Who Will Be the Surprise NBA Rookie of the 2014-15 Class?

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

Who Will Be the Surprise NBA Rookie of the 2014-15 Class?

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    Every NBA rookie who's outside the top tier would love to burst onto the scene and surprise us, but only a small handful have the wherewithal to make it happen.

    In 2013, we saw No. 11 draft pick Michael Carter-Williams make an immediate splash and outshine many rookies who were drafted before him. He caught the whole league off guard and never looked back.

    We might not see a 2014 late-lottery prospect stand head and shoulders above the field like MCW did, but there are some talented draftees waiting to turn heads around the Association. A couple of them might be productive enough to win Rookie of the Year and become a household name.

    We broke down a list of possible astonishing newcomers, ranking them based on who is most likely to take the league by surprise.

    In other words, we're highlighting players who will most significantly exceed expectations based on draft status and statistical impact. These draftees will have a substantial place in their team's rotation and will make noise nationally (rather than undrafted prospects who surprisingly make a roster).

5. Second-Round Surprise: Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers G

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    Drafted: No. 46

    Potential Surprise: 15-plus MPG, 7 PPG, 2 APG


    Of all the second-round picks with a chance to crack their teams' rotation, Jordan Clarkson is the one who could take the league by surprise.

    It's easy to shrug him off as an unimportant asset among other veteran guards on the squad. But there are a few key factors that work in his favor.

    • Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson's contracts expire in 2015. LA will want to invest in its young playmaker, so he'll steal a couple minutes here and there from each of these veterans.
    • The Lakers could lag behind in the standings as the season unfolds, in which case the Clarkson experiment would expand.
    • He's good enough to contribute in the rotation. Clarkson notched 15.8 points per game in summer league, finding buckets on the perimeter and in the paint. He's quick enough to make plays and big enough to compete at both guard spots.

    Moral of the story? The Lakers' cast of guards outside Kobe Bryant is rather underwhelming, and it would serve them well to give Clarkson a chance to prove himself for the future. Don't be surprised if Byron Scott makes room for him in the nightly cycle and when he looks the part of a first-round pick.

    He will enter the season as an under-the-radar player, but he could soon become a beloved member of the Purple and Gold.

4. Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets SG

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    Drafted: No. 19

    Potential Surprise: 12-plus PPG, 3 APG, 2 SPG


    Denver Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris isn't expected to make a ton of noise out of the gate. The No. 19 pick has to compete with Arron Afflalo and Randy Foye for minutes, and that's a challenging task.

    His two-way impact may not affect prized newcomer Afflalo, but he's got enough scoring skills and defensive prowess to earn significant playing time and give Foye more than a test.

    Nate Timmons of DenverStiffs.com knows that Harris is good enough mentally and physically to contribute substantially, writing, "Harris is good enough to earn playing time right away. He will likely push Foye for minutes and could make Foye expendable this season."

    Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly was impressed by Harris' summer league performance on both sides of the ball. He noted the youngster's ability to quickly get his shot off and told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling that "he has instincts that are hard to teach."

    It's unfair to expect Harris to land a featured role and jump to the top of the rookie food chain. However, there's a case for him to be the most pleasantly surprising newbie and swiftly become a highly regarded 2-man.

3. Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz SF

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    Drafted: No. 23

    Potential Surprise: 20 MPG, 10 PPG, 2 APG, 48% FG


    Rodney Hood isn't going to take over the league, but he may be the most impressive non-lottery draftee when the season tips off.

    If Quin Snyder and the Utah Jazz staff know what's good for them, the 6'8" Duke product should be an integral part of the squad's rotation. Conservative estimates would project him getting 15-18 minutes per game, but he could see upward of 20 as an interchangeable swingman.

    With a stronger grasp of playing off the ball and a more polished jump shot, Hood will likely fare better early on than much-ballyhooed prospect Dante Exum. In fact, Hood's ability to drill triples and handle the ball make him a prime suspect to steal an All-Rookie team slot from more prominent draftees.

    "If summer league is an indication, Hood is showing the makings of a guy who can score from everywhere," said Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune.

    With defenses largely occupied by Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke, Hood could come in off the bench and burn some opponents if they're not attentive enough. He's more than comfortable behind the NBA line, as evidenced by hitting seven of 10 three-pointers against the Milwaukee Bucks.

    When he's not busy lighting up the scoreboard from downtown, Hood can put the ball on the deck. He's not an explosive creator, but he does a good job probing the gaps in the defense for shots and passes.

    At No. 23, he may quickly turn into a colossal theft for Utah.

2. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls SF

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    Drafted: No. 11 by DEN (traded to CHI)

    Potential Surprise: 12-14 PPG, 3 APG, ROY finalist or winner


    No one will be shocked if Doug McDermott thrives in his role with the Chicago Bulls in 2014-15.

    But it would be a surprise if he became more than a role player and was a vital weapon for the Eastern Conference contenders. He's still largely viewed as a complementary piece who will primarily be a catch-and-shoot option.

    That might not be entirely false, but there's a chance he'll be much more. For one, he could be a starter alongside unselfish teammates like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. B/R Chicago Bulls guru Kelly Scaletta notes that McDermott may start because "he meshes well with D-Rose."

    Scaletta also noted the rookie's ability to get points off the dribble: "McDermott scored 1.154 off the dribble last year, best [in] Draft Express top 100 [prospects]. Maybe we're underrating his ability to create just a smidge?"

    The point is that McBuckets could generate two to three buckets per night in addition to the two to three triples per night. Along with sharp passing and efficiency across the board, he could put together a strong case for Rookie of the Year.

    Even for a college star, he could exceed expectations in a big way and turn heads.

1. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic PG

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    Drafted: No. 10 by PHI (traded to ORL)

    Potential Surprise: 14-plus PPG, 6-8 APG, 2 SPG, ROY finalist or winner


    Most prognosticators and fans are cautiously optimistic about Orlando Magic newcomer Elfrid Payton. He looked good in summer league, but can he really shoot the rock? And is he ready to hold his own every night in the big leagues after dominating middle-tier collegiate opponents?

    If his shooting is at least respectable, he could put up surprisingly robust numbers and legitimately compete for Rookie of the Year honors. We're not talking about Damian Lillard-type production, but he could acclimate quite nicely to the pros considering his instincts and physical wares.

    ESPN.com's Michael Wallace explains that Payton has the optimal tools to quickly make an impact: "His versatility, athleticism and length as a 6'4" point guard are characteristics that could help ease his transition from unheralded star at mid-major Louisiana-Lafayette to a potential impact player at the NBA's toughest position."

    Again, his rookie outlook depends on outside shooting.

    He hit a handful of long two-pointers and went 1-2 from three-land in summer league, and his shot looked smooth and confident in predraft workouts. That doesn't guarantee he'll shoot consistently in the regular season, but it gives hope that he'll keep defenses honest.

    The rest of his game is ready to explode. He can drive from any angle, finish around the rim and consistently find teammates via pick-and-roll and penetration. And defensively, he's going to wreak havoc right away by disrupting passing lanes and pressuring facilitators.