Projecting Next Year’s NBA Rookies
As this year’s group of rookies set out to begin their respective summer camps, it is never too early to project the rookies in regards to how they will fare next year.
Top Scorer: Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
What better place for the best scorer in the draft to go than the free-shooting Warriors? In Don Nelson’s system, Curry is going to have a lot of freedom to roam around the floor and find open looks. Helping him out will be point guard Monta Ellis whose penetration in the lane will free up Curry.
While Curry’s natural position is at the point, Nelson’s system calls for athletic guards who can do it all. His range is there and he proved this year that he can pass the ball as well as he can shoot. With Jamal Crawford being traded to the Hawks before the draft, Curry should be a starter from day one.
The Warriors averaged 108.6 points last year, good for second in the league, and that average could very well go up next year with Curry in the lineup. PROJECTION: 16.5 points
Top Rebounder: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
A no-brainer here for the first overall pick in the draft as Griffin should have plenty of minutes to rack up the boards every night. Center Hasheen Thabeet might be a close second but he does not project to play as many minutes as Griffin this year.
For the Clippers, Griffin will have to compete with Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby for boards, but the 6’10” power forward should have no problem ripping down missed shots. Last year for the Sooners, Griffin averaged 14.4 rebounds per game to lead the nation.
While those numbers will obviously go down, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Griffin to average close to double-digit rebounds. He has the size, athleticism, and instincts that attract him to the basketball on every possession. PROJECTION: 8.6 rebounds
Top Passer: Jrue Holiday, PG, Philadelphia 76er’s
Kind of a wildcard pick here and if Ricky Rubio is traded to the Knicks, then I would put him in this spot. However, Holiday is put on a team where he is going to pick up huge minutes and be playing around good talent.
Projected as a lottery pick in almost every mock draft, a shoulder injury scared teams away that allowed the 76er’s scoop him up. With Andre Miller leaving to free agency, the keys to the car are now given to Holiday with high expectations.
Last year, the 76er’s were in the top ten in field goal percentage so Holiday should have plenty of chances to pick up dimes. If Elton Brand can stay healthy, he will join Andre Iguodala as the two main cogs for Holiday’s success. Starting on a playoff team that shoots good percentages will lead to good things for Holiday. With excellent court vision and a jump shot in the works, all signs lead to Holiday handing out a lot of assists this year. PROJECTION: 5.9 assists
Top Teammates: Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
This seems like an obvious choice here but there is still a chance that Rubio is traded elsewhere. The Wolves’ front office clearly believed that the two can co-exist in the same backcourt and if this is true, they should form a fantastic duo. Rubio has a very raw shot that needs work but has court vision unlike any other prospect in the draft. His teammate Flynn is more of a scorer that looks for his shot more than passing lanes.
If the two are on the court at the same time, size will be a problem but it will be interesting to see how they work off of eachother. Both have great speed, are tough as nails, and have played on the big stage.
If Flynn can improve his jump shot range just a bit more, he will become a legitimate scoring threat from outside that will, in turn, make Rubio that much better as well.
Top Defender: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Memphis Grizzlies
The best defender in college basketball last year will be the best rookie defender in the NBA next year as well. One more time, the term of “altering shots” (that I first coined) is where Thabeet makes his money, and while it will not be the same in the much bigger NBA, 7’3″ is 7’3″ and Thabeet will get his fair share of blocks and boards.
He will need to gain some more weight and muscle if he wants to battle down low with the Dwight Howard’s and Shaquille O’Neal’s of the league, but for now he remains a long, athletic big man that will succeed on the defensive end of the floor. PROJECTION: 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks
Best Backup: Eric Maynor, PG, Utah Jazz
The Jazz’s biggest need going into the draft was finding a backup for Deron Williams and they got their man. Maynor has great experience and is one of the more NBA-ready point guards in the draft class that can see minutes right away.
Not only will he see the court, but he will learn from Williams that should improve his game even more. Much like a rookie quarterback in the NFL, being able to sit back and learn as a backup point guard will slow down the game for a guy like Maynor.
A close second place in this category was Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets. Much like Maynor, he will be joining a team with a veteran point guard and a team that can shoot the lights out. Both have experience, good basketball IQ’s, and a mentor that should make them decent pros at worst.
Biggest Sleeper (first round): Toney Douglas, SG, Florida State
If Douglas can put everything together, he could become an excellent pro in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Along side Chris Duhon, he will have a chance to start and see good minutes right away.
Douglas is a tad bit undersized at 6’2″ but makes up for it with his excellent shot and even better defense. He runs the court exceptionally well which is always a plus for a fast-paced offense, with the outside range being an added bonus.
He slipped due to his size and age (23), but if he can overcome his lack of size and continue to work on his defense, he has the chance to start one day.
Biggest Sleeper (second round): DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs
For a guy that was projected to be a late lottery pick, it sounds weird to say that Blair is a sleeper. While many know about him, I completely expect him to exceed expectations of a second rounder and become the next Anderson Varejao.
Jamie Dixon, Blair’s coach at the University of Pittsburgh, said he talked to all 30 teams to let them know Blair never missed a practice or game because of his knees, but clearly some teams still thought it was an issue that let him slip 36 slots.
I don’t think that his offensive game is good enough for him to ever start on a consistent basis, but his rebounding skills and brute strength is good enough for him to play big minutes off the bench.
Playing in San Antonio next to Tim Duncan can only help Blair’s success as well. With the trade obtaining Richard Jefferson, the Spurs are contenders in the West once again and now have Blair to help the run.
Best Foreign Player Other Than Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings: Omri Casspi, PF, Sacramento Kings
It goes without saying that Rubio and Jennings are expected to outperform all other international players, but after that Casspi is next in line. I’d be lying if I said I have ever seen him play outside of his draft clip after he was taken, but from what I hear he can be a good role player for the Kings.
When I saw his reel, I saw a more athletic player than Andres Nocioni who he has been compared to for a while. He has the same tenacity and wreckless play that Nocioni has, but I liked his smooth shot a little more and felt like he played much longer as well.
Everything I hear says he should stay and play in the NBA this year and could have an impact right away. The transition to the Association will be different, but a player of his talent should make it.
Biggest Difference Maker: Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks
This might be a bit of a homer statement, but I believe that is Jennings can step in right away and play to his tenth pick potential, the Bucks are a playoff team next year. The Luke Ridnour experiment failed miserably and the selection of Jennings all but said goodbye to Ramon Sessions. If Charlie Villanueva is re-signed, the Bucks should have a solid nucleus capable of winning 41 games, even without Richard Jefferson.
As for Jennings, he joins a solid group of veterans including Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, and should create messes for defenses. He is a score-first point guard that plays very well in transition, two things the Bucks lacked last year.
Injuries riddled the Bucks last year but if they can stay healthy, the playoffs are not out of the question and Jennings will be a big reason why.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
Year in and year out, the Rookie of the Year comes from inside the top ten and this year will be no different. Griffin was the one bright spot in a draft full of potential and will have the biggest impact on any team this year. The Clippers are quickly putting together a solid core group with Griffin, Eric Gordon, and Al Thornton that could be very good in a few years. Griffin should average around 15 points and 9 rebounds and be a highlight reel every time he steps on the court.
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