With the NBA season on the horizon, it’s time to look at the pre-season favorites to win the Rookie of the Year race this season.
In one of the weaker drafts on paper in recent years, the field is about as wide open as can be this season. Players who are on bottom-feeder teams will have the chance to showcase individual abilities and gaudy statistics, but I will also take into account their contributions to their team’s competitiveness in games. Anyone can pile up stats in garbage time, but if you can do so in close games and sneak out some wins, your statistics and efforts look that much better.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 favorites for NBA Rookie of the Year this season:
10. C.J. McCollum, PG/SG – Portland Trail Blazers:
The Lehigh graduate has indeed suffered a bit of a setback with the broken foot he suffered just a few days ago. However, when he comes back he will have a chance to display the offensive arsenal he has at his disposal. He can shoot threes, get to the rim, distribute, and hit from mid-range as well. Like fellow rookie Archie Goodwin (spoiler alert), he can play point guard in a pinch, but he lacks the size to really bully other guards around. His skill-set makes up for the lack of size and his basketball IQ is off-the-charts high. He will be an entertaining player this season and one I look forward to watching. If he comes back soon and stays healthy, he may rocket up this list.
9. Archie Goodwin, SG – Phoenix Suns
While many will argue he left school too early and is not ready for the pros, Goodwin could not have landed in a better situation. The Suns are clearly rebuilding with the acquisition of Eric Bledsoe to play alongside Goran Dragic. Goodwin’s ability to play either guard spot, his excellent size and attack-the-rim mindset makes him a dynamic, young player with a chance to impress this season. He still needs minutes to succeed, and he will have to earn them with Shannon Brown and Kendall Marshall in front of him at the moment. However, it may not be long before he starts turning heads like he did in the summer league.
8. Dennis Schroeder, PG – Atlanta Hawks:
Another rookie with the potential to rocket up the list if things fall into place. The German-born point guard has supreme athleticism and quickness at his position and his instincts have been compared to Rajon Rondo; he looks to be just as big of a pest on defense as him as well. He just turned 20 and still has a bit of a learning curve, but his potential and hints of promise are undeniable at this point. If Jeff Teague were to go down with an injury, Schroeder would definitely get a large bulk of the minutes as the starting point guard. Still, he will spell Teague frequently enough to show us why the Hawks drafted another young, promising point guard.
7. Anthony Bennett, SF/PF – Cleveland Cavaliers:
This may seem a bit low for a number one overall pick, but Bennett will not be the first, second or maybe even third option on this team for a little while. He is undoubtedly one of the most gifted offensive players in this rookie class and his perimeter game does make him an intriguing mismatch for bigger defenders. The problem simply lies in the lack of opportunities he will get. He will play third or fourth fiddle to Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and maybe even Andrew Bynum/Tristan Thompson/Anderson Varejao. Bennett also has much to prove in the defense and rebounding departments. He lacks the quickness to defend quicker wings, and the strength to match-up with bigger post players. Though in a crowded frontcourt, the Cavs have enough depth that maybe during the season they will unload some players to make more room for Bennett and gain more cap space for, dare I say it, LeBron!
6. Trey Burke, PG – Utah Jazz:
Burke will be given the reigns on Day 1. While he was a tremendous college player, and one of my personal favorites to watch for his heady and clutch play from a man of his smaller stature, he might not have the physical attributes to justify his hype and draft slot. The core of his team is extremely young and while he might not be asked to lead the team right away, his ability to be able to do so will come into play at some point. We also must not forget his ability to make plays and his fearlessness of the big moment is a rare attribute to have. If he can fix his shooting woes from the summer league, he may prove me wrong and show us that he belongs near the top of this list.
5. Kelly Olynyk, PF/C – Boston Celtics:
One of my personal favorites on this list. His old-school post game brings back memories of a fairly poor man’s Kevin McHale. I’m not saying in any facet that Olynyk will end up being the next McHale, but his crafty moves near the basket, handle for a big man, and outside shooting ability are quite fun to watch if you love the fundamentals. He will get a lot of minutes on a bad team and I actually think he will end up higher on this list at the end of the year, but his ceiling is not as high as the four remaining players on this list, almost all of whom should see more minutes than Olynyk this year. However, since it is coach Brad Stevens’ first year, I could see Olynyk being a focal point on offense when he is in the game, and the Rondo/Olynyk pick-and-pop combo could be a fun little treat for basketball enthusiasts.
4. Ben McLemore, SG – Sacramento Kings:
McLemore is the total package for a shooting guard: size, athleticism, shooting stroke, defensive ability, etc. The only negative with his game so far has been consistency. In the summer league, we would see McLemore drop ridiculous point totals with excellent shooting numbers. And then he would score in the single digits, shoot poorly, and disappear from games. Landing with the Kings may not have been the best place for McLemore to grow, but he will get his chances. Almost immediately, he becomes the second option on offense behind DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings need to commit to McLemore and cut the crowded amount of egos and gunning mentalities (Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and even Jimmer Fredette, as much as I hate to say it) out of the picture if they want this former Kansas standout to become their second star of the future.
3. Cody Zeller, PF/C – Charlotte Bobcats:Photo Credit: Newsobserver.com
I flip-flopped on Zeller and Olynyk, mainly due to their similar skill-sets, but Zeller should end up starting and playing significant minutes this season on a slightly better team. Yes, I think the Bobcats might be better than the Celtics, as much as that pains me to say, at least until Rondo comes back. Zeller will benefit from playing alongside Al Jefferson. Jefferson averages less than 10 rebounds a game, meaning there should be plenty to go around for Zeller. He also spaces the floor well with his ability to shoot consistently out to 18 feet and he has worked on a three-point game as well this offseason. Zeller runs the floor exceptionally well for his size (7’0) and will get easy points that way this season.
2. Michael Carter-Williams, PG – Philadelphia 76ers
While I may not be MCW’s biggest fan, he does indeed possess the ability to be a good point guard in this league one day. He is huge for his position, has outstanding passing ability, and rebounds well for his position also. On occasion, he has also shown us he can hit big shots and make crucial plays in important games. But there are two large concerns that need to be addressed this season: shooting and turnovers. His outside shot is erratic at best and unless it is improved, teams will dare him to make them from deep before allowing him to penetrate and kick or dump down to his post players.
The second concern was certainly on display this summer as his assists were high, but his turnovers were as well. He does have a tendency to force plays and passes at times which is surprising for how good a passer he is. He, like Burke, will be given the reigns right away on an even worse team. He may end up piling up stats on a very, very bad team and this could sway voters to giving him the award. As I said before the list began, statistics piled up when you’re losing by 25 is not impressive, but piling them up while keeping a game competitive proves more about your ability and make-up as a player. The Sixers may not be as bad as we think if MCW can control his turnovers, shoot capably enough for his defenders to respect him, and facilitate like we know he can.
1. Victor Oladipo, PG/SG – Orlando Magic:
There is no rookie in the league I am more excited to watch than Oladipo. He is an incredible physical specimen combined with a tremendous work ethic and improving skill-set. He received rave reviews during the summer league for his much improved outside shot and ability to facilitate to his teammates from his newly appointed point guard position. Oladipo rebounds at a high rate for his size and is a transition monster on the wing. His outside shot does look much better and his confidence appears to be sky-high right now. Coach Jacque Vaughn has deemed it ideal to give Oladipo control of the offense and it might turn out to be a great decision if he can improve his dribble game a bit to consistently get by his defenders into dangerous areas. He will be a defensive pest much like Schroeder and his highlights this season should be second to no other rookie.
Watch this MISS and be amazed at his physical gifts.
Honorable Mention: Otto Porter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Tony Snell, Ray McCallum, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Reggie Bullock, Nate Wolters, Sergey Karasev, Mason Plumlee, Allen Crabbe, Nemanja Nedovic, Tony Mitchell.
By: John Pavia- Pass the Pill Contributor