It seems like forever ago that the members of this year’s draft class were welcomed to the NBA. After patiently waiting for nearly five months, training camps have opened and these rookies’ lifetime goals are finally coming to fruition. But in a season of constant travel and drastically shortened training camps, which of these youngsters have the capability to break out this year? In perhaps the only top ten list where you can find two members of both the Timberwolves and Cavaliers, we give you the most likely rookies to make a big positive impact on the league this season.
10. Kawhi Leonard
The San Antonio Spurs didn’t give up George Hill for no reason. With the future of Richard Jefferson (amnesty) still up in the air, and the prospect of free agent Josh Howard joining the join uncertain, the door is open for Leonard to step right into an important role for a team desperate for young talent. There isn’t any single aspect of his game that stands out as great; He just does everything consistently good. Leonard spends a lot of his time on the perimeter, but has the capability of playing with his back to the basket. Watch out if he makes his first few shots out of the gate because he is a notoriously streaky shooter. If Leonard performs well enough during the shortened preseason and training camp, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to earn a starting small forward spot.
9. Enes Kanter
Kanter could very well end up as the best big man to come out of this draft class, but with the depth Utah has in its frontcourt, we’re forced to temper our expectations on this season. At 6-11, 261 pounds, Kanter has the size and strength to play at the four or five. He prefers to post up but can also face up and knock down mid-range shots. Plus, his soft touch is more than useful at the free-throw line as Kanter is never one to shy away from contact. The Jazz are well-stocked with bigs, meaning he will have to scrounge over minutes with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Mehmet Okur.
Being from Turkey himself, Okur told The Salt Lake Tribune recently, ““I’ve got to show him what he can do and what he should do the best to stay in the league a long time — even do a better job than I did. I have a lot of responsibility if you look at him and compare me and him.”
Kanter may sit and learn early. However, as we all know, it only takes one injury to incite a breakout season.
8. Kenneth Faried
Faried has already begun to make his mark on the league with his dope “Manimal” tees, which became all the rage on Twitter during the lockout. But marketability aside, the kid can flat out play. With the inability for Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin to leave their teams in China any time soon, there will be plenty of run available in Denver this year. Despite being listed as an undersized, 6-7 power forward, Faried is a rebounding machine with an endless motor who doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. Who better to learn under then the recently re-signed Nene, a player who for years has made his presence felt without necessarily needing the ball in his hands. Faried is a perfect fit for George Karl, who already has more than enough offensive options.
7. Brandon Knight
The whole rebuilding-through-free agency thing is definitely not working out in Detroit (see: Gordon, Ben and Villanueva, Charlie), so Joe Dumars must look to reshape his team through the draft. Brandon Knight is a heck of a start. The combo guard from Kentucky possesses a natural ability to score with ease and has a lengthy 6-7 wingspan to help him on the defensive end. In his lone year at Kentucky, he averaged 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists. The lockout affects point guards perhaps more than any other position. Having no coaching interactions or playbooks – and with a shortened training camp – will most likely keep Knight on the bench until he gets up to speed. Although he is not a pure point guard, expect him to emerge as a legitimate threat once he is acclimated in the second half of the season.
There’s also the question of the status of returning starter, Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey wants a deal for around $10 million per season, and is balking at the Pistons’ current offer. He’s threatening to take their one year qualifying offer and then bolt next summer as an unrestricted free agent. His status will undoubtedly affect how often Knight plays.
6. Jimmer Fredette
It’s been recently reported that the Kings will start Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton in the backcourt, but we should still see plenty of Jimmer Time nonetheless. The Kings sent Beno Udrih packing in a draft day trade that netted them John Salmons and the Naismith College Player of the Year Award winner, and Udrih meant more to the Kings last year than most would think. He averaged 34.6 minutes per game while providing stability during Tyreke’s injury woes. This role will now be allocated to Fredette, who will be more than up to the challenge. He won’t be scoring without breaking a sweat, as he did in college. But Jimmer will still be counted on to space the floor, allowing Tyreke to create.
Fredette is a liability defensively, but his high offensive IQ, along with his ability to be effective without dominating the ball, should be enough to keep him on the court and in the King’s long-term plans.