12 Rookies with Biggest Expectations in 2012-13
With the start of the NBA season here, with it comes the exciting debut of the league's newest players and the start of tracking their accomplishments and measuring them against their expectations, one of my favorite parts of the first few months of the season.
Of course, guys like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the rest of the players drafted in the top five are going to see their expectations stay high all season long, but there are some players who have done so well over the summer that they're going to be expected to do a lot more than they were when they were drafted.
One of the more interesting accounts has to be Damian Lillard, who was drafted sixth overall but is now being talked about as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate.
Other than that, there are some guys who have seen their team's fanbase whoop them up to the point that they're now expected to contribute to a point well beyond their draft slot and are now seeing a hopeful season ahead.
Let's take a look at the rookies who are expected to do the most for their teams this season, and figure out which ones are going to do the best to live up to those expectation as the season goes along.
12. Jeremy Lamb
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Thanks to a certain trade that went down over the weekend, Jeremy Lamb is suddenly thrust into the limelight at the start of the season.
Even though he's not the guy going to Oklahoma City to replace James Harden, he's going to be one of the two guys that are playing James Harden's minutes this season. That means the comparisons will come whether it makes sense or not.
Lamb is going to be a nice player, and there's a chance he's even better than we expect right now, but his time will be spent this season as mainly a spot-up shooter and a three-point specialist.
I hope he doesn't get pigeon-holed into that role, because he's a well-built player with the ability to make plays, and he could develop into a good defender based on his size alone.
During the preseason, Lamb did what he was expected to do, knocking down three-pointers and grabbing a few boards, while not doing anything counter-productive to the point that he would be benched.
11. Thomas Robinson
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What the Kings have in Thomas Robinson is a guy with an incredible motor who always seems to do what his team needs him to do. Basically that role for Robinson this season is going to rebound and play defense.
Sacramento has so many guys on their team who want to shoot the ball and dribble around for half the shot clock that Robinson will see a play run for him as often as LeBron James is going to be held scoreless this season.
Robinson won't be expected of much, basically because the Kings themselves won't be expected of much, but he's going to have to live up to his draft position.
As a guy drafted in the top five, he's going to be expected to have some sort of impact on his team this season, and he's going to have to take a shot at putting his fingerprints on a few games here and there in order to justify being picked fifth.
10. Austin Rivers
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A lot of people had a high opinion of Austin Rivers coming into this season, but an equally high number of people thought that his being drafted in the top 10 would be a big mistake by the New Orleans Hornets.
Rivers is going to be in the spotlight for sure, now that he's playing alongside Anthony Davis, and if his team ends up being better than people expect, then he's going to need to do something to prove that he's a contributing member of this team.
The big problem that abounds in New Orleans is the team's lack of a legitimate starting point guard. While Greivis Vasquez is a fine guard in his own right, he's always seemed like more of a backup point guard than a starter.
With that, it's probably going to be expected that Rivers tries his hand at running the point for a bit. If he can do it effectively, then he'll be a hero in New Orleans; if not, then it'll just be something else for his doubters to point to.
He hasn't done much to impress in the preseason so far, completely falling flat with his jumper, shooting just 27 percent from the field in seven starts. Hopefully, he can bounce back once the season starts.
9. Harrison Barnes
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The pressure that Harrison Barnes will be feeling for the duration of the season (or at least the part where Golden State is relevant) isn't really personal pressure, but rather team-oriented pressure.
For the first time since the "We Believe" Warriors, this Golden State team is in a position to make the playoffs if they can stay healthy, and a lot of that hinges on the play of their rookie.
Barnes fell to them at the seventh pick in the draft, falling out of the top five, where he was projected for most of the season, so there's going to be more of an attempt for him to prove what he can do rather than live up to expectations. But there are team and fan expectations outweighing the expectations of the general basketball public.
He's played very well so far in the preseason, making bushels of shots from three-point land where he's shooting a sizzling 48 percent in eight games; he just needs to shore up his defense and grab a few more boards once the regular season starts.
Barnes is looking like a guy who can contribute early and often to a playoff contender; let's just hope that the Warriors can stay healthy enough to keep those hopes alive.
8. Andre Drummond
I had to include a video with Andre Drummond so you could all appreciate just how much the Pistons announcers are falling for a kid who shot under 30 percent from the free-throw line in college. These guys are gushing; there's no other way to put it.
Of course, if you had to commentate the past two seasons of Pistons basketball and saw this kid come along and look like a monster off the bench, you'd probably get a bit excited as well.
What Drummond has done so far this preseason has been impressive. He's spent his eight games coming off the bench and averaged nine points and nearly six rebounds in that time, shooting well over 60 percent. Of course, that free-throw issue still lingers.
Drummond's expectations before this preseason were been difficult to gauge. There was always the chance that he developed into a very good player, but it always seemed more likely that he wouldn't.
Now, however, we've seen two Andre Drummonds show up in eight short games so far: UConn Drummond and Preseason Drummond. We're just waiting to see what regular-season Drummond looks like.
7. Jonas Valanciunas
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Jonas Valanciunas is one of a few 2011 draft picks who are making their rookie debuts this year, but he remains the most hyped of them all.
Part of the hype is going to be weathered a bit when you factor in that he plays in Canada, basketball news seems to travel slowly across the border, but there's still going to be quite a high expectation of this young fellow.
A lot of talk surrounding the Big Volcano has been that he would have been one of the top three picks in this year's draft if he would have waited a year to come out, but even as the fifth pick in the 2011 draft, hype has lingered long enough.
He could absolutely transform this Raptors team if he's as good as he seems. Putting him at center and moving Andrea Bargnani down to power forward automatically makes this team make a ton more sense, and if he can rebound and play defense, all of Bargnani's downfalls are forgiven.
Valanciunas has only played in six preseason games and he's shot poorly for a center at 48 percent, but he's scoring, rebounding and playing some good defense, so there's definitely hope behind the hype.
6. Dion Waiters
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Dion Waiters' expectations are riding on two things; the fact that he was drafted fourth overall and that he's expected to become a good enough scoring option to stop people from saying that Kyrie Irving has no help.
Don't expect that to happen.
Waiters could end up having a decent season for the Cavs this year, but what he's shown us so far is that his jumper isn't there yet and his ability to get to the rim is a work in progress at the NBA level.
There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to work hard to become the player that Chris Grant thought he was when the Cavs drafted him, but he's just not that player right now.
He should be able to work his way into respectability early on, but the jury is still very much out on whether or not he goes beyond that.
5. Jared Sullinger
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I've got to give a big congratulations to Celtics fans everywhere. Only they could take a guy who was drafted 21st overall and blow his Summer League and preseason so out of proportion that he's suddenly expected to be a big contributor to a championship contender.
The only thing they've done that's been more impressive this summer is talk themselves into having Darko Milicic coming off their bench in less than a month.
Between the two of them, it seems that we've got the reincarnation of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish coming off the bench in Boston this season.
Now that I've scolded Celtics fans enough, I'll go ahead and say that I'm kind of excited for Sully myself.
Never mind the fact that he absolutely can't play defense and his health is going to be a question all season long, let's appreciate a guy coming out of college who actually has low-post moves. Plus he looks like he can rebound a little bit, something he was average at in college.
OK, screw it, everybody get ready to see Sullinger's number "7" hanging in the rafters at the TD Garden, he's the next Kevin McHale. Or not, we'll see.
4. Bradley Beal
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The Washington Wizards have put themselves into "win now" mode, and a lot of the success of that mode hangs on Bradley Beal's production in his rookie and sophomore seasons.
With two trades last season landing them Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, Washington shipped out most of their talented youth and crammed up their cap space, meaning they've got a tough time in the immediate future adding big-name free agents.
Beal comes into the season as the primary scorer for Washington, which is crazy to say about a rookie, but with John Wall out for the first month of the year that's going to be the case.
What seems encouraging about the guard's chances in the league is the amount of support he's getting from his new team. Instead of just a few guys taking them under their wing and showing him the ropes, everybody on Washington has reportedly been counseling the guy. I guess that means it's a good thing that Andray Blatche is gone.
Beal is a real-deal shooter. He's got an excellent long-range jumper with mechanics Reggie Miller would be impressed by, and a handle on the ball that's only going to get better, as they did over the past season at Florida.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a bit of a rough preseason for the Bobcats, bouncing in and out of the starting lineup and never really finding a good groove offensively. Three times he scored all of his points solely on free throws, not making a single shot from the field.
He started out fine for the 'Cats, but his preseason quickly derailed after their second preseason game, a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Hopefully this is one of those times where scoffing and dismissively saying, "It's preseason," is legitimate, otherwise Kidd-Gilchrist could be in for a rough transition into the NBA.
What the Bobcats are hoping to see from him this season is some implication that he's going to be the future of this team, that he's a future No. 1, or at the very least a No. 2 option for this franchise moving forward.
That much pressure can get to a guy, knowing that the entirety of a franchise is pinned on you and how well you play.
Numbers and wins don't mean much for Kidd-Gilchrist this year, but things like leading by example on defense and becoming a vocal leader, while having the odd scoring outburst, are extremely important.
One thing about MKG's preseason that was rather encouraging was his activity on defense. He seemed aware that his shots weren't falling, but whenever I got a chance to catch the Bobcats it always seemed like he was really burning on defense.
He's been active in passing lanes, able to use his length to block shots and just really doing his damnedest to keep guys from scoring.
2. Damian Lillard
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The Damian Lillard hype machine has created buzz that hasn't really been seen for a mid-major since Paul George came out of Fresno State in the 2010 draft. The hype is warranted, that's for sure, as he's looked like a stellar young player all throughout the preseason.
What concerns me, however, is that preseasons can really be volatile to younger, shorter players. If they run into guys who are playing at half speed because they know their role coming into a season, they can easily put up big numbers, but once the season starts, it's a completely different story.
I'm not on the Lillard bandwagon with everyone else, at least not to the point where I think he's going to be able to wrest the Rookie of the Year Award away from Anthony Davis, but I do think he's going to be in the running.
At the very least he's got a stellar offensive post player to play a bit of pick-and-roll with, and he's got the confidence and ability to score on his own.
That confidence is probably the key to his game at this point. There's a lot of growing a player can do during the season, but if he's confident he's already got leg up on the rest of the competition.
1. Anthony Davis
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Anthony Davis is going to be expected to do a lot for the New Orleans Hornets this season, and if what we've seen in the preseason is any bit meaningful, he's going to live up to those expectations and then some.
On the surface it seems as if Davis is going to struggle adapting to the NBA. He's a big dude who didn't have to really work incredibly hard in college with the talent that surrounded him, but the fact is Davis was still working hard even when he didn't need to.
His incredible ball-handling ability (and it is incredible for a guy his size, don't kid yourself) is going to put him ahead of half the starting power forwards in the league before he plays a single game. Add athleticism, speed, natural basketball instincts and his incredibly confidence to that, and you've got yourself a phenom.
What Davis is is a guy who can play 82 games with a team and almost guarantee them 35 wins. He does everything a guy his size needs to do and then some, and he's only 19.
Davis blocked nearly five shots a game in college and grabbed 10 boards while playing alongside Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who combined for over 14 boards themselves. The blocked shots will decrease for sure, but I don't feel crazy in theorizing that Davis could challenge the league lead in both categories.
He's just a natural basketball player. There's no way around it. If he somehow turns out to be a flop, I'm going to be shocked. There's nothing about this NBA season I'm more confident about.
If you're not on the Davis bandwagon, you're a crazy person. Go out and by the NBA's League Pass just so you can watch this kid 82 times this season.