The future can wait until next summer, basketball junkies. Let's pay attention to the present.
With many NBA fans and analysts already turning one eye towards the 2014 NBA sraft (which will likely include Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Duke's Jabari Parker and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart), it's time to focus on the upcoming 2013-14 season.
While the main storyline will be whether or not any team will be able to beat the Heat on their way to a potential three-peat (Dr. Seuss would be having a field day with the potential for rhymes here), this year's rookie class is also one to watch.
With a lot of teams already beginning their rebuilding process for next season, the first-year standouts will get their chance to shine and prove themselves as potential building blocks for future contenders. Last year, Damian Lillard (out of tiny Weber State from the Big Sky Conference) took home the hardware given to the most impressive rookie.
So who will be awarded that prize this year? Here are the top five candidates, in ascending order:
5. Ben McLemore, Sacramento, SG (Kansas)
The "Big Mac" slipped in the draft supposedly because of a poor workout (or maybe two), but the talent here in a player who, at one point, was projected as the top overall pick is impossible to ignore. New Kings head coach Michael Malone is hoping that McLemore comes into the league more mature and willing to work than the team's current star, DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins, was in his first couple of seasons in the league.
McLemore impressed scouts and college fans alike with his mixture of athleticism and shooting range. This lethal combination makes the former Jayhawk swingman a terror on the fast break.
The Kings organization is clearly expecting big things from McLemore, as last year's starter at shooting guard (and former Rookie of the Year recipient) Tyreke Evans was dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans. With flashes of brilliance evident alongside some growing pains in the Las Vegas summer league, McLemore is a wild-card pick with the potential to make a big splash in California's capital.
4. Otto Porter, Washington, SF (Georgetown)
Last time we saw Porter in a game that mattered, his Hoyas were getting shocked by an upstart Florida Gulf Coast squad with some impressive hops.
As the above clip depicts, the Hoya defense, which had previously held Final Four participant Syracuse to just 46 points in a game, did not come ready with their "A" game (or their "B" or "C" game) when it mattered most. Until that debacle occurred, however, Porter was rightly regarded as a Naismith Award candidate, carrying an overachieving Georgetown squad to a Big East regular season title.
He did so while winning Big East Player of the Year honors, averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the floor.
Porter certainly has the lineage to excel in this sport. His father (who holds his high school's record for rebounding) and cousin each won high school state titles, and his mother and uncle were both all-state at the high school level.
Playing in the same city (Washington, D.C.) where he played his college ball, there will be a built-in comfort level for Porter. Since he plays for the lowly Wizards, he'll surely get his chance to start and shoot the ball, as well.
3. Anthony Bennett, Cleveland, PF (UNLV)
The surprise top pick in the draft this season was arguably the best freshman in all of the NCAA in 2012-13. A power forward who can both score (over 16 points a game) and rebound (over eight rebounds a game as a freshman), it's easy to see why Bennett was so highly regarded by NBA scouts.
Bennett will surely be a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, but the main reason he's not No. 1 on this list is the fact that the Cavs already have big men who made an impact for them last season.
Tristan Thompson, who will likely be playing a good deal of his minutes at small forward with Bennett now on the roster, is the Cavs' second most important young star, behind wunderkind point guard Kyrie Irving (another former Rookie of the Year).
Center Anderson Varejao was the NBA's leader in rebounding before suffering a season-ending injury, and last year's first-round pick Tyler Zeller also showed great promise at the power forward position.
In addition, Bennett is coming off of a semi-serious shoulder injury which caused him to miss both the Orlando and Vegas summer league sessions. Bennett will certainly be projected to have a stellar first season but he is, by no means, a slam dunk for ROY honors.
2. C.J. McCollum, Portland, SG (Lehigh)
Just like Lillard last year, McCollum is an offensive-minded guard with great shooting range and explosiveness who ended up being drafted by the Blazers. Also, he's already drawing comparisons to fellow West Coast sharpshooter Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (as this Bleacher Report article by Matt Logie also demonstrated).
McCollum impressed many coaches and fans with his performance in the Vegas Summer League, who were treated to the same type of scoring expositions that Mountain Hawk fans have been treated to the past few seasons.
Like other potential Rookie of the Year candidates (including Bennett, Phoenix's Alex Len and Philadelphia's Nerlens Noel), McCollum suffered an injury in 2013. Unlike those other players, though, McCollum has already healed from his ailment (a left foot injury which caused him to miss much of this past season).
McCollum is not just a scorer. He is a proven winner, even leading the 15th-seeded Mountain Hawks to a second-round victory over the vaunted Duke Blue Devils in 2012. He is also a smart cookie, with a degree in journalism and a stint interviewing incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver before the draft this summer for Forbes.
Since he fell to 10th in the draft, there's a good chance that this offensive-leaning guard will make other teams defensive about having not picked him in June.
1. Victor Oladipo, Orlando, SG (Indiana)
Heading into the draft lottery, the Magic were projected to get the first overall pick before eventually losing out to the Cavaliers. After drafting Oladipo, there's a good chance Orlando ended up hitting the jackpot, anyway.
Although Hoosier teammate Cody Zeller was the preseason pick for Player of the Year, Oladipo ended up becoming one of the standout stars in college basketball this season. By the midway point of the season, Indiana had changed its offensive gameplan, making Oladipo its top option.
Averaging 13.6 points and over six rebounds each night (as a guard!), it is clear why Oladipo was a Naismith frontrunner (eventually losing to conference rival Trey Burke of Michigan, who is now on the Utah Jazz).
The most impressive aspects of Oladipo's game are his pure athleticism and ability to get to the basket (he plays much bigger than his 6'4" frame), as well as his elite defensive skills. Oladipo's dunks were fixtures on SportsCenter, as he seemed to routinely make plays such as this one:
Though the above clip was an extreme example, these kinds of bursts will translate to success at the next level of play, where a combination of speed and power for scoring guards are prerequisites (see: Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, etc.).
Already impressing people during Summer League play with his willingness to switch to a new position (point guard), Oladipo is as mature and basketball-savvy as he is talented.
This is sure to spell trouble for opponents in the Eastern Conference throughout this season, and it's why he is the pick to take home the Rookie of the Year award.
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