While the 2012 draft looks to be especially top-heavy, there could be some rookies that come along as value late-round picks. The draft lottery is where all the hype is, but countless times it has been guys out of the first 14 picks that have become big NBA studs.
Here are seven rookies that look to be hidden gems this season.
Draft selection: First round, 30th pick
Ezeli’s numbers are not overwhelming, but his defensive impact in the paint has been noted. Although Ezeli is averaging right around one block per game, he routinely alters shots when he is in.
While his unrefined offensive game is still concerning, Ezeli is a high-energy player, capable of giving relief to center Andrew Bogut. With Bogut’s continuing ankle injury, Ezeli will have more opportunities to excel on the Dubs’ frontline.
Once the Vanderbilt product gets his timing right, he could be an imposing defender in this league for years to come.
Draft selection: Undrafted
College: N/A (Russia)
Shved has the luxury of playing on a fluid overachieving roster early into the season. With playmakers like JJ Barea and Brandon Roy, Shved will be learning from players that can often make something out of nothing.
This T-Wolves team has some surprising depth and could find themselves in the playoffs if they can stay afloat with Rubio and Love out.
Draft selection: First round, 17th pick
College: North Carolina
Zeller plays with high levels of energy and has been an above-average defender early into this season. Along with Waiters, Anderson Varejao and sophomore phenom Kyrie Irving, Zeller will help to compose a nice core for the up-and-coming Cleveland Cavaliers.
Playing on a young and precocious roster, Zeller should get a lot of exposure this season. If his game really coalesces, then he will surely make some GMs regret not taking him earlier.
Draft selection: First Round, 15th pick
College: St. John's
Harkless got his real minutes in the Magic’s fourth game of the season against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He had a solid debut, scoring seven points, pulling down five boards, and adding three steals and two blocks.
The Magic will be bottom feeders for the foreseeable future, giving Harkless ample time to develop his game in Orlando.
Draft selection: Second Round, fourth pick
Crowder is a hustle player with a high basketball IQ. Four seasons at Marquette have put him among the more mature rookies in the class. Every squad needs a player to do a team’s dirty work, and Crowder looks to fit that description for the Mavs.
Draft selection: Undrafted
College: N/A (Argentina)
Position: Point Guard
The Knicks' heavy arsenal of scorers should continue to complement Prigioni’s adept playmaking abilities.
Draft selection: First round, 21st pick
College: Ohio State
Position: Power forward
Breakdown: Coming off an incredible career at Ohio State, Jared Sullinger was touted as one of the best college prospects entering the draft. As reports of a bad back surfaced, GMs began to pass on the young big man.
Sullinger plummeted in the draft before being picked up by the Boston Celtics with the No. 21 pick in the 2012 draft.
Still looking for more consistent minutes, Sullinger has quietly ploughed on early for the Celts. The big man has one of the best opportunities of the 2012 rookie class, playing in a championship culture under the tutelage of the hungry Kevin Garnett.
It is the perfect opportunity to become a student of the game, and Sullinger looks ready to grow and excel in Beantown.