This season’s rookie class has some hype, some intrigue and some serious question marks. Here are our choices as the top 10.
1. Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks: Unless you consumed zero draft coverage you probably heard Parker referred to as “the most NBA ready prospect” roughly 425,000 times when pundits debated whether he or Andrew Wiggins should be the top overall pick. As we all know, Wiggins and his potential went first, and Parker went second to the Bucks. On paper, this looks like a perfect fit as Parker slides in as a starter and focal point of the offense from the get go. His offensive game is extremely polished, and he’s capable from scoring from anywhere on the floor. Parker is also an adept passer and capable rebounder, though he’s unlikely to play in the post all the time given Milwaukee’s collection of bigs that need minutes. Don’t go overboard with your expectations — he’s still a rookie after all — but 15 points and 7-to-8 boards a game seems doable.
2. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: The No. 1 overall pick is an athletic freak with the skills to play in the backcourt (at SG) and at either forward spot. That should help him find time on a T-Wolves club that appears to have good depth at the three. Unfortunately, Wiggins’ athleticism will likely show up in ways that don’t resonate with Fantasy owners, such as being a lockdown defender or authoring highlight-reel dunks. His offensive game remains a bit raw, and he may find a lot of his baskets come in transition or on broken plays where his physical tools give him an advantage over almost everyone in the NBA. He should be given plenty of rope on a bad Minnesota team, however, and his upside is so high that he cannot be ignored. Best of all, Wiggins has Ricky Rubio driving him to be a dog (see video below).
3. Nerlens Noel, PF/C, Philadelphia 76ers: Although he was drafted in 2013, Noel is still technically a rookie after missing all of last season with an injury. Now he figures to be one of the few points of interest on a 76ers squad that missed out on Wiggins and Parker, and then reaffirmed their commitment to tanking by selecting an injured Joel Embiid and a stuck-in-Europe Dario Saric in the first round. Kentucky product Noel is far more dangerous on the defensive side of the ball right now, and he could prove to be one of the NBA’s top shot blockers. Plus, at 6′11″, 228 pounds, he should be able to clean the glass on both ends of the court. Also working in his favour is the team’s desire to force feed him as much developmental time as possible as there are no aspirations in Philadelphia to be anything more than a bottom feeder again in 2014-15. Don’t expect a lot of points, but Noel could certainly contribute in other areas.
4. Dante Exum, SG, Utah Jazz: There were rumours right before the draft that Exum had wowed the Bucks, and that they were considering taking him with the second overall pick. While that didn’t come to fruition, he went fifth overall and looks to be a potential cornerstone for the Jazz. That’s more of the long-term view, though, as in the short term he’ll need to figure out how to get minutes away from 2013 first-rounder Trey Burke and/or shooting guard Alec Burks. With his size, speed and penetration ability, Exum has tremendous upside. He’ll need more minutes than a three-guard rotation provides to realize that potential, however.
5. Elfrid Payton, PG, Orlando Magic: At 6′4″, 185 pounds, Payton is a wiry point guard that has the size and speed to make life miserable defensively on his smaller counterparts. He’s a decent scorer but not a great (or even good) shooter at this stage, which is a combination that can keep both points and field-goal percentages low. His toughness and unselfishness will play immediately at the next level, and there are plenty of developing options in Orlando he can set up for shots. For 2014-15, Payton is someone that should at least be able to help in assists and steals.
6. Doug McDermott, SF, Chicago Bulls: Unlike almost everyone else on this list, McDermott plays for a legitimate title contender and, as such, may find minutes harder to come by. That being said, the rookie offers something few of his new teammates possess: the ability to be a deadeye shooter from range. That’s not to imply he’s merely a spot-up shooter, either, as Dougie McBuckets is a legitimate NBA-caliber scorer whose heady approach should endear him to his veteran teammates.
7. K.J. McDaniels, SG, Philadelphia 76ers: Maybe you’ve heard, but the 76ers are pretty thin on NBA talent, especially after spending their two first-round picks on guys that probably won’t play a minute for the team this season. However, early in the second round, they did snap up McDaniels, a dude that can swing between shooting guard and small forward. He’s a tremendous athlete that can make things happen defensively (read: steals and blocks) and attack the basket on offense. McDaniels’ jump shot is weak, but he’ll get something a lot of guys on this list likely won’t — opportunity.
8. Marcus Smart, PG, Boston Celtics: Based purely on talent, Smart looks ready to step in and start immediately in the NBA. He has the strength and toughness to keep attacking the rim, and he’s one of the draft’s best finishers. Unfortunately, the Celtics already have an All-Star at the point in Rajon Rondo, and while Smart could play the two, his game is better suited running the show. Boston’s desire to deal Rondo has been one of the league’s worst kept secrets for a while now, so there’s some value in stashing Smart on your bench and hoping Danny Ainge finds a taker sooner rather than later.
9. Nik Stauskas, SG, Sacramento Kings: Stauskas’ skill set is primarily built around scoring. He’s what Bill Simmons would call an “irrational confidence guy” — someone that thinks pretty much any time he can send the ball toward the rim it’s a good look. Despite being limited athletically, Stauskas is more than just a shooter, and he can score in bunches when given the chance. Like so many players on the list, though, Stauskas is stuck behind someone (in this case, Ben McLemore) and is unlikely to see big minutes as long as both guys call Sac Town home.
10. Shabazz Napier, PG, Miami Heat: Napier had big-time name recognition because of his stellar play during the NCAA Tournament, and that was before LeBron James singled him out. As a rookie, Napier figures to split time with Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers (and, to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade). Napier does a lot of things well, though many of them come with the qualifier, “for his size.” It’s a bit of a cop out to say that he just has that “it” factor, but he proved time and time again as a collegiate that he had a knack for making the big play, whether on offense or defense. Will it translate to the NBA? We’ll see.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below which rookies are catching your eye this season.