Biggest NBA Rookie Surprises and Disappointments from 1st Quarter of Season

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 12, 2013

Biggest NBA Rookie Surprises and Disappointments from 1st Quarter of Season

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    Let's be honest—we knew coming in this wasn't a star-studded NBA draft class. 

    However, a few rookies have unexpectedly stood out. We knew Victor Oladipo would be a solid contributor for Orlando, but a couple of others have emerged as prizes in the field. 

    On the other hand, some guys whom we expected production from have failed to provide any. 

    These are the few impact rookies who've either been surprisingly good or simply disappointing. 

Pleasant Surprise: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers, PG

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    I have a feeling we're going to look back one day and wonder how 10 teams in 2013 passed on Michael Carter-Williams.

    Holy smokes. The guy came firing out of the gates, going off for 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven boards in an opening-night win over the defending champion Miami Heat. 

    The transition process has been seamless for Carter-Williams, who appears to glide so effortlessly around and over helpless defenders. His size and playmaking instincts have served him well in running coach Brett Brown's uptempo offense. And he's putting up monster stat lines in the process. 

    He's missed time with foot and knee problems, but in 15 games, he is averaging 17.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.8 boards while leading the NBA in steals with 3.1 per game. 

    He finished third in the country in assists as a sophomore at Syracuse, so we knew about his ability to create. But 17 points a game? He scored more than 17 points only twice in two years in college. The NBA's open floor has given him the space he needs to operate and do his thing as a dynamic offensive weapon.

    The Sixers took a risk when they traded their All-Star Jrue Holiday for draft picks and uncertainty, but it looks like it's going to pay off big time. Carter-Williams is on track to follow in Damian Lillard's footsteps as the NBA's next breakout point guard.

Disappointment: Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers, SF/PF

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    He just couldn't look any worse.

    It's been a disastrous start for the 2013 No. 1 pick in the draft. After a quarter of the season, Anthony Bennett has just three more made field goals than turnovers. 

    He's shooting 23.7 percent from the floor and has missed 18 of his first 22 three-point attempts. 

    If you ask me, the Cavaliers have been trying to develop him at the wrong position. They've had him playing power forward, despite his low-percentage post game and height disadvantage inside.

    Now, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, coach Mike Brown might finally be ready to move him to the 3.  

    Still, Bennett has missed a ton of open jumpers and doesn't appear to be in tip-top shape. No matter which way you slice it, he's been a huge disappointment early on.

    I don't want to write him off just a quarter into his rookie year, but something will need to change for Bennett to revive his NBA career. 

Pleasant Surprise: Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks, SG

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    Good for Tim Hardaway Jr., who has earned his way into a crowded Knicks rotation. And he deserves it. He has been one of the more reliable weapons for New York off the bench this season. 

    He's like a human offensive fireball, with the ability to catch-and-shoot from 27 feet and knock down shots with comfort. In roughly 17 minutes a game, Hardaway is averaging eight points on 46.5 percent shooting and a scorching 41.8 percent from downtown.

    The kid can flat-out shoot the rock. Consistency will ultimately determine his long-term value in the league, but there's no doubting what his strengths are.

    A high-flier in the open floor and flamethrower from behind the arc, Hardaway should make a nice living in this league as a source of energy and instant offense. 

Disappointment: Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats, PF

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    Maybe it was just me, but I had higher hopes for Cody Zeller coming in. 

    It made sense—he's a skilled, terrific athlete with 7'0'' size and two years of Big Ten experience. 

    But through a quarter of the season, he is shooting a dreadful 38 percent. He's struggling to finish at the rim or convert in the mid-range, two areas where he showed promise at Indiana. 

    He hasn't been much better on the defensive end, either. Zeller has blocked nine shots all year and can't seem to avoid personal fouls.  

    It usually takes big men a little longer to adjust, and Zeller happens to be transitioning from the 5 to the 4. 

    But with Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver and Bismack Biyombo as his Charlotte teammates, Zeller had a chance to emerge as a 25-minute-per-game rookie. He just hasn't proved he's worth that much time. 

    Zeller is averaging 5.3 points and 4.2 boards in 17.8 minutes a night.

Pleasant Surprise: Trey Burke, Utah Jazz, PG

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    Trey Burke scared us a little after his preseason injury and miserable summer league, where he shot just 24 percent from the floor and 1-of-19 from downtown. 

    But through 12 regular-season games with the Jazz, he's looked pretty darn good. 

    "He’s got guts, man," teammate Marvin Williams said of Burke to Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune. "It’s kind of exciting to watch him play and watch him grow each night. He’s not afraid of big moments and we need that from him."

    That's the reputation Burke has entered the league with. 

    The most impressive aspects about his game are his poise and control. He values the basketball. Burke's phenomenal college assist-to-turnover ratio has translated to the pros—he's only coughing it up 1.3 times in 28 minutes a game. 

    Offensively, he's been on point in the mid-range, which isn't anything new. That pull-up jumper is going to be his moneymaker. 

    Burke is also shooting 37 percent from three and averaging 14 points and six assists in the month of December. 

    Expectations naturally lowered after his rocky start, but it looks like Burke has finally ascended above the rough clouds and turbulence. So far, so good for Utah's franchise rookie point guard. 

Disappointment: Alex Len, Phoenix Suns, C

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    Alex Len was supposed to be all good and ready to start the year. We were made to believe that the ankle surgery he had—the one with the four-to-six-month timetable—was supposed to be an isolated incident, which he'd recover from in time for his rookie season. 

    But we're now almost midway through December, and Len has more personal fouls than points.

    The Suns even traded away their starting center, leaving the position wide open for Len to snatch up. But ankle soreness has kept him out of every game but four. We don't know when he'll return, if he'll return or how he'll return. 

    Looking back, you wonder if Phoenix wished it had gone with Steven Adams instead, another 7-footer that the team was working out before the draft. Given the history of big men and lower-body injuries, the Suns might have reason to worry about Len's long-term outlook. 

    Regardless of what your expectations were for him coming in, his injuries woes and lackluster preseason performance have led to early disappointment in Phoenix. 

Pleasant Surprise: Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder, C

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    Steven Adams seemed like an obvious D-League stash following the draft. He even appeared too raw for the college level. I'll never forget one game against Cincinnati where Adams played 24 minutes and finished without taking a shot. 

    He's an awesome athlete with great strength and size, and apparently, that's all he needed to crack Oklahoma City's rotation. 

    He is only getting 16 minutes per game, but he's cleaning the glass and protecting the rim effectively in his limited time. You at least get the feeling that he has an idea of what he's trying to do out there. 

    He picks up too many fouls and doesn't have a post move to go to, but at just 20 years old, he's shown enough promise early on. Adams is going to be a nice player once he adds a little offense to his game. 

Disappointment: Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics, C

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    What a tease.

    Kelly Olynyk averaged 18 points on 58 percent shooting in summer league, giving the impression he'd be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year. 

    But quite frankly, he has been awfully disappointing. He's only shooting 39 percent, which is a bad number for anybody—much less a skilled 7-footer.

    The fear with Olynyk has always been his inability to play above the rim. He's a below-average athlete who relies on difficult shot-making and touch, as opposed to easy buckets generated from explosive physical tools. 

    He is also struggling to shoot the ball and is a complete nonfactor defensively.

    He's averaging 7.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22.6 minutes of action. Considering the Celtics traded up to get him in the draft, I think it's fair to proclaim Olynyk an early disappointment a quarter through the season.