The 1 Thing Every NBA Rookie of the Year Contender Must Improve in Training Camp
The 2013-14 Rookie of the Year contenders each have a checklist of improvements and adjustments to make during their first NBA training camps.
And atop those checklists should be a primary focus—the one thing a player needs to work on to better prepare himself for everyday life on the NBA hardwood.
Training camp is the time for rookies to get acquainted with the lifestyle and new breed of competition. It's their first real shot to see what works and what doesn't.
The earlier each rookie learns what they need to improve, the faster the transition process will go.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
Biggest Need: Creating Half-court Offense, Finding the Sweet Spots
At this stage in his development, just about all of Anthony Bennett's scoring chances should be expected to come in the form of a dunk, layup, alley-oop, tip or spot-up jumper.
The common theme here is that they're all likely to require a set-up man—catching and finishing, whether it's in transition, off a backdoor lob or a corner three. And that's fine, but if the ball movement isn't there or the ball doesn't bounce his way, it leaves Bennett vulnerable to disappearing offensively through stretches of a game.
In training camp, Bennett is going to want to find his sweet spots on the floor—those spots where he can jab-step into a jumper or pump and drive it to the rack. If he wants to maximize his offensive talent, he has to put himself in position to use it.
With a whole new size, tempo and spacing of the game, it will take an adjustment from Bennett to get acclimated.
He's lethal in the open floor and when given space to operate, but Bennett will need to find ways to score in the slower, more crowded half-court game.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Biggest Need: Ball-Handling when Pressured
The Magic don't seem to care what position Victor Oladipo plays, as long as he's out there on the floor. And that's going to happen when Jameer Nelson is on the bench, meaning Oladipo will be doing more ball-handling then he's ever done before.
At Indiana, he played exclusively off the ball on the wing, finishing plays as a cutter, slasher and spot-up shooter. Now, Oladipo will be the one initiating them—at least when he's put in charge of the offense.
Given the quality of today's perimeter defenders, a shaky handle won't cut it against guys like Iman Shumpert, Avery Bradley and Jimmy Butler in the East.
The NBA has become a breakdown league—guards have to be able to beat their man in isolation. And right now, Oladipo is more of a line-drive ball-handler.
If Oladipo wants to become the scoring and playmaking threat the Magic are prepping him to be, he'll need to be able to change directions and beat guys off the dribble.
Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
Biggest Need: Identify Scoring Opportunities in New System
A jack-of-all-trades type of forward, Otto Porter doesn't have any one standout strength.
At Georgetown, a lot of his scoring opportunities came from ball movement in the motion offense. It's a system that limits dribbling and creates scoring opportunities for those who aren't able to create them on their own.
In the NBA, Porter will have to identify new avenues he can go down for points.
Though an offensive-oriented player, Porter doesn't have a strong ability to create his own shot. He can knock them down in the mid-range, long-range, stationary or on the move, but putting himself in position to get those looks will be his challenge moving forward.
Porter will need to use his time in training camp and practice, if he can ever shake this hip flexor, to get a feel for playing off a ball-dominant backcourt in Wall and Bradley Beal.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Biggest Need: Outside Shooting
Just because it's a need doesn't mean it's a weakness. But Cody Zeller's outside shot will ultimately be the X-factor in determining his NBA impact.
As a center, Zeller struggled at times in college with contact and physicality down low. So the Bobcats went out and signed Al Jefferson to shoulder the load inside.
Zeller, who's a top-flight athlete with legit 7'0'' size, could end up being a difficult matchup for power forwards if he's able to consistently threaten them as a shooter. With quick foot speed for a big man, Zeller has the ability to attack his man off the dribble and score on the move in the lane—which a jumper opens up.
Charlotte also has an excellent breakdown drive-and-dish guard in Kemba Walker, so open shots outside should come his way quite often.
Adding a reliable jumper will help increase Zeller's scoring opportunities, and ultimately play to his strengths as a finesse scorer. If Zeller is forced to make a living down low, he could struggle with the tougher, more aggressive rim protectors.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
Biggest Need: Post Game
Alex Len wasn't exactly featured very often at Maryland, where only twice in two years was he able to score 20-plus points in a game.
But the Suns took Len at No. 5 with the intention of making him the team's long-term center and an eventual top offensive option. 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.
Despite flashing towering upside, he lacks fluidity when operating in the post, the area of his game which needs to become his moneymaker. Len has the moves, but he still struggles delivering and executing them in traffic.
Len will be working extensively on his post game during training camp, both with his back to the rim and in face-up position. He's got a soft touch and feel in the paint—finding a way to get off clean looks will actually allow him to use it.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Biggest Need: Building Confidence, Maintaining Poise
He's got it all—the prototypical 2-guard size, elite-level athleticism and an uncanny ability to make shots from all over the floor.
The only thing that's going to keep Ben McLemore from tapping into strengths regularly will be his confidence and maturity.
You can actually see him start to overthink after a couple of misses. McLemore has gone stretches where he won't even look at the rim and others where he can't take his eyes off it.
He tends to let in-game struggles snowball—McLemore was 0-of-9 against North Carolina in the NCAA tournament before coach Bill Self yanked him. During summer league, he missed 19 shots in one game and went 0-of-8 in another.
Confidence can also be tied to consistency. As one fluctuates, so does the other.
McLemore needs to use training camp to convince himself he can ball with the best in the world. And that misses don't matter—it's how he bounces back from them that will determine his success as a pro.
Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
Biggest Need: Adjust to Speed, Size, Physicality of Competition
Despite his tremendous sophomore season as the National Player of the Year, scouts were still a bit skeptical of Trey Burke's NBA outlook.
And it wasn't because they questioned his skill or leadership qualities. Burke just isn't the same level of athlete as most of today's starting point guards.
In training camp, Burke will need to get comfortable going head-to-head with bigger, faster and stronger defenders. Not just with his men, but with the help defenders on the wing and the rim protectors in the paint.
At the pro level, it won't be so easy finishing in traffic or making a play for a teammate in the lane. Without that explosiveness, it could be tough for Burke to get the same separation distance he got in college.
The transition is going to require some adjustments—figuring out everything from preferred ball-screen angles and locating his drive-and-dish targets to mastering the floater and seizing transition opportunities.
Against much higher-quality defenders than he saw in college, Burke will need to adjust his scoring and playmaking arsenal. The open looks he got at Michigan just aren't going to be there in Utah.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Biggest Need: Pull-Up Jump Shot
Michael Carter-Williams is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. But he becomes a whole lot easier to guard when defenders can afford to sag back and play a step off.
If Carter-Williams can't threaten defenders with a pull-up jumper, it's going to restrict him in other areas of the game, as well as limit his own personal scoring opportunities.
Without that jumper, he becomes less of a danger in the pick-and-roll, where defenders can go under the screen and prevent him from driving. And once they take away Carter-Williams' driving lanes, which teams started to do in the Big East, his ability to operate with efficiency diminishes.
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.
A jumper off the dribble will keep defenses honest, which should ultimately increase his ability to get into the lane. But if defenses start packing the paint, that's where Carter-Williams could struggle without a reliable outside weapon.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Biggest Need: Establish Interior Presence
Though a crafty, deceptive and polished scorer, Kelly Olynyk tends to play a little smaller than he is.
Despite his 7'0'' size, Olynyk only racked up five double-digit rebounding games all year in 2012-13. If he's not rebounding or banging in the paint, that makes him an offensive specialist.
The problem is that Olynyk isn't much of an athlete and recorded just a 29'' max vertical. The easy buckets he got in the West Coast Conference won't come so easy in the NBA.
If Olynyk starts struggling offensively, coach Brad Stevens might be reluctant to play him, given he's not a factor on the glass or the defensive end.
There are dozens of 7-footers out there who lack Olynyk's skill but get everyday minutes because of their interior presence. Olynyk will have to establish one to increase his margin for error on the floor.