NBA Preseason 2012: Rookies with Most Pressure on Their Shoulders
Being a lottery pick in the NBA is extremely exciting for young players. But when the games start, bearing the brunt of the expectations to carry a poor franchise by themselves can be overwhelming.
Not all rookies are created equal, and not everyone can pull a LeBron James and single-handedly turn a consistently terrible team into a yearly contender.
Well, there actually is no one ever like LeBron James.
Using the word "pressure" would be reckless without including the team's expectations into that equation.
For example, how much pressure was actually on Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when they were drafted by the worst two teams in all of basketball?
Sure, it would be nice if they showed signs of stardom, but fans would be content if they finished ten wins better than last year. That would be 32 wins for the New Orleans Hornets and 17 for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Not exactly pressure-filled expectations for either of the top two picks.
Here are the five picks who will have to put the proverbial franchise on their backs.
Summer League doesn't really mean much, but when a point guard can do things like that, it is certainly noteworthy.
Lillard showed great poise dribbling into the lane without over-penetrating and a silky smooth jump shot extending well behind the three-point line.
With all his talent, the pressure on him to run a veteran-laden team will be very high.
Unlike other lottery draft picks, Lillard is actually playing on a good team in the Portland Trail Blazers, who have the solid shooting guard Wes Matthews, all-around player Nicolas Batum and one of the best players in the league, LaMarcus Aldridge.
However, the lacking aspect on this year's team is the dearth of depth. After the top five players, there is no one who has proven NBA ability.
Lillard's backups are Ronnie Price and Nolan Smith—not very exciting or good.
Therefore, Lillard will play up around 35+ minutes per game and will have all the opportunity to capitalize and excel.
While playoffs may not be a prerequisite for success, Blazers fans certainly expect Lillard to take control of this team and lead them to a sub .500 season.
On a team with Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, one would believe there wouldn't be much focus on anyone else.
However, when the Celtics drafted Sullinger with the 21st pick, they fully intended on playing him a lot.
According to BostonHerald.com, Sullinger may play a starting role this year when Coach Rivers wants a more traditional lineup on the floor.
This bodes well for Celtic fans because it would mean that the back injury that caused Sullinger to slide is having no ill effects on his current play.
However, with the christening of Sullinger as power forward on a contending team looking to beat the Miami Heat comes immense pressure and scrutiny.
Then there is this:
Watching Celts on NBA TV right now. Trying not to tweet something gushy about Sullinger that could haunt me. So... um... how's it going?
— Bill Simmons (@sportsguy33) October 9, 2012
It's always good when the Sports Guy himself approves of you, but this will only add to the notion Sullinger can be the Celtic's difference maker in the postseason.
He certainly isn't, at least for this year.
Sullinger will be unable to sit back, watch and learn from the veterans. Being thrown into the proverbial fire immediately may aid in his development but might also backfire and set him back a bit.
Keep in mind that Sullinger does not possess much unilateral athleticism and will have trouble scoring over and guarding athletic power forwards.
Once known as the next big thing and presumable number one draft pick, Harrison Barnes ended up staying at North Carolina for two seasons before entering the draft.
He slipped down to number seven overall and landed with the Golden State Warriors—pretty much the team known for drafting busts like Joe Barry Carroll, Todd Fuller, Patrick O'Bryant, and Ike Diogu.
His flaws are aplenty: not being athletic enough to drive to the basket and simply lacking the talent and drive to fulfill the expectations given to him before he even stepped foot into North Carolina.
Pressure? Barnes knows all about it, being the first freshman ever named a Preseason All-American at North Carolina.
In Golden State, he won't have those types of expectations, but he is still expected to contribute heavily to a team that appears ready to make the jump to the playoffs.
On a team with excellent low-post passers like Andrew Bogut and David Lee, scorers like Klay Thompson and an above-average distributor in Stephen Curry, Barnes won't be asked to shoulder much of the offensive workload.
However, they will need him to capitalize on his length and deceptive athleticism in guarding opposing wings because, let's face it, Thompson, Lee and Curry won't be able to.
With the incumbent point guard leaving, top Phoenix Suns' draft pick Kendall Marshall will have the chance to play a starring role in Coach Alvin Gentry's up-tempo offense.
The Suns have an outside chance at a playoff spot, so expectations will be tempered for Marshall.
There's just one problem.
The person he is replacing just happens to be one of the best point guards of all time: Steve Nash.
Even though the Suns lacked athletic wings that can score—a necessity for any proficient offense in today's NBA—they somehow finished the NBA ninth in scoring with 98.4 points a game.
Much of that was attributed to Nash's understanding of the offense and knowing where each player was at all times. Nash demonstrated an uncanny ability to locate his bigs rolling and to pinpoint the pass to them with a deft flick of the wrist.
If there is one rookie who has pure point guard abilities that can rival Nash's, it is Kendall Marshall.
Even though Goran Dragic will be the presumptive starter, Marshall will garner minutes as the team's point guard because of the shooter and slasher than Dragic can be.
It isn't like Wesley Johnson is a star that can't be benched.
If he can fill over fifty percent of what Nash was, the Suns will be able to make some noise in the bottom half of what should be muddled Western Conference standings.
Coming into the draft, Dion Waiters was compared to both Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook because of his savage basket attacking mentality.
Cleveland passed on Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Thomas Robinson in order to nab him at the number four spot.
Too early? Won't matter if Waiters is who they think he is.
So far, the results aren't very good.
Despite being essentially handed the starting shooting guard job next to Kyrie Irving, he has disappointed in Summer League and the preseason.
During Summer League he showed up out of shape and failed to take advantage against much lesser competition than he will face during the season. He repeatedly jacked up high-risk shots and showed below-average decision making.
During the preseason, he has yet to improve and even showed a lack of concentration and focus.
Expectations are high, considering the past few guards the Cavs have drafted: Kyrie Irving and one LeBron James.