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7 High-Profile NBA Rookies Who Are Not Ready To Start

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2015

7 High-Profile NBA Rookies Who Are Not Ready To Start

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    The 2012 NBA draft class was long said to be one of the deepest, most talented pools of players in league history.

    Not surprisingly, the stock of the class faltered along the way, but it still appears to be a group loaded with productive players, even if it will apparently lack for superstar potential.

    Some late first-round picks and even some second-round selections entered their first NBA training camp with realistic hopes to crack their respective starting lineups.

    Some of the lottery picks, though, appear destined for reserve roles, at least for their first year of professional basketball.

    Opportunity and fit play such a big role in determining a player's instant contribution to his new team, but timing also plays a factor.

    Of the 14 players selected in the 2011 NBA draft lottery, only three (Kyrie Irving, Bismack Biyombo and Brandon Knight) started more than half of their team's games. Three other lottery picks (Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Marcus Morris) have yet to make their first NBA start.

    For the upcoming high-profile rookies, several factors are already working against their chances of cracking their starting lineups.

Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets

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    At 6'8" and 244 pounds, Jones is the definition of an NBA 'tweener.

    Depending on which scouts you subscribe to, he's either a matchup nightmare or he's too slow to play small forward and too small to play the power forward.

    Given the logjam of power forwards on Houston's roster (Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Royce White, Jon Brockman and JaJuan Johnson, according to ESPN.com's projected depth chart), Jones' best chance for minutes will come at the small forward position.

    But for him to manage any long-term success, his game needs serious improvement to play on an NBA wing.

    For starters, his line-drive shooting form prevented him from consistently converting on three-point (32.8 percent for his career) and free-throw (63.8 percent) attempts while at Kentucky.

    Combine that with the fact that he still shows signs of a faulty motor, and Jones looks best suited for at least a year of seasoning on coach Kevin McHale's second unit.

Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Zeller's biggest selling point to NBA teams leading up to the draft was his NBA-ready build and skill set.

    But simply being ready to play in the league is a far cry from being ready to start for an NBA franchise.

    From an offensive standpoint, he's an intriguing fit to share the floor with Kyrie Irving, given his ability to run the floor and finish in transition.

    Defensively, he'll need to add more strength to keep opposing bigs away from the basket, and while he can challenge plays at the rim, he'll never be a great shot-blocker.

    His relative athletic shortcomings are reminiscent of incumbent starter Anderson Varejao, and Zeller is a smart enough player that he could pick up pieces of Varejao's game throughout the season.

    But perhaps the biggest deterrent to Zeller cracking coach Byron Scott's starting five is simply the timing.

    Cleveland needs to make some financial decisions on both of its starting bigs (Varejao and Tristan Thompson) in the near future. Varejao can become a free agent in 2014, while Thompson will enter his first option season in 2013-14.

Kendall Marshall, Phoenix Suns

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    Marshall's chances to be the heir apparent to Steve Nash in Phoenix lasted barely over a week.

    Once Phoenix agreed to a four-year, $34 million contract with Goran Dragic, Marshall was relegated to a battle with Sebastian Telfair to be Dragic's backup.

    This could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, though, as Marshall likely needs time to figure out how to make an impact in the league.

    He has great court vision, and his importance to his North Carolina teammates became glaringly clear when the Tar Heels fell apart after he fractured his wrist in the NCAA tournament.

    The toughest part about his transition, though, is that he doesn't have a lot of examples to follow in today's NBA. The traditional pure point guard is a dying position, with teams opting for more explosive slashers.

    Other point guards continue to impact their clubs without great explosiveness, but they have all found their niche to keep them in the league.

    Marshall may take some time discovering how to be an effective NBA point guard, given that he can't shoot like Nash or Jason Kidd, can't defend like Rajon Rondo and doesn't have the strength or the basketball IQ of Andre Miller.

Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets

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    Unlike the previous three players listed, Rivers is one of the five most talented players on his team.

    But his talent level looks so much better suited for the sixth-man role.

    He has in-the-gym range, a quick trigger, handles to get to the basket and the athleticism to finish, but that quick trigger and his developing decision-making skills don't appear to mesh with the Hornets starting five.

    Between Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and top pick Anthony Davis, Rivers would be, at best, the fourth option in coach Monty Williams' starting group.

    As for the reserves, though, Rivers would unquestionably be the first option, allowing New Orleans to take advantage of his scoring punch.

    With the surprise production from training-camp invitee point guard Brian Roberts, Rivers could seemingly spend a chunk of the season at the shooting guard position, where the Hornets have Xavier Henry and Roger Mason behind Gordon.

    It'd be a better fit for his current skill set, but it could also be the proverbial nail in the coffin to his hopes of starting with Gordon (and his max contract) planted firmly in New Orleans for the foreseeable future.

Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

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    Ross may have been a stretch in terms of value as the eighth pick, but Toronto's reasoning behind drafting the sharpshooter was sound.

    He brings a badly needed outside threat to a team that not only connected on the fifth-worst percentage of three-pointers in 2011-12 (32.8), but one that also needs someone to spread the floor to open driving lanes for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and post-up room for fellow rookie Jonas Valanciunas.

    So what exactly keeps Ross out of the Raptors starting five?

    Well, I can think of 20 million reasons, as in the three-year, $20 million contract Toronto gave to shooting guard Landry Fields in the offseason.

    Ross may actually be the more talented player already, as Fields' outside shooting plummeted in 2011-12 to 25.6 percent after converting 39.3 percent in his rookie season in 2010-11.

    ESPN.com even projects Ross ahead of Fields on their depth chart, but that's still an awful lot of money to pay for a reserve—even by NBA standards.

Thomas Robinson, Sacramento Kings

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    Thomas Robinson was clearly in the mix for the best player in college basketball in 2011-12. But that holds little water in a Sacramento Kings locker room where he could fall outside of the top three of an underrated frontcourt.

    DeMarcus Cousins is the best player on the roster. Jason Thompson just signed a five-year, $34 million contract this summer. Chuck Hayes is a gritty defender who happens to be owed $17 million over the next three seasons.

    Robinson's biggest impact, like most rookies, will be felt on the offensive end.

    Coach Keith Smart's starting five will include Cousins, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans. In other words, Robinson would have to fight just to get offensive touches.

    Thompson converted 53.5 percent of his field goals last year, nearly 6.5 percent more than anyone else on the roster. Yet his 6.9 attempts per game ranked eighth on the team, trailing even John Salmons (who shot 40.9 percent for the year) and Jimmer Fredette (38.6 percent). After a year with this group, Thompson should be comfortable in his limited offensive role.

    Robinson and Cousins could develop into one of the league's better frontcourt duos, but Kings fans shouldn't expect that to happen in 2012-13.

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Waiters has a lot of experience coming off the bench, something he did for two full seasons (71 games) under coach Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.

    He'll need to draw on that during his first NBA season.

    C.J. Miles isn't the greatest shooting guard, but he's capable of suiting up alongside Kyrie Irving. Miles played nearly six seasons with Deron Williams in Utah, so he's learned how to be effective playing off the ball.

    Waiters, meanwhile, drew rave reviews for his ability to create plays with his dribble and attack the basket. His creativity was desperately needed in Cleveland, but on the surface, it's an interesting mix with Irving.

    Waiters' scoring prowess could provide the biggest boost to a Cleveland bench whose play was barely serviceable in 2011-12.

    Bob Finnan of Newsherald.com expects Waiters to start alongside Irving and Miles, but that would be a risky ploy for Coach Scott.

    Miles has the size (6'6", 222 pounds) to play the small forward, but that would leave the team with only Waiters and Daniel Gibson at the 2 spot.

    Alonzo Gee, Omri Casspi and undrafted free-agent signee Kevin Jones, meanwhile, could all factor into the small forward rotation.

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