The rookie class of 2014 has just about hit the quarter mark in their inaugural campaign, and for most of these nubile NBAers a semblance of what the rest of their season and beyond has started to become foreseeable. While many rookies have begun to author the story of their NBA careers, here’s a look at what the seasons have started to look like for this heralded rookie class’ lottery selections; and a few other notes about this impressive group of rookies.
1. Andrew Wiggins– So far Wiggins has proven himself to be everything that was expected; which is to say he’s been enigmatically inciting. Wiggins athleticism and defensive abilities make him a near lock to be an All-NBA caliber defensive player for years to come. And though his inconsistencies are maddening when juxtaposed to potential, he’s shown flashes of the offensive game that made him such a hyped prospect out of high school; including a 29 point explosion versus Sacramento on Nov. 22. But Wiggins still seems tentative at times, and its obvious that he doesn’t fully understand when to attack and when to let the offense come to him. If Wiggins can continue to work on his offensive efficiency and shot selection (he’s shooting just 39% from the field) then he has a chance to legitimize those Tracy McGrady and Scottie Pippen comparisons, fortunately for the one-and-done Kansas product, the woeful Wolves provide him an opportunity to develop and grow without the pressure of a win-now mentality. Hopefully he and fellow rook Zach Lavine can just avoid the perils of developing bad habits while mired in a losing season.
2. Jabari Parker– Like Wiggins, Parker has proven himself to be much of what was expected of him coming into his rookie campaign. Parker is a reliable and nuanced scorer (he leads all rookies in scoring at 12.3ppg) and has looked every bit the player he was coming out of Duke. His inside-outside game allows Parker to be perhaps the most versatile scorer amongst the rookie class and he has continued to rebound at a high clip at the next level (Parker is second amongst all rookies at 6.1rpg, just behind Nerlans Noel). His defensive efficiency numbers have also been better than expected. But most important, Parker has seemed to help galvanize the upstart Bucks, who are a surprising 11-10, and have looked far more feisty and engaged than the immature group that waded in the cellar of NBA mediocrity last season.
3. Joel Embiid– Unfortunately for Embiid not only will his foot problems prevent him from playing this season, but they also prevent him from running away from the dumpster fire that is the NBDL caliber collection of pseudo NBA fodder glumly referred to as the Philadelphia 76ers.
4. Aaron Gordon– While Gordon has been laid-up with a fracture in his foot since Nov. 16, the initial impressions with the Arizona product were solid. Gordon’s athletic ability and high-revving engine were never a question, but Gordon showed surprising shooting efficency, (he shot 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in the early goings, as well as improvement from the line) prior to his injury. Gordon is slated to return sometime in early January, and hopefully will get back on track with the youthful Magic.
5. Dante Exum– Exum entered the collective NBA conscious about a year ago as a tantalizing yet unknown commodity from the land of Luc Longley and Andrew Bogut. A year later, and the 19 year-old remains just as undefined. While Exum’s length and first-step are perhaps the best at his position amongst a deep rookie point guard class, it seems obvious that Exum needs some time to adjust to the physicality of the NBA game. His shot, which while shaky, is not fundamentally broken, sill remains a work in progress (just 36% from the field). But if Exum can just make defenders have to honor him from 15 feet and out, his ability to get by and finish with his length could make him a nightmare for opposing guards to stay in front of. Fortunately for Exum, even if his jumper never develops, his first step and defensive length could enable him to fill a rich man’s Shawn Livingston role for years to come.
6. Marcus Smart– Like Gordon, Smart has been hurt much of his rookie campaign (two nights ago he returned from an ankle injury that had him sidelined since Nov. 7), yet unlike Gordon, Smart still seems to be struggling to make defenders honor his outside shooting. In fact in what seems to be a trend amongst this rookie point guard class, Smart clearly has the physical tangibles, but the questions about his shooting ability remain (he’s shooting an abysmal 21% from the three). Smart is the first prominent player amongst this burgeoning rookie class to be assigned to the Celtics NBDL team, but this decision as much reflects the Celtics long-term approach, as it does Smart’s shortcomings. But Smart should feel secure, as his tenacity and basketball I.Q. seem to coalesce nicely with head coach Brad Stevens’ team direction.
7. Julius Randle– Like Embiid, Randle will miss the rest of this season after breaking his leg on opening night. Fortunately for Randle, he can cool off on the sidelines with the breezy draft that is a by-product of the swinging door defensive strategy employed by his fellow Lakers.
8. Nik Stauskas– As the surprising Sacramento Kings fight for Western Conference legitimacy, Stauskas has seen less playing time than initially expected. Part of that is Sacramento’s change to playoff viability, but part of that is Stauskas’ struggles to find the range (he’s shooting a Marcus Smartesque 23% from downtown), and Stauskas hasn’t quite looked comfortable in his somewhat brief time on the floor (Stauskas is just 21st amongst rookies in minutes per game at 13.2). NBADraft.net considered his selection at 8 to be a major reach at the time, and so far it’s appearing that way. Fortunately for Sacramento Ben McLemore struggled in quite the same manner last year as a rookie, and yet his emergence this season has conspired to keep Stauskas from playing significant minutes, and has Sacramento as the surprise team in the league.
9. Noah Vonleh– In what is making itself a disturbing theme, Vonleh has been hurt for much of his first year, only having played three games while dealing with a sports hernia. The former Hoosier has been on the court for a paltry 23 minutes cumulative this season, and unfortunately hasn’t been able to provide anything for the underwhelming Hornets. In the brief time he has been on the floor, Vonleh has looked as though he may be destined for NBDL assignment in the same manner as fellow lottery pick Smart. On the bright side, while hurt, Vonleh’s back can’t further stiffen as he sits in the corner and watches Kemba and Lance over-dribble until the shot clock runs out.
10. Elfrid Payton– As with the other point guards taken in the top-ten, Payton has shown the physical abilities that made him shoot up the draft boards; the former Cayenne already has some of the quickest and strongest hands amongst perimeter defenders in the league, rookie or otherwise. But like Smart and Exum, Payton’s jump shot, or lack thereof, allows defenses to mitigate his ability to get to the rim and create or finish. Payton’s mechanics are troublesome, but if he can develop just a mid-range stroke, a la Rajon Rondo, his explosive quickness, strength, and passing ability, will really shine when he can attack the heart of a defense. What’s been great for Magic fans is Payton’s embracing of a leadership role on the Magic, as the rook has clearly defined himself as the lead guard for Orlando (Payton leads all rookies with 5.0 assists per game).
11. Doug McDermott– Dougie “McBuckets” has been enveloped in a horrible shooting slump to start the year, as no one could have predicted that he’d be shooting 42% from the field, including 23% from range. But fortunately for McDermott he’s on a team that doesn’t need his scoring punch now, and the former Bluejay can continue to grow as a player while trying to find his shooting stroke.
12. Dario Saric– Let’s hope for his sake, and the Philadelphia organization, that the 76ers are never available on Croatian television.
13. Zach LaVine– Like his fellow rookie running-mate Wiggins, Lavine has shown moments that allow hyperbole to become acceptable when referring to the UCLA products potential (Lavine exploded for 28 against the Lakers last week and went for 17 last night in a loss to the Rockets). Yet also like Wiggins, Lavine can look lost on the floor, and still doesn’t understand exactly where his offense fits into to a team concept. With injuries to Kevin Martin and Minnesota in development mode, Lavine will have plenty of opportunity to show off his freakish athleticism and long-range shooting ability. But through the course of his development, the former Bruin will have to begin to answer questions as to whether or not he is truly a point-guard or will be stuck in some Rodney Stuckeyesque hybrid guard purgatory.
14. TJ Warren– Yet another injured rookie, Warren struggled with a fractured thumb early-on in the season. In the limited time Warren has played he’s struggled a bit with finding comfort offensively, as he no longer is the best athlete on the floor and needs to continue to develop a perimeter game that allows him to get to what he does best, attacking the second level of the defense.
– European rookies Bojan Bogdanovic (first in minutes per game among rookies at 31.2 and fourth in scoring at 10.1 ppg), Nikola Mirotic (7.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 16.59 PER), Kostas Papanikolaou (6.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.0 apg), have been prominent providers for playoff caliber teams, but aren’t all 2014 draft members.
– Nerlans Noel‘s early returns must have the Sixers organization thinking about Embiid, who is on the same methodical rehabilitation program. Noel has shown some intriguing shot blocking, but remains a major work in progress offensively, as expected.
– Yes KJ McDaniel‘s numbers are impressive, and yes he is clearly an NBA caliber bench player, but his numbers have the same bloat as Nate Wolters last year. Looter in a riot.
– Shabazz Napier, Rodney Hood, P.J. Hairston, Gary Harris, Joe Harris, Nick Johnson, and Jerami Grant have all shown flashes that bely what depth this draft had.