With the NBA season upon us, it’s time to re-assess the rookies of the 2014 NBA Draft. This year’s draft class was one of the most well-regarded draft classes in history, with several players touted as future All-Stars. Unfortunately for some players, hype can only help to sign those rookie contracts before Summer League and pre-season matches expose glaring weaknesses in their games. Despite this phenomenon, many of these players do look like their skill-sets will translate to the NBA. Here are a few rookies to keep an eye on who have already distinguished themselves in the preseason:
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker
Because of the debate that raged on about whether to take the small forward out of Kansas or the one out of Duke with the first overall pick of the draft, I’m grouping these two together. Both were highly rated out of high-school, both played only one year in college, and both have shown flashes of stardom in limited minutes in the NBA. Wiggins has proved to be a ferocious defender, using his unmatched athleticism to play lockdown on-the-ball defense. His 3-point stroke looks good too, as he looks to add to his offensive arsenal. On the other hand, Jabari Parker’s offensive game is already polished. He’s been facing people up on the low-block, jabbing and spinning his way into easy looks. His step-back jumper is beautiful as well. Milwaukee seems to have stumbled upon quite the gem, and must hope that Parker’s professions of love for the city are both genuine and lasting.
The big man from Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a pleasant surprise for the Denver Nuggets this pre-season. The 16th overall pick in the NBA draft has averaged 8.71 rebounds in 18 minutes of play per game. As the pre-season wears on, he’s actually demonstrated a serviceable offensive game, but where he really shines is on defense. He’s been blocking shots and getting to his defensive spots–his feet are fantastically mobile, and not even just for a big man. While he fouls literally everything that he sees, this can easily be fixed with good coaching and experience.
Every year, a guard from a mid-major school receives the same criticism – he didn’t face stiff enough competition to warrant a high-lottery pick. And every year, that player seems to prove the critics wrong. If nothing else, Payton will be in the running for the coveted Best Hair award with Anthony Davis and James Harden. As a 6’ 4’’ point guard, he should see the court with ease. After shining in Summer League, Payton picked it right back up in the pre-season, averaging the most assists of any rookie. His main weakness is the inconsistency of his mid-range shot, but if he can shore that up he will find himself starting for the Orlando Magic in no time.
Imagine that you live in a world in which Lebron James is the best basketball player on earth. Imagine that the best player in the world singles you out as the best player of your class. Imagine that the Miami Heat, in an attempt to appease said basketball god, does everything in its power to draft you and does so. Would you be happy? Yes? Well, don’t be, because imagine that your hopes and dreams get crushed just because Lebron got a little sentimental. Poor guy. Nevertheless, he deserves mention here because he displays so much maturity and confidence as a primary ball handler. In a very telling overtime game vs. the Spurs, he made all the right passes down the stretch and hit four crucial free throws to seal the game away. While this is just the pre-season, he just carries himself with an air that makes one wonder if Lebron might have been on to something.
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