By NIKITA DUBNOV
This is the first part of a two-part series. Part Two will appear in next Wednesday’s paper.
Who are the most exciting and interesting rookies to watch this season?
The 2014-2015 NBA season started last night and there is already a lot of evidence that many rookies are on their way to illustrious careers in professional basketball. Only one player can win the Rookie of the Year award each year, but that does not mean that others are not going to play useful roles on their respective teams and show their potential in the future. The following is the first part of my list of my seven favorite NBA rookies for this season.
7) Marcus Smart, PG, Boston Celtics
Smart did not do a great job of showing his talent in the NBA preseason. The rookie from Oklahoma State had trouble scoring efficiently, which was a bit of a concern for people that believed in him. Nonetheless, the 20-year-old player showed off his ability to do the essential things. Smart distributed the ball well and played hounding defense, using all of his 6’4”, 220 pound frame to body his matchups. Many have now compared him to Tony Allen on the defensive end of the ball. IPaired with Avery Bradley, Smart may be a part of the best defensive backcourt in the league. As a Knicks fan, I do not exactly like hearing that considering rumors of a Rajon Rondo trade continue to circulate. One of the better pieces that the Knicks can send to Boston would be Iman Shumpert, but the Celtics may be deterred from taking Shump since they seem to be stacked with defensive guards.
6) Bruno Caboclo, SF, Toronto Raptors
This guy came out of nowhere on draft night. The Raptors spent their 1st round draft pick on a guy that nobody seemed to know. He was a random 19-year-old from Brazil. However, his 6’9” stature and freakish 7’7” wingspan was enticing when paired with his reported scoring ability. Proponents labeled him the Brazilian Kevin Durant, while critics were quick to point out when Andrea Bargnani was called the Italian Dirk Nowitzki. This time it is different because at the helm of the Raptors management is Masai Ujiri, who has shown in the past how his unpredicted moves have worked out. The only issue with Caboclo is that the Raptors are very saturated at his position. Hard work in practice and some physical and mental maturation will get the young Brazilian more minutes on the court.
5) Shabazz Napier, PG, Miami Heat
I do not have too much to say about Napier. Maybe it is because my dislike of the Big-3 era Heat is still lingering, but the quick guard was certainly able to display some great scoring ability in the preseason. Napier was a solid pick for a team reconfiguring (not rebuilding) after a stretch of glory. He has good upside and a bright future in the league.
4) Nerlens Noel, PF, Philadelphia 76ers
There is not too much love on the basketball court in the City of Brotherly Love. The Sixers look really bad. The roster looks like a random assortment of aging veterans and average youngsters looking for their path to NBA relevance. The Sixers claim to be building around two young anchors: MCW and Noel. I have not personally bought into Carter-Williams’ long-term legitimacy despite the ridiculous numbers the point guard was able to put up last year. On the other hand, Noel has a lot more potential of being a star in the NBA. Note that he was not selected in this year’s draft. The Kentucky big man went sixth overall in the 2013 draft and sat out the season due to injury. Noel is a stud in the power forward / center position. He stands 6’11” (plus a sweet 2-3” flat-top haircut), has a huge wingspan and is not afraid to contend on defense down low. Noel is one of the best blockers to come to the NBA in years, and he will be exciting to watch. Nonetheless, on a team as bad as the Sixers, there is a limit to how much he can succeed right off the bat. Given a couple of years, during which adding pounds in the gym would do him justice, Noel can be a star in the league. Just think of Anthony Davis’ progress since his arrival in the NBA. Noel has true talent, but even more will come with time.
That is all for this installment of my favorite rookies. Note that this is not a list of the top contenders for the ROY award. This is a list of exciting young players to look at this season, as they have a ton of potential to be the stars of tomorrow. Next week, I will release the second and final part of this list. Who will get the top three spots?