The 1 Thing Every Top NBA Rookie Must Improve During 2013-14 Training Camp
All rookies have training camp highlighted on their calenders. It's their first taste of the NBA lifestyle—practicing with veterans, pro-level conditioning, new offensive sets, film review, daily meetings.
This is where the transition starts. It's important that each rookie uses this time wisely, including those expected to play immediately, as well as those on long-term plans.
We've laid out what each rookie must focus on as he enters his first NBA training camp. This focus will center around a weakness or flaw in their game. The goal is to ultimately lower the hurdle that this weakness presents by the time camp closes.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
Training Camp Focus: Finding a niche
Anthony Bennett was taken No. 1 overall, despite not having established an NBA position. Bennett's clear-cut goal at training camp should be finding a niche as an offensive weapon, whether it's as a 3, 4 or combo.
Cleveland's coaching staff will be all over this. It should be looking to figure out where its new weapon is most potent—down low on the block, pinned on the elbow or stretched out on the wing.
Bennett's biggest challenge moving forward will be in the half court with the game slowed down. At around 6'7'', he's undersized against most 4s and lacks the skill set of small forwards. But he also has the strength to bang inside and the agility to attack facing the rim.
Bennett will have to exploit his versatility as a mismatch by recognizing when he has the advantage—using his strength against weaker forwards and quickness against slower ones.
Whether he's a power forward, small forward or combo forward shouldn't matter at the end of the day. What matters is whether or not he'll be able to tap into his strengths in a timely fashion.
Bennett should use training camp to figure out where his scoring positions are on the floor.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Training Camp Focus: Ball-handling when pressured
Victor Oladipo didn't have to do much dribbling at Indiana, where he occupied the wing and played off the ball.
But with both wing positions already filled in Orlando, the Magic are making a conscious effort to find other ways to involve Oladipo in their offense.
They're in the process of trying to develop him into a point guard, where he flashed inevitable ups and downs this summer.
The NBA has become a breakdown league—point guards have to be able to beat their man in isolation. And right now, Oladipo is more of a line-drive ball-handler. He'll have a tough time creating off the dribble when pressured without a standard point guard's shake-and-bake handle.
For Oladipo to maximize his effectiveness as a playmaker, he'll need to become more of a one-on-one threat.
Otto Porter, Georgetown
Training Camp Focus: Identity scoring opportunities
When we highlight Otto Porter's strengths, none in particular stand out. And that's okay. We've seen plenty jack-of-all-trade guys excel as high-level supporting-cast members.
Porter's goal in training camp should be to identify where his scoring opportunities will come from. In Georgetown's motion offense, they came off ball movement, which created shots for those unable to create themselves.
Porter will have to figure out what paths and routes he must travel in order to get the ball in scoring position. Training camp will be a chance for Porter to get comfortable playing with a ball-dominant point guard and an offense driven by its backcourt.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Training Camp Focus: Outside Shooting
Though outside shooting will be Cody Zeller's focus, I'm not calling it a weakness. But it could be what determines his outlook as a pro.
The Bobcats signed Al Jefferson, a strong post player who operates from the elbow to the low block. It's inevitably going to push Zeller out on the perimeter, which should actually play right into his strengths.
If Zeller can threaten defenses as a stretch forward or mid-range shooter, it will set up the dribble drive where he's too quick for big men.
Charlotte has an excellent breakdown drive-and-dish guard in Kemba Walker, so open jumpers should come his way. By knocking them down with consistency, he'll force slower-footed forwards to challenge out of their comfort zones, leaving them vulnerable to getting beat by Zeller off the bounce.
Zeller is slated to occupy similar floor space to LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland. And a deadly jumper could make him just as big of an offensive threat.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
Training Camp Focus: Develop go-to post game
Despite flashing towering upside at Maryland, Alex Len wasn't featured very often in its offense. While he's got the moves, he still lacks fluidity when delivering them.
Len should try and imitate a guy like Jonas Valanciunas, who has slowly developed into a go-to scorer in the post.
Nobody is expecting much right away form Len. They just want to see steady progress.
The Suns took Len No. 5 overall with the intention of him becoming the team's long-term center. He's got the 7'1'' size, NBA athleticism and offensive skill set in place—he just has to get to the point where he can consistently go to it for points.
Len will be working extensively on his post game during training camp, both with his back to the rim and in face-up position.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Training Camp Focus: Confidence
Ben McLemore's physical tools and perimeter scoring arsenal are both fairly NBA-ready. He's got the athleticism and shot-making skills to come in right away and put points on the board.
The only thing that's going to keep him from tapping into strengths on a regular basis will be his confidence. McLemore's has tended to fluctuate through one year at Kansas and six summer league contests.
We've seen games where his confidence went through the roof, like when he shot 10-of-12 for 33 points in a win over Iowa State, or when he dropped 19 in a quarter this summer.
But we've also seen his confidence plummet. McLemore was 0-of-9 against North Carolina in the NCAA tournament before coach Bill Self yanked him. This summer, he missed 19 shots in one game and went 0-of-8 in another.
Misses happen. It's how he bounces back after one that will matter most for McLemore.
Getting comfortable early on in camp should keep him from over-thinking come the regular season.
Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
Training Camp Focus: Adjust to speed and size of NBA game
There's no doubt that Trey Burke can play. Last year's National Player of the Year led Michigan to the championship game after torching the toughest conference in America.
But the biggest thing that's kept top college point guards from being effective in the pros is the physical transition that's required.
The trees are taller and their branches are longer, both around the rim and on the perimeter. Burke seemed overwhelmed during summer league when he struggled to separate as a scorer or playmaker.
Concern was also raised at this year's NBA combine, when Burke's lateral quickness numbers were rather uninspiring. Defensively, he could be vulnerable against lightning rods like Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings and Kemba Walker on a consistent basis. And at 6'1'', guys like Jrue Holiday, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and John Wall won't exactly be easy assignments.
During training camp, Burke will need to find those spots on the floor that put him in a comfortable position to make a play. Figuring out his preferred ball-screen angles and the availability of transition opportunities should be tops on his priority list.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Training Camp Focus: Finding scoring/playmaking balance
C.J. McCollum has been one of college basketball's most prolific scorers over the past four years. But at 6'3'', he'll be forced into the combo-guard role at the NBA level. And with Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews cemented into Portland's backcourt, McCollum appears set to fulfill sixth-man duties.
For McCollum to maximize his effectiveness in that role, he'll need to find that scoring/playmaking balance.
Coming from Lehigh, where he's had one of the greenest lights in America, McCollum's shot selection will have to change in Portland. Now as a pro, where he'll be spending most of his time at a size disadvantage on the wing, McCollum will have to know when a scoring opportunity is there and when it's not.
Recognizing when to go into scoring mode from when to act as a ball mover will increase his value in Portland's offense. Watching tape of Jason Terry during Dallas' 2011 championship run wouldn't be a bad idea.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Training Camp Focus: Pull-up jumper
While Michael Carter-Williams has established himself as a dynamic offensive playmaker, he hasn't exactly been a model for efficiency.
He shot below 40 percent from the floor and 30 percent from downtown as a sophomore at Syracuse, and his numbers weren't any better in summer league. Ball security hasn't been a strength either. He coughed it up 3.4 times a game in college and 4.8 times a game in Orlando.
And I put most of the blame on an unreliable jumper.
Without the ability to pull up, Carter-Williams has a habit of recklessly attacking the basket in an attempt to get closer to the rim. It ultimately leads to a number of off-balance shots that require touch on the move. It also forces him to try and squeeze through cracks that just aren't big enough to fit through.
But if Carter-Williams was just able to pull up in space and consistently knock down jumpers, he wouldn't have to always operate in so much traffic.
Whether he's making them or not, Carter-Williams should look to pull up off the dribble whenever the opportunity presents itself. Shooting is about confidence, and Carter-Williams needs to build his as a perimeter threat.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Training Camp Focus: Establish an interior presence
Kelly Olynyk is a polished, skilled, seven-foot scoring machine. He can twist and turn on the low block, face up from the perimeter or beat his man down the floor for an easy two.
But most of his production comes from fancy footwork, instincts, hustle or incredible touch. Rarely is Olynyk bullying his man down low, cleaning the glass or protecting the rim. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that he's still waiting for some of his baby fat to transform into muscle.
Still, Olynyk's training-camp focus should be on establishing his presence on the interior. Just because he can shoot doesn't mean Boston will want him stretched out on the perimeter for the majority of a possession. If he's not rebounding or banging in the paint, then he's wasting valuable size and mass.
Andrea Bargnani has had some stellar individual seasons in terms of point production, but he's never shot over 47 percent or averaged more than 6.2 rebounds per game—and that kills his value as a seven-foot center.
Olynyk should look to hit the weight room and increase his aggressiveness on the NBA interior.