With the NBA season mere days away, excitement for opening tip has reached a sort of fever pitch. One of the most interesting aspects of the action beginning again is seeing how the highly touted rookies adjust to life in the pro leagues. Some exceed expectations like Damian Lillard, while others never live up to the hype. With that being said, and without a professional ball being bounced yet, I am going to try to predict the top five rookies this coming season, is some sort of order. After all, it will be great fun to check back here in about ten months’ time to tell me how wrong I was.
One small note: it was hard not to include Nerlens Noel of the Philadelphia 76ers. Already he looks like the ACL injury he suffered that caused him to miss his actual rookie year won’t stunt his growth. In fact, it could be a blessing in disguise as it seems early on that he has develop some post moves and even an average midrange jumper should he get into bother. I would not be surprised if he was right up there come the end of the season, and once again it was a tough call leaving Noel off this list.
5. Doug McDermott (Chicago Bulls)
While Doug McBuckets has already been labelled a specialist player of sorts, he has landed in the perfect situation in Chicago. Think of him as a kind of Jimmer Fredette type, only well, better. McDermott can shoot the basketball really well, and luckily that’s what he’ll be required to do right away for this team. While he looks a capable team defender, it is the overall defensive abilities of his team that means he won’t be required to do all that much on that end of the floor. Just as well, as it certainly needs some work.
While he can’t really create his own shot yet, he scored eighteen points per game in Summer League through catch and shoot scenarios. Now, when he has Derrick Rose feeding him and Pau Gasol in the middle demanding defensive attention, expect him to keep those numbers pretty consistent. In a lot of other places, McDermott wouldn’t get the credit his shooting deserves, but in the Windy City it will be given the platform to be admired, leading to him sneaking onto this list. The guy will make some big shots for this team in year one of his professional life.
4. Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics)
Another player who has the benefit of being in a good situation for himself personally. Smart is a big boy who is not easily pushed around on the court. He seems to do a lot of things reasonably well, but as a point guard he will have to learn to control the tempo of the professional game. The temper he exhibited on a couple of occasions at Oklahoma State last year will also need to be kept in line. With Rajon Rondo still the starting point guard until he is potentially moved on, Smart will be coming off the bench.
Why this works so well in his favour is the fact that as of right now his defensive abilities are the greatest area of his game.
Boston fans love a hard working player who gives his all to the team. This explains why Avery Bradley can snag a four year, $32 million contract. If Smart plays somewhere like twenty-five minutes a night and is a defensive terrier, his talent on that end will be concentrated on more, leading to more plaudits. Pairing him with the likeminded Bradley could be a nightmare for opponents too, although they won’t be scoring a bunch between them. Either way, it’s a nice spot for Smart to be in, before ultimately taking over starting duties when Rondo leaves.
3. Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Surprised he’s only third on this list? Allow me to explain why. This is not his fault at all, and in my opinion the guy will go on to be an All-Star in this league in time. But it seems there hasn’t been hype like this around a guy since LeBron James entered the league, and that’s not fair on him. In fact, with expectations like that, he is almost destined to fall short of the standards set by him, at least in year one of his career.
He’s actually a much better defender that people realise, and that will stand to him.
But the team he was traded to looks like another collection of individuals, rather than a coherent unit. Himself and Zach LaVine are athletic and will be fun to watch, and Ricky Rubio is one of the best passing point guards in the league feeding these athletic freaks as they dunk on opponents nightly. But the Timberwolves aren’t very good, and when they’ve lost seven in a row in the brutal Western Conference and have Ronnie Turiaf as their leading veteran light, this team won’t be as much fun to be around. Wiggins will cop a lot of unfair blame, and while his numbers will surely be solid, that will ultimately go against him.
2. Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks)
Now, a lot of people are going to put this guy top of the list, and in many ways it was hard for me not to do so as well. If he wins Rookie of the Year I will have only myself to blame for not proclaiming it here when I had the chance. He looks to have it all going for him, the NBA ready build, the ability to score and a great motor to grab rebounds and will his team on. He has been compared to Carmelo Anthony, but I see a more balanced player here, one who will be not quite the scoring juggernaut Melo is, but will include his teammates more and work harder generally on the defensive end.
He says all the right things as well about wanting to be in Milwaukee, and that is nice to hear too. In his rookie year, he will be a part of a Milwaukee team that will surprise in a weaker Eastern Conference. They’re not a playoff team, not yet, but there are some pieces here that will make them fun to watch. Parker will be a leader right away, and his numbers and overall demeanour will make him hard to resist in terms of crowning a rookie of the year.
1. Elfrid Payton (Orlando Magic)
Now, hear me out. Man, I just see something here. There’s a calmness, a confidence on the ball, that you just don’t see everyday in rookies. The game appears slow when he’s on the ball, and that rarely happens to point guards in particular right away. He’ll turn the ball over a lot, but for a Magic team with designs of hitting the lottery again, that’s not the biggest concern. He’s long, already seems like he could blossom into an elite defender, and when paired with Victor Oladipo, could form one of the best two way guard combos in this league in about five years if they stay together.
For some reason I see Damian Lillard in him, and I don’t know why. They’re different types of players, but there’s just something there, that ability to get it done. Payton will do it in different ways, he’s a pass first player who doesn’t look ready to take over a game or win a playoff series yet. But it’s that breezy style of play and then you look at the box score and he’s got fourteen points, seven assists and five rebounds. That style of play takes a player some time to develop, and Payton looks to have it now. In Orlando he’ll tee up the likes of Aaron Gordon and Channing Frye nicely. With not a whole lot of expectation coupled with the fact he was a relative late bloomer, like Lillard, I expect him to shade it and be named Rookie of the Year, like Lillard.