Biggest Dark-Horse Contenders for 2013-14 NBA Rookie of the Year
The bar is set fairly low this year for the 2013-14 NBA rookies, as not too many first-year players are projected to land immediate full-time roles.
Even Victor Oladipo—the favorite for Rookie of the Year, according to Bovada Sportsbook in Vegas—isn't expected to start.
You won't need a 15-point-per-game scoring average to take home the award.
The following rookies are considered long shots to win ROY this year, but the opportunity for a promotion or consistent production is there.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Bovada Odds: 7/1
Despite being selected at No. 4 overall, Cody Zeller isn't typically mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate. But he has a number of NBA-ready skills along with a terrific opportunity, so he's someone who should be taken seriously.
Zeller is one of only a few rookies who are expected to start right away. He was also awesome in summer league play, where he averaged 16 points and nine boards a game, and he looked solid in his preseason opener.
A top-shelf athlete with center size, Zeller could be a mismatch for a number of opposing power forwards, the position he's slated to play alongside Al Jefferson up front. With Jefferson strictly an interior player and Zeller more dangerous facing up from outside, Charlotte's two big men should end up complementing each other nicely.
Zeller is nearly a lock to lead all rookies in rebounds and has a good shot to score in double-digits on a routine basis.
If the Bobcats end up becoming one of those hot and trendy teams, look for someone to get rewarded. Zeller has the chance to put up individual numbers and contribute to team success—a solid formula for getting recognized as a rookie.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Bovada Odds: 8/1
The Philadelphia 76ers might not win many games, but that shouldn't stop Michael Carter-Williams from filling up box scores.
He's likely to have the ball in his hands more than any other rookie, and that's where Carter-Williams shines—creating offense off the dribble.
With only Tony Wroten and Evan Turner as secondary ball-handling options, Carter-Williams will get the freedom to make a ton of plays and a ton of mistakes.
Given his skill set and opportunity, he should be the favorite to lead all rookies in assists and steals. If Carter-Williams can pull it off and add around 10 points a game, that could be enough to take the award home in a down year for rookies.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
Bovada Odds: 25/1
If you're looking to make a splash, Alex Len is a sneaky dark-horse pick with 25-to-1 odds.
Those odds would change dramatically if the Suns choose to trade Marcin Gortat early in the year. With Gortat an impending free agent and the team in complete rebuilding mode, it wouldn't make sense for Phoenix not to trade him—especially after selecting Len with the No. 5 pick.
As a team, Phoenix will likely be looking to run this year. And that's good news for Len, who moves much more fluidly than Gortat. A faster tempo should result in some easy scoring chances for Len and a few extra free buckets a game.
Len went for seven points, six boards and a block in only 16 minutes during his preseason debut. He has the size and frame to fit right in, along with a good offensive feel that should allow him to capitalize on opportunities in the paint.
This year, you may not have to put up monster numbers to win this award. A lucky roster break for Len could result in a starting job by season's end and a great shot to find an everyday rhythm.
Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta Hawks
Bovada Odds: 33/1
Dennis Schroeder is going to need some luck here—both with his current roster situation and the rookies he'll be competing with.
But Schroeder has the talent to win this award. The only question is whether he'll get the opportunity.
He's a lightning rod on the court and a threat to create offense whenever he has the ball. In just his second preseason game, Schroeder finished with nine points and seven assists, including the game-winning bucket in the closing seconds.
His quickness and passing instincts are both starting-caliber. With Lou Williams slowly returning from an ACL tear and John Jenkins already experiencing training-camp aches, you have to wonder whether the Hawks would ever consider pairing Schroeder with Jeff Teague in the backcourt.
Atlanta drafted Schroeder despite already having a point guard, so there's reason to believe they have some plans for the German rookie. I wouldn't put my life savings on it, but if you're looking for a sleeper, the payoff on Schroeder could be worth it.
Archie Goodwin, Phoenix Suns
Bovada Odds: N/A
Archie Goodwin just might be the most underrated prospect taken in the first round. It wasn't too long ago that some were pegging him as a potential top-10 pick.
The youngest American to be drafted had some ups and downs during his one-and-done freshman season at the University of Kentucky, but you could argue that his strengths are better suited for the NBA's style of play.
He's an electric athlete who thrives in space. With room in front of him, Goodwin can attack the rim and finish around, over or through traffic. He's also shown promise in the mid-range and shot over 50 percent from three-point range during summer league.
Goodwin was solid in his preseason debut as well, scoring 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 18 minutes of action.
With the Suns competing for the chance to draft Andrew Wiggins as opposed to a spot in the playoffs, there's no reason to save or nurse Goodwin. Whether they play him at point guard or off the ball, there's a chance that Goodwin emerges as an everyday rotation player—a role you won't find many rookies in this upcoming year.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Bovada Odds: N/A
Giannis Antetokounmpo is your ultimate dark horse. Entering his rookie year, he's not expected to get much burn, having only been in the United States for roughly half a year.
But what if he leaves the Bucks no choice? He looked fantastic (given the circumstances) during his preseason debut, finishing with 14 points, four boards, three blocks, two steals and two assists. He brings a level of versatility to the table that we rarely see—at 6'9'', he's a sensational athlete with a monstrous wingspan, yet he handles the ball like a point guard.
Bucks general manager John Hammond already stated that he had no intentions of sending Antetokounmpo to the D-League this year, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News. And given how thin Milwaukee is at the wing positon, an injury or bad start might make Antetokounmpo a candidate for early minutes.
I watched Antetokounmpo extensively this past year during his time in Greece's second division, and though the competition is weak, his talent and upside were easy to pick up on.
Antetokounmpo is surely an NBA-caliber player. It's just a matter of when he'll get to prove it. If the Bucks start stinking it up or Caron Butler doesn't last, watch out for the Greek Freak.