8 NBA Rookie-Player Pairings We Can't Wait to See During 2014-15 Season
The supremely talented 2014-15 NBA rookie class is exciting enough on its own. But the thought of top prospects joining forces with some of the league's top superstars and rising players evokes a whole new level of exhilaration.
Several rookie-player pairings are bursting with talent and will form dangerous inside-out combos or lethal backcourts. They range from playoff contenders to bottom-feeders, and in each case they're must-see attractions.
Barring a trade, this year's No. 1 pick will be battling alongside a certain No. 1 selection from 2003. You may have heard of them. Or you might know of a Los Angeles tandem looking to put the purple and gold back on the map.
That's just a small sample. The eight rookie-player duos featured here should already have NBA fans salivating.
They may not top our "must-watch" list, but don't forget about these fascinating duos:
Gordon Hayward and Dante Exum, Utah Jazz: We saw a little of Exum and Trey Burke during summer league, and now we want to see the Australian alongside Utah's best player. Hayward might not have as much sizzle as most stars, but his new teammate has enough electricity to power half the state of Utah.
And where Exum lacks in perimeter polish, Hayward picks up the slack. While we don't want to give up on the Exum-Trey Burke attack, we're interested to see how Exum and Hayward complement one another when Burke is getting a breather.
Goran Dragic and T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns: Warren won't crack the starting lineup, but he'll be a handy asset for Dragic in the open floor. The Slovenian playmaker will draw much of the opponent's attention, while Warren will craftily put himself in optimal scoring position.
Al Jefferson and Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets: In a couple years, this combo may be overwhelming. For now, it's a master artist teaching his pupil how to survive in the NBA. At the very least, these two will rebound the heck out of the ball and wear down foes.
Ty Lawson and Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets: Consider them the not-so-poor-man's version of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Lawson is a speedster capable of frustrating entire defensive units, and Harris will capitalize by hitting jumpers and slashing into the lane. Harris may not get a ton of playing time, but I'm sure we'll see this pair run together frequently.
Kevin Love and Zach LaVine: We kept these two in the honorable mentions because Love is halfway out the door, but mostly because LaVine will see sparing minutes. When they do play together, however, they should supply an awesome mix of fundamentals and head-turning flare.
DeMarcus Cousins and Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings
Two very different players, two very different people.
But it's going to make for an appealing brand of hoops, and hopefully for Sacramento Kings fans, it'll be a big step in the right direction.
DeMarcus Cousins is a formidable post presence just entering the prime of his career, and Michigan product Nik Stauskas is the multidimensional guard Sacto needs to enhance its offense. Together, they'll give coach Mike Malone a thrilling inside-out combo.
Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro talked to B/R Senior Writer Jared Zwerling about how Cousins and Stauskas will force opposing defenses to make tough decisions. He said:
With DeMarcus [Cousins] in the middle, [opponents are] going to have to guard Nik. So if a team wants to send two or three guys at DeMarcus with Nik on the court, that's going to be hard to do. Or if they come out and guard Nik, it gives DeMarcus more room to play, as well as Rudy [Gay], because Rudy can get a little more space to play as well. You can't focus on two guys if we have a shooter like Nik out there.
In 2013-14, Sacramento was dead-last in the NBA in assists, 28th in three-point field goals and 28th in three-point percentage. Stauskas will help Darren Collison and Rudy Gay improve those marks, and in the process, he'll present more space for Cousins to operate in. In addition, pick-and-rolls between the rookie and big fella should be a blast.
They're not going to instantly catapult the Kings into Western Conference contention, but they give the club a substantial foundation with which to work.
Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
We don't know how much longer Rajon Rondo will be in Boston, and his duties somewhat overlap with Marcus Smart. But they should be able to share the floor, which will make for an incredibly intriguing backcourt.
When ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg asked Celtics general manager Danny Ainge if Smart and Rondo can play together, Ainge immediately pointed out Smart's tools and adaptability:
Absolutely. No question...He’s a very versatile player. He can play off the ball. He can handle the ball. With his length and his size, he can probably play against a lot of small forwards—6'3", long wingspan, 230 pounds. He’s a very versatile player. Easily those guys can play together, and I think they would really thrive playing together...
Rondo isn't as explosive or durable as he was a few years ago, but he's still a master distributor, having dished 10.6 dimes per 36 minutes in 2013-14.
His handle, court vision and passing accuracy are still elite. Couple those setup skills with Smart's ability to cut fluidly and score physically, and the Celtics will have some magnificent opportunities—especially because Smart can intermittently take the reins and initiate the show.
Foes will need to be sharp on the other end, too. Together, Smart and Rondo bring a ton of brains, speed and strength to Boston's first line of defense.
This duo may have some flaws, most notably shooting efficiency. And Smart will have to wait his turn behind Avery Bradley. But Celtics fans will watch eagerly when these two run together.
Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
A little over a year ago, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams were drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the same lottery.
Fast-forward to today: MCW is an incoming sophomore with Rookie of the Year honors under his belt, while Noel is still a newbie, yet to play in an NBA game.
The good news is that the 6'11" center's knee looks healed, and he flew all over the court at the Orlando Summer League. He's going to give Philly aggressive energy on both ends, including top-tier rim protection.
As for his former AAU teammate Carter-Williams, the Sixers are trusting the rangy point guard to build on his impressive first season. The 6'6" MCW owns a striking blend of length, fluidity and creativity, which enables him to score and pass amid traffic.
Carter-Williams now has a huge, mobile asset in Noel to run with in the open floor. The two youngsters will attack relentlessly, and they'll also work to upgrade Philly's defense from the league's basement.
Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers fans have to be excited about Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle playing together.
The 6'9" locomotive from Kentucky is already a force to be reckoned with, and soon he'll be fueled by one of the game's greatest talents. Kobe will teach him the nuances of the NBA level and push Randle to new limits.
The 2014-15 Lakers may be short on depth and talent, and Randle may not even be in the starting lineup. But it will be extremely entertaining to watch Bryant and the rookie do battle together. Kobe is coming off injury and wants to show that he has plenty left in the tank, and Randle wants to prove his ankle is fine—and that he's not your average No. 7 pick.
"I think I can learn a lot from him and his mindset on a day to day basis," Randle said of Bryant after he was drafted, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Again, this upcoming campaign may be a struggle for the Lakers on the whole. But it won't be without promising moments and exciting sequences. With Bryant's elite skills on the perimeter and Randle's blend of speed and power, L.A. fans have plenty to look forward to.
Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
Few things in basketball are more captivating than an electrifying backcourt, and that's exactly what the Orlando Magic are hoping for in Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton.
The duo of 6'4" guards has a surplus of athleticism, and they should complement each other quite well. Oladipo will serve as shooting guard, but he'll be able to create from the wing and make his teammates around him better. Meanwhile, Payton will run the point and distribute, and at the same time, he possesses great scoring instincts.
That's a compelling, promising outlook on the offensive end, but their defensive potential is even more intriguing.
"They're going to lock down opposing guards," said Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.
Both have terrific instincts, massive wingspans and outstanding agility. In 2013-14, the Magic surrendered 5.7 fewer points per 100 possessions while Oladipo was on the floor (per 82games.com), while Payton snagged 2.5 steals per 40 minutes over three seasons in college.
The top squads in the Southeast Division won't be seriously challenged by Orlando, but the new-look backcourt will put everyone on notice for the future.
Derrick Rose and Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
Tom Thibodeau's Chicago Bulls spent the majority of 2013-14 grinding out wins defensively and struggling to put up enough points to maintain their playoff positioning. It's great to see Joakim Noah and Co. play with such intensity, but 93.7 points per game isn't going to cut it moving forward.
Enter 6'8" rookie sniper Doug McDermott, and re-enter Derrick Rose, the MVP-turned-bystander.
These two, along with newcomer Pau Gasol, will inject life back into Chi-town's offense. Rose's explosiveness and creativity will open up bushels of opportunities for the role players, including McDermott. And simultaneously, Dougie McBuckets' presence will stretch the floor and allow Rose to attack the rim.
The newbie has spent some time playing with Rose during USA Basketball training camp, and he talked to CSNChicago.com's Aggrey Sam about the star's dynamic impact, saying:
He’s one of the best players here and he’s definitely showed that the last couple days, so it’s great to see obviously. It makes it a lot easier because he draws so much attention. He’s an unselfish guy to play with and he’s going to find you. He makes some really good decisions with the ball.
McDermott will efficiently reap the benefits, but let's remember he's more than just a spot-up shooter. He can attack close-outs, operate in the mid-post and dish the rock. Once he settles into his role in the rotation, he and Rose will give opponents fits.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
While Giannis Antetokounmpo isn't really an NBA star in terms of production or pedigree, he's a growing global sensation and on an express train to stardom in the near future. The Greek Freak is a 6'11" human Swiss army knife, boasting the ability to pass, defend, shoot, and literally go coast-to-coast in three dribbles.
"Not only is he already an NBA starter, but his work this summer (including 17 PPG in Las Vegas)—paired with what he did as a rookie—has left little doubt that he's becoming one of the Association's most versatile stars," said B/R National NBA Featured Columnist Adam Fromal.
Now we get to watch him play alongside gifted offensive performer Jabari Parker, who was the first freshman in Duke history to lead the Blue Devils in scoring and rebounding.
Parker's transition to the NBA won't come without obstacles, but he's ready to carry a heavy workload. The rookie's inside-out scoring repertoire gives the Bucks a much-needed featured weapon; it also means Antetokounmpo can make plays within the flow of the offense, and he won't need to force anything.
Even though Milwaukee didn't make any sweeping changes via trades or free agency, there will be a new buzz at the Bradley Center this fall. The Greek Freak is fresh off a robust summer league display, and he's joined by one of the most polished one-and-done prospects of this era.
LeBron James and Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
If you need an explanation as to why this duo is appealing, you must be brand new to the sport of basketball.
In all seriousness, this pair is ridiculously exciting. As long as Andrew Wiggins doesn't get traded before the season, these two will pose colossal matchup problems for opponents every night.
LeBron James changed the landscape of the Eastern Conference by returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he also altered the complexion of Wiggins' rookie season. James will take some pressure off the youngster and mentor him, and at the same time, they'll present a fearsome attack for new coach David Blatt.
"I think it's one of the best things that could happen, to have the opportunity to play with a guy who's experienced," Blatt told Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel. "It will help him develop quicker and I think and hope it makes his job a little bit easier."
In the open floor, the prodigy and the King will overwhelm opponents as rangy slashers and explosive scorers. On the defensive side, they will be equally disastrous: The duo sports a combined 14-foot wingspan and elite lateral quickness and instincts.
Kyrie Irving suddenly has heavy artillery to work with.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.