NBA Rookies Whose Preseason Performances Are a Sign of Things to Come
There aren't many rookies who are expected to get a lot of burn in the 2013-14 NBA season. Very few have guaranteed roles or immediate spots in their rotations.
But some of the ones who are expected to play this year have flashed potential in the preseason; these are signs that can give us an idea of what to expect in the near future.
Many of these signs have been promising, although a few weaknesses have been exposed. Those issues may not be easy to fix in the short term.
These are the players whose preseason performances should resemble their futures moving forward.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
We might have to call the fight early.
Victor Oladipo is crushing it in the preseason, jumping out as the immediate front-runner for 2013-14 Rookie of the Year. He's averaging 14.4 points, six boards and five assists through seven games.
And he's doing it in 27.4 minutes per night.
His activity level is tremendous, while his improved handle and command of the ball are noticeable. Oladipo's established strengths have also carried over, as he leads all rookies in total free-throw attempts and steals.
Following a dominant summer league and now a rock-solid preseason, there's just no reason to believe he's going to suddenly crap out.
With guaranteed minutes lined up, Oladipo should be a stat-stuffing machine and impact player right away.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was never known for being efficient. He's potent—Caldwell-Pope could catch fire at any given moment.
But there are other times when that rim just shrinks to the size of a Cheerio. And that's not likely to change for Caldwell-Pope in the near future.
He's shooting just 28.6 percent in preseason, including 24.1 percent from behind the arc. Caldwell-Pope takes so many difficult shots, whether it's a deep three-pointer, a long two-pointer or a runner in the mid-range.
Credit that to his struggles in getting to the rim and ultimately finishing in traffic. Caldwell-Pope is simply more comfortable taking a balanced jumper than a challenged shot inside.
Until he becomes a more threatening scorer off the dribble, expect all sorts of inconsistency from Detroit's rookie 2-guard.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Steven Adams looks like the perfect fit in Oklahoma City, where his responsibilities will be limited and his role will be clear.
Forget the post game or jump shot for now. Adams can help the Thunder just by tapping into his immaculate physical tools.
He leads all rookies in total rebounds. He's used his 7'0'', 255-pound frame to clear out the interior and his 7'4'' wingspan to bring in loose balls. Adams has also made himself a target for easy buckets, scoring 7.9 points per game on 62.2 percent shooting.
The Thunder won't overcomplicate things for Adams. He can excel in a role where his priorities include rebounding, screening, finishing and running the floor. Adams might not put up eye-popping numbers, but his physical presence and energy will end up doing the talking for him.
Given that Kendrick Perkins isn't half the athlete Adams is—and Hasheem Thabeet is a bit-part player—coach Scott Brooks might be inclined to give his rookie early minutes.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Nothing is certain in life except for death, taxes and a low field-goal percentage from Michael Carter-Williams.
He's shooting just 32.8 percent from the floor and 29.6 percent from downtown in the preseason, not too far off from his college or summer-league numbers.
Without the ability to consistently threaten from the perimeter, defenses can afford to pack the paint and force Carter-Williams into difficult shots. And given how few offensive weapons Philadelphia has at its disposal, Carter-Williams could be in line to carry an awfully heavy load.
The good news is that he's been protecting the rock in the preseason. The bad news is that it seems nearly impossible for him to sustain the same level of ball security. He led the country in turnovers his last year at Syracuse, and it's not going to get any easier in the pros without reliable scorers to play off.
I wouldn't judge Carter-Williams based on his final rookie numbers. But I can't imagine he'll be hanging them on his refrigerator.
Don't expect much efficiency from Philadelphia's new floor general any time soon.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
According to Newsday's Al Iannazzone, coach Mike Woodson has already mentioned that Tim Hardaway Jr. should find his way onto the court.
It would be hard not to at least entertain the idea, given Hardaway's hot preseason start. He leads all rookies in three-pointers made, knocking down a scorching 40.5 percent of his attempts through six games.
Hardaway has a confident stroke with deep range, he and packs a lethal punch of firepower once he gets into a rhythm.
He's had some defensive lapses early on, but Hardaway's job as a rookie will be to enter a game and knock down open shots. The Knicks could never have enough shooters to surround Carmelo Anthony with. Hardaway just gives them one more, as well as a high-flying athlete in the open floor.
If he's hot, expect Woody to ride him—especially while J.R. Smith is suspended during the first five games of the year.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
I'm expecting Anthony Bennett's regular season to go just like his preseason has so far.
It's been up and down. Bennett has shown some flashes that resemble a No. 1 overall pick and others that triggered the memory of utter shock when the Cavaliers selected him.
Offensively, he's looked impressive in a number of areas. It's pretty clear that Bennett's 37.5 percent three-point stroke in college wasn't a fluke either. He seems comfortable and confident as a shooter and has shown considerable touch in the mid-range.
Shot selection could be an issue, however. He's shooting only 35 percent from the floor, as he's been forced to take more shots on the perimeter than he's been used to. Those easy buckets he got in the paint at UNLV just aren't as easy in the pros.
But it's on the defensive side of the ball where Bennett could struggle the most. He's picked up at least five fouls in five of his first six preseason games—and they've all come in 26 minutes or less.
With Bennett expected to come off the bench behind a deep frontcourt in Cleveland, I'd imagine his numbers will fluctuate early on.
Expect the good with the bad from the top pick in the draft.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Ben McLemore has flashed signs of things to come during his first preseason action. He's shooting 40 percent from downtown, showcasing that picturesque three-point stroke he can seemingly get off whenever he catches the ball.
He's got that ability to heat up like a microwave and put points up in bunches, the way he recently did against Portland, when he made 10 shots for 23 points in 30 minutes.
McLemore is really effective in terms of freeing himself up and getting open off the ball. He's able to consistently find good looks at the rim, and with a quick release and lights-out accuracy, McLemore has been seeing plenty of quality scoring opportunities in the half court.
His effectiveness in transition is a given. An electric athlete, McLemore picks up easy buckets in the open floor and on the break.
The minutes should be there for McLemore, who looks as NBA-ready as any rookie in the field. He seems like a lock to average at least 12 points per game in the regular season.
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