Predicting Rookie Season Numbers for Top 10 NBA Draft Picks of 2014
Many NBA fans are bursting with excitement over the star-studded potential of the top 2014 NBA draft picks. Several of these lottery prospects have high ceilings and could be electrifying in their primes.
But what about right now? How will they fare as rookies?
As talented as they are, these top 10 draftees won't waltz into the league and take it over. Several are one-and-done youngsters coming off their freshman year of college, so they'll have to fight just to see 20-plus minutes per night and flirt with double-digit scoring. However, others will enjoy featured roles.
Earlier this summer, we dished out predictions immediately following the draft. But now after summer league and free agency, we have a better idea of how each rookie fits in their club.
*Does not include No. 3 pick Joel Embiid, who is recovering from ankle surgery.
10. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic PG
After a strong summer league display in Orlando, Magic newcomer Elfrid Payton looks poised to lead all rookies in assists.
He's got the creativity to break down opponents and the vision to consistently find teammates. During his stint running Orlando's tune-up squad, he dealt 7.0 assists per game, including three different outings with eight or more assists.
The Louisiana-Lafayette product will do much more than simply distribute the ball this year. Payton has the tools necessary to fill up the hoop, even if his jumper is still being fine-tuned. He possesses superb scoring instincts, and he also owns size and athleticism to finish among the trees in the paint.
"He can slash and get to the rim pretty easily," his Magic teammate Tobias Harris told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.
If that's not enough for Magic fans, Payton will also stand out as one of the best defensive rookies in 2014-15. Whether he's guarding the ball or prowling on the weak side, he finds a way to make disruptive plays with his length and quickness. Look for him to snag a slew of steals throughout the year.
2014-15 Stats: 10.8 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.0 SPG, 43% FG, 29% 3FG
9. Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets PF
Temper your expectations for Charlotte Hornets newbie Noah Vonleh, at least for the first year or two.
He's an exciting long-term prospect, but right now he'll defer to Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller when it comes to minutes and touches. Vonleh's experience and polish are miles behind those two.
Hornets skipper Steve Clifford didn't hesitate to spell out Vonleh's place in the team's hierarchy, per Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:
If you’re going to take younger guys, you’ve got to give them time to grow and put them in situations where they can grow at the pace that works for them. We have to have Noah’s best interest and progress in mind. At the same time, he’s affected by our results on the floor. We’re trying to win. It’s not fair to throw him out there night after night against starters. That’s also not fair to Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, etc.
When the 6'9" prodigy does get opportunities, Hornets fans can count on him to rebound effectively and score over opponents via putbacks and simple post moves. His rebounding rate should be pretty high in relation to his modest playing time, and his shooting percentage should be decent because he won't be forcing as many ill-advised shots as he did during summer league (he shot 28 percent in Vegas).
He won't always get a free pass, but for now he's viewed as a developmental asset.
2014-15 Stats: 7.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 48% FG, 29% 3FG
8. Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings SG
Nik Stauskas' playing time and specific statistics depend largely on whether he earns the starting shooting guard spot, but either way, the Sacramento Kings should give him 20-plus minutes.
And either way, he's going to shoot the rock effectively.
The 6'6" Canadian sharpshooter sank 44 percent of his triples in both his freshman and sophomore seasons at Michigan, and he hit a cool 48 percent during Las Vegas Summer League. He's confident and silky-smooth coming around screens, off the dribble and spotting up.
Don't hold your hopes high for exorbitant overall scoring numbers, though. He'll take a backseat to DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, and he won't drive through contact too frequently.
Although Boogie and Gay will dominate the scoring department, Stauskas will help them get many of those buckets, so he'll record a few assists every night. His ball-handling skills and court awareness will make the Kings offense more efficient.
2014-15 Stats: 10.4 PPG, 2.3 APG, 1.9 RPG, 45% FG, 41% 3FG
7. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers PF
It looks like the Los Angeles Lakers will gradually work Julius Randle into the system, as Carlos Boozer sits ahead of him on the depth chart. The one-and-done Kentucky star will have to earn his minutes and prove he can consistently produce.
Don't worry, Lakers fans. Coach Byron Scott isn't going to stash the youngster on the bench all year; Randle is going to get some decent playing time, because he's a worthwhile investment. B/R's Ben Leibowitz notes "he's the future of the Lakers franchise and needs meaningful minutes to develop."
If he plays between 20 and 25 minutes off the bench for most of the year, you can bet he'll snag six or seven boards per night and help bring a competitive edge back to L.A.'s frontcourt.
Offensively, Randle won't be a featured weapon, but his ability to attack from several angles will help him transition to the NBA.
His rookie-season production will be just a taste of things to come.
2014-15 Stats: 10.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 45% FG
6. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics G
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart is better equipped to handle a substantial workload than most of his lottery peers.
The best proof of his preparedness might not be from Oklahoma State or the Orlando Summer League. Smart recently showed that he can challenge top-tier NBA players during his stint on USA Basketball's Select Team. Numerous eyewitnesses raved about his performance, including Bobby Gonzalez of Sheridan Hoops (via Boston.com):
There was a stretch where both Marcus Smart and Victor Oladipo of the Select Team flat-out took it to Wizards teammates John Wall and Bradley Beal...While there is a point guard battle going on with the national team, the Select Team had young point guards who also did some damage today, further stressing that the future of the point position in the NBA is in good hands with Marcus Smart and Trey Burke.
Smart will likely come off the bench while veterans Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley start, but he's still going to carve out a key role in Beantown. If his outside jumper continues to improve (as it did during USA training), he'll be a legitimate combo guard who can produce at both backcourt positions.
Solid as they might be, his scoring and passing stats probably won't be his most striking numbers. We're anticipating some high-octane defense from Smart, as he will squeak past Elfrid Payton to take the rookie steals crown.
2014-15 Stats: 12.6 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.1 SPG, 40% FG, 31% 3FG
5. Dante Exum, Utah Jazz G
At Las Vegas Summer League, Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum shot 31 percent from the field and 17 percent from three-land en route to just 7.2 points per game. Intermittently, the Australian rookie made some terrific plays, but on the whole, he struggled to find his niche.
The worst thing for us to do at this juncture is overreact and assume he'll flounder once he encounters the big boys in October.
Summer was just a small sample size, and the 6'6" playmaker was still learning how to collaborate with his teammates and attack NBA-level opponents. Stephen Babb of B/R reminded us that Utah will give him a chance to settle in:
Exum just never got into much of a shooting rhythm. ... He should get pretty consistent playing time in Utah. The organization is early into the rebuilding process and didn't hesitate to extend minutes to point guard Trey Burke last season. Once Exum figures out how to coexist with Burke, he should settle in and produce.
When he's playing the 2 spot alongside Burke, he'll probably be the third or fourth scoring option at best. So he'll have driving lanes to make plays and take high-percentage shots in the lane. And when he's the primary ball-handler, he will get creative and almost always generate some sort of opportunity for himself or a comrade.
2014-15 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 4.5 APG, 4.4 RPG, 43% FG, 31% 3FG
4. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic PF
The Orlando Magic are in a rebuilding phase, but there are a few skilled forwards who are more qualified for minutes than Aaron Gordon.
Power forward Channing Frye brings veteran savvy and sweet outside shooting, while small forwards Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless are both inside-out threats. The point is Gordon won't be gift-wrapped playing time just because he's a top-five pick.
That being said, he will see frequent opportunities due to his court awareness, rebounding and NBA-ready athleticism. Gordon should play somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes per contest.
Unless his shooting dramatically improves, we won't see colossal scoring numbers in year one. Gordon was 0-of-10 from behind the arc and made just 48 percent of his free throws at summer league.
One area that often gets overlooked is his passing, as Gordon sees the floor and connects with teammates quite deftly for a forward. Look for him to hit shooters like Harris and Victor Oladipo, and also keep an eye out for timely dump-offs to Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson.
2014-15 Stats: 9.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 51% FG
2. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks F
We're expecting more from Jabari Parker than any other 2014 draft pick, and his solid-but-unspectacular showing in Las Vegas doesn't change that.
Throughout summer league, the Milwaukee Bucks rookie forced plays and committed turnovers, as he looked less than explosive. But he also sprinkled in a handful of magnificent scoring plays that showcased his skill set and befuddled opposing defenders. In his final game in Vegas, he posted 20 points and 15 boards, flexing his ability to produce as a featured thoroughbred.
Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver admired Parker's exhibition exploits, even if the robust stats weren't always there:
The 6'8" forward played both inside and out, faced up from outside, found soft spots for mid-range looks and did a little work from the post. Parker rebounded well for much of the week, including games of 15 and 11 boards. He also made some nice reads from the elbow, even though he didn’t pile up assists.
No one is expecting Parker to make plays defensively, as he'll be just fighting to maintain good position. Meanwhile, he'll be leading Milwaukee (and all rookies) offensively.
2014-15 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 43% FG, 35% 3FG
1. Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers SG/SF
This is a tricky one, because it looks like Andrew Wiggins may not be a Cleveland Cavalier for long.
During a radio interview with ESPN New York, Brian Windhorst reported that the Cavs and Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed in principle to a trade that would send Kevin Love to Cleveland and Wiggins (among others) to Minny. The swap could be finalized as soon as Aug. 23, which is when the recently signed Wiggins would be eligible to be traded.
With that in mind, we're rolling out stat predictions for two scenarios: (1) if the trade indeed occurs, and (2) if the trade somehow falls through.
There are a lot of moving parts, because we're not entirely sure who exactly will be traded from each team outside of Love and Wiggins. So remember, these predictions are educated estimates.
Wiggins would presumably be utilized more in Minnesota, but he could still have a key role on a Cavs playoff squad. In either situation, he won't be a ball-dominant wing but more of an opportunistic slasher. Don't sleep on his defensive impact, as he'll be among the top rookies in the steals department.
In MIN: 15.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 44% FG, 33% 3FG
In CLE: 11.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 45% FG, 33% 3FG
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA draft for Bleacher Report.