With the NBA lockout now seemingly over, we will soon have the opportunity to get a look at this year's supposedly weak draft class.
As always, there will be some rookies who get more playing time than they deserve, and some who do not get enough. There will be plenty of head-scratching moments for coaches all around the NBA, but that is to be expected with young, inexperienced players.
All in all, this year's draft class will be a very big surprise, due to the fact that many rookies are going into systems where they will have an opportunity to get big minutes from the get-go.
These next five guys will surely make the most of their given playing time, and will make it hard for their respective coaches to take them off the floor.
As evidenced last year by their 19-63 record, the Cleveland Cavaliers are far from a solid team. They lack consistency at almost every position, but they had some great luck at last year's draft lottery, receiving the first and fourth overall selections.
With the fourth pick, they selected Texas freshman forward Tristan Thompson, a Canadian native. Tristan was one of the most highly-regarded Canadian prospects in recent memory.
Samardo Samuels, Anderson Varejao, Ryan Hollins and Luke Harangody are the only real threats to Tristan's minutes. Calling these guys "threats" is being very generous. Tristan is much more skilled and athletic than all of these guys (except maybe Hollins).
For his size, Tristan is extremely mobile and athletic. Although only 6-8, he more than makes up for his lack of size with an enormous wingspan and vertical leap.
If you watched Tristan play at Texas last year, he looked very raw. To be honest, I was not very impressed with what I saw. But he was only a freshman, and he managed to hold his own against elite D-1 competition, night in and night out.
The Cavs received a lot of criticism for taking Tristan Thompson at No. 4, as that was considered quite a bit of a reach for him. They obviously have a lot of faith in him, which means the young leaping Canadian will receive lots of playing time early on.
Watching the Spurs in the playoffs last year, it was not hard to see that they are not the same team they used to be. Tim Duncan is nearing the end of his career and playing much less minutes, and Manu Ginobili has been hampered by injuries the last few years. In addition, George Hill, one of San Antonio's key scorers off the bench, was shipped to Indiana.
Luckily for Spurs fans, Kawhi Leonard is coming to San Antonio. The long, athletic, hard-nosed forward saw his draft stock slip during pre-draft workouts, largely due to questions of his potential as a small-forward at the next level. However, Kawhi has top-five talent in this year's class, and falling out of the lottery is going to fuel his fire even more.
In college, Kawhi got most of his buckets off of put-backs and drives. He struggled mightily with the consistency of his jump shot, although he did show some good mechanics. Many scouts question whether or not he will ever develop a consistent jumper, but Kawhi has always been one of the hardest workers on every team he has played on. There is no way that will stop now, and through repetition and practice, the stroke will come for Kawhi.
Richard Jefferson is slated to be the Spurs' starting forward, but let's face it—he is way past his prime now. Kawhi will definitely take a good portion of his minutes, and will prove to be a great spark-plug off the bench. By year's end, I could definitely see Kawhi in a starter's role.
After last year's blockbuster trade, Chauncey Billups became the primary floor general for the Knickerbockers. Chauncey has had a fabulous career worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but he is getting up there in age, and last year he spent a lot of time sitting on the bench with injuries.
Standing at a solid 6'5", Iman Shumpert possesses great size for a point guard. Not to mention, the young fella has a 42-inch vertical. Watching his highlight reels on YouTube, I cannot help but be reminded of Russell Westbrook during his UCLA days.
His assist-to-turnover ratio and field-goal percentage are nothing to get excited about, but the potential for this kid is immense. He is another one of those new generation point guards—extremely athletic and fast, turnover-prone with a developing jump shot.
Chances are, Chauncey will be sidelined with some sort of injury early on, and Toney Douglas is far from reliable as a backup point guard. Iman fits right in with Coach D'Antoni's coaching style, and will gain his coach's support right away during camp. He loves to push the ball, and he is at his best in transition.
Iman Shumpert is one of those guys who will leave you shaking your head in disappointment one moment, and watching in amazement the next. He will definitely struggle with consistency during this upcoming season, but his amazing athletic abilities will make it easy for him to fill up the stat sheet on a nightly basis.
The Denver Nuggets had the deepest team in the league last year, but struggled finding a go-to guy in the playoffs. Now, they face the challenge of bringing back their squad from a year ago, as Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler both might elect to play elsewhere.
If Kenyon Martin leaves Denver, it will be a blessing in disguise for both the Nuggets and Kenneth Faried. Kenyon has not been as productive these last few years, but Kenneth is one of the most ready-now players in the class. He stayed four years in college, and more times than not four-year college players have success right away.
Kenneth was the best rebounder in the nation last year, but he can also put the ball in the hole. He does need to improve his free-throw percentage and mid-range jumper, but he has great touch and instincts around the basket.
Whether or not Kenyon Martin leaves, Kenneth Faried will receive some nice playing time early on, and he will not disappoint. Do not be shocked if Faried is averaging 10 rebounds per game at season's end—the man's motor and relentlessness on the glass is unquestioned.
Andris Biedrins is no longer a solid center in the NBA. His lack of confidence and offensive ability has depleted his stock to near-worthlessness. Ekpe Udoh attempted to fill the void at center, and did a decent job, but he will be 24 years old when the season starts, tapping his upside and potential.
For Jeremy Tyler, there is nothing that can tap his upside or potential. The kid can do it all—jump, shoot, score, rebound, pass, dribble and defend. I was jumping for joy when the Golden State Warriors selected him with the 39th overall pick, because I could tell the kid was special from the moment I saw him play.
The only thing holding Tyler back is his attitude. He has had issues in the past, and his work ethic has been questioned by numerous coaches and executives around the league. His overseas stints in Israel and Tokyo were far less than spectacular, adding to the doubts and questions surrounding his name.
Coming out of high school he was a top-five prospect in his class. Had he gone to college instead of ditching overseas to play professionally, it is possible that he could have been a high lottery pick in the draft.
The ability is there, and if Tyler can put it all together, he can seriously challenge Dwight Howard as the best big man in the league. Being a big Warriors fan, I certainly hope he puts in the work and time to be a stud. The Warriors clearly need help down low, so Tyler will definitely see the floor early on in the year. If my dreams come true, he, along with Stephen Curry, will lead the Warriors to the playoffs in 2012.