The recipe for winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award is a mixture of ability and opportunity. A player has to demonstrate immense talent that then results in solid numbers to separate himself from the pack. Of course, in order to stand out as the best rookie in the league, the player has to be in a situation where he can get considerable playing time. All coaches deal with allocating minutes to rookies differently, so the situation has to be right for the rookie to get the opportunity to shine.
These 10 rookies will have plenty of chances to prove they belong in the league. Whether they were brought in to fill an immediate need or are in a situation where they can grow organically with other young talent, these guys will be looking to continue their strong Summer League and preseason play into the games that actually count.
Like all NBA awards at this point, numbers matter. While many of these guys may have great rookie seasons, the award is going to go the player that demonstrates, without a doubt, that they’re the best there is.
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10. Donatas Motiejunas, Houston
The Houston Rockets had to wait a year for Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas. Taken with the 20th pick in the 2011 draft, the 7-footer played in Poland during the lockout-shortened season, winning the Polish Championship with Asseco Prokom Gdnyia. Motiejunas had a strong showing at the guard-dominated NBA Summer League in July, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds in only 25 minutes a contest. He showed that he’s extremely comfortable with the ball in his hands and has a variety of polished moves in the post. Watch the game film from Vegas and you’ll have difficulty finding an time he wasn’t the best big man on the court.
Although he is a more natural four, he’ll likely see a lot of time at center this season. He has decent range and is an excellent ballhandler for his size. It will be interesting to see if the Rockets use him to initiate the offense for their second unit as he has the ball skills to be a point-forward type of player.
Motiejunas shot the ball well in the preseason (51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep) and averaged 9.4 points in about 19 minutes a game. He does lack the muscle to bang down low with the more physical bigs in the league, but Houston didn’t draft him for his defensive prowess. He’ll be able to utilize his several years of professional experience to be an immediate contributor for the young Rockets.