This past summer’s NBA draft was one filled with curiosity. There wasn’t a clear-cut number one pick due to Nerlens Noel’s ACL injury during his only year at Kentucky, and it was completely unknown as to where any of the players involved would end up.
Nearly half of the players taken in the first round were traded away from their drafted teams, and I bet every GM wanted to fast forward a whole year to see the intriguing, potential superstar-filled 2014 draft class makes it mark on the league.
But there’s something to be said though about this rookie class, and it can’t be overlooked. While many dubbed it as awful, surprises continue to crop up as more and more of these players gain experience in the NBA. So let's take a look at these first-year guys and delve into the statistics. It's Rookie of the Year Watch.
For a team that supposedly started tanking this summer after their drafting of Nerlens Noel, their rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has done his absolute best not to let the tanking happen. He’s been on a tear, including the special 22-point, 12-assist and 9-steal night in a win against the defending champion Miami Heat in the season’s opener.
But he was plagued in the middle of November with a foot injury and is now looking ready to come back after missing a week of games. Regardless of the injury though, he sits atop the pedestal as the rookie of the month, and the one to dethrone in the race for the Rookie of the Year. Averaging 17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 7.4 APG, and leading all rookies who have played 100-plus minutes this season in PER at 19.5, he’s shown he can handle play in the NBA and will be looked at as the point guard for the future in Philadelphia as they continue to rebuild a franchise that hasn’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 13 years, and one that hasn’t heralded a superstar since Allen Iverson.
Drafted second overall by the Orlando Magic, Victor Oladipo, the high energy, defensive-stopper from Indiana, has become an every-night player off the bench. Still raw on offense - struggling with turnovers at 4.1 per game and shooting just below 40% from the field - he’s still kept Coach Vaughn’s trust as a long, athletic combo guard.
The main issue with Oladipo, besides his turnovers, is his ability to finish at the rim. He’s only managing to make 45.2% of his shots within three feet of the rim, which is awful.
He’s shown signs of promise, however, by scoring in double figures in all but two games, and shooting well from behind the arc at 37.5%. He’s been a crunch-time player for Coach Jacque Vaughn as well, which will only help his game and provide him with confidence.
The focus of his development though is to continue gaining experience. He’s a player loaded with potential and he’ll only continue getting better game after game.
Both Carter-Williams and Oladipo were top-10 draft picks, but Nate Wolters, drafted 38th overall out of South Dakota State, has given the Milwaukee Bucks a steady, efficient point guard that can get the ball to their athletic, young big men.
Averaging 7.5 points and a little under five assists per game while starting seven of their 12 games, he’s been a pleasant surprise for a team who has mightily struggled over the first month of this season. Playing the point guard position, he’s managed a 13.2 PER and given the team a +10 in points production when on the court this season, which is important to note for a team who has lost 10 out of their first 12 games by an average of 12 points per game.
Though things are going well, Wolters needs to improve his three-point shooting immensely. It hasn’t been pretty at all, only making two out of his 19 attempts. But like the others on this list, Wolters will only continue to get better. He’s shown a maturity and a knack for taking care of the ball, limiting turnovers at only 1.3 per game. For rookies in the NBA, and especially point guards, that's usually the most glaring issue. Not for Wolters.
Everything has been streaky for the number seven overall pick from Kansas. Battling in a foursome of guards featuring breakout player Isaish Thomas, McLemore’s had up-and-down minutes. There's been games where he’s played seven and 13 minutes, but we've also seen three where he’s played over 30.
Along with his minutes, his shooting has been streaky. He’s had a lack of efficiency from three, and even much more from the field. Granted, his overall percentages, especially from three, has been admirable at 35.4%, he’s had games of shooting 1 of 8, 5 of 13 and 1 of 7 from the field, totaling only 37.6% overall.
Despite his lack of providing a rebounding, assist, and defensive contribution to the Kings, he’s been able to take care of the ball at the SG position for the Kings, averaging less than one turnover a game. However, shooting and putting the ball in the basket is his forte and will be the reason why he’ll continue his NBA career. If his minutes begin to see some consistency, his shooting and comfort level will be right on pace.
We’re a month into the season and only time will tell who’ll have a hold on the Rookie of the Year. Many other rookies have showed slight promise, including the Thunder’s big man Steven Adams and the Celtics’s Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani. They have the potential to explode onto the scene for their respective teams. However, opportunity and adapting to the NBA game will be key to all rookies succeeding in their first season, and it’ll be fun to watch all of them do it for the next six months.