2014-15 NBA Rookies Under the Most Pressure to Succeed Right Away
Every NBA rookie faces some degree of pressure to prove he belongs. For a select few prospects, however, the temperature is on a different level, as they're expected to succeed in the early going.
Some of these ballers are under duress in 2014-15 simply because their franchise has placed much hope in them for the future. The organization wants to see its prized acquisition excel.
In other cases, prodigies face pressure because they're key members of a playoff-caliber rotation, perhaps even a championship contender. That's an exciting, yet momentous type of scrutiny.
Whether it's the anxious eye of a coach or attention from a restless city, these gifted youngsters will feel the strain more than the rest of the 2014-15 rookie class.
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic PG
Although he was the Orlando Magic's second lottery pick in the 2014 draft, Elfrid Payton is under more pressure to succeed early than No. 4 pick Aaron Gordon.
Considering the way the roster is shaping up, Payton looks to be the team's point guard of the future. There's a unique pressure involved with being a club's floor general, as the coaches want to see if he can handle running the team's offense.
The Magic are willing to endure some inevitable missteps and growing pains in year one, but overall they want to see a capable playmaker and a leader. They know that he could have (and probably should have) been recruited by a premier college program, so they're not going to take it easy on him just because he went to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Coach Jacque Vaughn and the Orlando staff are hoping Payton and Victor Oladipo form a dynamic backcourt. Both have outstanding athleticism, defensive talent and promising offense.
Can Payton shoot from the outside, though? He shot 27 percent from the college three-point line at LA-Lafayette, but his stroke looked respectable in summer league. His comprehensive effectiveness as a guard will be significantly influenced by how well he tosses from the perimeter.
There's not an overwhelming mountain of strain on Payton to dominate immediately, but the potential Rookie of the Year candidate is facing more duress than most NBA newcomers.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers C
Yes, Nerlens Noel is suiting up for a team miles away from sniffing the playoffs. Yet, somehow, this is a pivotal season for him.
More than a year after drafting the big fella, the Philadelphia 76ers will finally get to see him compete in regular-season games this fall. The highly touted prospect out of Kentucky is expected to bring defense, energy and athletic offense to his talent-starved franchise.
Philly had the worst defense in the league during the 2013-14 campaign, surrendering 109.9 points per game. Noel is expected to give the Sixers an upgrade on that end of the floor by supplying his shot-blocking and superb instincts.
The 2012-13 SEC blocks leader is also an accomplished thief, as he averaged 2.6 steals per 40 minutes. He can cover a ton of ground with his speed and length, and he's always looking for ways to disrupt opponents.
The coaching staff, front office and fanbase will want to see those skills, along with his improving offense, on display this season. Noel knows it, and he's holding himself accountable to lead Philly out of the basement, as he explained to ESPN's Kevin Pelton (subscription required).
"We have a young team, but I want to establish myself as a young leader of this Philadelphia 76ers team and be able to help the coaches as we bring a lot of talent to Philadelphia in the near future."
No one is confusing this with the pressures on LeBron James or Kevin Love in Cleveland. But the City of Brotherly Love also wants a title eventually, and it hopes Noel is a key part of the process.
Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat PG
While the Miami Heat won't be asking Shabazz Napier to carry the squad's backcourt, they will be expecting sharp play as part of the rotation.
He's coming off a remarkable college career, one in which he made countless plays under pressure and served as the primary decision-maker for UConn. When Pat Riley drafted him in the first round, he did so with the intention of reaping immediate results.
"Not only did he help lead UConn to two NCAA championships, but he also knows exactly what he needs to do to make an impact at the NBA level," Riley told reporters after signing Napier. "I believe the experience he had during the Summer League is going to pay off in leaps and bounds when training camp begins."
Aside from Napier, the Heat backcourt rotation basically consists of Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Coach Erik Spoelstra will need Napier to bring some juice to that group, especially if Chalmers goes into one of his funks.
Even though LeBron James is off to seemingly greener pastures northward, Wade and Chris Bosh are still gunning for a solid playoff seed. They'll need Napier's combination of youth, fearlessness and playmaking ability.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers PF
The Los Angeles Lakers aren't normally in such a lowly position to earn a high draft pick. They want to make this one count and get back to a winning culture as soon as possible.
General manager Mitch Kupchak and co. put their faith in Julius Randle. No one is expecting him to put up colossal numbers, but the team's lack of a major free-agent acquisition gives him more responsibility to help Kobe turn the ship around.
"The Lakers' offseason did not bring a free-agent superstar, which general manager Mitch Kupchak conceded...was 'a long shot,'" said B/R Senior NBA Writer Kevin Ding. "As a result, hopes for immediate improvement rest even more on their high draft pick, selected No. 7 overall."
He'll split minutes with Carlos Boozer, but Laker Nation will concentrate more on Randle's effectiveness and career trajectory.
He might be a one-and-done college prospect who's still young and developing, but Kobe Bryant and the Lakers fanbase don't have time for a long, slow rebuild. They surely want Randle to be part of a swift reload.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves SG/SF
Come on, he's Andrew Wiggins. Of course there's some form of pressure.
The general consensus is that it will take him a couple of years to hone his craft and access his potential. However, everyone in Minnesota wants to get a good taste of the No. 1 pick's talent during 2014-15.
If he had remained on the same team as LeBron James, Wiggins would have endured much less scrutiny, but now he's the glimmer of hope for the Timberwolves. B/R's Dylan Murphy explains:
Playing around great players such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving would have taken pressure off immediately, allowing him to fill a role and come into his own gradually. Now that he's with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins doesn't have that luxury...He'll be asked to defend the opponent's best player and take on a significant scoring burden from the get-go. The pressure will be on to perform.
Can he consistently attack opposing defenses? Can he compete hard and show steady improvement throughout the year? Most importantly, does he have the demeanor and countenance of a future leader and star?
The Wolves organization and fans in Minny will look closely for answers to these questions as Wiggins embarks on phase one of his highly anticipated career.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks F
Although the Milwaukee Bucks don't have any delusions of making the playoffs in 2014-15, they do want Jabari Parker to start leading them in the right direction.
Parker was a star during his brief stint at Duke, and he was one of the best-equipped prospects in the field. Bucks fans want to see the No. 2 pick produce in a big way, because he's the centerpiece the franchise wants to build around.
Frank Madden of BrewHoop.com aptly describes the mood in Wisconsin surrounding Parker and fellow teenager Giannis Antetokounmpo:
No one is expecting star-level production from Giannis and Jabari just yet, but let's be realistic: the current optimism surrounding Bucks' basketball is largely an extension of the Bucks' highly-touted 19-year-olds. ...the emotional well-being of Bucks fans will likely be tied much more closely to the young duo's box score exploits than the team's final scores...
... Parker faces the most pressure, as he'll enter the fall as the consensus favorite to claim rookie of the year honors and score something on the order of 15-18 points per game--no small feat for a 19-year-old.
We know Parker isn't close to the type of player he'll be in three or four years, yet his play and progress is still vital for the organization in 2014-15.
The team might not eclipse 30 wins this season, but the pain will be eased if the rookie can notch 18 points, ignite the fans and improve the team's margin for defeat. Conversely, it would be a gigantic bummer for Deer Nation if he flounders and doesn't look the part of a featured weapon.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls SF
Tom Thibodeau's Chicago Bulls are reloaded, and their goal is no less than an NBA championship. Now that Derrick Rose is back and the supporting cast has been retooled, they're one of the top clubs in the entire league, much less the Eastern Conference.
Doug McDermott is a critical piece to the puzzle, and he might even start.
The Bulls will need him to stretch defenses and bury triples from a variety of angles. Throughout the 2013-14 regular season, Chicago ranked last among all 16 playoff teams in three-point makes and three-point percentage. Even with Rose back, it desperately needs McDermott's shooting, as Sam Smith of NBA.com notes:
Of course, the absence of Rose was the principal flaw in the Bulls offense the last two seasons. But even with Rose, there are questions about shooting. In McDermott, the Bulls have potentially one of the best young shooters in the game.
Whether he starts over Mike Dunleavy or comes off the bench, he's going to be asked to consistently produce from the wing. Fortunately, the 22-year-old newbie is up to the task. He's spent four years honing his game in college, and he's got the range and instincts to connect from deep and make all the right plays.