NBA Rookies to Watch Closely Entering 2013-14 Season
There are just some guys who deserve a little extra attention.
Whether they've shown preseason promise or come with interesting backstories, some of the rookies in the NBA this season should be considered must-follows this upcoming year.
Unfortunately, four of the top-10 picks in the draft, Otto Porter Jr., Nerlens Noel, Trey Burke and C.J. McCollum, will be limited or held out completely due to injury to start the season. In Noel's case, he'll probably be out the whole year.
But there's a handful of first-round picks in position to permanently turn some heads.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
Not many had Anthony Bennett as the top pick in the draft entering the 2012-13 college season.
But here he is today, entering his NBA rookie season after going No. 1 overall in June. The Cavaliers fell in love with his upside, which is driven by his combination of explosiveness and offensive versatility.
Though undersized for a power forward, his true position in the pros may not matter. He has the open-floor speed to run the floor and the outside touch to stretch it, along with a developing in-between game consisting of a diverse face-up scoring arsenal.
Bennett is also active on the glass, and with extended minutes to build rhythm, he should put up a number of double-doubles this season.
Defense is likely to be his biggest rookie hurdle, as he lacks the lateral quickness to contain 3s and the size to match up with 4s.
Bennett will also join a crowded frontcourt for a team looking to make a run at the playoffs, so consistency could hold him back in the Rookie of the Year race.
But there's a good chance he'll drop your jaw at some point this year. Bennett could be a highlight machine and legitimate offensive weapon in his first season with the Cavs.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
You should probably keep your eyes on Victor Oladipo this season considering he's the clear-cut favorite for Rookie of the Year.
The gradual progress he's made since 2010 has been scary.
Thought of as a borderline second-round flier as a sophomore at Indiana, Oladipo has emerged as the most NBA-ready rookie of the 2013 class after the Magic went ahead and snagged him second overall.
Since the draft, Oladipo has torn up the summer league and averaged 13.8 points, 5.6 boards and 4.6 assists in the preseason.
The Magic have made an effort so far to get the ball in his hands and keep him active in the offense. Regardless of what position they play him at, Oladipo's ability to impact a game in a variety of different ways is what drives his appeal as a prospect.
A terrific defender, sensational athlete and much-improved offensive playmaker, Oladipo seems poised for a successful transition. Even if Orlando struggles as a team, the rookie from Indiana should make them a fun team to watch.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Cody Zeller was the first true big man taken off the draft board in the 2013. And he sure fell into a nice situation.
With the Bobcats acquiring Al Jefferson, and minimal competition elsewhere on the depth chart, Zeller is lined up for significant minutes at a position that suits him.
A top-notch athlete at 7'0'', his blend of advantageous physical attributes and refined offensive skills makes him a tough cover at multiple spots on the floor. Zeller runs the floor like a guard, has exceptional hands in the paint and sports beautiful touch in the short-to-mid-range.
With Jefferson manning the paint, Zeller should log minutes at the 4, where his foot speed and size could pose a challenge to opposing forwards.
Zeller was dominant in summer league and has shown promise during preseason. There's no reason he can't finish the year with a dozen double-doubles and a First Team All-Rookie honor.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
After dealing Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards, the Suns have officially entered Alex Len into on-the-job training.
Unfortunately, Len might be a few years from realistically being ready for everyday minutes. His preseason rhythm and production have been shaky following two foot surgeries in the offseason that kept him out of basketball activities.
However, it isn't about 2013-14 when it comes to evaluating Len as a prospect. The Suns are in tank mode and want their prized rookie to squeak out as much experience as possible in the process.
He's got crazy size at 7'1'', 255 pounds, along with a developing offensive game and defensive potential.
Look for Len to slowly get more comfortable as the year progresses and become a bigger threat in the post as his touches increase. He's got a towering ceiling, just not one he's likely to reach any time soon.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Mark Ben McLemore down as one of the few rookies in position to make an immediate NBA impact.
He had some All-Star moments in summer league, taking over at times as a perimeter scorer. McLemore's lights-out stroke contributes to his ability to put up points in bunches, something the Kings will hope he taps into as a complement to DeMarcus Cousins.
With a 42'' max vertical, McLemore's high-flying athleticism leads to a number of easy dunks and open-floor buckets. It also increases his appeal as a defender, one of the underrated parts of his game.
His picturesque jumper and physical tools make him NBA-ready to do some damage. We're likely to see some inconsistency here, but expect McLemore to sporadically drop a few 25-point bombs throughout the year.
If he can manage the cold streaks, he'll be the favorite to lead his class in scoring. I've got McLemore as the runner-up this season for Rookie of the Year.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Within three years, Michael Carter-Williams will have gone from freshman benchwarmer to starting Final-Four point guard to the floor general of an NBA franchise.
Unfortunately for Carter-Williams, the franchise he was drafted to has chosen to start from scratch. He'll enter his rookie season without many veterans or talent to play off, which could make for a bumpy roller-coaster transition to the pros.
As a prospect, Carter-Williams' appeal is easy to pick up on. He has the size and athleticism of a 2-guard, yet maintains the pass-first instincts of a point. You can almost write him down in Sharpie as the eventual leader in rookie assists.
However, Carter-Williams' jumper is a serious work in progress. And until it starts threatening defenses on a regular basis, he could have trouble with consistency and efficiency as a playmaker.
Still, I wouldn't be quick to judge Carter-Williams based on the season he has this year. Expect a lot of misses and turnovers, but keep an eye on his ability to create scoring opportunities—it's why the Sixers felt comfortable trading their previous All-Star point guard.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Steven Adams might be this year's biggest surprise rookie in the class, given how far away he seemed as a freshman at Pittsburgh.
With minimal offensive skills, Adams' impact and contributions are powered strictly by his elite physical tools. He stands 7'0'' with a gigantic 7'4'' wingspan and a strong, developed upper body. Adams is also an insane athlete for his size, which is guaranteed to result in routine easy buckets and a high field-goal percentage.
He might not have much shake-and-bake in the post or a handle to put it on the floor, but with an established rotation around him in Oklahoma City, Adams won't need any fancy offensive moves. The Thunder will simplify things by playing to his strengths. He runs the floor, finishes inside, protects the rim and cleans the glass—and that's all they'll ask of him in limited minutes.
Adams didn't project as a guy who'd make an immediate impact, but when you consider the limitations of Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet, Oklahoma City's coaching staff might call on the rookie right away.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Kelly Olynyk spent most of his junior year just toying with the West Coast Conference. He was awfully impressive in summer league and has showcased his offensive talent in preseason.
He's really advanced in terms of his scoring versatility. Olynyk can get buckets in ways that most 7-footers never dream of.
With terrific instincts and a polished skill set, Olynyk has moves to go to and others to counter with. He can score with his back to the basket or facing the rim, using timing and footwork to separate instead of power and athleticism.
Though limited defensively and as a presence on the glass, Olynyk projects as an offensive specialist. He should have the chance to put up numbers right away in a Celtics lineup lacking weapons and depth.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak might have to be No. 1 on your list of rookies to closely watch.
Giannis Antetokounmpo earned everyone's attention this past year in Greece by showcasing one of the most unique blends of versatility you'll find. And he's done the same in limited NBA preseason action.
At 6'9'' with a ridiculous 7'3'' wingspan and oven mitts for hands, Antetokounmpo has the handle of a point guard, the athleticism of a wing and the size of a power forward.
Though still raw, he has an impressive skill set in place consisting of an attack game off the dribble and a mid-range scoring arsenal.
Defensively, his length allows him to disrupt plays he's in no position to disrupt. He can reach into other areas and block shots or interfere with passing lanes.
He projects as a mismatch on both sides of the ball if Antetokounmpo can put this package all together.
Had he not been playing in Greece's second division overseas, there's a good chance 14 teams wouldn't have passed in the draft. Antetokounmpo might be the most interesting rookie in the class, and a must-watch for anyone given his extraordinary two-way services.
Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta Hawks
Following a great year in Germany and a standout summer on the showcase circuit, Dennis Schroeder is on the verge of becoming one of the NBA's next breakout point guards.
Regardless of the numbers he's put up in summer league and preseason, Schroeder just looks the part. His blinding quickness and savvy pass-first instincts make him a natural offensive playmaker. Comfortable breaking down the defense or facilitating the pick-and-roll, Schroeder has a knack for creating easy buckets for teammates.
He's also shown promise on his pull-up jumper, a weapon that could really hurt defenses if he's able to activate it consistently.
The big question is how Schroeder's current and future role will be affected by the presence of Jeff Teague, the obvious starter in Atlanta. While Schroeder isn't in position to challenge Teague for minutes, pairing them together on the floor could be an option when the offense gets quiet.
Watch out for Schroeder this year, even if his role is limited. He'll be a player whose value will continuously rise as he logs more reps and builds more confidence.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
Tim Hardaway Jr.'s role in Michigan's run to the championship game increased his credibility as an NBA prospect.
He fell to the Knicks at No. 24, who, despite possessing plenty of backcourt depth, went with the top player on their draft board.
Hardaway has been offensively potent during his first preseason action, leading all rookies with 44 three-pointers through just seven games. He's got serious range without much of a conscience.
Hardaway's role for the Knicks is clear—spread the floor, catch and shoot and finish in the open floor.
With a number of ball-dominant scorers in the rotation, Hardaway's shot-making ability should give the Knicks a nice complement off the bench.
Minutes might be tight, but he's looked too good in preseason to not give him a look. Hardaway will get his chance at some point in the year.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert was arguably the top international prospect heading into the 2012-13 season, with many in awe of his size, athleticism and unprecedented 7'9'' wingspan.
His arms are so long and disruptive it's like letting a forward play defense with a tennis racquet.
Gobert has shown what that length can do in summer league and preseason action, where he's put on a few shot-blocking clinics as a defensive deterrent.
Offensively, he's coordinated enough to finish around the rim and convert in the low post. Utah won't be running many plays for Gobert, but his ability to eat space should result in put-backs, tip-ins and above-the-rim buckets inside.
He's probably a few years away from completely understanding the game, as well as threatening defenses as a post scorer, but Gobert's absurd physical tools could give the Jazz an immediate secret weapon.
Archie Goodwin, Phoenix Suns
Archie Goodwin was likely to have a role as a rookie even before Phoenix traded Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee.
Now that there's minimal backcourt depth, Goodwin figures to be a key piece for the Suns in both the short- and long-term.
He's looked good at various points of summer league and preseason, and though he's had a few hiccups, it's important to remember that Goodwin was the youngest American drafted in 2013.
With excellent size and athleticism, Goodwin is an aggressive offensive player with no fear of contact or missing a shot. He's relentless in his pursuit of the rim, which he attacks with hostility whenever a lane opens up.
Goodwin has work to do in terms of converting on the perimeter, but shooting consistency and range should be considered more of a project.
He entered his freshman season at Kentucky as a potential top-10 pick but struggled with his role, decision-making and efficiency. This was ultimately good news for the Suns, who got themselves a high-upside combo guard at the end of Round 1.
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