Which 2014 NBA Draft Picks Are Most Likely to Start Right Away?

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Which 2014 NBA Draft Picks Are Most Likely to Start Right Away?
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Although the 2014 NBA draft class is stocked with talented youngsters, only a select few rookies will find themselves in their club's starting lineup this season.

The majority of upper-tier prospects consist of freshmen who are blessed with noticeable potential, but many aren't ready for such a weighty role during their first campaign. And sometimes, even the best-prepared draftees don't start because there are better-qualified veterans ahead of them.

That being said, the 2014 crop has a small handful of players who are projected to start or will be knocking on the door this year.

Who exactly will be shedding their warm-up gear at tipoff and joining the vets at center court? What can we expect from them?

 

The Near-Locks 

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks, F

Jack Arent/Getty Images

Sure, Jabari Parker's starting spot isn't 100 percent etched in stone, as the Milwaukee Bucks have a bunch of young forwards to juggle, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Khris Middleton and Johnny O'Bryant. But this franchise has been waiting for a prospect like Jabari Parker for years. 

He's got the skills and moxie to be a featured weapon on the offensive end immediately, and Bucks head coach Jason Kidd will waste no time utilizing his skills.

"Jabari is the kind of player who can play well in any system," Bucks Director of Scouting Billy McKinney told Alex Boeder of Bucks.com.

He's so useful because Kidd can employ him at the 3 or the 4. That's why he's a good bet to start the majority of the season for Milwaukee, even if Kidd tinkers with the lineup a bit early on.

His summer league got off to a rocky start, and it looks like he needs to condition his body some more, but he finished with a flurry. In his Las Vegas finale, he showed why he was labeled the most NBA-ready freshman last year: Parker dropped 20 points and 15 rebounds on the Golden State Warriors as he drilled jumpers and drove to the rim:

Bucks fans can expect plenty more of that inside-out damage from Parker throughout his rookie year. Kidd simply won't be able to justify keeping him on the bench.

 

Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers, SG/SF

Although the Cleveland Cavaliers' starting lineup isn't solidified (and a trade for Kevin Love would blow things up), we're projecting Canadian prodigy Andrew Wiggins to join the party at the 2 spot.

Sure, Cavs head coach David Blatt could start Dion Waiters at shooting guard and use Wiggins' explosiveness with the second unit. But nodding to the rookie may be a better fit for the starters and reserves. Wiggins could capitalize on the creativity of Kyrie Irving and LeBron James while Waiters gets his fair share of touches off the bench.

Kansas' ballyhooed draftee may not be as polished as guys like Parker or Doug McDermott, but there's a reason he's the central asset in the Love trade talks. Wiggins has more than just potential; he's got tangible talent as a scorer, and his defensive ceiling and overall explosiveness are incalculable.

Much like Parker, Wiggins saved his best summer league performance for last. He relentlessly attacked the basket against the Houston Rockets, getting to the free-throw line 20 times. Who wouldn't want someone like that to help set the tone at the beginning of games?

 

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic, PG

As part of the Orlando Magic's rebuilding process, head coach Jacque Vaughn will give Elfrid Payton on-the-job training at point guard.

The club is in no hurry to win a championship this spring, so the Louisiana-Lafayette product will get an opportunity to run the offense, make plays (and mistakes) and get after it on the defensive side. 

Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Let's not depict Payton solely as a lucky youngster falling into a great situation, though. The Magic picked him to be the point guard of the future because he's gifted on both ends of the court.

He exhibited those skills during summer league play, posting a couple of near-triple-doubles and an 18-point, eight-assist outing to cap the week. Kels Dayton of Sheridan Hoops believes Payton's recent exploits will soon translate to the big stage:

He shook defenders with a killer crossover move, broke away for a couple of effortlessly athletic dunks and harassed the living hell out of whoever brought the ball upcourt for the Rockets. ... With his long, 6'4" frame and boundless energy, the 20-year-old Payton is going to be a pest on the defensive end for the Magic.

The Sun Belt Conference is an unlikely source for an NBA rookie starter, but Payton is certainly qualified to take on the challenge.

 

The Dark Horses

These rooks may not be consensus projected starters, but they could quickly earn the role or even surprise us by starting right away.

 

Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls, SF

One of the only rookies with a decent shot at starting for a title contender, Doug McDermott looks to stretch the floor and streamline the Chicago Bulls offense.

Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell are solid wings, but the 6'8" newcomer from Creighton is good enough to stand above them. Bleacher Report National NBA Featured Columnist Adam Fromal makes the case for McDermott:

Chances are, Tom Thibodeau recognizes the need for outside shooting, allowing the defense to be stretched out and torn apart by Derrick Rose's assaults on the rim and the high-low game of the starting bigs. Dunleavy would be a fantastic choice, but McDermott is an even better one.

After four years of dominating the college game, Mr. McBuckets is as NBA-ready as it gets. Not only could his perimeter sniping be on the same level as Dunleavy's, but he should be a more well-rounded scorer right away.

He averaged 18 points per game in Las Vegas and dropped as many as 31 in one contest, but more importantly he looked comfortable facing NBA-caliber speed on both ends.

There's a reason he was All-NBA Summer League First Team and selected to the 2014 Team USA training camp roster. His footwork, fundamentals and instincts translate to any level, including an upper-echelon NBA franchise.

 

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics, G

Combo guard Marcus Smart won't be in the starting-lineup discussion early in the season. He'll sit behind point guard Rajon Rondo and shooting guard Avery Bradley on the depth chart.

However, if he's convincing enough during training camp or November, he could rapidly win a promotion. He had an up-and-down summer league, but he showed several glimpses of his two-way impact:

Smart's game offensively isn't jaw-dropping (and his 29.4 percent shooting in summer league indicates room for improvement), but he's dynamic because he can attack physically, score or distribute the ball. He could turn out to be more versatile than Bradley and leapfrog him, or he could gain a starting spot if the Celtics trade Rondo in the near future.

Either way, Smart is ready to start NBA games, so don't be shocked if he joins the tipoff party sooner rather than later.

 

Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings, SG

Expect Nik Stauskas to challenge Ben McLemore for the shooting guard spot in Sacramento and possibly even take it from him before the season starts.

McLemore has a year of NBA experience under his belt, but the 6'6" rookie out of Michigan has a lot to offer.

Stauskas has a great shooting touch and is a better ball-handler and passer than McLemore, so he could help Darren Collison facilitate the offense and make some plays creatively. 

McLemore may have scored more points per game than Stauskas in summer league, but the newbie outclassed the sophomore in three-point shooting (47.8 percent to 30.4 percent), assists (2.0 to 1.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio. Neither player is a great defender at this point, but McLemore has the edge in that department.

This should be a great training camp battle, one Stauskas has a good chance to win. If he clicks with Sacramento's thoroughbreds like Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, it could be the final push he needs to gain the starting spot.

 

Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat, PG

Napier is a dark horse and an underdog candidate, for sure. In fact, there's no way he'll start for the Miami Heat if he shot the way he did during summer league (sub-30 percent in both Orlando and Las Vegas).

We included him because, alongside McDermott, he's one of the only rookies poised to compete for a starting spot on a playoff-caliber team.

And thankfully, he won't be asked to take crazy shots and carry the Heat during the regular season. If he can put up respectable three-point numbers while creating for teammates and playing hard in all phases, he may force head coach Erik Spoelstra's hand early.

He enjoyed some superb stretches as a passer and defender during summer league. In modest playing time, he dished four or more assists six different times, and he also registered eight multi-steal games.

Napier is an undersized (6'1") floor general who hasn't yet mastered the art of scoring efficiency. But his basketball DNA and collegiate experience distance him from most other rookies.

 

Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA draft for Bleacher Report.

 

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