Predicting Which NBA Rookies Will Lead Every Major Stat Category in 2014-15

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2014

Predicting Which NBA Rookies Will Lead Every Major Stat Category in 2014-15

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    With training camp just days away, it's time to forecast which 2014-15 NBA rookies will stuff the stat sheet.

    Some are poised to light up the scoreboard with offensive firepower. The points and assists categories will be fun to track, no doubt. But there will be some intense battles on the defensive side as well. This rookie class will force a truckload of turnovers.

    Based on their collegiate/international production and what we saw during summer league, we predicted the top three performers in every major stat group.

    Who will land at the top of each pile?

Points

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    3. Marcus Smart: 13.3 PPG

    Smart is arguably the most important asset coming off the bench for the Boston Celtics. He'll be tasked with not only facilitating and running the offense, but attacking and making buckets.

    If you've seen him play at all over the last couple years, you know he's up for the challenge. His scoring numbers will hinge largely on his outside shooting efficiency. Meanwhile, he'll run in transition, slash in the half court and get to the free-throw line (9.9 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes in 2013-14).

    2. Andrew Wiggins: 15.0 PPG

    The trade to Minnesota significantly changed Wiggins' rookie-year outlook. He went from being a peripheral prospect on a title contender to a key member of the Wolves rotation.

    Minny's top players Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin will have the ball in their hands for much of the game, but Wiggins will be the beneficiary of countless passes and floor spacing. Although he still needs to refine his game, he'll score in a variety of ways: cuts, fast breaks, slashes, step-back jumpers, offensive rebounds and more.

    1. Jabari Parker: 17.2 PPG

    No rookie is better equipped to put the orange sphere in the basket than Parker. His rebuilding Milwaukee Bucks squad will give him copious scoring opportunities as a featured weapon.

    With an inside-out skill set and confidence to regularly attack, he's going to consistently rack up points in an effort to keep the Deer competitive.

    David Thorpe of ESPN.com (subscription required) believes Parker could be lethal if he puts all the pieces together: "Parker will be absolutely devastating when he combines his skillful game of craft, timing and shooting."

    He's not going to notch 20-plus points in his rookie year like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but 17-plus is nothing to scoff at.

Rebounds

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    3. Aaron Gordon: 6.5 RPG

    Pound-for-pound, Gordon is one of the best board-getters in the 2014-15 rookie class.

    He shared rebounding responsibilities with his talented, towering Arizona teammates, so he didn't always have monster games on the glass. Don't let it fool you; his per-minute production in the NBA will be impressive compared to most youngsters.

    He'll split minutes and low-post duty with a relatively crowded Magic frontcourt, so his totals will be solid but not eye-popping. If he plays around 20 minutes or more per contest, he'll snatch somewhere between six and seven caroms.

    2. Nerlens Noel: 7.1 RPG

    The Philadelphia 76ers won't overtax Noel in 2014-15. The team is rebuilding, he's coming off ACL rehab and it's essentially his first full season of hoops since high school. So don't expect 35-plus minutes per game and 10 rebounds from the big fella.

    In his 25-30 minutes per game, expect him to collect a modest number of rebounds. He's got the length and athleticism to go after boards, but there are some factors that will limit his nightly accumulation.

    Noel's aggressiveness in passing lanes and penchant for shot-blocking will bring him away from the hoop, and he's not the strongest center in the league. Nevertheless, he'll hustle and leap his way to seven-plus per night.

    1. Julius Randle: 7.2 RPG

    Even if he's not in the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup, Randle will pull down roughly seven boards per night if he sees 20-25 minutes of playing time. He won't be as physically dominant in the NBA as he was in college, but his power, speed and unstoppable motor will fuel productive work on the glass.

    "The most NBA-ready aspect of my game is my versatility and my rebounding," Randle told NBA TV after summer league.

    Regardless of his offensive or defensive development, opponents will frequently struggle to box him out and keep him off the backboards.

Assists

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    3. Dante Exum: 3.5 APG 

    Nik Stauskas may make a run at the third-place spot here, but we're giving the nod to Exum due to his speed and creativity.

    The Utah Jazz's Australian prospect has yet to prove himself as a shooter, and he won't likely hoist a ton of shots in year one. Meanwhile, you can count on him to attack off the dribble, survey the floor and make some plays that most 19-year-olds wouldn't even try.

    2. Marcus Smart: 4.3 APG

    We don't know exactly what Smart's minutes or positional role will look like for the Boston Celtics in 2014-15. He'll spend time off the bench spelling Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, and sometimes he might play alongside both.

    What we do know, however, is that he's aggressive and has sharp passing instincts.

    "He's not a natural point guard, but he can make plays for others," said Jay King of MassLive.com. Even though he won't start for the majority of the season, he'll come in and immediately create for teammates as a top-tier sub.

    1. Elfrid Payton: 5.5 APG

    At just 20 years old, Payton is slated to take the reins of the Orlando Magic offense in 2014-15. He'll inevitably make a bunch of mistakes and struggle through some challenging stretches.

    But when we tally up the box scores, he's going to register the most assists of any rookie.

    He gave us a glimpse of his passing prowess with 7.0 dimes per game at summer league. Payton will toss a healthy share of assists by driving into the lane, and he'll also connect with Orlando's young cast of forwards with his smooth pick-and-roll skills.

Steals

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    3. Elfrid Payton: 1.5 SPG

    Our projected assists leader will also be on the rookie radar for steals per game. Payton's 2.6 steals per night against Sun Belt competition won't translate to huge NBA numbers right away, but he's got the tools to force a handful of turnovers.

    "Payton has elite-level athleticism, plus a nose—and long arms—for racking up steals," noted Fran Blinebury of NBA.com.

    2. Nerlens Noel: 1.5 SPG

    We're projecting Noel to snag the same amount of steals as Payton, so the tiebreak favors the big man.

    He plucked 2.1 steals per game at Kentucky, showcasing his unusual combination of length, quickness and timing. Unlike most other centers and power forwards, Noel isn't afraid to leave the paint to jump passing lanes or blow up pick-and-rolls.

    In the Philadelphia 76ers' high-possession games, he'll have bountiful opportunities to gamble and disrupt opponents.

    1. Marcus Smart: 1.9 SPG

    Smart terrorized opponents during his two years at Oklahoma State, leading the Big 12 in steals and steal percentage both seasons. His 6'9.25" wingspan, deceptive lateral quickness and opportunistic energy produced copious thefts.

    Not much will change as he joins the Boston Celtics, and he'll lead all rookies in steals despite seeing fewer minutes than Payton and Noel. At summer league and USA Basketball training camp, he proved that he's ready to immediately challenge upper-echelon guards.

Blocks

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    3. Andrew Wiggins: 0.9 BPG

    While he's not a classic interior rim protector, Wiggins will find lots of chances to redirect opponents' shots throughout each game.

    He'll make acrobatic blocks in the open floor, deflect second-chance attempts and surprise jump-shooters with his reflexes. The Minnesota Timberwolves will revel in his lightning-quick movements and seven-foot wingspan as he tries to re-establish the club's defensive respectability.

    2. Noah Vonleh: 1.0 BPG

    Vonleh won't see heavy minutes in the Charlotte Hornets frontcourt, yet 15-20 minutes and one block per game will be good enough for second in our rookie rejections rankings.

    His block-to-foul ratio will probably be uglier than Steve Clifford would like (it was 0.5 at Indiana), so his approach may change as his career progresses. For now, he'll enter the game to bring size and rim protection, even if it costs a few fouls.

    1. Nerlens Noel: 1.9 BPG

    Was there any doubt which rookie would swat the most shots?

    Protecting the rim is Noel's calling card, and we've seen him block opponents masterfully with either hand since high school. He's got superb timing and startling quickness for his size.

    He takes pride in defending the paint, and talked to ESPN's Kevin Pelton (subscription required) about the importance of alertness and agility: "It definitely is a lot of anticipation and instinct. I've always been hard on myself to be very mobile on the defensive end."

    With plenty of playing time in the neighborhood of 25-30 minutes, he should meet or exceed Anthony Davis' 2012-13 mark of 1.8 blocks per night.

Field-Goal Percentage

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    3. Nikola Mirotic: 49 percent

    Those who have watched Chicago Bulls rookie Mirotic play in Spain know that he possesses a soft scoring touch and a smart approach to the game. During Euroleague play in 2013-14, he shot 51 percent from the field, including 46 percent from three-point range.

    On the Bulls, he's going to be a role player in 2014-15, without the burden of forcing up tough shots. B/R's Bulls guru Kelly Scaletta explains that Mirotic will get loads of high-percentage looks as part of Chicago's talented lineup:

    Factor in that the Bulls will have other three-point shooters like Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Doug McDermott on the team, Derrick Rose driving and kicking to them and the brilliant passing of Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah as well, and it’s easy to see Mirotic getting open looks which lend themselves to a higher make rate.

      

    2. Mitch McGary: 50 percent

    McGary doesn't have overwhelming athleticism to dominate the paint and score above the fray every time he touches the ball. Fortunately, he remains highly efficient due to his use of angles and perfect timing.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder newbie has a great feel for the game, as he's quite aware of his surroundings and has a nice touch around the ring. It also doesn't hurt that he's 255 pounds and is mobile enough to get easy baskets in transition.

    1. Nerlens Noel: 52 percent

    Over the past three seasons, the rookie field-goal percentage leaders have been Kenneth Faried (2012), Andre Drummond (2013) and Mason Plumlee (2014). You know, the type of youngster whose points are almost exclusively dunks. These bruisers notched 55-60 percent in their initial seasons.

    There's no one quite like that in the 2014-15 class (who will get meaningful minutes), so the highest mark will be Noel's 52 percent.

    He's going to miss the occasional jumper, and he might clank a few hook shots or post moves. But for the most part, he won't settle for much other than sensible stuff near the hoop. Most of his buckets will come via dump-offs, rebounds and alley-oops.

Three-Point Makes

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    3. Jabari Parker: 99 threes (at 34 percent)

    Based on sheer volume, Parker will end up sinking nearly 100 threes in 2014-15. That sounds like a boatload, but it's barely more than one per game.

    There will be some nights (or weeks) when he tries to do too much and fails to score from deep. But if he gets a feel for the NBA arc, he will have some enjoyable games where he hits three or four within the flow of the offense.

    2. Doug McDermott: 121 threes (at 41 percent)

    McDermott will be in the hunt for the rookie three-point crown, and the Chicago Bulls will need his perimeter threat to boost the offense and keep opponents honest. His skills and range are as reliable as you'll ever see from a 22-year-old.

    His totals won't be outlandish, though. The Bulls will be spreading minutes and touches to a slew of capable veterans, and a newcomer like Nikola Mirotic will chip in as well. Look for "Dougie McBuckets" to connect on 120-plus threes, which is a commendable accomplishment on a playoff team. 

    1. Nik Stauskas: 139 threes (at 37 percent)

    The Sacramento Kings finished 28th in three-point makes and 27th in three-point percentage in 2013-14, and Stauskas was brought in to change that. He's immediately the best long-range shooter on the squad, and Mike Malone will try to get him in-rhythm triples early and often.

    Even if Ben McLemore and the point guards hoist a chunk of threes, Stauskas should find 300-350 attempts throughout the campaign and hit 35-40 percent of them. His ability to catch and shoot or create off the dribble will yield consistent production from distance.

    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA draft for Bleacher Report.

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