It's all fine and well for Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller to show out during summer league or take the preseason by storm, but it'll be nice to see how the NBA's top rookies react to the increased intensity of games that actually count in the standings.
The 2013 NBA draft was widely regarded as lacking a transformative star, but based on what we've seen during the preseason, there might be a couple of guys who could prove that assessment wrong. And even if the current front-runners falter, there's enough talent behind them to assure the battle for the Rookie of the Year award will be extremely contentious.
Just days away from the start of the 2013-14 season, it's time to take stock of 10 rookies who have stood out so far, while keeping an eye on how their recent play has affected their position. Overall, players' preseason work will be the biggest factor here. But any signature moments or flashes of future excellence will count as well.
Let's take stock of the league's 10 best rookies.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 24.0 minutes, 8.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.0 blocks
Dennis Schroder hasn't made it easy to forecast his impact during the preseason. The Atlanta Hawks snagged him at No. 17 overall, and the German point guard promptly became one of the most impressive stars of the Las Vegas Summer League.
But then the 20-year-old struggled a bit during Atlanta's preseason slate. He hit just 1-of-7 from long range and committed five turnovers against the Charlotte Bobcats on Oct. 8, and then went scoreless in 10 ineffective minutes against the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 22.
All the while, he flashed the aggressiveness and defensive tenacity that made him such an intriguing draft pick.
Finally, in the Hawks' last preseason contest, Schroder broke out. In 36 minutes as the team's starting point guard, he scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, dished out four assists and solidified his spot as a future impact player in Atlanta.
There are going to be plenty of hiccups along the way, and playing time won't be easy to come by. But Schroder could climb this list if circumstances provide him with an opportunity to see the court for significant minutes.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 9.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.1 blocks
Michael Carter-Williams hasn't done much to show us that he's got more in his arsenal than what he showed at Syracuse last year.
The lanky point guard shot just 39 percent from the field in his final collegiate season, a limitation that offset his good size and passing instincts. Between his work in summer league and his preseason performance, MCW has merely given observers more of the same.
He shot just 32.8 percent from the floor in seven preseason contests for the Philadelphia 76ers. And despite an accuracy rate of just 29.6 percent from long range, Carter-Williams still attempted nearly four threes per game.
On the bright side, he posted an assist-to-turnover ratio that was just above 3-to-1, per NBA.com, which is nothing to sneeze at for a rookie.
Unfortunately, it seems like we know what kind of player MCW is, and his obvious shooting limitations are going to make it easy for defenses to take advantage of him. The minutes and counting stats will be there this year, but the Sixers point guard might be in for a rough go of things.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 9.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks
Long-range shooting was supposed to be the distinguishing feature of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's game—the reason, in fact, that the spacing-starved Detroit Pistons selected him at No. 8 in the draft.
But during the early stages of preseason play, it was KCP's overall effort level and solid defensive play that set him apart in the eyes of head coach Maurice Cheeks.
Per Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press, Cheeks said of Caldwell-Pope's combined 3-of-20 start during the Pistons' first two preseason games: "His game is built on playing hard and playing defense. He had been making shots for awhile and he had been pretty good at that. Fortunately for him the way he plays, he plays both ends of the floor."
KCP's stock is on the rise because in addition to playing hard on both ends, he has found his stroke.
Per ESPN, Caldwell-Pope made 43.8 percent of his triples over his final five preseason games. If he keeps that up, he'll find himself starting in Detroit and soaring up these rankings.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
The preseason has been a mixed bag for No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett.
On the one hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward was able to recover from shoulder surgery quickly enough to play in eight exhibition contests. On the other, he managed to shoot just 34.8 percent from the field while registering three times as many turnovers as assists, per NBA.com.
Perhaps most concerning was his appearance. Bennett looks like a guy who could stand to spend a little more time on the treadmill.
There's still plenty to like in Bennett's game, though. He's got the athleticism necessary to succeed in the league, and he peppered in a couple of very skillful plays during the preseason—a slick look-away pass here, a deft tip-in there.
But the fact is that there are a number of rookies who have been much more impressive overall. Bennett needs to get to work if he wants to prove the Cavs were right to make him the top pick.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 8.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
Cody Zeller's stock did most of its climbing in July.
Per Drew Packham of NBA.com, the No. 4 overall pick wowed everyone during summer league: "Zeller looked like one of the most polished and NBA-ready players in Las Vegas. In four games, Zeller dominated inside, banging hard every game and controlling the boards to the tune of 9.3 rpg (first among rookies) to go along with 16.3 ppg."
He hasn't been quite that impressive during the preseason, but the athletic big man has still been a solid contributor. It's likely that his overall production will settle someplace between his work in summer league and his preseason statistics.
Unfortunately, the Charlotte Bobcats need him to be much more than a "solid contributor."
As an aside, I think it'd be a fun experiment to get all of the Zeller brothers together, take them into Michael Jordan's office at Bobcats headquarters (assuming he has one) and ask him to pick out which Zeller his team drafted.
Does anybody really think he knows?
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 12.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
You've got to hand it to the New York Knicks: They really know how to find aggressive three-point shooters who can also take the ball to the hole.
Tim Hardaway Jr. fits right into the mold of many of the Knicks' wings, which reduces his overall value to the team but shouldn't count against his excellent performance. Drafted No. 21 overall, Hardaway has played like a lottery pick.
In seven preseason games, the 6'6" guard drilled 40.9 percent of his three-point tries. And no rookie came close to matching his 6.3 long-range attempts per game, per NBA.com.
Yep, he's going to fit right in on the Knicks.
If J.R. Smith decides to check out after inking his new deal or Metta World Peace can't stay healthy, Hardaway could be the man who functions as the most important backup to Iman Shumpert. Based on how he conducted himself during preseason play, that's probably not such a bad thing.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks
It's weird to say this about a guy with a jumper that could be used in an instructional video, but Ben McLemore is still painfully raw.
Forget the stunning straight-up elevation he gets on his perimeter shots that makes him look like a young Michael Finley. And try to put the perfect, effortless release out of your mind for a second. If we exclude those things from McLemore's highlight reel, we're left with a freakish athlete who doesn't have a great idea of what to do with the ball most of the time.
His dribbling is an adventure, his passing is mechanical, and because he's so athletic, it's easy for McLemore to get out of control.
There's a lot that the Sacramento Kings rookie needs to work on, but the immense raw talent and the NBA-ready jumper are both good omens for his future prospects. He ranks fourth for now because at worst, he's a better-than-average spot-up specialist.
He'll need to round out those rough edges for his stock to trend upward.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks
Like Zeller, Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk made his mark over the summer, averaging 18 points and 7.8 rebounds while flashing legitimate three-point range in Orlando. His preseason performance has been solid, with his 52.5 field-goal percentage standing out as a significant achievement.
But he hasn't quite recaptured the magic that showed up during summer league.
Olynyk will play plenty for the Celtics this year, which should give him an outside chance at Rookie of the Year honors. It certainly appears as though he's got skill and polish to stick around in the league for a very long time, but it remains to be seen if he's the kind of cornerstone upon which the Celtics can build.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 7.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks
If you thought Oklahoma City Thunder fans lost their minds when Kendrick Perkins was logging minutes ahead of Nick Collison, just wait for the outcry if Perk plays ahead of rookie Steven Adams.
Granted, there aren't many bigs less deserving of playing time than Perkins, but OKC has an absolute gem in its seven-foot rookie from Pitt. Adams is exceptionally strong, active and aggressive, making him a potentially devastating frontcourt pairing with Serge Ibaka.
He's naturally somewhat raw, but he's got an attitude and an approach that simply can't be taught. Think of him like a young Joakim Noah, minus the passing instincts.
No rookie grabbed more than Adams' eight boards per game in the preseason, and no first-year player who logged as many minutes as the New Zealander came close to his field-goal percentage of 62.2 percent, per NBA.com.
Get in on the ground floor with this guy. He's as strong a buy as there is on this list.
2013-14 Preseason Statistics: 13.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks
Maybe it's a little odd that the guy who most experts have pegged as the league's top rookie has seen his stock actually rise during the preseason, but Victor Oladipo has done nothing to deflate the expectations surrounding his inaugural campaign.
The Indiana product led all rookies in preseason scoring, ranked fourth in assists and played some excellent defense. Few players manage to pull off double-duty as a fantasy favorite and an analytic darling, but Oladipo's game earns him acceptance in both circles.
The transition to handling point guard duties will continue to be bumpy, but there's really no reason the 6'4" rookie can't eventually develop at least as firm a grip on the position as someone like Russell Westbrook.
Thanks to elite athleticism, a killer work ethic and the willingness to do whatever the Orlando Magic ask, Oladipo is head and shoulders above every other rookie listed so far. The No. 1 spot is his to lose.