5 NBA Rookies Who Will Turn Cold Start into Sizzling Finish

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2013

5 NBA Rookies Who Will Turn Cold Start into Sizzling Finish

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    The 82-game season encountered by NBA rookies is unlike anything they have experienced in their young basketball careers.

    It's countless hours of travel, nerve-wracking stretches of four games in five days and the always daunting road back-to-back sets.

    Of course, it's also their best opportunity to rebound from a slow start.

    With the season stretching over seven months, there's ample time for these young stars in the making to redefine their NBA prospects. A bad game here or even a bad month there can be rectified by a strong closing stretch.

    The NBA draft isn't remotely close to being an exact science, but there's a reason that 60 players are selected to join basketball's most exclusive club each year. Whether oozing with raw, untapped potential or simply offering an NBA-ready set of skills, these players have all forced their way onto the sport's biggest stage.

    When Washington Wizards rookie Bradley Beal can sink the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder with a 22-point outburst and the game's winning shot with 0.3 seconds remaining, this is truly a league where anything can happen.

    So let's hold off on those boom-or-bust predictions for now. The 2012 rookie class is just getting started carving out their place in the NBA landscape.

    *All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 1/6/2013.

5. Maurice Harkless (Orlando Magic)

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    Drafted: 16th overall

     

    Early Season Performance

    Just 19 years old, Maurice Harkless entered the season with low expectations. Orlando hoped to simply fine-tune the former St. John's star's skills in an effort to make him a viable piece of the rotation for years to come.

    An aggravated sports hernia delayed the start of his career, and the rookie made his debut on November 7.

    The versatile Harkless spent the better part of the early season trying to identify his role on the team. By his eighth game, though, he cracked Orlando's starting five, a position he held for his next 20 games.

     

    Breakout Potential

    His most recent outing (which lasted all of seven minutes), may not project well for his immediate future.

    But his toughness and athleticism (the same qualities that brought him to the league) could be his ticket to big-time minutes and subsequent big-time production.

    Coach Jacque Vaughn doesn't have a player like Harkless on his roster, and the offensive prowess of Orlando's wings could be the perfect complement for his defensive tenacity.

4. Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)

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    Drafted: Seventh overall

     

    Early Season Performance

    Unlike Harkless, Harrison Barnes has known nothing outside of life as an NBA starter.

    He emerged victorious during a spirited training camp battle with veteran Brandon Rush for Golden State's starting small forward gig. When the aforementioned Rush was lost for the season in the second game with a torn ACL, Barnes appeared in line for major minutes in coach Mark Jackson's rotation.

    Much like his collegiate career at North Carolina, though, Barnes struggled to find continuity. His developing offensive attack has failed to garner consistent touches in the Warriors prolific rotation.

     

    Breakout Potential

    Like Harkless, though, Barnes brings a unique talent to the Warriors.

    His blend of size (6'8", 210 pounds) and athleticism is something absent from the rest of his teammates.

    After being held to single figures in 11 of 13 games, Barnes has responded with double-digit outputs in five of his past six games.

    What ultimately keeps him on the court (and enhances his ability to increase his production), is his effort on the defensive end. Jackson has preached a strong defensive effort since his arrival in the Bay Area prior to the 2011-12 season, and his rookie has embodied those teachings.

3. Thomas Robinson (Sacramento Kings)

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    Drafted: Fifth overall

     

    Early Season Performance

    His junior campaign with the Kansas Jayhawks (17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game) may have overexerted expectations for the Kings rookie.

    He certainly looked overmatched when he first stepped foot on the NBA hardwood, suffering through a horrendous 0-of-11 shooting performance during a three-game stint in mid-December.

    After his first 20 games as a professional, the forward was connecting on a paltry 42.6 percent of his field goals.

     

    Breakout Potential

    Since that 20-game mark, though, he's been successful on 44.4 percent of his attempts. 

    And coach Keith Smart has noticed the uptick in production, rewarding the rookie with at least 20 minutes in three of the team's past seven games. He topped that mark just four times in his first 24 games.

    Thomas Robinson's more of a hustle player than a go-to scorer, but his contagious energy level is a desperately needed quality on a Kings franchise still struggling with leadership voids from the top of the organization down.

    Temper those expectations a bit from his college production, but don't be surprised when he looks nothing like the player he's been over his first 31 games.

2. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)

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    Drafted: Third overall

     

    Early Season Performance

    A projected prolific shooter (based more on a DVD-quality shooting stroke than any tangible results), Bradley Beal looked anything but a marksman through the early goings of his rookie campaign.

    Through his first 30 games (28 of which he started), the former Florida Gator was shooting just 36.5 field-goal percentage. And he fared no better from distance, connecting on just 30.2 percent of his three-point attempts.

     

    Breakout Potential

    Despite the early struggles, though, Beal looks poised for a late charge at first-team All-Rookie honors.

    For starters, he's unfortunately a member of the league's worst team (the Wizards hold a 5-28 record). But that bodes well for an increase in playing time, something he hasn't quite suffered to find early on (30.8 minutes per game).

    He's also far too good of a shooter for these shooting percentages to withstand. That shooting stroke evokes images of the greatest shooters of all time, and his mechanics are repeated whether a spot-up jumper or off the dribble.

    His 22-point night in the Wizards' unlikely win on January 7 marked the third time in five games where he scored at least 20 points. He had just two such outings in his first 26 games.

1. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Hornets)

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    Drafted: First overall

     

    Early Season Performance

    Anthony Davis has frustrated New Orleans fans, although it has nothing to do with his on-court performances.

    The cause for their vexation has been the former Kentucky Wildcat's inability to stay on the court. He's appeared in just 21 of the team's first 34 games, plagued by a nagging ankle injury.

     

    Breakout Potential

    When he's been on the court, Davis has been nothing short of sensational.

    Defensively, he's anchored coach Monty Williams' interior with 1.9 blocks in just 30.9 minutes per game. With his size (6'10", 220 pounds) and leaping ability, it's no stretch to expect an improvement in that number as the season wears on.

    On the offensive end, he's already dazzled. He's scored at least 15 points in nine of his first 21 games. And he's connecting on 48.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, all the more impressive considering the former point guard is still developing his offensive post game.

    With a healthy Eric Gordon finally back in the Hornets' lineup, Davis should thrive as no greater than the second focus of opposing defenses. He may have developed his reputation (and enhanced his draft stock) on the defensive end, but he's a far better offensive player than he's given credit for.