Early 2014-15 NBA Rookie Award Predictions

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterJuly 2, 2014

Early 2014-15 NBA Rookie Award Predictions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The NBA doesn't hand out many awards for the rookies, so we decided to make our own. 

    Outside of Rookie of the Year, I've created nine more categories with predictions for each. The criteria for each award is based on projected stats, minutes and the impact the rookies are expected to make. 

    To clarify two awards, I expect the Rebounding Champ to lead all rookies in rebounds per game, and the Assist Maestro to lead all rookies in assists per game.

NBA Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images

    Some guys enter the league with the physical tools and athleticism, like Andrew Wiggins. Others, like Doug McDermott, come in with the game and fundamentals. 

    Jabari Parker brings both to Milwaukee, where he'll be the early favorite for 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year. 

    Listed at 6'8", 235 pounds, Parker has the size to play through contact down low, where he's quicker and more elusive than most power forwards. 

    And he's exceptionally advanced offensively, when taking into account his handle, shot-creating and shot-making ability. 

    From step-backs and pull-ups on the perimeter to post-ups and finishes down low, Parker is a threat to score from just about every spot on the floor. We've even seen him grab defensive rebounds and take them coast to coast for slams. 

    The Bucks just don't have any guys in the frontcourt who can go get a bucket on their own. Given his strong one-on-one game, Parker should get plenty of touches and scoring opportunities right out of the gates as a featured member in the offense.

    He'll struggle at the defensive end, but not to the point where it clouds his production as a scorer and rebounder.

    I'm thinking Parker averages somewhere around 18 points and eight boards a game in his rookie year with the Bucks.

Rebounding Champ: Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    As long as Julius Randle has health and minutes, the rebounds should follow. 

    Though still early in free agency, Randle should be locked and loaded for a major rookie role, whether the Lakers add established talent or not. 

    He averaged 10.4 rebounds as a freshman and the fourth-most offensive boards in the country. 

    At 6'9", 250 pounds with a 7'0" wingspan, there's really not much to nitpick at from a physical standpoint. And his motor and nose for the ball are both proven. 

    Randle's comfort level with contact is what seals the deal for him as a rebounder. He's a physical presence on the glass—a guy who's not afraid to push, shove and bang for position.

    Randle actually uses the glass for scoring opportunities, having converted 56 putbacks last season, per Hoop-Math.

    Offensively, he's got a lot of fine-tuning to do, but rebounding translates pretty well from one level to the next. 

    I'm going to say he'll beat out Jabari Parker in rebounding by a small margin with around eight to 8.5 per game. 

Assist Maestro: Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    With the Orlando Magic waiving Jameer Nelson, the rock is officially Elfrid Payton's. 

    He's probably going to get heavy minutes as the team's primary ball-handler, as he's just a lot more natural of a point guard than Victor Oladipo.

    Payton averaged 5.9 assists last year without many weapons or targets around him. And only two players in the country took more free throws (302; 8.6 per game), which reflects Payton's remarkable ability to get into the lane. 

    He could be a dangerous setup man in Orlando this year, especially with high-fliers like Oladipo and Aaron Gordon slashing off the ball. 

    With Marcus Smart playing behind Rajon Rondo, Tyler Ennis playing behind Goran Dragic and Dante Exum playing alongside Trey Burke, Payton's biggest challenger for the Assist Maestro award might be Shabazz Napier in Miami.

    But somehow, I just don't see the Heat letting a rookie dominate the ball in the backcourt. 

    I've got Payton leading all rookies in assists with six per game. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Though his offensive upside is huge, Andrew Wiggins' most valuable contribution is likely to come at the defensive end as a rookie. 

    At 6'8" with a 7'0" wingspan and sensational lateral quickness, Wiggins should have the ability to lock up guards and wings on the perimeter.

    He's the type of defender you stick on the opposing team's top scorer.

    Don't judge Wiggins' defensive impact on the box scores. It's not as much about steals or blocks as it is about contesting and harassing. 

    Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon has terrific defensive potential as well, but he's going to end up going against some bigger power forwards. 

    Wiggins will be going head-to-head with smaller 2s and 3s, where he should have a routine size and quickness advantage.

Long-Range Sniper: Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Having shot at least 40 percent from downtown in each of his four years at Creighton, Doug McDermott will light it up as a rookie.

    His numbers are really off the charts—from 2010 to 2014, McDermott hit 274 three-pointers on just 598 attempts (45.8 percent).

    He's got a quick release, NBA range and, most importantly, a terrific understanding of how to get himself open. And he's not just limited to spot-up shooting—McDermott can knock them down off the dribble, curls and pick-and-pops. 

    He should also get minutes right away in Chicago, where the Bulls really need some reliable shot-making in the middle of the lineup. 

    The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh noted that McDermott was the guy the team wanted in the draft, writing, "The Bulls couldn't be happier to make McDermott feel at home. They really got the player they wanted all along, one they targeted for years."

    I'll peg McDermott as a 39 percent three-point shooter in 2014-15 and the rookie leader in makes from behind the arc. Nik Stauskas could come close, but there won't be as many shots for him in Sacramento's lineup.

Surprise Impact Rookie: P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    Though he lasted until No. 26 overall, I've got my money on P.J. Hairston emerging as a surprise impact performer for the Charlotte Hornets. 

    Having played two years at North Carolina and one in the D-League, Hairston should be ready to roll for his rookie season. And at 6'6", 230 pounds, he's got a tremendous build to match the athleticism. 

    Hairston also has the talent and confidence to catch fire as a scorer. He went for at least 40 points twice and 30 points four times with the Texas Legends this past season. 

    And he's got a lethal jumper and physical attack game that should translate right away in a complementary role. 

    Behind Gerald Henderson, a career 30 percent shooter from downtown, there isn't much depth in the backcourt or on the wing. And with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist having only made three three-pointers in two seasons, the Hornets could really use Hairston's shooting stroke in the rotation. 

    I've got Hairston averaging roughly eight to 10 points on around two three-pointers per game off the bench.

Playoff Impact Rookie: Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Shabazz Napier might not pack the upside of some of the other point guard prospects, but given his four-year track record at Connecticut, along with his skills and confidence with the ball, the Miami Heat should be able to count on him from November to June.

    “We had to go through 40 or 50 players to get ourselves up to speed with draft night,” coach Erik Spoelstra told Michael Sivo of Sportzedge.com, “but from the very beginning of the process, Shabazz’s name was at the top of the list.”

    He's got two national titles on his resume, having won one as a role player and one as a star. And he'll be 23 years old by Day 1 of the season. 

    Napier has the mental toughness and experience to play pressure playoff minutes. And he fills an obvious need in the lineup as a ball-handler, playmaker and shooter. 

    Coming in, Napier's biggest weakness, other than defense, has been decision making and shot selection. But in a loaded lineup where he's no longer the top offensive option, I wouldn't worry about it as much. 

    We'll be talking about Napier as a big pickup for a Heat team that needs cheap yet productive role players.

Second-Round Impact Rookie: Cleanthony Early, New York Knicks

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Cleanthony Early could be in line for major rookie minutes despite being passed on 33 times in the 2014 draft. Just look at the New York Knicks roster, which has no real small forward or wing behind Carmelo Anthony, who might not even be there next year. 

    And the Knicks don't exactly have free-agent spending money to add any frontcourt depth. Early is going to get playing time whether he deserves it or not. 

    But at 23 years old with 6'7" size and a 40" max vertical, Early should be ready for the physical transition. He actually finished with 30 and-1s last season, and he scored 1.13 points per possession in the post, which ranked first among the top 2014 small forward prospects in the class, per DraftExpress. 

    He's got the ability to play through contact and score down low—promising qualities for an incoming rookie. And Early made 1.8 three-pointers per game at a 37.3 percent clip as a senior.

    Assuming his improved jumper carries over, Early has the athleticism to match the inside-outside skill set built for complementary scoring.

    My money is on Early entering the Knicks rotation early in the season.

Highlight King: Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    You can go ahead and write Aaron Gordon down for an above-the-rim highlight a night, thanks to his devastating blend of size, hops and coordination. 

    At 6'9", he's got a 39" max vertical and quick, light feet. He shot nearly 73 percent at the rim last season, per Hoop-Math. He's got that burst to finish over defenders and the dexterity to acrobatically score around them.

    Gordon should pose as a dangerous weapon off cuts and lobs and an automatic one on the break.

    As long as the minutes are there, the highlight plays should come with them. 

Flop of the Year: Dante Exum, Utah Jazz

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    Dante Exum is going to be a phenomenal NBA player one day. But not in 2015. 

    For starters, he's 18 years old, and by the time the season starts, it will be close to a year since he last played competitively. 

    And that competition he faced? It's just a little different in Australia. 

    Exum is also going to be sharing a backcourt with a ball-dominant point guard—something he's never had to do. How will he perform without the ball?

    Plus, Exum's shooting stroke will likely need a few years before it's a routine threat to the defense. And at 196 pounds, adjusting to the NBA's physical interior could take some time. 

    Exum has every tool a point guard could really ask for, but at this stage I'm just not sure they're sharp enough to make an immediate impact.