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2014-15 NBA Rookies Who Face Biggest Learning Curve

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterAugust 4, 2014

2014-15 NBA Rookies Who Face Biggest Learning Curve

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Every NBA rookie is looking at a different learning curve, with some guys a little more prepared than others for the college-to-pro transition.

    For the international prospects, the transition is always a little bit trickier.

    Some of the following prospects will be adjusting to a new role and position. A couple others are likely to get tripped up by the size and speed of the NBA game.

    And for the most part, we're looking at teenagers. Their bodies just aren't mature enough to hold up early on.

    These are the rookies who'll need the most time to develop before being ready to make an impact.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    At this point, Aaron Gordon is entering the league without an offensive position. His superhero athleticism and instincts should translate to defensive versatility, which will keep him on the floor, but offensively he lacks the perimeter skills of a 3 or the post game of a 4.

    Most of his production will come off catch-and-score opportunities—alley-oops, finishes off dump passes, putbacks, the occasional spot-up jumper. Once in a while, if a hole opens up, Gordon can put it on the floor for a dribble or two and slash to the hoop. These are plays once again driven by his elite athletic ability.

    But his off-the-dribble game is limited, as are his back-to-the-basket and stretch games. Gordon isn't a guy you can feed the ball to and expect to create a shot against a set defense. And he's coming off a summer league in which he missed all 10 of his three-point attempts.

    It's not a knock on his potential—Gordon doesn't turn 19 years old until September.

    "Once he figures out what he's doing out there, Gordon has a chance to be a hell of a player in this league," an Eastern Conference executive told ESPN.com's Michael Wallace.

    And he's got plenty of time to expand and polish up his offensive skills. But that's ultimately what it might take: plenty of time.

Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    If his Las Vegas Summer League performance was any indication of his NBA-ready timetable, it could be a while before Noah Vonleh provides the Charlotte Hornets with consistent offensive production.

    He shot a dismal 28.4 percent through seven games. CBS Sports' Matt Moore went as far as to say that Vonleh was "miserable from the floor."

    You have to remember that Vonleh, who doesn't turn 19 years old until August 24, was only used in 21.4 percent of Indiana's possessions as a freshman, per Sports-Reference.com. He doesn't exactly have a lot of reps under his belt.

    And though he's got an idea of what he's doing with regard to shot creativity, his delivery and footwork, whether he's operating in the post or facing the rim, lack fluidity.

    Vonleh has all the tools and skills, from his 6'9" height and 7'4" wingspan to his back-to-the-basket game and touch. But don't count on them all coming together for at least two or three seasons.

James Young, Boston Celtics

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    Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images

    James Young's strengths aren't quite strong enough to hold much value in an NBA lineup—at least not while he's 19 years old (he turns 19 on August 16).

    Though praised for his shot-making ability in college, Young only hit 34.9 percent of his three-point attempts and 40.7 percent of his field goals. He also had the ultimate green light from coach John Calipari, something he's unlikely to get early on in his NBA career.

    As a playmaker, Young is fairly limited off the dribble. He averaged just 1.7 assists in 32.4 minutes a game at Kentucky, which might prevent coach Brad Stevens from slotting Young in a backcourt already featuring Avery Bradley and Marcus Thornton at the 2.

    And as a 3, his 6'6.75" size and 35.5" max vertical are pretty average for the NBA wing.

    Young also struggled defensively much of last year, both in terms of containing penetration and awareness off the ball.

    Missing his entire first Orlando Summer League (mild concussion) won't help jump-start his career either.

    With Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace and Evan Turner all ahead of him on the depth chart, it might be a while before Young even gets his first crack at regular NBA minutes.

Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Having played point guard his sophomore year at UCLA, Kyle Anderson must now adjust to a new position as a San Antonio Spur. And it's going to take a little bit of time.

    Anderson actually played off the ball his freshman year, and quite frankly he wasn't overly impressive.

    Ironically, we're talking about one of the most versatile prospects in this rookie class, when you consider his size, ball-handling skills, passing instincts and shot-making ability. You'd think the transition would go smoothly.

    But with slow feet and minimal lift, it's the speed and athleticism of the pro game that could make things difficult early on.

    Anderson was a mismatch at the college level playing on the ball. Now projected as an NBA 3, he'll be going up against guys his size, only much quicker and more explosive.

    Don't expect much from Anderson early on, especially without a defensive position in San Antonio.

Bruno Caboclo, Toronto Raptors

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    After playing just 13.2 minutes a game in Brazil, Bruno Caboclo could be be looking at a rather steep learning curve while transitioning to the NBA.

    It's easy to see the intrigue tied to his long-term potential—at 6'9" with a mesmerizing 7'7" wingspan, Caboclo has sensational measurements to match some smooth athleticism for a wing.

    But at 18 years old (he turns 19 on September 21), Caboclo's skills are undoubtedly raw.

    Except for the open-lane line drive, he's not elusive enough off the bounce to create with the dribble. Of his 43 shot attempts in Las Vegas Summer League, 26 of them were three-point attempts. And though he's capable as a shooter (he hit eight threes in five games at a 30.8 percent clip), I wouldn't count on much consistency over his first few years.

    He's also listed at just 205 pounds, which at his size is hard to believe.

    But the Raptors took Caboclo as a long-term project—not as a short-term solution.

    His time will come. Just don't expect it to be anytime soon.

Tyler Ennis, Phoenix Suns

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Tyler Ennis should have a much tougher time transitioning to the pros than he did to college, where his passing instincts and IQ helped neutralize his athletic limitations.

    Those intangibles didn't help Ennis much in Las Vegas Summer League, where his lack of quickness, strength and explosiveness were somewhat exposed. He shot just 7-of-32 from the floor (21.9 percent), struggling to separate from his defenders or finish around the rim.

    Without that blazing first step, Ennis could have trouble breaking down defenses and positioning himself for playmaking opportunities early on. It could be a while before he figures out his spots on the floor and preferred routes for offense.

    And at this point, his shooting stroke isn't dangerous enough to consistently threaten a defense from the perimeter.

    Unfortunately, with Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas ahead of him and Eric Bledsoe expected back, who knows when Ennis will get his chance to develop on the job?

    This is a kid who needs reps to adjust to the new size and speed of the pro game. I'm not sure when he'll get them in Phoenix.

Dante Exum, Utah Jazz

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    DAVID BECKER/Associated Press

    In Australia, the ball was Dante Exum's. He was the primary playmaker, whether it was as a scorer from the wing or facilitator at the point.

    Now the ball belongs to Trey Burke—at least for now. Not only will Exum have to adjust to a major shift in competition, but he'll have to do so in a role he's never really played.

    Though he flashed his talent in spurts, Exum struggled for the most part in Las Vegas Summer League, where he shot just 30.8 percent and averaged more turnovers than assists.

    His shooting stroke also needs some work (3-of-18 from downtown in Vegas), which wasn't much of a surprise.

    Having just turned 19 years old with very little on his resume, Exum will need a few years to fine-tune his game and go through the trial-and-error process.

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