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basketballncaa.com opens up to the Nba. This is not about who will win the title or who will be the MVP. Honestly, we could not care less. All we want to do is keep an eye on the young guys. We followed their college career, and as they start their journey as professionals, we would like to know how they will do, at least at the very beginning. More often than not, the rookies who achieve success are the ones that get drafted in the right context, which is a fancy word with a dozen different meanings.
Sure, LeBron James jumped into the league and did not need any context to dominate, but the talent surrounding him was not enough to win, and he left. Evan Turner had all the hype surrounding a #2 pick, but he was quickly labeled a bust until a creative coach, a solid franchise and the right team put his career on the right path. There are incredibly skilled player who, unfortunately, have off-the-court issues, like, say, Hassan Whiteside, and will have to travel around the world and grow up before coming back. And then there are others who are not as lucky.
Anyone remembers Jonny Flynn? Two years in Syracuse taking the Big East by storm: Big East Rookie of the Year, Big East tournament Mvp, an epic six-overtime win in a quarter-final against Uconn and everyone was sure he was the real deal, even better than that kid from Davidson, Stephen Curry. He was the sixth pick in the 2009 draft for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the epitome of the dysfunctional franchise at the time. And they proved it once again that night by selecting Ricky Rubio with the fifth pick. That’s two point-guards with two consecutive lottery picks after giving Kurt Rambis (ex assistant coach for Phil Jackson) the head coaching position to implement the Triangle offense, a system that does not rely on point-guards.
There are plenty of other examples, but it should be clear by now: context is everything. And this is why we want to know what will be of these young athletes we loved in their college careers, however short. We will start with the Atlantic Division, the other teams will follow in the next days.
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Sophomore: RJ Hunter, Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey
Rookie: Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Ante Zizc, Demetrius Jackson, Ben Bentil, Abdel Nader
The Celtics minimum goal for the season is to reach the second round of the playoff, which means there will not be much playing time, if any, for inexperienced players. And the lack of minutes will be an issue for the nine players the team selected in the last two drafts. One of the players who seems to have a spot in the regular rotation is Terry Rozier. He already proved he can make himself useful, at least on defense, during the playoffs last season. During summer, he worked on his playmaking and shooting, and his Summer League performances were promising. Both are area of needs for the Celtics, since they lost Turner during summer, and Rozier hopes he can step into that role this season.
Jaylen Brown, third pick in the 2016 draft, could not find himself into a better position. His offensive game was pretty much non-existent in college and his choice to declare for the draft left some people doubting. The reality is, he will not have to do much on offense, most likely he will get touches playing off the ball, on backdoor cuts and corner threes, since the team already has good options on that side of the ball. His minutes will come depending on how fast he will adjust to coach Stevens defensive rotations. His athleticism should allow him to be effective in the passing lanes, and his body will allow him to switch in pick and roll situation, covering three and maybe four different positions.
Ante Zizic will spend one more season with KK Cibona Zagabria, while Guerschon Yabusele agreed to a deal with the Shangai Sharks and will play in the CBA. Nader, after playing very well in Summer League, agreed to stay in the D-League with the Maine Red Claws. Demetrius Jackson agreed to a contract that will pay him 5.5M in 4 years, in line with the 5M in 4 years signed by Mickey last year. Those contracts are unusual for second round picks and proof of the team’s confidence in their skills. Yet, Boston enters training camp with 16 contracts, one more than what is allowed when the season begins, which means that, barring a trade, one of RJ Hunter, James Young and Ben Bentil will not make the team. Hunter disappointed even after adjusting the over-hyped expectations that surrounded him, Bentil has a partially guaranteed contract and Young, though far from being a rotation player yet, is the second youngest player on the team.
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Sophomore: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough,
Rookie: Caris LeVert, Yogi Ferrell, Isaiah Whitehead
Hollis-Jefferson will return from the injury that sidelined him most of the season, and that can only be a positive for the Nets. Despite playing in only 29 games, he averaged 21 minutes and 9.8 points, 9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.9 blocks (all per-36 minutes) while taking care of the ball (1.5 turnovers per 36-min). Those are the kind of numbers one would expect from a starter, considering it was his rookie season. He will never be the face of the franchise, but he is the kind of player you want to have around your stars. Not that the Nets have much of a choice, since they mortgaged their future and will not get much from the draft for the next couple of years, but if RHJ had to develop an offensive game, things would be much brighter.
Most GMs wondered if LeVert would have ever seen the court. The talent is there, but he went through his third foot surgery, and most teams were not comfortable with the risks. The Nets had any and all kind of information on LeVert’s health, since the surgeon that operated him also works for the team. If he will be able to stay on the court, he might be the steal of the draft.
Isaiah Whitehead signed a contract worth 4.6M in 4 years, plus the 3M the team sent to the Utah Jazz to acquire the pick. That is a lot of money on a second rounder, and a lot of trust in his skills. The competition at both guard spots is tough and he is unlikely to get major minutes, but none of them are two-way player, leaving the door opened for the rookie.
Yogi Ferrell went undrafted and if Whitehead will have to fight for a a few minutes on the court, Ferrell’s task is almost impossible. He is likely to be in the D-League early and often, but he knows the door is open if he deserves to play.
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New York Knicks
Sophomore: Kristaps Porzingis
Rookies: Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Marshall Plumlee
Porzingis is not shy, fans got it when he started dunking everything back into the basket. Then, Durant said he is a unicorn, and Nowitzki added that he is for real. And for a change, the Knicks might have a coach that will not play him out of position, and he will stay at the power forward position with stretches at center when the Knicks want to go small. His second year will be much harder than the first, since opponents will now respect him more and will be more careful when he is in the game and the renewed roster will cut his touches. Every statistics last season, advanced or otherwise, projected him as a superstar caliber player and he is one of the three players who can be legit playmaking-centers. A lot will depend on coach Hornacek and on the responsibilities he will be allowed to take, and who he will take those responsibilities from.
Kuzminskas and Marshall Plumlee will not find much playing time. Noah and ‘Melo are unlikely to play every game of the season, but the roster is deep enough to cover any single game they will miss. In case of injuries they might get their chance.
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Sophomore: Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes, T.J. McConnell
Rookie: Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric
It is unusual to see so much talent on a team that only cared about tanking for the last few seasons. Sam Hinkie‘s Process got the 76ers the first pick overall in Ben Simmons, and possibly the franchise player they were looking for. Talent aside, Simmons fills an area of need (playmaking) but is part of an already overcrowded frontcourt. Expectations were sky high, but he suffered a Jones fracture in his foot when he rolled his ankle after stepping on a teammate’s foot and will most likely be sidelined for the season.
However, the team’s future hangs on Joel Embiid. He is finally available and will play this season after being sidelined for two years, although the team already announced he will be on a minute restriction and will not play the second games of back-to-backs. He might never be the player he was supposed to be before his injuries, but if he turned out to be 70% of what was promised, Philadelphia will have a franchise players.
There are plenty of reasons to feel good about Saric, but it is unclear how he will adjust to the Nba. The talent is there, he has good court vision and can attack on close-outs and off the dribble. However, while his shot improved throughout the season, it’s not reliable yet. Right now, he looks a lot like a less talented version of Ben Simmons but, with the #1 pick sidelined, he will have his chance to shine.
It seemed Luwawu was going to stay in Europe at Mega Leks, but he joined the team. He will not see much playing time and will probably be in the D-League while building a reliable three-point shot.
It is incredibly hard to judge Jahlil Okafor‘s season, considering the lack of talent on the team last year. He is a great offensive player who needs to be fed in the post in an era where teams are going away from that kind of sets. He took a lot of the blame for the awful season the team had, especially for his defensive issues and his inability to coexist on the court with Nerlens Noel. Still, in his rookie season he averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds. A player with his skill-set should be surrounded by shooters, and the 76ers shot 33.9% from beyond the arc last season. When evaluating Okafor’s season, a good comparison might be DeMarcus Cousins rookie season, who averaged 14 points and 8.6 rebounds in a team devoid of talent. Considering the kind of force Cousins is a few years later, it would be smart to wait on Okafor before giving up on him.
Philadelphia has a frontcourt logjam that will have to be solved at some point in the future, and most of it will depends on Embiid’s health. The injury Simmons suffered a few days ago left the 76ers with a normal rotation for the season, but if and when they will all be healthy, one of them will have to go, and it will probably happen in the summer.
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Sophomore: Norman Powell, Delon Wright
Rookie: Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff, Fred VanVleet
Norman Powell had a good season, and an impressive post season. He will now have to prove his performances were not a fluke. His skills allow coach Casey to space the floor around DeRozan, and if the Raptors are to reach the Western Conference Finals again this year, his versatility and shooting will be needed. Delon Wright spent the season mostly with the Raptors D-League affiliate, but he dislocated his shoulder in Summer League and will be available again in January.
Poeltl was a necessary pick on draft night, considering Biyombo was getting paid more than the Raptors wanted to offer him. He will need time to grow, much like every other 7-footer in the game, but he showed in college he has a good work ethic and is a fast learner. He is a good passer both from the high and low post and that will get him some time on the court, but he will have to be consistent on his jump-shot to be a real threat.
Pascal Siakam was a first round choice and that raised a few eyebrows. The Raptors bet on his potential, considering his career at New Mexico State. He will have to work hard to get playing time, since the team already has a few young PFs available, but the lack of a clearly superior talent at the position leaves the door opened for Siakam. It could be the same for Uthoff, but he will probably sign with the Raptors 905 after training camp. VanVleet, on the other hand, might be the third point-guard at roster and be back-and-forth with the Raptors 905.