Step Up, Rook: New Guys in the NBA Who Could Help Their Teams Come Playoff Time
For most of the rookies who will be lucky enough to find their way onto an NBA roster in the coming weeks and months, their experience with the game of basketball is about to change dramatically.
I’m not talking about the fact that they will be paid huge sums of money to play the game they love or that they will be traveling all over the country for months on end to play ball in different cities.
I’m talking about the transition that 95 percent of the NBA rookies from every class have to make from being the man all their lives to being a role player in the pros.
The five percent of every draft consists of guys like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Evan Turner who are the cream of the crop and have been drafted by some of the worst teams in the NBA that will be able to feature them right away.
But for everyone else, reality will set in rather quickly that they are no longer their team’s go-to-guy and they will have to fight harder than they’ve ever fought just to get a couple of minutes off the bench.
The life of your average NBA rookie can be tough; you’re trying to adjust to your new life on the road, everyone you know is suddenly asking you for money, and Delonte West wants you to drive two hours out of your way before every home game to get Krispy Kreme donuts for the veterans.
Despite all of these road blocks, there are mid to late round picks every year that make these adjustments and are able to contribute to their team’s success.
The teams that get to draft players like Wall, Cousins, and Turner are generally a few years away from making the playoffs, but this doesn’t mean that some of the later round picks won’t have their shot to make a difference for their respective teams in the post season.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at nine rookies who could help their teams come playoff time.
Jarvis Varnado and Dexter Pittman
It’s hard to imagine a better situation for these two rookie big men than playing alongside Wade, Bosh, and LeBron.
Neither Varnado nor Pittman were very highly touted coming out of high school but both guys worked on their games for the full four years in college and improved drastically by the time they graduated.
Because of this, both Varnado and Pittman are two of the more experienced and mature players in this years draft and at 22 years of age, they should be able to adjust to the NBA a little quicker than most of their 19-year-old rookie counterparts.
On a Miami Heat roster whose biggest weakness might very well be post play, Varnado and Pittman figure to see some playing time due to their physical gifts.
Pittman is one of the biggest prospects coming out of this years draft class at 6’10" and somewhere around 300 pounds, the Texas native can absolutely bang under the basket and features surprising athleticism and fluidity for a player his size.
Varnado will need to put some more weight on his frame to be a contributor at the NBA level but he comes to Miami with a freakish wingspan that helped him to become the NCAA’s all-time blocks leader while playing at Mississippi State.
With Wade, LeBron, and Bosh sure to command the attention of every team the Heat play, Varnado and Pittman will be able to focus on playing tough defense, rebounding, and converting on garbage buckets which both players are certainly capable of.
Babbitt came into the pre-draft workouts with less fanfare than most players of his caliber because he played his college ball in the smaller Western Athletic Conference.
But scouts were quick to realize the potential he possessed thanks to his long frame, excellent shot and better than expected athleticism.
The Portland Trailblazers were thrilled to acquire the sweet shooting Babbitt in a draft day trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, in which they gave up former first round pick Martell Webster.
The 6’9" Nevada standout looks to move to the wing in the NBA where he should fit right in with a Portland team that could use a sharpshooter to play off the dynamic duo of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Babbitt should compete for playing time right out of the gate thanks to his polished offensive game, and if he’s able to improve his defense, he could eventually play big minutes for an up and coming Portland squad that will be looking to advance past the first round of the playoffs in 2011.
Harangody’s one of those classic players who you watch put up crazy numbers in college, but doesn’t seem like he will translate very well to the NBA’s high flying style of play.
This is mostly because Luke’s an undersized power forward in a small forward’s body who doesn’t possess the ideal athleticism to make up for what he lacks in height.
But anyone who watched the former Notre Dame star play in college or summer league knows that he’s a tough, physical, hard working player who can make a difference if given the opportunity and the right situation to flourish.
When he was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 52nd pick of the 2010 draft, it seems that Harangody will be stepping into an almost perfect situation to make a difference on an NBA roster.
Playing alongside the original big three, Harangody could potentially play a similar role to that of Glen Davis, who is another undersized power forward who has shined in a complementary role to Allen, Pierce, and Garnett.
Throw into the mix that an aging Celtics roster is dealing with a shortage of big men thanks to Kendrick Perkins severe knee injury and Rasheed Wallace’s retirement, and Harangody could play a bigger role than most anticipate, especially if he’s able to make a successful transition to the NBA.
Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter
The defending champs did very well to draft Ebanks and Caracter in the second round of the draft, as both players had solid summer league showings and are making their case to be included on an already fairly complete Lakers roster.
Caracter is a wide bodied power forward who possesses great strength, positioning, and footwork, but has struggled with weight and off court concerns during his time in college.
It would seem that Caracter, who looks more like a football player than a basketball player, is committed to keeping his weight and emotions under control and is now ready to make a case to be included on the Lakers opening day roster.
Ebanks is a lanky 6’8" wing who, at 20 years old, definitely has some room to bulk up and become stronger.
But the youngster’s summer league performance already has some comparing him to former Laker, Trevor Ariza, because of Ebanks defensive prowess and athleticism.
It’s still too early to tell whether both or either of these guys will make the Lakers roster, but one thing we do know is that the Lakers will be a serious contender in next year’s playoffs and Ebanks or Caracter (or both) could help this team with a few productive minutes off the bench.
The 21-year-old Anderson should breathe some life into an aging Spurs roster that might only have one more year as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.
At 6’6", Anderson possesses the necessary size to play shooting guard at the NBA level, and he certainly has the range necessary to be a three point threat for the Spurs coming off the bench.
He showed last season at Oklahoma State that he was one of the best scorers in the country going for 22.3 points per game.
In addition to his scoring, Anderson showed his leadership abilities all season long when he helped an Oklahoma State team navigate an extremely tough Big 12 and was one of the main reasons the team made the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately for Anderson, he was not able to showcase his skills at summer league because of a hamstring injury, but this shouldn’t hurt his stock too much as he was seen as one of the best scorers in the draft class.
If he is able to up his basketball IQ and pay his dues on a veteran Spurs roster, it is possible that Anderson will be instant offense coming off the Spurs bench in late April and May this coming season.
The former Kansas big man was one of the most intimidating presences in all of college basketball last season.
Standing at 6’11" and possessing well over a 7’0" wing span, Aldrich was one of the nation's premier shot blockers who helped to anchor the defense of one of the best teams in the nation.
Aldrich will be taking his game to the Oklahoma City Thunder this upcoming season, and should be able to help one of the best young teams in the NBA with his size and shot blocking ability.
The one knock on the Thunder has been that they lack an inside presence, and nowhere was this more visible than during the teams first round loss to the Lakers in the 2010 playoffs.
During which, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had their way with the Thunder’s big men and sent them packing from their first playoff appearance since the team relocated from Seattle.
While Aldrich doesn’t possess a polished offensive game, having guys like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook surrounding him means that he won’t be forced to score right away.
In the meantime, Aldrich will provide another big body to a Thunder roster that is lacking in that area and he should be able to contribute rebounding and shot blocking to a young team that will be looking to take another step forward next season.
Very rarely does a team as good as the Utah Jazz get a pick as high as No. 9 in the NBA Draft.
But thanks to the New York Knicks' front office throwing around their first-round picks like an athlete throws around ones at a strip club, the Jazz were able to select Gordon Hayward.
The former Butler standout who may or may not be a suburban paper boy in his spare time certainly impressed many scouts during Butler’s run through the NCAA tournament.
Hayward has good size at 6’8", and while his shot seemed to deteriorate somewhat during his sophomore season, most people around the Jazz organization are hoping that he can fill Kyle Korver’s vacated spot.
Many have questioned how Hayward’s athleticism and defense will translate to the NBA game, but his high basketball IQ and hard working disposition should allow him to eventually make the transition.
He will be joining a very good Utah squad, who just replaced Carlos Boozer with Al Jefferson and also features one of the best point guards in the game in Deron Williams.
With those pieces already in place, Hayward will have every opportunity to be brought along slowly and may be able to contribute to another Jazz playoff run.