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NBA Rookies 2012: Who's Impressing Most out of Training Camp?

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NBA Rookies 2012: Who's Impressing Most out of Training Camp?
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Anthony Davis posted a modest 8 & 8 in his preseason debut.

This year's crop of 2012 NBA rookies is one of the better ones in the last decade.  From No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis to No. 30 overall pick Festus Ezeli, expectations are high for a lot of rookies.

So far, I'd like to look at 11 rookies who have launched off to nice starts in training camp and exhibition games.  

We'll start with the New Orleans Hornets, who have three rookies all already making heady impacts in their short NBA careers.

First off is the headliner: Anthony Davis.  

Davis made his preseason debut Sunday night against the Orlando Magic, playing power forward alongside former Suns center Robin Lopez.  The Kentucky product had a humble showing, posting eight points, eight rebounds (three offensive) and swatting away two shots. 

Davis' debut is not a lot to get excited about, but it's important to remember that Davis is only 19 years old.  While he has strength deficiencies now, he still has to develop physically.  

Branden FitzPatrick of Bleacher Report summed it up best, saying "Google pictures of Dwight Howard when he was 19…He certainly wasn't superman." 

When Davis adds the strength necessary to body up with the bigger centers, expect him to slide over to the 5-spot and begin his career as a true center.  Howard started his career as a power forward, too.

Also for the Hornets, they have two rookie point guards who will be battling for time—one heralded and one no-name 26-year-old who has made an instant impact after playing overseas.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Duke product Austin Rivers has high expectations around the league.

The former of these is of course Austin Rivers of Duke.  Rivers earned high praise from Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who referred to Rivers as a true go-to player, when asked by WEEI, leading up to the draft. 

Rivers played decent in the opener, posting 10 points in 26 minutes, but he only recorded one assist and missed all three of his three-point field goal attempts.  He did manage to get to the line eight times, though, which is an encouraging sign for the Hornets who need more perimeter penetration this season.

The less regarded of these two point guards is Brian Roberts, who attended Dayton.  Rotoworld reported that Roberts averaged only 8.6 points per game and 2.2 assists per game last year in Germany, but he's already shown more promise than that in the NBA.  He had the best game of all Hornets players in that preseason opener, posting 17 points in 27 minutes, while recording four assists and four rebounds and going 3-of-4 from three and 4-of-4 from the line. 

Roberts may not have time on his side, being 26 already, but if he continues to produce at this rate, he could be a real find for the Hornets.

The Golden State Warriors are high on their duo from the 2012 Draft.  Harrison Barnes may end up starting.  Maxwell Ogden of Bleacher Report summed up the potential impact of Barnes, writing that he "isn't going to be a 20 point-per-game scorer as a rookie…he will provide a mature mind on the floor who can shoot well and defend his position."

As for Barnes' position, he should see time at both forward slots, but the starting position is there for the grabbing at small forward.  He helped his cause by posting 13 points in 24 minutes Sunday night against the Lakers, in a game where the Warriors won by 27 over a hyped Lakers squad.  Barnes posted a +/- of plus-22.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Going into last NCAA season, Barnes was pegged as a possible No. 1 pick

Teammate and 30th overall pick Festus Ezeli has used his big body to his advantage and may start for a while in the absence of the oft-injured Andrew BogutEzeil posted a humble line of six points and four rebounds in 22 minutes of play, but his impact went beyond stats.  His defense was solid, and he posted a +/- of plus-20, the highest of all Warriors starters, while also coming up with a steal and a block.

"I'm here to bust my tail, work hard and do what's best for the team," Ezeli said to the Times-Herald Online.  If he sees that and he decides to play me, then I'm happy about that. I just want to be physical, play defense, make my open shots. I want to win. The dirty jobs, all that little stuff I have to do for my team to win, that's what I will do."

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is performing up to expectations early.  Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap told the Charlotte Observer that the coaching staff's job is "to stay out of his way" and added that Gilchrist's instinct renders him a more effective player naturally than if he were given a lot of plays, which could hinder his freedom offensively. 

Kidd-Gilchrist supported that notion by posting 12 points in 27 minutes in his debut Sunday night against the Wizards, to go along with six rebounds and three assists.  The Bobcats won the game 100-88.

One of the chic picks for rookie of the year came out strong as well.  Bradley Beal said to the Washington Examiner he "wasn't nervous" and that he "came in to work hard and prove himself…earn his spot."  Prove himself he did.  Beal posted 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting, including 2-of-4 from three, and also came up with a couple of impressive steals, showcasing his defensive ability. 

Beal already set the precedence for this performance by averaging 17.6 points per game in the summer league.  Expect Beal to shine, even with John Wall on the sidelines for seven more weeks.

Elsa/Getty Images
Kidd-Gilchrist may have a Tyreke Evans-like rookie season.

Jared Sullinger of the Boston Celtics and Perry Jones III of the Oklahoma City Thunder have both continued to solidify their statuses as the steals of the draft. 

Sullinger's basketball IQ was praised by both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.  "When you play with him you can actually see the IQ," Garnett told the Boston Herald.

Sullinger's stat lines showed that IQ as well, as he posted 16 points in the debut loss to Turkish squad Fenerbahce Ulker and nine points and seven rebounds in the second C's game against EA7 Milano.

Jones makes his preseason debut Wednesday night in Houston at 8 PM EST, and he's earned high praise from Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who said that Jones has "definitely impressed…He's getting better.  He learns well and wants to get better…it takes a while to pick things up." 

If Jones can continue to pick things up, he could have a nice debut.  His desire to learn and grow is a good sign in today's NBA.

Cleveland Cavaliers rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller are both set to make anticipated preseason debuts Tuesday night at 9 PM for the Cavaliers when they face the Bucks in Milwaukee.  Byron Scott has been high on both, commenting to CBS Cleveland that they "both did well" and they are "pace setters…(who) did a heck of a job." 

When asked what he thought of the potential backcourt of Waiters and Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, Scott said the duo could be "damn good." 

For Cavs fans still lamenting the loss of LeBron James, this has to be music to their ears.  The Cavs could be a surprise team this year, particularly if Waiters and Zeller progress quickly.

That sums up the best of the best just a week into training camp.  We'll continue to chart the progress of this year's talented crop of rookies as they head into their first NBA season…stay tuned!

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