Rookies to Target
John Wall, PG, WAS: Wall was the no-doubt number one selection in this year’s draft, and he’s the consensus favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award… at least among those drafted this season. Wall is a long-armed, extremely quick lead guard with the ability to get into the lane at will and finish at the rim. This is an extremely valuable skill in today’s no-hand-check NBA, so Wall should be able to come in and produce right away. Wall is not a natural point guard but he has great ball-handling ability, good cross-court vision, and seems to know where his shooters are spotted up which should allow him to get plenty of assists off the drive-and-kick even if he’s a bit rusty sometimes running the offense. Wall needs to work on his jumper, but recent young PGs like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook have shown that you can be a big-time contributor even without one. Wall is going to get a lot of steals this season, as he has long arms and quick hands and can be disruptive to both the dribbler and in pass lanes. Finally, he will be playing in the guard-friendly Wizards offense next to another great scorer in Gilbert Arenas, and Wall has been given the keys to the franchise…a situation similar to Stephen Curry last year in Golden State next to Monta Ellis. Everything is set up for Wall to have a huge rookie season.
Blake Griffin, PF, LAC: Griffin was the no-doubt number one selection and consensus favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award out of last year’s draft, but a preseason knee injury has delayed his rookie season until this year. While there are still some question marks surrounding the health of his knee, most signs point to his being ready to go to start the season. This should mean big numbers right out of the gate, because the Clippers have every intention of making him the centerpiece of their team this year. Griffin was already physically mature enough for the NBA a year ago, so with another year of growth and weight training under his belt he should be even more ready to bang with the big guys in the league. At full strength, Griffin is an ultra-athletic 6-10 power forward in the Amare Stoudemire mold, with great leaping ability and the aggressiveness to finish strong in the paint. He is a gifted rebounder with excellent fundamentals, and is also a good enough passer that he could average a few assists per game as the focal point of an offense. Griffin’s biggest question mark is obviously his ability to stay healthy, as he has already experienced an injured shoulder in addition to the knee injury before he has even played one official NBA minute. But despite that uncertainty, Griffin has the upside to explode as a rookie and should be good value in the early-middle rounds.
Evan Turner, SG, PHI: Turner has been styled as this year’s Brandon Roy, and he has the skill set and situation to recreate Roy’s Rookie-of-the-Year numbers from a few seasons ago. Turner has great size for a wing at 6-7 and does everything well. He has a good midrange scoring game with the ability to hit the spot-up jumper or slash to the rim. He could stand to improve his ability to shoot off the dribble, but he is likely to play off the ball more in the pros than he did in college which should allow him more spot-up opportunities. Turner played a lot of point-forward at Ohio State, and with his court vision and passing ability he could turn in a few double-digit assist efforts as a rookie even from his position on the wing. He also looks to be a plus defender, and with his long arms he could be among the rookie leaders in combined steals and blocked shots this season. In Philadelphia Turner will be playing next to a wing with a similar skill set in Andre Iguodala, but all indications are that the Sixers plan to build around Turner which should mean that he slots into a focal role right away.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, SAC: Cousins is the upside pick from this group of rookies, as he has the physical tools and game to develop into a franchise big man. He is huge but athletically built, and at nearly seven-feet tall he will be too much for many NBA power forwards to handle in the post. Cousins is extremely comfortable in the paint on offense, with nice back-to-the basket moves and soft touch. He is also an unexpectedly good passer, which should pay huge dividends in preventing opposing defenses from collapsing upon him. His other secret weapon is a very nice shooting stroke, with comfortable range out to about 19 feet off the face-up. Cousins should be able to play well off of reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, and the two have the potential to form one of the better inside-outside scoring combos in the league. With his size and athletic ability, Cousins also has the ability to dominate the glass if he chooses to. And therein lies one of his big question marks: his attitude. Cousins has been compared favorably to Eddy Curry as a post scorer, but unfortunately he has also drawn cautionary comparisons to Curry as a player whose attitude, effort and ability to stay in shape bear watching. Cousins also needs to work more on his defense, as he is not as good of a shot-blocker as he should be. Finally, the Kings feature several other talented big men including Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and new addition Samuel Dalembert that could keep Cousins from getting the minutes off the bat that some of his classmates might receive. Despite these question marks, Cousins still has as high a ceiling as anyone in his class and has the potential to provide good scoring, rebounding, shooting percentages and even a block or assist or two as a first year player.
Wesley Johnson, SF, MIN: Johnson is a sweet-shooting scorer that was drafted by the Timberwolves, a team seriously lacking in that department a year ago. Even though the Wolves brought in Martell Webster and Michael Beasley this offseason, both of whom could see time at small forward, Johnson should still have an excellent chance to win a starting job out of training camp. Johnson has small-forward height at a long-armed 6-7, but he is thin and quick enough that he could also spend some time at shooting guard. His forte is the mid-range jumper, and with his form it appears likely he will develop pro 3-point range this year. Johnson is also a good rebounder and defender for a wing, able to use his foot speed and quick hands to disrupt passing lanes. The weakness in Johnson’s game is that he’s not a particularly strong ball-handler, which limits his ability to create off the dribble. He also lacks girth, which means that he won’t be posting up much, either. Expect him to do a lot of his scoring off of screens and spot-up jumpers, which limits his ability to draw fouls or handle the ball enough to generate big assist numbers. Johnson also battled a hamstring injury this summer that limited him during the summer league, but the injury was considered minor, and he should be good to go for the season. He also will have to fit into Kurt Rambis’ triangle offense, which could be a difficult transition for a rookie. Nevertheless, with his ability to put the ball in the hole and the Timberwolves’ need in that area, Johnson should get the chance to contribute right away and continue to grow his role as the season progresses.
Rookies to Keep an Eye on in the Middle/Late Rounds
Greg Monroe, PF, DET: Monroe is a very polished, fundamentally sound big man who should not have a steep learning curve upon entering the NBA. He was consistently productive as both a scorer and rebounder in his stint at the Las Vegas Summer League this year, and he will be playing on a wing-heavy Pistons team that could certainly use a skilled and productive big. The question mark with Monroe is that neither his size nor his athletic ability seemed to separate him much from his opponents in Las Vegas, which makes it hard to gauge how well his game will actually translate against the bigger, stronger and more athletic bigs of the NBA. He is worth watching in the preseason, and if he earns good minutes he has the potential to produce. But he doesn’t seem to have as much upside as Cousins or some of the other members of his class.
Tiago Splitter, PF, SAN: Splitter was drafted by the Spurs two years ago, but has spent that time playing professionally in Europe. He is considered by many scouts to be the best big man playing overseas, and in the FIBA World Championships he has already dropped a double-double on Team USA. Splitter is nearly seven-feet tall, solidly built, with a game that reminds some of a young P.J. Brown. He is a very good rebounder and defender and has solid post moves and the ability to score in the paint. Splitter is expected to inject some life and youthful energy into the Spurs frontcourt, and he could potentially win the starting job outright to provide Tim Duncan with his most talented battery mate since David Robinson retired. Splitter won’t put up Admiral-like numbers, but if he does win the job it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to challenge for a nightly double-double with good percentages and reasonable blocked shot totals.
Derrick Favors, PF, NJ: Favors is an athletic specimen who posted similar measurements to Dwight Howard’s at the pre-draft camp. He was one of the most highly touted high school players in the country in 2009, but though he was solid at Georgia, Tech his game wasn’t quite as polished and dominant as some expected. His post moves on offense are still very rough, and he could use polish as a passer, but with his size and athletic ability he should be a plus rebounder who can block some shots as soon as he steps onto the court. But that is the question: when will he earn consistent minutes on the court? Despite being drafted third overall, Favors is considered a bit of a project that could take a year or two to adjust to the pro game. Nevertheless, he is not as far away from contributing as last year’s second overall pick Hasheem Thabeet was, so Favors could be worth taking a flyer on late in drafts as a bench player with upside.
The Rest of the Lottery
Ekpe Udoh, C, GSW: Udoh was a great shot-blocker in college that could have potentially earned some minutes for the Warriors as a rookie, but he injured his wrist and is expected to be out until sometime in early 2011. When he returns he will be pretty far behind, and since the Warriors also retained center Andris Biedrins who should be healthier this season, Udoh’s rookie outlook is not very promising.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, LAC: Aminu has good size for a small forward and moves reasonably well for that size, but he is neither a dominant athlete, nor does he seem to have a game that projects well into a numbers producer. He is neither explosive off the dribble, nor does he have a good jump shot. In the Las Vegas Summer League he showed a willingness to hustle, but even that didn’t translate into many steals or blocks. The Clippers have a hole at the three spot, but Aminu may initially be best used as a combo forward off the bench.
Gordon Hayward, SF, UTA: Hayward enters the league as a bit of a combo forward tweener. He has the size of a big three, but not necessarily the athleticism to defend NBA wings full-time. Hayward was one of the heroes of the NCAA Tournament and has a nice jumper, and his game is somewhat reminiscent of former Jazz wing Matt Harpring. But questions about his ability to defend may prevent him from getting enough minutes to make a consistent fantasy impact.
Paul George, SG, IND: George is a do-everything wing with good size and potential that has drawn comparisons to everyone from Trevor Ariza to a young Tracy McGrady, with some even seeing his new teammate Danny Granger in him. Unfortunately, none of these three players had much impact as a rookie, and it appears that George could follow that same career arc. George was not able to produce big numbers for Fresno State, and he will also be playing behind Granger for the Pacers. He could eventually emerge as one of the better players in this draft, but he probably needs some time to develop.
Cole Aldrich, C, OKC: Aldrich has good size for an NBA center, and he is polished enough that he could contribute right away. The question is, how much can he contribute at the next level? Although the Thunder have playing time available for a good scoring big man, Aldrich generally projects as a quality backup pivot in the mold of a young Joel Przybilla.
Xavier Henry, SG, MEM: Henry is one of the better shooters in this rookie class, but he was drafted by a Grizzlies team whose wing minutes will be dominated by O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. Henry has also been in a contract dispute with the Grizzlies all summer, and that could potentially leave him even further down the depth chart if it continues to linger.
Ed Davis, PF, TOR: Davis is a very good rebounder that is comfortable playing in the paint, but he lacks polish on offense and is considered to be a bit of a project. Nevertheless, now that Chris Bosh has taken his talents to South Beach there’s room for Davis to earn as much playing time as he is ready for. Temper expectations for him, but keep an eye on him as his age and pedigree are not that dissimilar from what Bosh brought to the table for the Raptors seven years ago.
Patrick Patterson, PF, HOU: Patterson is an old-school back-to-the-basket power forward with the physical size and skills to contribute immediately in the NBA. Unfortunately for him, the Rockets retained Luis Scola this offseason and expect to have Yao Ming back as well. Thus, Patterson projects as a backup that could have to fight to step onto the court at all.
Keep on Your Radar
Larry Sanders, PF, MIL: Sanders is an athletic defensive power forward that showed excellent rebounding and shot-blocking potential in college then reinforced that with a strong showing in the Las Vegas Summer League this year. He made the VSL all-tournament team, and has the game to fit in nicely on a defensive-oriented Bucks team next to Andrew Bogut.
Eric Bledsoe, PG, LAC: Bledsoe was one of five Kentucky Wildcats drafted this year, and he was often overshadowed by his more talented teammates. Bledsoe played off the ball for Kentucky, but was drafted as a point guard and looked comfortable in that role in his stint at the Las Vegas Summer League. He was very poised on the court and demonstrated a strong understanding of the offense and where his teammates would be. He is also quick off the dribble, which could lead to penetration opportunities in the NBA. Bledsoe will start off the year competing with Randy Foye to be the backup for Baron Davis, but like Ty Lawson last year he appears to be NBA ready and could contribute solid numbers if called upon as an injury sub.
Avery Bradley, SG, BOS: Bradley is a tremendously athletic combo guard that was one of the most highly touted high school players in the 2009 class. He was solid, but not extraordinary during his season at the University of Texas, and he likely will require some development time as he learns how to play point guard. He is also on a veteran-laden Celtics team that wants to win now, and will be competing with several other wings just to get on the court. Nevertheless, Bradley’s calling card is defense which could be enough to earn him some minutes for a Boston team that breathes defense and lost its perimeter defensive stopper off the bench in Tony Allen this offseason.
Jordan Crawford, SG, ATL: Crawford is a pure scorer from the wing, and he can fill it up from long-range. In fact, his game is reminiscent of his namesake and current teammate, Jamal Crawford. Jordan seemed to have little opportunity for playing time behind both Jamal and starter Joe Johnson, but with recent rumors that Jamal has requested a trade, the lane could be open for Jordan to regain his sleeper status. If he gets minutes, he should get buckets.