In the Dime office for the past couple weeks we have been watching NBA summer league basketball. I’ve gotten a chance to see most of the rookies play, and here are the 10 rookies — minus first and second overall picks John Wall and Evan Turner — I think will have the biggest impact next season after watching them go to work in the Orlando and Las Vegas leagues:
10. Derrick Caracter (Lakers) — The Lakers appear to have found a steal in Caracter, who fell into the second round of the draft. He has averaged just over 15 points and 8 rebounds in Vegas while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. With Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga both free agents, expect Caracter to slide into the role of L.A.’s fourth big man in the rotation after Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. And given Bynum’s injury history, Caracter could find himself playing significant minutes while the Lakers go for a three-peat.
9. Luke Harangody (Celtics) — Harangody not only earned himself a spot on the roster during summer league, but also a spot in the rotation. He played at 110 percent whenever he was on the court, and has the cuts and bruises to prove just how hard he played. He will come off the bench and provide energy, tenacity, and rebounding for a Celtics frontcourt that is aging fast.
8. Jordan Crawford (Hawks) — Crawford is a flat-out scorer. When he is on the floor he knows how to create his own shot and get buckets (16 points per game in Vegas), even if he doesn’t take the smartest shots. The Hawks reportedly love him, and Jordan should team with Jamal Crawford (no relation) to provide instant offense for Atlanta off the bench.
7. Damion James (Nets) — James can put the ball in the hoop. He is a great scorer (18.8 points per game in Orlando), who can get to the rim and knock down the three. Expect James to provide a scoring punch off the bench in New Jersey in addition to excellent perimeter defense.
6. Gordon Hayward (Jazz) — Hayward only averaged a little over 10 points in Orlando, but that doesn’t tell the full story. He shot 61 percent from the field, and took incredibly smart shots. His basketball IQ is off the charts, and with Kyle Korver gone in free agency, Hayward will replace him as the backup three.
5. Larry Sanders (Bucks) — Milwaukee brought in Drew Gooden to be the starting power forward, but Sanders is clearly the future for the Bucks. He has shown great athleticism for a four and an ability to significantly alter shots even if he doesn’t block them. He will bring rebounding and defense as Gooden’s backup while also having the ability to run the floor with Brandon Jennings and Co. and finish strong.
4. Lance Stephenson (Pacers) — Indiana’s point guard problems are well-chronicled at this point. With no terribly enticing options for the starting position on the roster barring a T.J. Ford trade, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stephenson begin the season as the starter for coach Jim O’Brien. Stephenson played with the ball in his hands most of the time in Orlando, and had much better shot selection than he showed in college, which led to him shooting over 70 percent from the field.
3. Derrick Favors (Nets) — Favors showed what he is capable of doing in his last game in Orlando. That game, he put up 23 points and 11 rebounds. With the Nets currently having no starting power forward, Favors may be forced into that role earlier than envisioned. He can provide defense and rebounding immediately, but it will take awhile for his offense to catch up.
2. Paul George (Pacers) — Even though George plays the same position as the best player on the Pacers (Danny Granger), Jim O’Brien will find minutes for him. George has incredibly long arms, and proved to be a very good defender, registering seven steals in one game. George is a solid all-around player whose unique skill-set will ensure lots of playing time.
1. DeMarcus Cousins (Kings) — I have always been a huge fan of Cousins, and stated my desire for the Nets to take him over Derrick Favors. In Vegas, Cousins has dominated games with the diversity of his skill-set. He can overpower his opponents but also knock down jumpers from up to 18 feet on his way to averaging 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds. He will be starting in no time for Sacramento and forming a scary tandem with Tyreke Evans.