NBA Rookies To Watch This Season

After Thursday night’s wildly unpredictable NBA Draft, the destinations of this year’s top prospects are now established, providing an opportunity to examine which players stand to make the biggest fantasy impacts during their rookie campaigns. Along with their talent, the following first-year players figure to make fantasy splashes due to the situations they find themselves in and their likelihoods of earning significant playing time during the 2013-2014 season.

Anthony Bennett – Cavs
The first pick of the draft is a physical big man who is capable of scoring in the paint or on the perimeter. Bennett is currently nursing a shoulder injury that will prevent him from playing in Summer League action, but the UNLV product should be healthy for the season’s start. With fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson as the Cavs’ incumbent starting power forward, Bennett faces competition for playing time, but his shooting ability will allow him to see minutes at small forward as well. Expect Bennett to put up strong scoring numbers, including an impressive amount of three-pointers for a power forward, and be among the top rookie rebounders given his 240-pound frame and 7-1 wingspan.

Cody Zeller – Bobcats
Zeller figures to start at power forward for a Bobcats team that desperately needs scoring from its frontcourt. Thankfully for Charlotte, Zeller has a polished post game and is expected to play as a stretch-4 also. The former Hoosier will have to overcome difficulties with scoring against longer players, but Zeller should see a plethora of minutes during his rookie season and likely will be the Bobcats’ second scoring option behind point guard Kemba Walker. Additionally, at seven feet tall, Zeller’s rebounding ability will help both fantasy owners and the Bobcats, who finished fourth worst in that category last season.

Nerlens Noel – Sixers
Noel is coming off a torn ACL that limited him to just 24 games last season at Kentucky, but when healthy, the 19-year-old possess knacks for rebounding and blocking shots that are unmatched by any other member of his draft class. The Sixers made a clear indication on draft night that they are rebuilding, so when Noel returns in November or December, he should see plenty of minutes. He needs to develop an offensive game, but Noel’s athleticism will allow him to help fantasy owners in rebounding and blocks right away.

Ben McLemore – Kings
McLemore slid to the seventh pick, when the Kings rushed their selection to the podium to draft the former Kansas standout. In his only season playing for the Jayhawks, McLemore led the team in scoring, which figures to be his calling card in the NBA as well. The swingman has a picture-perfect jump shot and elite athleticism, making him a strong candidate to lead rookies in points, especially given Sacramento’s lack of perimeter punch.

Trey Burke – Jazz
Last season’s Naismith Award winner will likely start at point guard on opening night for the Jazz and is a perfect fit given Utah’s preference for a scoring floor leader. Burke does well in the pick-and-roll and is a sound shooter, which should allow him to post strong point and assist averages during his rookie season. The former Michigan Wolverine could also lead first-year players in minutes played this season.

Michael Carter-Williams – Sixers
Philadelphia traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday on draft night, making Carter-Williams their starter from the get-go. At 6-6, MCW will be one of the league’s biggest point guards, which should allow him to duplicate the high assist numbers he posted at Syracuse. Along with his passing ability, Carter-Williams’ size helps him excel on the boards and in making steals. He is not much of a scoring threat right now, but his point average may benefit from the Sixers’ current lack of offensive weapons, forcing MCW to shoot more.

Shabazz Muhammad – Wolves
Simply put, Muhammad is a scorer. He averaged just under 18 points per game during his only season at UCLA and with Ricky Rubio as Minnesota’s floor general, Muhammad should find himself in many scoring opportunities. He needs to work on his ball handling, but Muhammad is a capable shooter who should benefit from the situation he was drafted into.

Isaiah Canaan – Rockets
Canaan, a second-round selection, is more of a sleeper consideration, but the Murray State product is a great fit for the Rockets’ high-octane offense. A fearless scorer and accomplished shooter, Canaan figures to provide Houston a bench spark and make his share of three-pointers to satisfy fantasy owners as well.

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