, a fringe-playoff team looking for some prolific depth or a contender hoping to inject some impact-ready exuberance into their rotation—incoming rookies are anything but irrelevant.
That said, how relevant each newcomer is depends on a number of factors.
How prominent a role will they be expected to assume? What current state is their organization in? How does their potential impact shape their team's foreseeable future?
As important as developing strong young talent is, the fact of the matter is, certain franchises are more reliant, more dependent upon their rookies than others.
Numerous neophytes are expected to play bit roles, to be present for insurance purposes. Others will be integral cogs in a direction-specific machine.
The remaining ones, though? They'll be a team's end-all; they'll serve as an escape from the past and represent hope for the present and belief in the future.
Los Angeles does not currently have any rookies on its docket. And that's okay.
The rights to Furkan Aldemir, the Clippers' only rookie for about a second, was shipped to the Rockets in the Lamar Odom trade.
Although Los Angeles' depth is overestimated, this is a team run by veterans, so any rookie would have very little impact, if any at all, on the rotation's immediate future.
Almost needless to say, parlaying the raw talents of Aldemir into a player on a mission for redemption in Odom was a no-brainer.
Despite an abysmal 2011-12 campaign, Odom, without having set foot on the hardwood in 2012-13, is already more important to the Clippers than Aldemir or any other rookie ever would have been.
Miami's rookie center, Justin Hamilton, will be "stashed" away in Europe by the time the 2012-13 campaign rolls around.
Though the big man stands nearly 7'0" tall, he's a mediocre scorer and rebounder, and with his poor display at the combine this summer, it became clear he was out of shape as well.
Perhaps Hamilton will develop the skills necessary to secure a position with the Heat in the future, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Nor will Miami.
Either way though, he's not going to have any impact, or mean anything in any capacity on the Heat this season.
Darius Johnson-Odom has unlimited range and is a passionate defender, but he's not much else.
While he's listed as a guard, he's essentially an undersized 2, because he does not have the handle or passing instincts necessary to man the point.
Had the Lakers not wound up acquiring both Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon, Johnson-Odom may have actually cracked the rotation on occasion. With plenty of depth in the backcourt now, he's bound to have little to no impact on Los Angeles' immediate plans.
Johnson-Odom plays with heart, that much I'll give him, but the manner in which his 18.3 points per game at Marquette came simply won't translate well to the NBA.
And subsequently, he's more than expendable to the completely retooled Lakers.
Had the Jazz remained self-destructively thin at the shooting guard position, Kevin Murphy would have landed a surprisingly strong role in Utah's backcourt.
But, as it stands, the Jazz added Mo Williams and Randy Foye, thereby eliminating the need for them to give meaningful minutes to a late second-round draft pick.
Murphy is an effective perimeter shooter, averaging over 20 points per game for Tennessee Tech last season. However, such production came in nearly 35 minutes of action, and he won't even receive a third of that in Utah.
So, while the Jazz are known to mix it up and explore some avenues most other teams would avoid, their new-found depth at the 2 is likely to prevent them from extensively exploring Murphy's potential.
Remember Nando De Colo?
The Spurs drafted him in 2009, and he is just now making his way stateside.
De Colo satisfies Gregg Popovich's love for combo guards while ensuring San Antonio's versatile motif isn't compromised. He's a strong shooter who can put points on the board in a hurry and shot a respectable 37.9 percent from beyond the arc in Europe last season.
Additionally, though De Colo's perimeter defense is more than suspect, his extensive risk taking has been known to pay off; he's great at manning the passing lanes and poking the ball out of an opposing player's handle.
That said, despite the guard's multi-faceted skill set and the Spurs' tendency to maximize the potential of all their players, De Colo is of little importance to San Antonio.
Sure, he provides some added insurance should the injury bug attack the team's backcourt, but his usage rate will be purely situational and anything but guaranteed.
De Colo will far from even help determine how far the Spurs carry themselves in 2012-13.
By selecting Miles Plumlee in the in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft, the Pacers essentially ensured their top draft pick would be a non-factor.
Personally, I've got nothing against Plumlee—except for the fact that he's an offensive liability who only scores off dunks, doesn't rebound too well for someone his size and only averaged 20.5 minutes during his peak season at Duke.
For an Indiana team that hopes to contend for a title, Plumlee's presence is puzzling. Not in the sense that the team wanted to add depth to its frontcourt, but that it chose to do it through him; because, let's face it, he won't.
And truth be told, whether or not the Pacers contend for a title is irrelevant; any success or failure Indiana incurs will not be the direct result of anything Plumlee does or doesn't do.
Yes, he means that little in the scheme of things.
The Knicks are anything but well endowed at the point guard position, yet that doesn't change the likelihood of Pablo Prigioni being rendered a non-factor.
Though Prigioni is a seasoned overseas veteran, he's new to the NBA hemisphere. Yes, at 35, he is only now just making his stateside debut.
Even if we take age out of the equation, the point guard is essentially an inconsistent playmaker and mediocre defender.
And while New York could certainly use some insurance behind Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, Mike Woodson has already shown a willingness to let both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith run the offense when he sees fit, so it's likely either of them gets the rock before Prigioni.
Simply put, in the grand scheme of the Knicks' championship blueprint, Prigioni's presence will prove to be of very little importance.
The Nuggets are extremely deep on the perimeter, to the point where you wonder if Evan Fournier will be able to distinguish himself at all.
Denver, more specifically George Karl, is a huge advocate for athletes who have two-way potential, and while Fournier is a strong scorer with a 6'7" stature that allows him to shoot over most guards, he's a spotty, borderline non-committal defender.
What you also need to know, though, is that Karl and company aren't afraid to give rookies a chance to prove themselves.
So, should the injury bug once again plague the Nuggets' backcourt or players like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and even Jordan Hamilton begin to stall in their progression, Fournier will see plenty of time on the hardwood.
But, for now at least, Fournier is more important from an insurance standpoint and not someone who will make or break the lofty expectations Denver has set for itself.
The Mavericks boast a plethora of options in the backcourt, but their depth does anything but diminish Jared Cunningham's importance.
Though Dallas will rely heavily on the likes of Rodrigue Beaubois, Vince Carter, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo, Cunningham will also see plenty of playing time.
Why? Because he provides the type of dual impact that is reminiscent of Mayo three years ago. He's a volume scorer with an efficient shooting touch and has quick defensive hands that force a bounty of turnovers (he averaged 2.5 steals per game at Oregon State last season).
Should any member of Dallas' backcourt begin to struggle, especially defensively—I'm looking at you Mr. Carter—Cunningham will be expected to inject a punch of two-way life into the rotation.
Can he be considered the Mavericks' end-all at shooting guard? No, but he's more than merely insurance.
Alexey Shved should have no trouble cracking the Timberwolves' rotation in some capacity.
At 21, Shved is still raw on both ends of the floor, but he's been considered one of Europe's most coveted prospects the past few years and adds even more versatility to Minnesota's lineup.
The combo guard can score from anywhere on the floor, thrives in transition and can man the point when called upon. His production can be inconsistent and he must improve defensively, but the fact that he's a project won't scare the Timberwolves out of using him.
Ricky Rubio makes everyone around him better, and given a fellow guard who can hit the open jump shot, he should have no problem maximizing Shved's scoring output.
No, he's not another star to build around, but he gives Minnesota another sharp-shooting conscience, which even with Brandon Roy in the fold, is an attribute the Timberwolves sorely need.
Prior to the acquisition of Andrew Bynum, Arnett Moultrie stood to make a significant difference in Philadelphia.
But that's just not the case anymore.
Though Moultrie's ability to play both forward spots ensures he'll receive his fair share of burn, the Sixers are laden with versatile forwards and now have a low-post rotation that doesn't necessarily call for his presence.
Again, Moultrie posted 16.4 points and 10.5 rebounds at Mississippi State last season, so he won't be completely buried on the bench.
That said, Philadelphia's success isn't reliant on a strong performance by the rookie; Moultrie will have the impact that rivals the likes of a bit role player at best.
Sleeping on Tony Wroten in Memphis would be a mistake.
Though the point guard has a jump shot that would make Rajon Rondo feel good about his, he's an extremely deft passer with devastating court vision. He's also a monster point guard at 6'6", which has helped him develop into a near-impenetrable perimeter defender.
There's no doubt that Wroten is a project, though. His outside game is broken and his superior playmaking instincts do not translate into assists nearly enough; he dropped just 3.7 dimes per game at Washington last year.
But he's a project worth undertaking, especially for the Grizzlies, who even with Jerryd Bayless and Mike Conley, are in need of some extra talent in the backcourt.
If nothing else, Wroten gives Memphis the opportunity to allow Bayless and Conley to play off the ball more, where both floor generals thrive. That not only injects some versatility into the rotation, but also helps ease the loss of O.J. Mayo.
So, yeah, I'd consider that important.
Until Derrick Rose returns, Marquis Teague is arguably the most important member of Chicago's backcourt.
While the Bulls know what to expect from the likes of Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Nate Robinson and even Marco Belinelli, Teague is a wild card—and an important one at that.
The former Kentucky point guard should have spent this season learning the game from a distance, at the end of the bench, to be more specific. But exceptional times call for exceptional measures, like throwing Teague into the professional fray immediately.
Though the 19-year-old boasts a fundamentally sound skill set that includes great footwork, awe-inspring end-to-end speed and underrated court vision, his transition into the NBA largely depends upon his decision-making.
Teague is a bona fide point guard in the truest sense of the position, but playing alongside more prominent talents like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist rendered him a timid offensive leader.
The Bulls don't need that, they need a take-charge floor general who can not only score, dish and defend, but who also isn't afraid to tap all of those resources.
Is Teague ready to step up his aggression in ways he never could at Kentucky?
Chicago's success without Rose depends largely on him doing so.
At 6'9", Andrew Nicholson won't eclipse Orlando's loss of Dwight Howard, but he's at least talented enough to try.
The power forward played his way toward prolific obscurity at St. Bonaventure, displaying a knack for versatile scoring, aggressive rebounding and devastating defending.
In fact, offensively, at least, Nicholson possesses an array of low post moves that would have made Howard himself pine. Factor in his two blocks per contest and you have a defensive presence that can begin to pick up the pieces left by Howard's departure.
And considering how poor of a return Orlando received in exchange for Howard, that's absolutely huge.
So, while Nicholson may not start, he's primed to receive ample playing time, allotting him the opportunity to provide some clarity on the Magic's direction.
Which, at this point, isn't just important; it's imperative.
It's not every year a title contender adds a rookie who can make an immediate impact, but then again, Perry Jones III isn't your average, draft-day free fall.
Regardless of how unstable Jones' health may be, the Thunder got a potential gem in this swingman.
Jones is the perfect backup to Kevin Durant. He's just as lanky, crashes the boards hard, is an extremely calculated perimeter defender and can even put points on the board.
If the small forward wishes to make even more of an immediate impact, he'll be forced to develop a more consistent outside shooting touch. But even then, there's no denying the positives easily outweigh the negatives.
In fact, with a mentor like Durant, it's far from a stretch to imagine him emerging as the draft's biggest steal.
Let's talk about the Nets snagging a talented rookie outside the confines of the NBA draft.
Though Brooklyn was relegated to a few late second-round selections in the draft itself, the team managed to grab one of the most versatile players to ever come out of Europe on its own.
Mirza Teletovic, though 27, is still learning the game, but as a stretch forward who can score from anywhere on the floor, he'll render opposing defenses wafer thin in ways Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries do not.
Yes, the Bosnian prodigy leaves much to be desired on defense—his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess are deficient to say the least—but he's a lights-out shooter.
And on a Nets team that is built to score, Teletovic's efficiently constructed offensive arsenal will only enhance their postseason aspirations.
When the Hawks traded Joe Johnson, they saved a pile money, appeased the underappreciated ego of Josh Smith and left a gaping hole on the perimeter that Lou Williams and Kyle Korver don't quite fill.
Enter John Jenkins.
Jenkins is one of the most highly-touted shooters coming out of this year's draft and provides an additional outside presence Atlanta sorely needs.
Joe Johnson shot the three-ball over fives times per game last season, converting on just under 40 percent of those attempts. While Korver was more efficient, knocking down 43.5 percent of his three-pointers, he's 31, and both durability and lift are an issue.
This is what makes Jenkins so important to the Hawks. He knocked down 43.9 percent of his three-point attempts at Vanderbilt last year and shot better than 54 percent from inside the arc.
His quick release, coupled with his superior offensive efficiency, ensures that he'll not only receive ample playing time in 2012-13, but that he'll become a fixture in Atlanta's rotation and be largely responsible for any success the team incurs.
The Celtics were the NBA's worst rebounding team last season and won't be able to push the championship bill any further unless that changes.
I mean, when your starting point guard is the team's second-leading rebounder, you're 1) impressed by Rajon Rondo's willingness to hit the glass, and 2) miffed by the fact that you have the weakest interior attack in the league.
Jared Sullinger can help reverse such realities. He's not known to play above the rim, but at only 6'9", he's an absolute beast on the boards, having averaged a combined 9.7 grabs per game in two seasons at Ohio State.
Not bad for an athlete with a supposedly degenerative back, is it?
If Doc Rivers can move past Sullinger's inexperience and provide him with an adequate opportunity to prove himself, the Celtics' competency on the glass will drastically improve, which will ultimately prove to be one of the deciding factors behind their championship cause.
Plus, he'll likely receive a hearty thank you from Rondo himself.
The Pistons will only be as prosperous as Andre Drummond's development.
Detroit went big this summer, both literally and figuratively, when it opted to bring in the athletically-inclined, yet woefully raw Drummond.
While the big man has the athleticism necessary to become a dominant two-way All-Star, his aversion to consistency is simply staggering. Drummond is a shot-blocking machine, but his 10 points per game at Connecticut last season is an indisputable sign of his offensive deficiencies.
The center also failed to impress on the glass, snagging just 7.6 boards per game despite yielding an overwhelming seven-foot presence.
If Drummond proves to be a worthwhile project, a budding talent who is willing to make adjustments, the Pistons will have themselves a low-post tandem in Drummond and Greg Monroe that implies future title contention.
Should Drummond go bust, so will Detroit's present and future plans.
Kyrie Irving needed a prolific running mate, and the Cavaliers gave him Dion Waiters.
Moving aside from the fact that Waiters and his lackluster skill-set hardly appear on the fast-track to stardom, Irving and the rest of Cleveland needs him to, at the very least, feign prolific competency.
Though the combo guard provides a dynamic offensive presence, he averaged just 12.6 points in 24.1 minutes per game at Syracuse last season. The Cavaliers need more.
If Waiters cannot stretch his playing time further, increase his scoring output and develop more of an aptitude for facilitating—he dished out just 2.5 assists per contest last year—Irving will have hardly found the sidekick he craves (and more importantly, Cleveland needs).
This essentially leaves Waiters as a driving force behind the Cavaliers' potential success or failure.
Of Houston's barrage of draft picks, Jeremy Lamb is easily the most important.
Sure, Terrence Jones and Royce White add some versatility in the frontcourt, but the Rockets' ability to remain successful hinges on the chemistry they establish in the backcourt.
Next to Kevin Martin, Lamb is easily Houston's most deadly scoring threat. He's an extremely efficient shooter who can exploit defenses off the dribble or as a spot-up man, and his lanky arms help deflect opposing passes and create transitional opportunities for his teammates.
While many will expect to see him back up Martin, he'll undoubtedly be asked to play alongside him in an attempt to maximize the team's offensive potential.
Should Lamb be able to overcome his strength deficiencies and learn to enter attack mode more on offense, he'll make life easier on both Martin and Jeremy Lin.
Which will, in turn, render the outlook in Houston much brighter and make the 2012-13 campaign much easier for the Rockets and their fans to stomach.
John Henson is Milwaukee's only chance at two-way interior competency in 2012-13.
The Bucks have an underrated amount of depth down their docket, just not in the paint. Samuel Dalembert is deteriorating by the day and is a complete non-factor on offense, while Ersan Ilyasova is more of a stretch forward than anything else. Even Drew Gooden leaves much to be desired in the low post.
But that's why Milwaukee took a chance on Henson, the athletically-inclined, defensively savvy power forward out of North Carolina.
At 6'11", he's an absolute monster on the defensive end. He swatted away nearly three shots in under 30 minutes per game last season while averaging nearly 10 boards. Most importantly, though, much of Henson's tactics on defense come down to superior timing and instinctive action, meaning his production should translate almost seamlessly into the NBA.
While Henson's limited offensive skill set is of some concern, he has the potential to be an immediate double-double guy, provided he looks for his shot more and develops a stronger back-to-the-basket game.
Currently, the Bucks are a fringe playoff team. A strong inaugural campaign on Henson's part, though, could prove to be the difference between a postseason berth and another lottery appearance.
DeMarcus Cousins can't do it alone.
Thomas Robinson has the most NBA-ready body of any incoming rookie, and the Kings will hope he is able to use that to both his and Cousin's advantage.
Robinson was a perpetual double-double threat in his last year at Kansas. He averaged 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game in addition to swatting away nearly one shot and swiping over one steal.
While the big man didn't exactly turn heads in the summer league, the hope is that he can open up the painted area for Cousins, who without another low-post threat last season, found himself the victim of swarming double-teams far too often.
So, even more than his double-doubles, Robinson will be relied upon to provide two-way relief to Sacramento's rising star.
His ability to do so will prove to be the difference between another in-house implosion and a rare sense of accomplishment for the Kings.
Even with Goran Dragic, the Suns need Kendall Marshall.
As the best playmaker coming out of the draft (9.8 assists per game last season), Marshall completes the Suns' effective 1-2 replacement punch for Steve Nash. Though the rookie point guard isn't as instinctively adept as Nash is, he's a fantastic floor general.
Marshall is superb at balancing his team's floor spacing and he can break down defenses—even zones—without so much as breaking a sweat. And while he needs to be more aggressive in looking for his own shot, that's always been Nash's problem, and look how he's panned out.
Losing a player like Nash is a quandary every team wishes they could avoid, but if even half the franchises found adequate replacements as quickly as Phoenix did, rebuilding periods would be much easier to endure.
If Marshall plays up to snub and shows a willingness to be more self-serving when the situation calls for it, a playoff push is not out of the question for the Suns.
The fact that we can say that before life after Nash officially tips off, is important in itself.
Jonas Valanciunas could prove to be the Raptors' ticket back to the playoffs. Or he could help relegate the team back to the lottery.
The big man out of Lithuania has vast potential. He has a great touch around the basket, is an aggressive rebounder and a great shot-changer. His mid-range game has also come a long way.
That said, Valanciunas has always been considered a long-term project. He had an extra year to further develop and hone his skills, but his frame is still far from an NBA build and he's not nearly as dominant a presence on either side of the floor as he should be.
Toronto already has a big man who emulates finesse as opposed to explosion, and it doesn't need another one. That's why Valanciunas' progression, from Day 1, is so important.
Right now, he's the Raptors' only hope for a genuine big man, someone who can battle in the low post and doesn't look to the outside too often.
How quickly Valanciunas comes along during his rookie season will no doubt determine how far up—or down—the NBA's food chain Toronto's revamped docket travels during its inaugural campaign.
There's a reason that Harrison Barnes should be considered a dark horse candidate to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year—Golden State's options at small forward are anything but reassuring.
Richard Jefferson was the poster-child for athletic explosion in his day, but his day has past, and Draymond Green's presence is more of a testament to the Warriors' lack of weapons at the 3 than competition for Barnes.
While Barnes must work on his handle so that he can become more of a self-sufficient scorer, he's a deadly shooter who can put points on the board in a hurry; he averaged 17.1 points in under 30 minutes per game at North Carolina last season.
The small forward is also deceptively strong, which has enabled him to maintain a sturdy presence on the glass and the perimeter defense scene.
If Barnes can emerge as a consistent offensive option who isn't afraid to attack the rim, Golden State's quest for a playoff berth becomes that much more realistic.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is more important to the Bobcats than most realize.
Sure, the small forward is a great slasher, aggressive rebounder and extremely deft at clogging up the passing lanes on defense, but he's also the athlete assuming the role that was supposed to be Anthony Davis'.
Charlotte missed out on the opportunity to draft one of the most versatile big men to ever make the jump to the NBA, forcing the franchise to venture down an alternative path, one that led to Kidd-Gilchrist's doorstep.
Now the future, and even the present, of the Bobcats is in his hands. He'll be expected to hone his jump shot, become more of a playmaker and lead the defensive charge from both the inside and out. A heavy burden indeed, but one he will be tasked with carrying nonetheless.
As one of the most versatile rookies himself, Kidd-Gilchrist has the necessary tools to thrive under such circumstances.
That said, regardless of how much of an impact he makes—be it innovative or detrimental—is almost irrelevant in this case.
One team's success can't rest solely on the young and inexperienced shoulders of its newest swingman.
LaMarcus Aldridge can only carry the Blazers so far, and Damian Lillard will be asked to carry them the rest of the way.
Even before Nicolas Batum, Lillard is the second most important player on Portland's roster. From his professional inception, he will be asked to marshal the offense, to be the end-all for the Blazers' floor attack.
Though the point guard took great strides toward improving his facilitating abilities last season at Weber State, he still needs to become more of a pass-first floor general. His scoring output—24.5 points per game last season—will be a valued commodity for the Blazers, but players like Aldridge, Batum, Wesley Johnson and even Meyers Leonard, are best served alongside a leading man who can put the ball where they feel most comfortable.
That's what Lillard is up against in 2012-13; that's the type of workload he will be expected to shoulder.
And to be completely honest, the Blazers don't have a chance at contending for a playoff spot unless he does exactly that.
John Wall needed a prolific sidekick, and unlike the Cavaliers did for Kyrie Irving, the Wizards delivered.
Bradley Beal is as well-rounded an athlete as the 2012 draft class boasted. He can play both guard positions, is deceptively strong, can score from anywhere on the floor and, as partially evident in his 1.4 steals per game at Florida last season, is an understated perimeter defender as well.
Most importantly, though, Beal complements the talents of Wall to perfection. He excels in transition and is comfortable both on and off the ball, which will ultimately allow Wall to spend more time slashing through defenses and creating his own opportunities.
So, while Washington's revamped roster has already turned some heads, let it be known that it is almost nothing without Beal. Though the Wizards know they have a star in Wall, they also know he can only carry the team so far without star-esque potential to play off of.
Beal has star-potential. He also has the ability to help propel both Wall and the rest of the Wizards into the postseason.
Roles don't get much more important than that.
Anthony Davis can do it all.
In just one season at Kentucky, the power forward established himself as one of the most dominant dual-threat players the game has ever seen.
Not only were Davis' 4.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game a strong indicator of his defensive prowess, but his 14.2 points on 62.3 percent shooting make it clear he has All-Star potential on the offensive end as well.
Simply put, there's no avoiding Davis' worth. He has great instincts on both sides of the ball, can put the ball down on the floor and has shown a willingness to evolve—evident in his improved mid-range shooting and perimeter defense.
Luckily for the Hornets, they already had a cornerstone in Eric Gordon, so snagging the first pick of the draft isn't what you would have called a necessity.
Nonetheless, Davis has put New Orleans on the map in ways Gordon alone could not.
With Davis, the Hornets aren't merely a team comprised of promising talent—they're a threat to beat any team, on any given night.