5 NBA Rookies Who Will Develop the Fastest
We're not talking about the best prospects or the guys with the most potential. These are the prospects who are going to come into the league and start immediately growing and maturing as players.
Some of it has to do with a player's particular skill set and fit with the team that drafted him. For others, it has to do with the minutes that will be available—the more, the better for these young rookies, who need the early reps and experience.
These are the guys who should catch on early and ultimately start making moves up toward their NBA ceilings.
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
While many might consider Jabari Parker the most NBA-ready, it's Andrew Wiggins who's going to take more steps toward his ceiling over the next few seasons.
The length, size and speed of the pro game should have nothing on Wiggins, who, at 6'8", will immediately enter the league as one of its premier athletes on the wing.
And we've already seen him make significant progress from his first day at Kansas. He's expanded his shot creativity, particularly away from the rim, where he's executed pretty step-back and pull-up jumpers with sharp, decisive footwork.
Now, it's just a matter of repetition and boosting his consistency as a shot-maker.
Whether he's in Cleveland, where LeBron James will make the game easier for him, or in Minnesota, where he'd see plenty of touches and little pressure, expect Wiggins' development to start moving right along.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
In Boston, Marcus Smart should get the best of both worlds in terms of on- and off-the-job training.
On the job, he'll see immediate minutes as a backup point guard behind Rajon Rondo, as well as some minutes alongside him at the 2, where his versatility and defense come into play.
Off the job, he'll have one of the brightest veteran point guards and young coaches to develop under.
Coach Brad Stevens made some comments regarding Smart's immediate outlook and development to Boston.com's Brian Robb:
Marcus is another guy I was thrilled that he was there at six because he’s physically ready to play and he competes every single minute of every single day. That will do nothing but help your team, regardless of what position he’s playing at. I expect him to play some off the ball and expect him to play some with the ball, but he’s a young guy. He’s going to be playing with a guy there [in Rondo] who has been in the league for a long time and can help him learn about it. I think it will be great for both of them.
Smart ultimately needs to improve his decision-making, which will be easier to do in Boston, where he won't have an entire team to carry like he did at Oklahoma State. And he needs to work on that jumper, but having hit 87 three-pointers in two years in college, it's not broken—it just requires more minutes, reps and higher-percentage looks to improve his shooting consistency.
At 220 pounds with a 6'9" wingspan, Smart has the physical tools to step right in and hold his own, and given his strengths as a passer and defender, Stevens should have a reason to play him immediately.
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
With Jameer Nelson off to Dallas, Elfrid Payton will get the rock in Orlando, where he'll likely emerge as the Magic's starting point guard from day one.
The on-the-job training will ultimately help speed up Payton's development, and at 6'4" with some terrific athleticism and long arms, the physical transition should go smoothly.
As Louisiana-Lafayette's primary playmaker, Payton was relied on heavily to score in college, which he did, having averaged 19.2 points a game his junior year. But now, with guys like Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris in the lineup, Payton can focus on his duties as a setup man while letting his individual scoring opportunities come to him.
Even if he struggles early on, the minutes will be there for Payton, given his excellent defensive tools and the team's limited expectations. And the more quickly he makes his mistakes, the more quickly he should learn from them.
Hopefully, that jumper naturally improves with the more reps he gets.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
I'm willing to bet Doug McDermott catches on quickly in Chicago, where he's in an ideal environment to grow and ultimately maximize his talent.
Among Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, the Bulls have a dynamic playmaker and two of the best passing big men in the league. And these guys will make the game easier for McDermott, whose lack of athleticism would have otherwise made it tough to create his own shot.
McDermott won't be featured the way he was at Creighton, but he'll still be able to play to his strengths as a shooter off spot-ups, curls and flashes. Nobody at the college level was better at positioning himself off the ball for open looks and then ultimately executing with this type of lights-out consistency.
We're talking about an extremely bright basketball mind with the sharpest skill set of any rookie in the class. McDermott lacks that All-Star upside, but he's got the chance to become one of the better floor-spacing, complementary shot-makers and scorers (Mike Miller, Ryan Anderson). And in Chicago, he could probably get there fairly soon.
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
Even with Gordon Hayward back, there should be minutes available for Rodney Hood, who's entering the NBA with strengths that should translate right away.
The Jazz could use him out on the floor simply to space it as a shooter. At 6'8", he's got a beautiful lefty stroke that should carry him throughout his pro career.
But there's more to Hood's game than just shooting. He's got the ability to put it on the floor, stop-and-pop or knock down a runner on the move.
It's an area of his repertoire that needs polish, but with a jumper and the physical tools to hold down the position as a rookie, Hood will have ample opportunity to fine-tune his in-between game off the dribble.