Report Card for Every NBA Team's Rookie Class so Far This Preseason
With less than two weeks to go until the games count in the standings, teams all across the NBA are beginning the process of setting their rotations for opening night.
A number of these rotations will include first-year players who, over the past few months, have made strong cases for playing time. Most of the lottery picks in the 2012 draft class were slated to get quality burn regardless, but there are others—second-round picks, undrafted free agents—who have used the exhibition season as a coming-out party of sorts.
Now that just about every rookie has seen his fair share of action, it's probably a good time to take a step back and evaluate just how well these first-year players have adjusted to the pro game.
While only a select few are destined for stardom, more than a handful of players are well-positioned to have stellar debut campaigns during the 2012-13 season.
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For a player taken late in the first round, John Jenkins had a pretty good showing in July's Las Vegas Summer League. The 6'4" Jenkins scored in double figures in each of the five games, averaging 15.6 points on nearly 51 percent shooting from the field.
Virginia product Mike Scott wasn't half bad in Sin City either, scoring 10 PPG and pulling down 6.8 RPG. The 6'8" power forward has the potential to be a second-round steal even in a crowded Hawks frontcourt.
Both Jenkins and Scott have looked decent in the preseason as well, and at least early on, it appears that the Hawks got decent value for their two draft picks this year.
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Jared Sullinger didn't shoot the ball all that well in either the Orlando or Vegas summer leagues, but his other numbers (12.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG) show that he should be able to contribute almost immediately for the Celtics. In fact, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers is even considering starting Sullinger at power forward this season.
Fab Melo's summer league performance was nothing to write home about, and neither is his play so far in the preseason. There may be minutes for him at the center position this season, but it may be in the Celtics' best interests to send him to the D-League for a spell.
Kris Joseph, who was picked No. 51 overall, figures to stay with the big club for most of the year, but minutes will be hard for him to come by at the 3 spot unless he picks up his game soon.
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With Tyshawn Taylor on the shelf for much of training camp so far, it's hard to accurately assess the Nets' rookie class so far. Taylor was impressive at times during summer league action, but whether or not that will translate over into game action remains to be seen.
Mirza Teletovic will serve as one of Brooklyn's main long-distance threats off of the bench, so the Nets hope that his two of 11 performance from beyond the arc in his preseason debut against the 76ers was nothing more than an outlier.
Rookie Tornike Shengelia at 6'8" won't be counted on to do much this year, and may be a candidate for a D-League assignment if he gets caught up in a numbers game at the two forward spots.
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So far, so good for Charlotte rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His preseason numbers are rather pedestrian to this point, but it's clear that the 6'7" forward is set to flourish in the NBA. He's almost a lock to earn first-team All-Rookie honors as he'll be one of the focal points of the Bobcats' offense going forward.
Conversely, first-year forward Jeff Taylor's first few months in the league have been a mixed bag. After averaging nearly 12 points per game in the Vegas Summer League, he's been unable to assert himself on offense so far in the preseason.
Charlotte will need someone to spell Kidd-Gilchrist during the season, but Taylor may play himself out of that role unless he shows the range that he had back at Vanderbilt last season.
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Marquis Teague is the only Bulls' rookie of consequence this year, and he hasn't seen all that much of the court during the preseason.
Teague looked like he was playing in quicksand during the Vegas Summer League: He shot less than 30 percent from the floor for the week and finished with more turnovers than assists. It's clear that Teague has his work cut out for him at the point guard position as the NBA hasn't been all that kind to him at the start of his career.
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In Cleveland, all eyes have been on shooting guard Dion Waiters ever since he was drafted No. 4 overall, and the results have been mixed at best. Three days after he was benched late in a preseason loss to Milwaukee due to a "lack of focus," Waiters dropped 18 points to help lead the Cavaliers to a 86-83 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Tyler Zeller has been solid, if unspectacular, even since he was drafted by the Cavs in June. The former North Carolina big man showed during summer league action that he has good range on his jumper, and even though his ceiling is limited, Zeller will be a solid contributor in the NBA for years to come.
Rookie center Michael Eric (Temple) and forward Kevin Jones (West Virgina), haven't done much of note thus far in the preseason.
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Jae Crowder is the kind of player who just makes things happen on the basketball court, despite not being extraordinarily tall or fast. He was one of the standouts in July's Vegas Summer League (16.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 1.6 APG), and will force his way into the Mavericks' rotation sooner rather than later.
Dallas' head coach Rick Carlisle is impressed with the team's other two rookies as well: forward/center Bernard James and guard Jared Cunningham. The 27-year-old James served three tours of duty before starring at Florida State, and the Air Force veteran is quickly picking up the nuances of the NBA game.
"James has made the greatest improvements of all of them, but coming into this summer he was the guy that had the greatest potential for improvement because he really had been a late bloomer," Carlisle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He's running a lot of things offensively, he's shooting the ball better and he's got a good feel for what we're doing."
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Swingman Evan Fournier scored in double figures in each of his five summer league games this past July, and if the Nuggets weren't so loaded at the 2 and 3 spots, the 6'7" French standout could have played a significant role this season. Instead, he'll probably spend a great deal of his rookie season on the bench, but not because of a lack of skill.
Quincy Miller has first-round talent, but he still doesn't have a defined position in the NBA. He has been just OK so far, but he could very well turn out to be one of the best second-round picks in the entire draft.
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Pistons' center Andre Drummond is raw on both ends of the court, but the early returns show that he might be ready to start on opening night if the Pistons decide to go in that direction. The 6'10" Drummond notched a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) in 25 minutes off of the bench for Detroit on Oct. 13, and threw in two blocks and two assists for good measure.
It would be surprising if Detroit's two second-round picks—Kim English and Khris Middleton—don't find a way to contribute early in their rookie campaigns. Both men have found ways to fill the box sheet in preseason and both are above-average shooters from beyond the arc.
Rounding out the Detroit rookie class are forward Kyle Singler and center Viacheslav Kravtsov, both of whom have looked decent in limited action so far.
Golden State Warriors
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Harrison Barnes may start the season on the bench for the Golden State Warriors, but it's clear that the North Carolina star is destined to be a top-flight scorer in the NBA.
"You're talking about a kid that comes early, stays late," Warriors' head coach Mark Jackson told the San Jose Mercury News. "[Barnes is] going to be very good."
Former Michigan State do-it-all star Draymond Green was compared to a "Swiss army knife" before training camp this year, but a balky right knee has slowed his development.
Festus Ezeli is probably the least recognized player in the Warriors' rookie class, but the Nigerian-born center has impressed in training camp, and could very well open the season as the backup center for Golden State.
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The Houston Rockets are loaded with talented rookies, and just about all of them are ready to contribute immediately.
Donatas Motiejunas was a beast in the Vegas Summer League (16.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG), and if the Rockets don't find him 15-20 per game in the frontcourt this year, then they simply aren't using him correctly.
Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb—the heir apparent to Kevin Martin—put in work out in Vegas as well, scoring at least 16 points in each of his five appearances. His long range jumper still needs a bit of work, but he should develop into a nice complement to starting point guard Jeremy Lin.
While Terrence Jones scored 20 points in his preseason debut against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets' rookie forward garnering the most attention this preseason is Royce White. White missed the majority of training camp while dealing with his anxiety disorder, so it's still unclear how much he'll be able to contribute to Houston this season.
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First-round draft pick Miles Plumlee has been a bit erratic so far during the preseason, but once he gets used to the speed of the NBA, he should serve as a solid backup center for the Pacers this year.
"He's playing extremely hard, he listens, he does what we tell him to do," Indiana head coach Frank Vogel told the Indianapolis Star (via Mike Wells). "You don't have to tell him things twice. He's coming along just fine."
Rookie guards Ben Hansbrough (brother of Pacers' forward Tyler Hansbrough) and Orlando Johnson have also benefited from a decent amount of playing time in the early going, but neither has filled up the stat sheet to this point.
Los Angeles Clippers
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Former BYU forward Trent Plaisted and ex-TCU guard Hank Thorns are the only two rookies on the Clippers' roster, and it would be a miracle if either player finds himself in the Staples Center on opening night.
Through the Clippers' first three exhibition games, Plaisted and Thorns have been on the floor for a combined total of 13 minutes. So with that in mind, it's safe to say that the Lob City crew has pretty much settled on their rotation this year, and it doesn't appear to include any first-year players.
Los Angeles Lakers
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The Los Angeles Lakers are undoubtedly the only team in the NBA with three 7-foot rookies on the roster (7'0" Robert Sacre, 7'1" Ronnie Aguilar and 7'3" Greg Somogyi). Of the trio, Sacre is the only one who has seen any extended action during the preseason. With Dwight Howard still recovering for back surgery, Sacre has started all four of the Lakers' exhibition games, and is averaging 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per night.
The other Lakers' rookies (guard Darius Johnson-Odom and forward Reeves Nelson) have spent more time being awed by the presence of Kobe Bryant than they have actually playing in games, and are long shots to make the roster.
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Combo guard Tony Wroten had three games in the Vegas Summer League where he scored 17 points or more, but his outside shot has been wildly erratic this offseason.
With Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless in the fold at the point guard spot, the Grizzlies won't need much out of Wroten this year, which is a good thing since he's just 19 years old. Wroten's athleticism and playmaking ability are better than those of most rookies, and when he puts it all together, he could be an intriguing option in the Memphis backcourt.
"I see toughness in him," said Grizzlies' power forward Zach Randolph in an interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "He's got great upside. Now, he just has to keep working hard."
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Jarvis Varnado (who spent the past two years playing professionally overseas) missed the Heat's two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Clippers due to injury, but the 6'9" power forward might still wind up making the final roster. Varnado holds the NCAA record for most blocks in a career (564), and could give the Heat a much-needed presence in the interior.
The problem is that neither he nor second-round pick Justin Hamilton have been healthy enough to appear in a game yet. The only Heat rookie to log minutes during the preseason is former Memphis Tigers forward Robert Dozier, and his numbers haven't been anything special to this point (2.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 30.0 FG%).
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When it rains, it pours for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Shooting guard Doron Lamb has already missed all of camp with a strained left elbow, and now fellow rookie John Henson is out for approximately two weeks after spraining his left knee against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.
Henson had shown some promise during the preseason (7.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG), but he'll likely be wearing street clothes until opening night. The 6'11" Henson was a monster in the Vegas Summer League (18.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG), and the Bucks hope that he'll be able to pick up right where he left off.
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Alexey Shved's NBA stats aren't as gaudy as the numbers he put up against Argentina in the bronze-medal game at the 2012 Olympics (25 points, seven assists, five rebounds), but the 6'6" combo guard has proven that he can play in the world's premier basketball league.
"His instincts are very good," said Timberwolves' head coach Rick Adelman to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "He knows how to play."
Shved is a pretty decent passer, but needs quite a bit of work on his playmaking ability if he wants to get some minutes at the point guard spot. And once Ricky Rubio fully recovers from his torn ACL, he and Shved will pair to form one of the league's most exciting young backcourts.
New Orleans Hornets
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The Hornets' draft class will (and should) ultimately be graded by how good Anthony Davis is, and so far, the No. 1 overall draft pick has yet to disappoint (14.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG).
The real story down in New Orleans is the emergence of point guard Brian Roberts, who is making a serious push for the Hornets' backup point guard spot. Greivis Vasquez and first-round draft pick Austin Rivers have been underwhelming this preseason, while Roberts has shined in extended action (11.8 PPG, 5.0 APG in 24.5 MPG).
Second-round draft pick Darius Morris has made a strong impression as well, and is currently in a battle with Al-Farouq Aminu to start at small forward for New Orleans.
New York Knicks
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For a team as old as the New York Knicks, they have no fewer than a half-dozen rookies on their preseason roster.
That said, most of them won't make it to the regular season. Free agent guard Chris Smith (brother of Knicks' guard J.R. Smith) had surgery on his left patella tendon last week and will miss the next three to six months. Center Henry Sims has been fairly non-descript during training camp, so his stay in New York figures to be a short one.
The point guard position is too loaded for former UNLV standout Oscar Bellfield to make the roster, and while rookie John Shurna is an intriguing option as a sharpshooting forward, he's really a poor man's version of Steve Novak.
There have been a few bright spots, however. Forward Chris Copeland at 6'8", has been the star of training camp so far for the Knicks, pretty much locking up a spot in the final 15 well before the season tips off. And 35-year-old Argentine rookie Pablo Prigioni has the potential to be one of the league's best backup lead guards.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Thunder fans only got a two-game taste of Perry Jones III in the Orlando Summer League before he was shelved with an ankle injury, but he has been nothing short of phenomenal in training camp so far. With his ability to play and defend multiple positions, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks should have little problem working his heralded rookie into the lineup.
In the exhibition season, Jones is averaging 13.0 PPG on 64.3 percent shooting. Pre-draft concerns about the meniscus in Jones' left knee caused the 6'11" forward to slide all of the way to Oklahoma City and the No. 28 overall pick. But while Jones may have been disappointed by his free fall, the Thunder may have gotten itself the steal of the draft.
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Small forward Moe Harkless figured to have enough of a problem trying to find a defined role as it is, but with a sports hernia set to keep him out until mid-November, his development has taken a severe hit.
Fellow first-round pick Andrew Nicholson began the Orlando Summer League with a bang (24 points, 12 rebounds in his debut) before tailing off at the end of the week-long session. He has shown some promise during the exhibition season and could very will average 15-20 minutes in 2012-13.
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After the Sixers traded Maurice Harkless in August, the only player left from their 2012 draft class is big man Arnett Moultrie. A high ankle sprain caused the 6'10" Moultrie to miss the Orlando Summer League, and he's just now getting back into game shape. With the addition of Andrew Bynum, it's unlikely that Moultrie will be counted on to play much this year, but so far, he has been underwhelming for a first-round draft pick.
The biggest surprise in Sixers' camp is rookie Maalik Wayns, who appears to have the inside track on the backup point guard spot behind starter Jrue Holiday. Wayns is an undrafted free agent out of Villanova, and if he continues to shine as he has in both practice and in games, Sixers' head coach Doug Collins may pencil him in for eight to 10 minutes per night.
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The biggest knock on Kendall Marshall coming into the NBA was his suspect jumper, and he has done nothing to dispel the criticism on that front. While he has already shown that he can be a solid playmaker on the pro level, he simply won't get a lot of burn this season until he can consistently hit an open 16-footer.
With Channing Frye out indefinitely with an enlarged heart, the Suns may think long and hard about keeping 6'11" center Luke Zeller around for the season. The older brother of Tyler and Cody Zeller, the former Notre Dame player spent the past two seasons in the NBA's Developmental League.
Portland Trail Blazers
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Blazers' point guard Damian Lillard was far and away the best player in the Vegas Summer League, and his play since has done nothing but prove that he will excel at the pro level. It's hard to call him a "dark horse" for the Rookie of the Year Award since the secret is out on him: Lillard has all the makings of a future star.
Center Meyers Leonard has also shown that he can contribute from day one: He's a quality banger who knows what his limitations are and doesn't try to exceed them. Will Barton and Victor Claver have also had their share of moments this summer, making Portland's rookie class tough to beat.
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Thomas Robinson was a banger at Kansas, which made it puzzling that he spent most of his time in the Vegas Summer League playing on the perimeter. An uneven showing this past July (13.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.8 TPG, 34.4 FG%) seemed to motivate the 6'10" power forward, who seems to have the inside track to start next to center DeMarcus Cousins in the Kings' frontcourt.
"I think he's ready to play from a physical standpoint from what he gives, but there's still a lot of things he's still going to have to learn," said Kings' head coach Keith Smart while speaking with the Sacramento Bee in early October. "So rather than say, here goes the starting position for you, I've got to see how he manages."
San Antonio Spurs
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Out of the three Spurs' rookies, French guard Nando De Colo has the best shot by far to make the final roster. At San Antonio's media day in early October, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said that he expects "observation, learning and patience" from rookie De Colo this year. Or, in other words, don't expect him to contribute to the stat sheet all that much.
Marshall's Tyler Wilkerson and former Memphis swingman Wesley Witherspoon earned training camp invites, and don't figure to be anything more than extra rotation guys for the Spurs to use in practice.
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Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas will be fine NBA players, but they've yet to make much of a statement on the NBA stage.
Ross and DeMar DeRozan will eventually be an exciting duo at the 2 and 3 spots respectively, but Ross' jumper needs to be far more consistent before that can happen.
A calf injury slowed Valanciunas for much of the summer, but he has shown flashes of potential during the exhibition season. It's probably premature to anoint him the opening night starter, but he will be Toronto's first-string center at some point before the calendar turns to 2013.
Forward Quincy Acy isn't quite ready yet to be a member of the Raptors' rotation, so he'd be a prime candidate for the NBA's Developmental League once the season gets underway.
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Kevin Murphy was drafted No. 47 overall by the Utah Jazz in June, and the 6'6" guard faces an uphill battle to make the opening night roster. Murphy missed the first few days of training camp due to the birth of his son, and doesn't figure to see much action prior to the season.
That said, he probably has a much better chance of finding himself on the final 15 than 28-year-old rookie center Brian Butch, who has bounced around various pro leagues after graduating from Wisconsin in 2008.
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Bradley Beal has been impressive so far in the preseason for the Wizards, playing well beyond his 19 years. He'll be counted on early to replace some of the scoring that Washington is set to lose with John Wall on the shelf, and there's little doubt that Beal is ready for the challenge.
Second-round pick Tomas Satoransky will be NBA-ready at some point, but he'll need a few more years of seasoning overseas. Former Gonzaga guard Steven Gray is currently on the Wizards' roster, but he doesn't figure to make the final roster.