One of the most unpredictable drafts in NBA history is in the books, and the speculation is underway. We at Dime are not immune from the guessing game that follows one of the most exciting nights of the year. This is the time for fans to feel optimistic, that they might have the next superstar on their hands. Even in a class that was seen as particularly weak, there’s still bound to be a few aces on the table. A lot of these guys might be seen as projects, buried on the depth charts until they’ve been marinated enough. But there are also the instant impact players, ones who are thrust into situations to help a team right away. They are the ones that hog all the attention from the media and could take home some hardware come spring.
Here are the most likely Rookie of the Year candidates…
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10. REGGIE BULLOCK, Clippers
Bullock enters a dream situation with the Clippers. He gets a star distributor in Chris Paul, an acclaimed coach in Doc Rivers, and not much competition at the SF spot. With Caron Butler floating around in trade rumors and Matt Barnes entering free agency, the former Tar Heel could end up with some solid minutes. He can shoot the lights out and defend the 2, 3 and even a smaller 4.
Of course, it will take some time for Bullock to crack the rotation, so he’ll be handicapped by lack of playing time at the beginning of the season. Once he sees the floor, though, I believe he could really garner some attention on a very good team. That L.A. spotlight won’t hurt his chances either.
9. SERGEY KARASEV, Cavaliers
The Russian guard was the Cavaliers second selection of the draft, but he could outshine the first overall pick if everything goes right. First, let’s hope that he decides to come play in Cleveland right away as expected. Then, he’ll need to crack a rotation spot at a spot where the Cavs aren’t too strong. Whether he tries to break in at the 2 or the 3, he doesn’t have too much in the way of competition.
He can provide Cleveland with a shooter they so desperately need, giving them the ability to stretch the floor. Most of the defensive attention will remain on Kyrie Irving and their other rookie, who I’ll get to later. But there are so many ifs with Karasev. We don’t know how well he’ll be able to defend at the NBA level, which could diminish his minutes. We don’t even know if he’ll even come to play in the U.S. right away, though he’s leaning toward Cleveland in 2013.
Decent, If Their Skills Translate
8. KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE, Pistons
Caldwell-Pope shot up draft boards thanks to some terrific workouts, and is now poised to take his sharpshooting to the big leagues. A master at the pull-up jumper, he fills an immediate need for the Pistons and may crack the starting lineup come opening night. When he gets out and runs the floor, it will be very tough for defenses to close out on his long-range shooting, which he excels at.
The 8th overall pick also possesses great athleticism, but it doesn’t serve him much in the half-court set. He needs to improve his ability to drive and finish, where he tends to lack the aggressiveness necessary to become a great scorer.
7. SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD, Timberwolves
Muhammad went in the complete opposite direction as Caldwell-Pope, falling from a projected top-five pick all the way to the bottom of the lottery. He enjoyed a good, but not great, freshman season at UCLA, which was overshadowed by selfishness, a diva vibe, and an age scandal that revealed he’s a year older than previously thought.
Thankfully for Muhammad, he can get a fresh start with the Timberwolves. He’ll have the chance to do what he does best: score in bunches. After averaging 18 points per game as a Bruin, it’s no secret that Bazz can pour it in with the best of them. If he can keep his head on straight and keep his minutes up (he may start the season on the floor), then he could make 13 other teams wish they didn’t pass on him.
If They Get Their Touches
6. BEN McLEMORE, Kings
McLemore was once seen as the top talent in the draft, so everyone was surprised when he fell all the way to Sacramento at No. 7. We know that McLemore can be a killer on the offensive side, evidenced by his three 30-point games during his freshman year. But the Jayhawk is also wildly inconsistent, failing to reach double-digits in points six times.
He has been criticized for a lack of aggressiveness in these instances, deferring to other teammates rather than taking over game on his own. This may not be a bad thing, obviously, with other dangerous weapons around him, but since the ROY voting is predicated on offense, he’ll need to have more of those high-scoring games and less nights where you just forget about him.
5. OTTO PORTER JR., Wizards
The Wizards were ecstatic when Porter fell to them at No. 3. He’s a great defender and a multipurpose weapon that can pretty much do it all at a high level. He’ll battle with Trevor Ariza for the starting spot at SF, and should win it outright. The history of success with Hoya alumnae bodes well for the 20-year-old, but his touches may be limited early on.
Sharing the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal could either leave Porter forgotten by defenses, or prevent him the necessary usage to really put up a ROY-worthy stat line. Porter may find himself as an afterthought in the Wizards offense, even though he’ll be indispensable on the boards and on defense.
4. ANTHONY BENNETT, Cavaliers
After shocking the nation, and Bennett himself, by picking the power forward as the top pick in the draft, Cleveland may have found a low-post partner for Kyrie Irving for years to come. Bennett might not start immediately, with a clogged frontcourt rotation, but he is no stranger to producing big without excessive minutes. He was able to put up 16 points and eight rebounds per game in just 27 minutes.
Higher expectations usually come with being the No. 1 pick, but most realize that Bennett still has to earn his keep rather than slide right into a starter role. If Tristan Thompson didn’t show so much improvement in the latter half of this past season, Bennett’s ROY chances would’ve improved. He may not be all the productive in his first season, but at just 20 years old, the Cavs have to be excited about their future.
The Likely Contenders
3. TREY BURKE, Jazz
Fresh off a NCAA title game appearance, Burke may be called upon to lead the Jazz from the season’s opening tip. Mo Williams is a free agent, as are Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley. As a point guard, Burke already has a leg-up on most of the competition. The last two, and four of the last five award winners, were all primary ballhandlers for their teams. That, coupled with the fact that the Jazz are already a talented squad, could spell instant success for Burke.
We are already aware that Burke is an electric scorer, but he has great court vision and a knack for facilitating an offense. His competitiveness and ability to lead were on display all throughout the Tournament, and there’s no question he has off-the-charts confidence after watching him against Kansas. It’s the perfect situation for Burke, and he should shine bright for Utah in his rookie campaign.
2. C.J. McCOLLUM, Trail Blazers
McCollum may follow up his new backcourt companion by matching his rookie success. Much like Damian Lillard, McCollum played the full four years at a mid-major, seeing his scoring rise every season. He also shot a ridiculous 51.6 percent on threes as a senior, which despite a small sample size, could be telling that he’s ready for Lillard to pass the torch.
One of the knocks on McCollum is that he needs the ball in his hands to produce at that kind of level. He ranked third in the NCAA in usage this past season and was the go-to guy for Lehigh during his entire tenure at the school. That will change once he joins Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. If he can find a way to coexist with his new teammates and score with fewer touches, he could very well be holding the hardware by season’s end.
1. VICTOR OLADIPO, Magic
The No. 2 overall pick is number one on my list for a litany of reasons. He enters a team with a core of young players in an atmosphere of growth. He will most likely start immediately. He brings the type of energy and enthusiasm that will make him a favorite around the league. His athleticism, efficiency and stellar defense make him one of the safest picks in recent memory.
Oladipo’s biggest weakness is his jump shot, but he still posted an incredible 64.4 percent shooting on two-point field goals. He’s a great rebounder for a guard, and will be able to do it all for Orlando from day one. His upside may not be the highest in this draft class, but he should be able to enter the league and make a big difference right away.
Who will win Rookie of the Year next season?
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