Rookie Progress Report for Every NBA Team

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

Rookie Progress Report for Every NBA Team

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    A major element of every NBA team's preseason is the development of rookies, and the 2013-14 season features a truckload of league newcomers battling in exhibition play.

    Which youngsters are standing out, and what does each one need to work on as the regular season fast approaches?

    Some rookies are already settling into their roles wonderfully and they're set to carry a heavy portion of responsibilities. Others are still scrapping for roster spots and rotational jobs as they try to play mistake-free hoops.

    Find out how how every notable rookie is faring this preseason as we break down each team's class.

    *Denotes rookie with non-guaranteed contract

    **Denver Nuggets do not have any notable rookies

Washington Wizards

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    Rookies: Otto Porter (SF) Glen Rice Jr. (G/F)

    Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman has a couple of exciting rookies to groom, but only one of them is active this preseason.

    Lottery prospect Otto Porter has been sidelined since mid-September with a strained right hip flexor, and according to Michael Lee of the Washington Post, there's no timetable for his return. It's frustrating because he'll miss valuable chances to carve out a role, but the Wizards obviously don't want to rush him back.

    Meanwhile, Glen Rice Jr. has seen a bunch of playing time and delivered mixed results. He's proven to be a confident swingman who knows how to use his length and athleticism to make plays, including his game-tying put-back against the Nets.

    On the perimeter, however, Rice needs to iron out his jumper: He's 1-of-14 from beyond the arc. If he can show some semblance of command on his long-range game during the last couple exhibitions, it could go a long way in earning him regular-season opportunities.

Utah Jazz

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    Rookies: Trey Burke (PG) Rudy Gobert (F/C), Ian Clark* (G)

    Trey Burke's fractured finger and Rudy Gobert's sprained shoulder capsule have put a damper on the rookie duo's early-season development.

    The Utah Jazz gave Burke the keys to the team car in preseason, and he could have used a few more test drives before being thrown into the intensity of regular-season play. Now he has to play catch-up in his first pro season, which isn't easy at the point guard position.

    Gobert will return sooner than later, and the Jazz need to give him some playing time and touches in the final three preseason games.

    He's not quite ready to anchor an NBA team as a backup, so it's vital for Utah to gradually build up his repertoire and confidence the next few weeks.

Toronto Raptors

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    Rookies: Dwight Buycks (PG), Carlos Morais* (G)

    Dwight Buycks' strong summer league showing hasn't translated into overwhelming preseason success, but the shifty guard has done his best to create offense for the Toronto Raptors. Unfortunately, he's 1-of-11 from three-point land so far, and hasn't always effectively set up his comrades.

    The bright spots include an eight-point, seven-assist outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves and a six-point, five-assist night against the Boston Celtics.

    Ultimately, he has to show more consistency if he wants to earn Dwane Casey's trust, because Kyle Lowry and D.J. Augustin will see the lion's share of minutes.

    International star Carlos Morais from Angola is fighting for a roster spot, but it's not looking good, as he's played in only two of the Raptors' five preseason games. The 6'4" shooting guard is fighting an uphill battle because Toronto is already carrying a bevy of wings, and he doesn't stand out.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Rookies: Courtney Fells (SF)

    San Antonio's only notable rookie, Courtney Fells, is on the bubble of making the Spurs roster. Bleacher Report Spurs featured columnist Garrett Jochnau believes he has a good chance to make the squad.

    If San Antonio elects to add a final player to the roster, Courtney Fells is in a good position to fill the remaining slot. Fells, a 6'6'' small forward, fills the team's backup vacancy at the position while also providing the team with a hard-working contributor on offense and the boards.

    He totaled six points and seven rebounds in his biggest opportunity against the Phoenix Suns, impressing even Coach Gregg Popovich, as reported by Project Spurs' Paul Garcia.

    Right now, Fells is operating on a non-guaranteed contract, but he can lock up a more substantial role if he continues to play hard on both sides of the ball and knock down open shots.

Sacramento Kings

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    Rookies: Ben McLemore (SG), Ray McCallum (PG), Trent Lockett* (SG)

    Prized prospect Ben McLemore has shown flashes of scoring prowess early in the preseason, although it's clear that he's got a long way to go before he becomes a complete player.

    The Sacramento Kings have utilized him mostly as a long range shooter, but over the past few games, he's finding more mid-range and close-range opportunities. McLemore started off exhibition play a bit turnover-happy, but he's cleaned that up in the last couple games.

    Second-round pick Ray McCallum from Detroit has proved to be a capable reserve quarterback. His extensive collegiate experience is evident, as he looks comfortable creating for his teammates.

    Sacramento is crowded in the backcourt, particularly at point guard, so McCallum won't be handed anything. However, he has the tools, court awareness and potential to earn some regular-season playing time.

    Lastly, Trent Lockett will find himself on the outside looking in when the roster is finalized, simply because there's not enough room to add another guard.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Rookies: C.J. McCollum (G), Allen Crabbe (SG), Dee Bost* (PG), E.J. Singler* (SF), Richard Howell* (PF)

    Several rookies have worked their way into the Portland Trail Blazers preseason lineup, but the most important newcomer on the team is still recovering from a broken foot.

    C.J. McCollum underwent a non-operative procedure on the foot October 16, and will be re-evaluated in six weeks, the team announced. It will be interesting to see how explosive and effective he can be when he returns, and if he can recapture the magic he showed during summer league.

    California product Allen Crabbe has primarily lived and died by the jumper, which isn't a surprise. He scored 14 points in 24 minutes against the Phoenix Suns, but then notched two points on 1-of-6 shooting in 24 minutes against the Utah Jazz. Despite the inconsistency, he'll get a healthy chunk of playing time due to McCollum's absence.

    Both McCollum and Crabbe will be nice additions to a promising backcourt, but Blazers fans have to be patient until McCollum returns and Crabbe finds his role.

Phoenix Suns

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    Rookies: Alex Len (C), Archie Goodwin (G), Dionte Christmas* (G), James Nunnally* (F)

    While big man Alex Len and slasher Archie Goodwin have exciting potential, they are both young and inexperienced.

    Their lack of seasoning has been evident this autumn, as neither player looks completely comfortable against NBA competition.

    Goodwin's unreliable jumper was a knock on him entering the draft, and it continues to be an issue during preseason play. Fortunately for him, the Phoenix Suns aren't in win-now mode, and he may see an uptick in usage with the club carefully monitoring Goran Dragic's ankle.

    Considering he was a lottery pick, Len hasn't been too impressive, although he's shown stretches of strong rebounding. Much like Goodwin, he looks the part of a long-term project. 

    Phoenix could end up reaping the benefits of these two in the future, but on the same token, they're far from being locks to thrive.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Rookies: Michael Carter-Williams (PG), Nerlens Noel (C), Rodney Williams* (F), Khalif Wyatt* (G), Mack Koshwal* (F-C), Vander Blue* (G), Hollis Thompson* (G-F)

    With just seven turnovers in the first five games, Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams has actually exceeded expectations from a game-management standpoint. The rookie floor general has tied or led the club in assists in each of its preseason contests, and he's displayed some range on his jumper.

    His fellow NCAA star Nerlens Noel is still on the mend from his ACL injury, but he's been working on his ball skills while sidelined. The knee rehab could be a huge blessing for him, as it will likely accelerate his skill development.

    Of the remaining youngsters, Khalif Wyatt and Vander Blue have the best chance of cracking the roster. Wyatt's creativity as a scorer and passer make him a tempting reserve to have deep on the bench, and Blue's energy and athleticism in the open floor are tough for Brett Brown to turn down.

Orlando Magic

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    Rookies: Victor Oladipo (G), Romero Osby* (SF)

    Through the first five preseason games, No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo has displayed his wealth of all-around skills, which include scoring, rebounding, passing and defending multiple positions.

    While he has shown the ability to put the ball in the hoop and dole out bunches of assists, he hasn't been perfect. Oladipo delivered a couple sub-standard shooting performances, ones in which he failed to score outside the paint.

    Overall, he's supplied some exciting moments as a playmaker, looking every bit the part of a foundational component of the franchise.

    Romero Osby hasn't seen a steady allotment of playing time, but he's rebounded well for his position and converted on attempts within 12-15 feet. Nothing incredible, but enough to warrant Jacque Vaughn's attention this season.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Rookies: Steven Adams (C), Andre Roberson (SG), Rodney McGruder* (SG)

    Lottery pickup Steven Adams has been an absolute monster on the glass for the Oklahoma City Thunder this preseason, especially on the offensive end. His highlight was a 15-rebound outing against the New Orleans Hornets where he grabbed six offensive boards for OKC.

    His assertiveness in the paint has helped the Thunder gain more possessions but it has also resulted in high foul totals. Adams hasn't quite mastered the finer points of contesting interior shots without fouling. However, Adams compensates with solid execution with the ball on offense.

    Andre Roberson probably won't be much more than an ancillary component of Oklahoma City's roster, as he lacks true versatility and offensive firepower. On the plus side, his length and explosiveness have enabled him to snag rebounds.

    Shooting guard Rodney McGruder will likely spend more time in the D-League than anywhere else. He's only appeared in one preseason game, and he played just five minutes.

New York Knicks

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    Rookies: Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG), Toure Murry* (G), C.J. Leslie* (F), Chris Smith* (G)

    Thus far, Tim Hardaway Jr. has exceeded expectations for the New York Knicks. A 16-point debut was followed be several solid outings, and he seems poised to operate as a key piece of the backcourt rotation.

    Even though he hasn't looked spectacular all the time, he appears comfortable on the wing and makes an impact in all areas of the game. He's athletic, assertive and aware—three A's that serve to enhance his shooting skills and make the Knicks a better team when he's on the floor.

    Guard Toure Murry and forward C.J. Leslie have made some plays defensively in limited action, but only Murry seems capable of performing on offense. Leslie just lacks the advanced skill necessary to generate any scoring chances.

    Due to New York's deep stable of wings and forwards, only Hardaway will see consistent playing time throughout the season. But Murry shouldn't hang his head, because he definitely caught the attention of the coaching staff and has a chance to make the regular-season roster.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Rookies: Jeff Withey (C), Arinze Onuaku* (PF)

    Both Jeff Withey from Kansas and Arinze Onuaku from Syracuse were crucial cogs for top-tier college programs, but they probably won't be utilized much in the New Orleans Pelicans rotation in 2013-14.

    Nevertheless, Withey should be ready to chip in if Jason Smith's hip injury is more prolonged than anticipated. Withey is overmatched from an explosiveness standpoint against most opponents, but Monty Williams can count on him to work for position, play smart defense and collect boards.

    Onuaku is a physical force, a bruiser in the paint. And that's about it.

    It looks like he's going to be useful primarily for rebounding and fouling. That is, if he even makes the team.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Rookies: Shabazz Muhammad (SG), Gorgui Dieng (C), Lorenzo Brown* (PG)

    The jury is still out on Shabazz Muhammad as a 2013-14 contributor and long-term investment for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    His transition to the pro game has been less than smooth, as he hasn't found his rhythm, timing and spacing within Rick Adelman's system.

    Muhammad is still doing most of his preseason work around the rim, but if he wants to earn minutes while Chase Budinger is out, he needs to present a threat from distance.

    In the post, Gorgui Dieng may become a peripheral contributor because he can defend, cause turnovers and plug himself into the offense as a passer and close-range scorer.

    Lastly, Lorenzo Brown is on the cusp of making the club. He isn't shooting well this preseason, but his playmaking skills might earn him a spot behind Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Rookies: Giannis Antetokounmpo (F), Nate Wolters (PG), Miroslav Raduljica (C), Trey McKinney-Jones* (G)

    Even in just a few exhibition games, the raw potential of Milwaukee Bucks swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo is readily apparent.

    The physical attributes are there, especially in the length and agility departments. The tradeoffs include growing pains like extra turnovers and unnecessary fouls. Case in point: The excitement of a 14-point, three-block night against the Cleveland Cavaliers was tempered by five turnovers and five fouls.

    In the backcourt, Nate Wolters is a polished point guard who looks good enough to spell Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight for a couple minutes, but not much more.

    Miroslav Raduljica has utilized his massive frame to grab rebounds and shoot over opponents, yet he won't get too many chances in 2013-14. There are too many competent bigs higher on the Bucks food chain.

Miami Heat

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    Rookies: Justin Hamilton* (C), Charlie Westbrook* (SG), Eric Griffin* (F), Larry Drew* (G)

    Let's be honest, rookie additions aren't going to be a part of the Miami Heat quest for a three-peat.

    The star production and rotational contributions are pretty much set, and even if Erik Spoelstra doesn't have the most robust bench in the entire league, it's good enough without the help of unproven youngsters.

    Justin Hamilton's combination of size and skill makes him an intriguing asset to carry on the roster, but it's doubtful he would see anything other than garbage minutes if he makes the squad.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Rookies: Jamaal Franklin (SG), Nick Calathes (PG), Willie Reed* (F-C), Tony Gaffney* (F)

    After several underwhelming preseason appearances, Jamaal Franklin finally hit double-digits, scoring 10 in the Memphis Grizzlies' win over the Atlanta Hawks.

    He mixed in his perimeter shooting with some attacks to the basket, and got to the free-throw line a few times. It was a solid audition for regular-season minutes, but it still might not be enough for him to play regularly.

    The only other rookie to compete for some touches is Nick Calathes, as he would back up Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless. However, there's a sizable dropoff in talent, athleticism and potential production between Bayless and Calathes, so Memphis won't likely utilize him much.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Rookies: Ryan Kelly* (F), Elias Harris* (F)

    Non-guaranteed rookies Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris haven't produced much in the Los Angeles Lakers preseason, and one or both of them could be denied a roster spot.

    Quickness and explosiveness certainly aren't strong points for either of them, so they rely heavily on footwork, timing and shooting touch.

    In L.A.'s loss to the Golden State Warriors in Beijing, Kelly provided a small dose of what he did at Duke, shooting over the defense as he splashed a pair of triples.

    Ultimately, their smooth, polished play might be enough to keep them on the club, but don't expect them to be a part of the Lakers' long-term or short-term plan.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Rookies: Reggie Bullock (G-F), Brandon Davies* (PF)

    Doc Rivers' Los Angeles Clippers are built to contend for an NBA crown for the next few years, but that doesn't mean they can't incorporate some young faces to the mix.

    Reggie Bullock is still sidelined with a sore right knee, so Clips fans will have to wait to see what his role in the rotation will look like. He probably won't earn many minutes, but when he does check in, he'll hold his own as a defender and reliable shooter.

    While Bullock heals, Brandon Davies is doing his best to earn a jersey as a stretch 4.

    He went 3-of-4 from three-point land against the Utah Jazz, which is something that any team loves from a 6'9" forward. His size and scoring aptitude may win over Rivers and his staff.

Indiana Pacers

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    Rookies: Solomon Hill (F)

    When Frank Vogel has plugged Solomon Hill into the Indiana Pacers lineup so far, the rookie has demonstrated commendable defense and ball movement.

    Scoring-wise, he has yet to eclipse six points, which isn't encouraging considering he's played a couple games in excess of 27 and 28 minutes. 

    He could be a useful all-around player to use on a nightly basis, but the Pacers lineup is well-equipped at both forward spots. Hill needs to find his shooting stroke to go along with that deft passing touch.

Houston Rockets

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    Rookies: Isaiah Canaan, (PG), Robert Covington (F)

    It's tough to tell how Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington are adjusting to the NBA, because playing time has been quite scarce for both of them.

    The Houston Rockets had a deep roster already, so the rookies' tiny preseason roles aren't a true reflection of their potential.

    Rather, the limited minutes are a result of Kevin McHale working his playoff-caliber rotation to prepare for a title run.

    Canaan's physical tools, energy and shooting skills may be useful in the long term or in the event of injury, but for now he'll take a backseat to the trio of Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and Aaron Brooks.

Golden State Warriors

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    Rookies: Nemanja Nedovic (G), Seth Curry* (G), Dewayne Dedmon* (C), Ognjen Kuzmic* (C)

    In the Golden State Warriors' blowout victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dubs' rookie class got a chance to log extensive minutes and make some plays in the open floor.

    The efforts of big men Dewayne Dedmon and Ognjen Kuzmic were commendable, but the eye test tells me they aren't qualified to run with the big kids once Festuz Ezeli and Jermaine O'Neal get completely healthy.

    In the backcourt, Nemanja Nedovic is a long-term investment and Seth Curry is a sharp-shooting insurance policy. They can't initiate offense like Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, so it's unlikely that Mark Jackson will plug them into his high-octane offense.

    Nedovic does own some exciting athleticism and creativity that could be refined into a dangerous weapon, especially if he absorbs everything he seed the elder Curry do.

Detroit Pistons

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    Rookies: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG), Tony Mitchell (F), Luigi Datome (SF), Peyton Siva* (PG)

    Detroit's quartet of rookies will be the x-factor that dictates the ceiling of the Pistons bench.

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has endured an up-and-down preseason, unable to sustain any kind of shooting consistency. Luckily, size and fundamental shooting form are on his side.

    In the forward ranks, Tony Mitchell has taken a backseat to the chemistry-building project of Josh Smith and the Pistons bigs. He was able to sneak in a double-double against the Brooklyn Nets, which is an encouraging sign. Meanwhile, Luigi Datome is still waiting for his debut.

    The most interesting Motown rookie has been Peyton Siva, who dropped nine dimes on the Chicago Bulls and seven on the Orlando Magic. He's weaving through defenses and applying some pesky defense of his own. The ugly side effect is a boatload of turnovers, including nine in the Magic game. 

Dallas Mavericks

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    Rookies: Shane Larkin (PG), Ricky Ledo (SG), Gal Mekel (PG)

    Ankle issues have derailed the preseason aspirations of both Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo, temporarily thinning out the Dallas Mavericks depth chart.

    We have to wait to enjoy Larkin's explosiveness and point guard skills, as well as Ledo's playmaking potential. Ledo's playing time was inconsistent prior to him turning his ankle.

    Gal Mekel, on the other hand, has received substantial opportunities. The Israeli guard has been distributing the ball to his Mavs' teammates at a high rate, but he's also giving the ball to opponents too often (averaging four turnovers per game).

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Rookies: Anthony Bennett (F), Sergey Karasev (SF), Carrick Felix (G-F), Matthew Dellavedova* (PG), Kenny Kadji* (F)

    The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted one of the most unpredictable No. 1 picks in the history of the draft in Anthony Bennett.

    Offensively, he seems versatile enough to fit in with this playoff-hopeful group, and his knack for rebounding doesn't hurt either. On the other end of the floor, he's had more of a roller-coaster preseason, fouling out of multiple games.

    Fellow first-round pick Sergey Karasev has supplied an exciting balance of shooting and facilitating from the wing, but he has also endured a healthy share of mistakes. 

    Each will encounter some stumbling blocks in 2013-14, but I believe they can hold their own when called upon.

Chicago Bulls

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    Rookies: Tony Snell (G-F), Erik Murphy* (F)

    New Mexico standout Tony Snell has yet to find his shooting stroke, and consequently, his per-minute scoring output has been anemic.

    We were expecting more offense from the Chicago Bulls' first-round choice, but at least his defense has been as-advertised.

    Snell utilizes his length to disrupt ball-handlers or converge on passing lanes, and he has demonstrated the potential to cover multiple positions. The foundation is there for him to be a key two-way role player.

    Erik Murphy has also struggled to find a groove from distance, which is more problematic because he doesn't possess the versatility of someone like Snell. 

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Rookies: Cody Zeller (F-C), James Southerland* (F)

    For the majority of the preseason, Charlotte Bobcats power forward Cody Zeller didn't look the part of a top-five pick.

    Over the past couple games, however, he's become increasingly effective off the bench. In Charlotte's October 19 showdown with the Dallas Mavericks, he churned out a rock-solid stat line: double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, two assists and zero turnovers.

    That's more like it.

    Non-guaranteed forward James Southerland continues to be a one-dimensional shooting threat, so Zeller may be the only rookie who makes the Cats roster.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Rookies: Mason Plumlee (PF)

    His numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, but Mason Plumlee has done a lot of good things for the Brooklyn Nets so far.

    Under the guidance of Kevin Garnett, Plumlee is already demonstrating improved defensive awareness and positioning, and he's picking up where he left off at Duke in the rebounding department. 

    His jumper and free-throws are still erratic, but the Nets won't be leaning on those in 2013-14. For now, his slashing, back-to-the-basket game and passing skills will support Brooklyn's veteran front line.

Boston Celtics

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    Rookies: Kelly Olynyk (PF), Vitor Faverani (C), Phil Pressey (PG), Chris Babb* (G), Damen Bell-Holter* (F), Kammron Taylor* (G), DeShawn Sims* (F)

    Smooth-shooting forward Kelly Olynyk tore up summer league play, but he hasn't been nearly as consistent during preseason competition.

    He's not a monster on the glass every night, and he can't carry the frontcourt offense every contest yet. Fortunately for the Boston Celtics, his field-goal shooting has been efficient in recent games.

    The other rookies who could make an impact on the club's rebuilding year are center Vitor Faverani and guard Phil Pressey.

    Pressey, in particular, has been a pleasant surprise from a offense creation standpoint. However, Boston can't always depend on him to score or take care of the ball against bigger opponents. For now, the top priority is strengthening his sprained ankle.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Rookies: Dennis Schroder (PG), Pero Antic (F-C)

    German point guard Dennis Schroder encountered a speed bump this past week in the form of a knee bruise, but now he's back in the exhibition fray for the Atlanta Hawks.

    Outside shooting was a point of concern for him heading into the 2013 draft, and it's an issue that still hinders his productivity. He's 1-of-12 from beyond the arc so far this autumn.

    On the bright side, the highlight of his preseason was the game-winning floater against the Charlotte Bobcats. It's a sign that the youngster isn't afraid to take over the offense in tight spots.

    Entering the regular season, the Hawks are hoping for more consistent ball distribution and better shot selection. They are also looking for steady outside shooting from Pero Antic, who could see more playing time if the Hawks' playoff hopes fail.