Ever since its inception in the mid 1950s, winning the Rookie of the Year has been a gateway to superstardom. Guys like Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Paul, each viewed as one of the best players at their position, have all won the award within the last decade.
This season, the rookie class has been widely perceived as lacking the elite talent that past classes have possessed. However, someone's going to win this award, which will be an excellent sign for that winner's future.
All of these winners have played key roles on their team from day one. All have started the majority of their team's games and been one of the main scorers on the team.
Even though the draft has yet to occur, it's never too early to offer a forecast into the likelihood each of the top prospects have at winning this award.
In parentheses will be the overall ranking of each player according to ESPN's Chad Ford.
One of the rawer prospects in the draft, Bismack Biyombo is believed to have the potential to be the next Serge Ibaka. As many know, Ibaka made no impact his rookie season.
If Biyombo does come to play in the NBA next season, I see no chance of him starting, and whatever impact he has will come on the defensive end. Last time I checked, players need to score to win the ROY.
Kenneth Faried has the potential to average 10 rebounds per game in his rookie season. He's looked at as being one of the best rebounders to come out of college in years, and has been compared to the next Dennis Rodman.
Like Biyombo, Faried's offensive game is virtually non-existent. The vast majority of his points in the NBA will come off of offensive rebounds for the first few years.
There is a slight chance that he could start if he gets drafted to somewhere like New York, but the chances are even worse of him averaging more than a handful of points per game.
Marcus Morris was one of the stars at Kansas over the last couple years. He has a versatile offensive arsenal that he displayed in Lawrence during his three-year tenure at the school.
I'm just not sure he'll be able to play enough minutes for his skills to be put on full display. His talent is there, but he's going to need a year or two to get accustomed to the league.
If he gets picked into a favorable situation that would allow him immediate playing time, such as getting drafted by Milwaukee, then he moves way up on the list.
At this time last year, few people knew who Marshon Brooks was. Then he put up some crazy scoring numbers at Providence, showcased his efficiency in NBA workouts, and now he's viewed as a potential lottery pick.
If you're looking for a huge sleeper, here it is. Brooks' offensive game alone gives him the potential to score 20 points per game from day one. The rest of his game needs work, which will most likely prevent him from seeing enough court time to make an impression on the voters.
Again, if he goes to a team desperate for perimeter scoring (Minnesota, anyone?), he has the ability to pull off a major upset and win this thing.
Jimmer Fredette will probably garner some votes for the award, no matter how well he plays, simply based off his reputation from his college career.
Fredette will most likely spend his first year coming off the bench as a designated sniper from the outside while attempting to learn how to play the point guard position at the next level.
Last time I checked, coming off the bench doesn't translate to winning the ROY, but if he's able to put up double-digit points every game, it could happen. I actually think he has a better shot at winning the Sixth Man award than the being the top rookie.
Widely viewed as the top defensive player in the draft, Chris Singleton has a decent chance to be an immediate starter because of his defensive versatility to be able to guard three different positions.
The Utah Jazz would be a perfect fit for him with the likely departure of Andrei Kirilenko, who plays the same position as Singleton and is also an elite defender.
However, his offensive game simply isn't there yet to be able to win this award. He'll probably play enough to have a shot at the award, but if he averages more than 10 points per game, I'll be surprised.
Jordan Hamilton was one of the better offensive players in the country last season for Texas. He's primarily a slasher, but can get hot and knock down three-pointers when it happens.
He's a real question mark for me in terms of if he'll play enough to have a chance. Offensively, he can average 15 points per game in his inaugural season if given the opportunity.
However, his shot selection in college was terrible—if he gets taken by a team whose coach doesn't tolerate poor shots, especially from a rookie, then Hamilton will be sitting more than people think.
Now we begin discussing sleeper, but not long shot, candidates with Alec Burks, a slashing guard out of Colorado. Burks is arguably the best shooting guard in the draft and is believed to be a late lottery pick because of his ability to get to the basket and mid-range game.
Burks has a few suitors which would allow him to play right away (Milwaukee, Indiana, Utah), and the kid is capable of putting up good numbers while also not being a total liability on the defensive end, which would allow him to stay on the court longer than some of his fellow prospects.
His biggest hurdle will be how he adjusts to when teams dare him to shoot outside jumpers. He's a poor three-point shooter, but if he's able to work on it to make it respectable, he'll be able to score consistently. If not, he could struggle.
Meet the other top shooting guard in the class, Klay Thompson. Thompson is almost the exact opposite of Burks offensively. He's an elite outside shooter, but lacks the ability to get to the basket.
His height (6'7") allows him to play a true shooting guard, and not have to learn how to play point guard like Jimmer will have to, which means he'll have a better opportunity to start despite being a similar player to Jimmer.
Thompson will need to develop some dribble-drive offense if he hopes to become anything more than a designated bomber from outside—something that hasn't equalled a Rookie of the Year plaque. If his coach is creative enough, Thompson will get plenty of chances to put up some points.
Tristan Thompson is one of the more balanced post players in this draft. He can score with his back to the basket and plays solid defense.
Because of this, he should see significant minutes with whichever team drafts him, especially considering he's viewed as a top-10 selection.
The thing that I'm not sure about is whether he does enough to stand out; much in the way Landry Fields had a solid rookie campaign, but didn't wow enough people to warrant the award. Thompson should be a solid rookie, though.
The thing that Jonas Valanciunas and the next two players on this list have working against them is that European players typically don't win this award. The only one to do so was Pau Gasol back in 2001-02.
Valanciunas has plenty of talent and is being talked about as a top-five selection. He's one of the few true centers in the draft and, in a league sorely lacking in them, Valanciunas could take advantage of the situation and dominate the inferior centers in the league.
Still, with there being only one European winner, it isn't likely.
Jan Vesely is a bit different from most European prospects in that one of his strengths is his athleticism. He's showcased it with some highlight reel dunks in the Euroleagues, and could buck the trend of Euros being white stiffs.
He's a projected small forward, despite being 6'11". For a kid his size playing that kind of position, he should be able to take advantage of the smaller players who will be guarding him.
The only problems are that he's only 240 pounds and he's more of a perimeter player who gets to the rim via the drive instead of backing defenders down in the paint. That could prove difficult in a league filled with players just as athletic on the perimeter and down low.
Kawhi Leonard is another prospect who should be an immediate starter for whichever team drafts him. He's a versatile small forward who can guard multiple positions, rebound at a solid rate and be a threat on the offensive end.
His shot needs work, which keeps him from being one of the favorites to win the award, but if teams sag off on him and he's able to make them pay early in the season, it will produce dividends in the form of solid scoring nights.
Technically, Enes Kanter isn't a European player, considering he enrolled at Kentucky only to be ruled ineligible for the entire season—so maybe the trend doesn't apply to him as much.
Kanter is probably the player in the draft scouts know the least about as he's only been seen in a handful of games in his career, the most recent of which was over a year ago.
By all accounts, Kanter has all the tools to be a ROY candidate. Offensively, he's one of the best big men in the draft, has a good motor and can hold his own defensively.
He should be picked in the top six and will start right away while also assuming a scoring role for his new team. If he's able to average 15 points and 10 rebounds, he should be in good shape. He'll certainly have enough playing time to muster up that kind of production.
Four of the last six years, a point guard has won the Rookie of the Year award. Brandon Knight is one of the point guards in this draft who could continue this trend.
A projected top-five pick, Knight will be asked to run the show from day one for some team. He struggled at the beginning of his freshman season, but improved to the point where in the end, he was the key player in Kentucky's final four run in the NCAA Tournament.
Knight is a solid scorer, willing distributor and a solid defender, which will keep him on the floor for the majority of games.
Kemba Walker took the college basketball world by storm last season, leading Connecticut on an improbable run through both the Big East and NCAA Tournament which saw them result as champions of both.
The kid has heart, is a winner, and is one of the best scorers in the draft. He'll get plenty of minutes, though it's uncertain what position he is. Regardless, he should be a starter, and I think he'll be able to play the point effectively enough.
With his reputation from college, defenses might focus on him more than most other rookies, but Kemba is a competitor and smart enough to make the necessary adjustments.
Derrick Williams became a household name during the NCAA Tournament when he dominated Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. He was already viewed as the best NBA prospect west of the Mississippi River, but not many people had heard of him until his fantastic performance.
Williams is a versatile forward who's strong enough to finish in the paint, quick enough to get by defenders and athletic enough to get his jump shot off against most people. He can also knock down the three-point shot.
Williams is arguably the most NBA-ready player in the class who's capable of being the top offensive option for a team.
Kyrie Irving, the top rated player in the draft, has the clearest immediate future of any player in the class. The Cleveland Cavaliers would be fools not to take him with the first overall pick, and that's me being nice about it.
With the Cavs, Irving would be the first scoring option on the perimeter, and would be counted on to carry the load with getting others like J.J. Hickson involved. He's a willing distributor, but can also take on the role of a scoring point guard if need be. Defensively, he's quick and smart enough to lock down most guards.
All eyes will be on Irving in Cleveland, especially with the Cavs' unfortunate recent history regarding a former King. He showed flashes of greatness at Duke before a toe injury slowed him down, but he came back for the NCAA tournament and didn't show many lingering signs from the injury.
There will be plenty of pressure on Irving throughout his career, and winning the Rookie of the Year would give Cleveland something they recently lost: hope.