NBA Atlantic Division: Ranking the Rookies
Given the response from our previous top-five lists, we'll continue along today ranking the top five NBA rookies from the Atlantic Division. Granted, these will be previews based off of either their college or international experience, as well as NBA Summer League performances.
An astonishing seven of the 18 rookies are coming from overseas, led by the Brooklyn Nets (surprisingly, not the Toronto Raptors), who will be hauling in three.
Here's what to expect from the young guns in the NBA Atlantic Division this season.
5. Tyshawn Taylor, Brooklyn Nets
The more notable draft pick of the Brooklyn Nets, Tyshawn Taylor brings with him versatility at the shooting guard or point guard slot.
Hailing from Hoboken, the New Jersey native made an impact with the Kansas Jayhawks, averaging 16.6 points per contest. He led the Jayhawks to an impressive 15-3 record, which gained him the attention of NBA scouts.
One major concern was his off-court troubles and suspension for violating team policies. Another major concern was his turnovers, which became a problem, especially in Kansas’ bigger games (11 against Duke, seven against Ohio State and eight against rival Kansas State).
Although the Nets are plenty deep with shooters, Taylor mightily improved his three-point shot, finishing his senior season shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc.
At the 2012 NBA Summer League in Orlando, Taylor put up 15.5 points per game, capped off by a 23-point performance against Oklahoma City.
Depending on where coach Avery Johnson decides to place him, and the amount of time he gets, Taylor could gain solid minutes off the bench with his quickness.
4. Kris Joseph, Boston Celtics
Kris Joseph may be more of a household name, given he was leading his Syracuse Orange to the No. 1 spot in the national ranks for the majority of the season. He led Syracuse both in scoring and rebounding with 13.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest.
One major area of improvement for Joseph was his perimeter game. Standing 6’7”, his ability to out maneuver defenders in college won’t be the same in the NBA. He created a lot of shots for himself his senior year, which will be useful playing the 3 slot for the Boston Celtics.
He is strong off the dribble if he’s going straight, with room for improvement to be worked on in his east to west game.
Joseph averaged 11.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for the Celtics in the Orlando summer league.
Alongside his Syracuse teammate Fab Melo and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, the Celtics have assembled quite the fountain of youth for a team that is only footsteps away from the nursing home.
3. Pablo Prigioni, New York Knicks
Known as the best point guard in Argentina, Pablo Prigioni is the oldest Atlantic Division rookie at 35 years old. Prigioni is one of the many older players with plenty of experience that the New York Knicks have acquired.
He has made a popular name for himself in Spain playing for Saski Baskonia and Real Madrid.
While his numbers don’t appear too impressive, with career averages of 6.3 points and 4.3 assists per game, Prigioni has some legitimate hardware to back his claim.
- Spanish Cup MVP (2006)
- Two-time All-EuroLeague Second Team (2006-2007)
- Spanish Supercup MVP (2008)
- Three-time Spanish King’s Cup Champion (2004, 2006, 2009)
- Four-time Spanish Supercup Champion (2005-2008)
- Bronze Medal in 2008 Olympic Games
Many questions come as to why Prigioni hasn’t attempted the NBA before. The San Antonio Spurs offered Prigioni a minimum contract in 2008, which he turned down to make more money in the Spanish league.
He’s a below-average athlete in Europe, which translates to barely mobile in the NBA. His basketball IQ is really what the Knicks will benefit from. Aside from his passing skills, Prigioni can knock down open shots.
And when I say open, I mean WIDE open.
Despite my criticism, Prigioni’s experience and proven track record lands him the third spot on our list.
2. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
Now we’re getting to rookies that will more than likely see substantial playing time, at least as far as rookies go.
Jared Sullinger made his name at Ohio State, gaining national attention for his impressive performances against talented teams. He slimmed down and quickly turned into a top-five draft pick.
At 6’9”, most of his scoring in college came with his back to the basket. For him to see even half of the success he had in college, he will have to open his game up, because he’ll more than likely be playing small forward.
His maturity is something I see that puts him above the rest of his class. For a college athlete, Sullinger experienced a decent amount of scrutiny concerning his weight. He never boiled over, and ended up slimming down to the pleasure of many NBA general managers.
He averaged 13.8 points and an impressive 8.3 rebounds for the Boston Celtics in the Orlando summer league. Granted, the competition in the regular season will be a little tougher, though his size at the 3 slot will be useful for the Celtics.
His 7'1.25" wingspan makes it a lot easier to defend the 3 and 4 slots.
1. Jonas Valančiūnas, Toronto Raptors
Jonas Valančiūnas is definitely the most awaited rookie of this season, having been drafted by the Toronto Raptors 5th in the 2011 NBA Draft.
He was forced to remain in Lithuania with BC Lietuvos rytas because of his $2.5 million buyout.
Again, the Raptors go overseas with a top draft pick, which has seemingly been hit or miss for them. Andrea Bargnani has fared well, but certainly not worthy of a first-round first pick in the 2006 draft.
Valančiūnas has tremendous upside, as do most 7-foot prospects. He most recently led his Lithuania squad to an Under-19 World Championship. He made great strides with BC Lietuvos rytas, averaging just under a double-double of 10.8 points and 7.6 rebounds.
At 20 years old, he’s still a bit undersized and certainly would benefit from NBA training.
Let’s not mistake this pick based on his little experience with a professional club in Lithuania and his national U-19 team.
Valančiūnas is still a project, and will be for at least a few years for the Raptors. But his size and on-court intelligence gives him a higher ranking than his other piers in the NBA Atlantic Division.
With defense becoming a priority in Toronto, the majority of the issue being pressed by head coach Dwane Casey, Valančiūnas’ frame will make it tough for guards to drive on both him and Andrea Bargnani—both towering at 7 feet.
This article was first published on Atlantic Twine.