The 2012 NBA training camps have recently started, but that hasn't stopped several rookies from raising their stocks significantly with their early play.
The NBA Summer League is usually the first time a rookie's performance will be judged, but oftentimes it's a poor sample size because of the pickup style of play and the lack of competition.
Training camp and the preseason is really the first chance for NBA rookies to impress their coaching staff. Some rookies will play so well in practice and in the exhibition games that they'll actually earn themselves a spot in the starting rotation.
It's important to not get too excited over these performances; however, it can show you flashes of what is to happen.
The additions of Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Landry Fields have made Terrence Ross sort of an afterthought in Toronto.
Ross, the No. 8 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, was a solid ball-handler and defensive player in college. His play often fluctuated between dominant and quiet.
It was surprising that the Raptors drafted Ross so high, but the pick was by no means stupid. Ross is going to be a good NBA player, and he has confirmed that so far.
In the Raptors' first preseason game against Spain’s Real Madrid, Ross finished with 10 points in 22 minutes, six of which came off a pair of three-pointers. Ross did throw up an air ball on a three-point attempt early in the game, but his performance was favorable overall.
In training camp, Raptors coaches are counting on Ross to push fourth-year player DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan's performance slipped a little in 2011-12, and it's important he gets back on track if the Raptors are to have any chance at making the playoffs.
Pushing DeRozan won't only help Ross earn more playing time, but it will prepare him for guarding opposing players in the regular season. Ross has impressed teammates and coaches already; by the start of the regular season, he may no longer be the fourth fiddle of the Raptors' new acquisitions.
The Damian Lillard love fest continues after his impressive preseason performance against the Dwight- and Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers.
Lillard finished with 14 points and seven assists in his first preseason game. In his 24 minutes, Lillard also hit two three-pointers and grabbed five rebounds.
Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool, a former scout with the Oklahoma City Thunder, believes Lillard has the ceiling of a franchise point guard. Vanterpool told Ben Golliver of SB Nation:
I think this kid can be a franchise-type point guard. I think he has the natural athleticism and the physical ability to do some special things. That's the God-given part. The part that you can't teach -- you can't teach Russell Westbrook to jump over the top of people.
That's high praise from Vanterpool, who used to watch Westbrook and Kevin Durant on a regular basis.
Lillard has become an underdog pick to win this season's Rookie of the Year award. He has a realistic shot to win because of his situation.
Lillard is going to have the ball in his hands more than most rookies, and he has a collection of solid teammates for support. Not many rookies will play with someone as talented as LaMarcus Aldridge or Nicolas Batum.
For the past few seasons, the Sacramento Kings have lacked a player with the ability to bring everyone together as a team. Drafting Isaiah Thomas last season was a start, but Thomas Robinson has shown that he's a team leader.
The big difference Robinson has brought to the Kings is his hustle. Hustling is often disregarded as a skill, but it says a lot about a player when he busts his butt every second he's on the court.
In the Kings' first preseason game against the Phoenix Suns, Robinson ran down a fast break for a block—those types of plays count. When teammates see a player working that hard, it often results in a dribble-down effect for the rest of the team.
Robinson is already one of the Kings' best defenders. He was their best frontcourt defender in the first preseason game, and the way he communicates on defense will only make the rest of the team better as well.
One surprise out of Kings training camp is Robinson seeing some time at small forward. He is obviously a freak of an athlete, but showing the ability to play small forward says a lot about the work he's put in during the offseason.
If Robinson can play both power forward and small forward, the Kings could utilize him in a more powerful Lamar Odom-type role.
Terrence Jones shined in his first preseason game with the Houston Rockets against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, with six rebounds and a block in 25 minutes. He also knocked down a three-pointer.
Jones was the last of the Rockets' three first-round draft choices, but he may end up becoming their best.
Similar to Thomas Robinson, Jones' mixture of size and athleticism will allow him to play both power forward and small forward.
Christian Eddleman from SB Nation said it best: "Jones could be a walking mismatch. Big and strong enough to play in the post, but quicker than most post players."
The Rockets may lack veteran leadership, but they do have a collection of talented, young players. It may not result in many wins this season, but it will give the Rockets a lot to work with in order to make this a competitive roster.
And having a young player like Jones to man multiple positions only helps to quicken that process.
"Sully is very intelligent player. Very, very high IQ basketball."
Those words were spoken by Kevin Garnett, who's not one to usually toss around compliments. Jared Sullinger has been impressive in two preseason games. So impressive, in fact, that Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers is considering starting him from time to time.
Rivers said (h/t Gary Washburn, Boston Globe):
I’m going to try (Sullinger) a couple of games, and then I’ll throw Brandon in and then I’ll put Darko in a couple of times. You can read into it whatever you want. But there’s been no decision made on anything.
It's not surprising Sullinger has been impressive. What's most notable about Sullinger is how he's done it. His maturity and IQ are through the roof for a player his age.
Sullinger fell to the Celtics at No. 21 in the 2012 NBA draft because of concerns over his back. The back could end up being an issue down the road, but the Celtics are in win-now mode.
Sullinger definitely makes the Celtics a more dangerous team. Last season, the Celtics lacked depth in the frontcourt, an aspect of their roster that used to be a strength.
With Sullinger, the Celtics will once again able to throw numerous big bodies on the floor throughout a game.