Rewriting NBA Rookie Scouting Reports
It's amazing how many college strengths have become weaknesses in the pros. As the level of competition changes, so have the scouting reports.
And for the most part, the reports have been disappointing. Some of these prospects have not performed as expected from the get-go, while others have smacked into the rookie wall.
Ahead, we've re-evaluated 10 rookies who: A) were highly regarded entering the draft; and B) have provided a large-enough sample size on which to judge them. We've updated their reports in terms of strengths and weaknesses and included a link to their college scouting reports from 2012-13 as well.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
Well, this is awkward.
Nothing has worked so far for Anthony Bennett, who's on pace to have one of the worst rookie seasons of any No. 1 overall pick.
If there are any positives to take away, it's that Bennett is missing shots he should be capable of hitting. Defenses are giving him open jumpers—jumpers we've seen him hit before.
Hopefully, this has just been a mental thing. Bennett does have the shot-making ability to find a rhythm, like he did in preseason when he scored 14 points in a fourth quarter against Orlando.
He doesn't have a position out there. Bennett isn't big enough to play inside, nor does he have the post game of a true 4. He's just 9-of-24 (37 percent) at the rim, a mind-boggling number when you consider the player the Cavs projected him to be.
He hasn't been any better on the perimeter. He's shooting 17 percent from downtown and nearly 35 percent in the mid-range.
Bennett has struggled to create good looks for himself, and he isn't capitalizing on the looks that are created for him.
Defensively, he never projected as an asset, and nothing has changed as of today.
Bennett is headed down a dangerous road that usually ends in tweener-ville. Right now, he's missing everything and has shown no indication that this might just be a cold streak. It's going to be tough for him to getting going in this crowded frontcourt, too.
The D-League seems like the best option at this point, just to keep his confidence intact.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Victor Oladipo's scouting report might look a little different from a year ago. He's playing on the ball more than he ever has and is even initiating Orlando's offense at times.
He's improved his handle, and though it's not equivalent to that of a natural starting point guard, it gets him where he needs to go.
We knew he'd be a weapon in the open floor. And he's been quick and decisive hitting lanes on the way to the rim. Oladipo's offensive strengths have revolved around his attack game, and that's no different in the pros.
As a shooter, he's shown promise and has looked pretty good knocking down mid-range shots off the dribble.
Oladipo has actually struggled finishing around the rim (48 percent, below league average), an area where he thrived at Indiana.
While he's improved off the dribble, I'm not sure he always knows what to do with it. Oladipo is averaging 3.3 turnovers to 3.3 assists per game, as his dribble and shot selection have been questionable.
He's only shooting 39.8 percent from the floor, a far cry from the 59.9 percent he shot last year. And while he's proven capable of knocking down jumpers, he's only shooting 28 percent from downtown.
Creating and recognizing scoring opportunities will be his challenge moving forward, as he hasn't found a rhythm on offense just yet.
Oladipo still has a lot to learn in terms of team defense, but he'll improve here over time.
Oladipo hasn't been great; however, he's still learning his role out there. He's averaging 12.9 points, 4.3 boards and 3.3 assists, and though he's made plenty of rookie mistakes, he's still a promising long-term prospect. He just has to tighten up his game and go through some trial and error.
I'd buy stock in Oladipo, just not as the next Dwyane Wade.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Cody Zeller has flashed his offensive talent in doses, though there haven't been many. He has a soft touch around the block, and with space to operate, he's capable of creating his own shot in the post.
Zeller has also shown he can step outside and knock down 18- to 20-footers. He's actually 11-of-26 shooting from the top of the key.
Though not a dominant presence, Zeller has held his own on the glass, grabbing 4.2 boards in 18 minutes a game.
Despite 7-foot size and excellent athleticism, he's only shooting 40 percent from the floor. He's experiencing some of the same problems as he experienced in college: Zeller is bothered by physicality and contact, and it's kept him from getting many easy buckets in the paint, where he's shooting below league average at just 47 percent.
Zeller hasn't been very consistent as a pick-and-pop option, making only 27 percent of his jumpers in the mid-range.
Defensively, he's been a non-factor (15 blocks in 29 games), and it doesn't seem likely that will change down the road.
It hasn't been a good start for Zeller, and if I were Charlotte, I'd be worried. At times, it doesn't look like he belongs out there. He's struggling to create many looks for himself, and he's not converting the ones created for him as a shooter. Eventually, he's going to have to start making shots away from the rim, because I'm pretty sure he's not built to play center at the NBA level.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Ben McLemore has flashed his sensational open-floor athleticism on a number of occasions, mostly in transition or off backdoor cuts in the half court.
He has an effortless 42-inch max vertical jump, along with the tendency to make the highlight play whenever the opportunity presents itself.
As a scorer, he has beautiful shooting mechanics and a stroke that should only improve over time. He's making roughly 36 percent of his three-point attempts, a good number, but one that could be higher given his shot-making ability.
Defensively, he shows good effort and projects favorably in this department over time. He was an excellent defender at Kansas, and there's no reason that shouldn't become part of his label moving forward.
McLemore has just been too inconsistent. He's only shooting 29 percent in the mid-range, and he tends to settle for too many jumpers.
Credit that to his difficulty getting to the rack. He can separate for jumpers, but he struggles blowing by defenders off the dribble (only 1.6 free-throw attempts per game).
McLemore is going to have to improve his shot selection and ultimately find easier avenues for half-court points. Otherwise, he'll find himself in the same category as a guy like J.R. Smith—an erratic, hit-or-miss, low-percentage scorer.
He's averaging 9.1 points a game, shooting a decent percentage from downtown and playing admirable defense. But becoming a more multidimensional offensive threat might help with the consistency issues he's bound to face as a perimeter-oriented scorer.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gives Detroit some appealing size and athleticism at the off-guard spot. He has defensive potential and at least looks the part on both sides of the ball.
Though his jumper isn't falling, he's still a threat to knock down shots whenever he has room to release.
And if there's a lane, he's capable of hitting it and knocking down runners or shots on the move before hitting traffic at the rim.
Though his outside stroke was considered his bread and butter, Caldwell-Pope is hitting just 31.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
He's also only making 28 percent of his mid-range jumpers, a scary sign.
From three, Caldwell-Pope only shot 30 percent as a freshman at Georgia and 37 percent (on seven attempts per game) as a sophomore, so it's not as if he's been lighting it from deep his whole life. Maybe the Pistons misevaluated his perimeter game?
It's important because Caldwell-Pope isn't much of a threat to create off the dribble. Almost all of his shots have been on the difficult side, as his awful 37 percent shooting suggests.
He's been a big disappointment early on; Caldwell-Pope really hasn't been able to connect from any spot on the floor. If it turns out his jumper isn't the real deal, he could have trouble making an impact.
Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
After breaking his finger in preseason, Trey Burke is slowly building steam. His comfort level and confidence seem to be improving by the week.
We're seeing all of the things we loved about him in college. Burke ranks No. 6 in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio; he's been under control and facilitating within the flow of the offense.
As always, he's been tough to defend on ball screens, thanks to point guard vision and a deadly pull-up jumper. Burke is also shooting 36 percent from downtown—he doesn't seem to be bothered by the extended NBA arc.
Without that ability to explode above the rim, Burke has struggled finishing over length and traffic inside. He's shooting just 45 percent in the paint, illustrating the difficulty he has picking up easy, uncontested buckets.
From the field, Burke is shooting just 39 percent, and he has put up a couple of duds so far on the year (three points against Miami, two points against Atlanta). He still has to learn to differentiate a quality scoring opportunity from a tough one, as his shot selection has been questionable at times.
Burke looks like he belongs out there, despite the criticism he took at the combine for his disappointing athletic test results.
He's already gone for 30 points once and 20 four times, and he clearly has NBA-caliber skills at the point guard position. Consistency will ultimately be his toughest challenge playing against bigger, stronger and more athletic backcourts.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
The transition has been fairly seamless for Michael Carter-Williams, who's putting up monster numbers in a breakout rookie season (17.6 points, 7.8 assists, 5.5 boards).
He's a mismatch out there at the point guard position. Carter-Williams is dynamic in the open floor and crafty in the half court, where he gets into the lane and makes plays around the defense.
Thanks to his 6'6" size and offensive instincts, he's shooting 50 percent around the rim, a good number for a young point guard.
Carter-Williams also leads all rookies in assists per game. He's doing a nice job of running pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, as well as locating his shooters via the drive-and-dish.
Though it's not a great number, Carter-Williams is shooting 31.5 percent from three, which is actually better than what he shot as a sophomore at Syracuse.
Defensively, he's been overwhelming. Carter-Williams is averaging three steals a game, getting his hands in driving and passing lanes and forcing turnovers with his length and quickness.
He gets a little too carried away sometimes, and his decision-making can suffer. Carter-Williams is also vulnerable to losing the ball, as he dribbles it a little too high for comfort, given the guards he's facing are much lower to the ground. He's averaging 3.5 turnovers a game, a high number even for a rookie.
Carter-Williams obviously has to improve as a shooter, which was his No. 1 challenge coming in. He's only knocking down 31 percent of his mid-range jumpers, roughly the same percentage he's shooting from downtown.
Nobody is offering more value than Carter-Williams is as the No. 11 pick in the draft. He has the makeup and tools to emerge as a future All-Star point guard, thanks to his unparalleled combination of physical tools and instincts for the position. Adding weapons around him should ultimately multiply the danger he presents as a playmaker.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
After dominating summer league, Kelly Olynyk has struggled since the start of the regular season, though he's had his moments here and there.
Despite lacking athleticism and explosiveness, he's actually shooting a respectable 54 percent around the rim, where he has a natural feel for it.
With his back to the rim, Olynyk has flashed some nice moves in the post, and he can face up and attack if he has room to do so.
It's also worth noting he's made 22 of 23 free throws, which might give hope to those who are wondering if he can actually make outside shots.
Olynyk really can't hit from outside this year, where he's made just four shots in the mid-range and six from downtown all season.
A jumper was supposed to be part of the package, but that hasn't been the case in the early going.
He's only shooting 38 percent from the floor after tearing up the West Coast Conference a year ago, when he finished his junior year shooting at a scorching 62.9 percent.
Olynyk is a non-factor defensively, which really hurts his value as a 7-footer. He's only blocked five shots all year, which goes to show how little lift he gets off the ground.
For a big man who lacks athleticism, the transition from mid-major ball to the NBA is bound to be tough. He has skills, but it's been difficult for him to tap into them against more physically imposing front lines. Either way, Olynyk is going to have to hit some jumpers if he ever wants to justify being traded up for in the draft.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I'm not sure this is a strength or just a general observation, but the Greek Freak has flashed more upside than arguably any rookie in the class.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has a scary blend of size, athleticism, length and ball skills. At 6'9", he can handle the rock or fly in the open floor, which is where he's at his best.
He's one of those athletes capable of making plays that few are capable of making. Thanks to his length and hops, Antetokounmpo is finishing 59 percent of his shots at the rim, an impressive number for a kid who spent last season playing in tiny gyms in Greece's second division.
"When you go on the court for the first time and play, you realize, OK, you can play in this league," Antetokounmpo told Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated. "I walked in the arena, it was so big, I don't remember being in so big arena (sic)."
Antetokounmpo is also shooting 33 percent from downtown, and though it's nothing special, it's a sign of promise.
Defensively, once he learns the game, he has endless potential. Antetokounmpo offers a unique versatility on both sides of the ball that's tough to find.
Antetokounmpo still has to figure out how to score in the half court, as he's often seen standing around the perimeter with nothing to do. He can beat his man with a line drive to the rack in space, but that's not a position in which he often finds himself.
He'll have to develop an in-between game off the dribble and make more use of the mid-range, where he's only taken 10 shots all season.
Clearly just learning the game, Antetokounmpo's weaknesses are mostly a result of being young and extra raw.
Based on upside alone, you could argue Antetokounmpo would be a top-three pick in a 2013 re-draft. He has monstrous potential, and though he's years from reaching it, I'd want him on my team when he does.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
Tim Hardaway Jr. has been a pleasant surprise, averaging almost nine points a game as one of the Knicks' most trusted reserves.
He's shooting the ball extremely well, with just about all of his makes coming off the catch. He's hitting 40 percent of his three-point attempts on 1.4 makes per game, and he has shown unlimited range and picturesque mechanics.
Hardaway also has the ability to heat up and score points in bunches. He's caught fire a number of times off the bench, and he's establishing the reputation for himself as an instant-offense threat.
Hardaway has also been extremely effective in transition, where his high-flying athleticism has resulted in big-time slams and pretty finishes on the move.
Hardaway has been a lot more effective when he doesn't put it on the floor. Rarely has he been able to score off the dribble, where he forces himself into tough, off-balance shots he probably shouldn't be taking.
He's only taken 26 free throws in 27 games. Unless he's on the break, chances are Hardaway isn't going to get many points in the half-court.
Defense has been his biggest weakness, as he's still learning the importance of things like closing out and rotating. He's gotten burned a couple of times and doesn't always know where his help is.
Hardaway has taken his two biggest strengths—shooting and athleticism—and used them to contribute on a nightly basis. Without the ability to create, his upside could be limited, but Hardaway should last a long time in this league as an offensive perimeter specialist.
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