Every NBA draft opens up a can of questions, criticisms and confusion. Teams make questionable picks, drafting a player that doesn’t seem to fit or picking someone that analysts pegged as going many picks later. That’s all well and good, and it’s always fun to have a good laugh at those.
Let’s not forget that most NBA general managers are at least somewhat competent at their jobs, and many of them nail picks that can instantly help their team. This year’s draft class has plenty of players that have “can’t miss” written all over them. Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum are dripping with star potential. Outside of the obvious, let’s take a look at some of the rookies who will help their clubs from opening night in 2014-15.
Some skills and traits are guaranteed to carry over from the college level to the pros. Scouts rave about how high motor guys will always have a place in the NBA. The logic makes sense; if a talented player is willing to work harder than everyone else, they’ll succeed. Julius Randle has that reputation. Meanwhile, rebounding has been shown to be one statistical category where college success can indicate a proficient NBA glass cleaner. Randle was one of the top rebounders in the college game last year, and he’ll have the opportunity to do plenty of that with the Lakers this season.
Randle snared 13.3 percent of offensive rebounds and 19.2 percent of total available rebounds in his year at Kentucky. When you look at the offensive talent on hand in LA, you realize that the offensive boards and putback attempts will be plentiful for Randle, wingspan concerns be damned. Kobe Bryant is so well-known for launching shots that Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry created a stat in his honor: Kobe Assists, credited to a player who misses a shot that is then rebounded by a teammate and put back in for a score. Jeremy Lin and Nick Young, both of whom figure to get their fair share of shot attempts this season, both shot under 45 percent last year. Get ready for Randle to be one of, if not the top rebounding rookie in the league. Hell, he could average a double-double off of Kobe Assists alone!
(Don’t kill me, Kobe lovers.)
Oh, Chicago. The hard-nosed city with the harder-nosed basketball team. For the Bulls, everything comes back to one five-word refrain: “If Derrick Rose is healthy.” Last year, Rose missed nearly all of a second straight lost season after tearing his meniscus. Well, D-Rose is supposedly healthy as can be, and McBuckets could be the biggest beneficiary of that health.
The Bulls were a pathetic offensive team last season (28th in offensive rating, ahead of just Orlando and Philadelphia), and were among the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, ranking 26th in makes and 28th in attempts. Right away, McDermott should be a boon to them. In Las Vegas Summer League, he’s already shown a propensity to come off screens with the ball and rise up for jumpers. McDermott shot nearly 45 percent from long range as a senior at Creighton, and was over that mark for his college career. If he can hit close to 40 percent as a rookie on a decent volume of attempts, the Bulls will be a much better team for it. The question, of course, will be whether or not he can get on the floor consistently. The Bulls just added two members to their crowded front court in Pau Gasol and international sensation Nikola Mirotic. Even when the team eventually jettisons Carlos Boozer, McDermott will still have to fight for minutes. Draining a few threes will help that.
Basketball nerds fell in love with the Bobcats last year, with their excellent team defensive play and the majesty of Al Jefferson on the block. Now the Hornets, Charlotte certainly hopes to build on last year’s playoff appearance and establish themselves as a contender in the wide-open East. Punching up their offense will help, and Hairston could play a big part in that.
After bouncing from UNC due to some off-court issues, Hairston played in the D-League before Charlotte snapped him up in a draft day trade, and he very well could be the backcourt shooter they were missing last year. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and company provided absolutely no shooting from Charlotte’s guard spots, and Gary Neal, acquired at the trade deadline, was the only guard to crack 40 percent from deep, and no one else was close. Hairston, meanwhile, shot nearly 40 percent in his final year at North Carolina, and hit 35 percent from long range in his D-League stint on nearly eight attempts per game. Now, imagine that kind of bomber getting more of his attempts as a spot-up guy or rotating around Jefferson in the post. If Hairston can help Charlotte climb into the middle tier of three-point shooting (they ranked 24th in percentage last season), it’ll make their sting a lot more threatening.
Sources tell me the Sixers were really bad last year. While fans salivated at the thought of adding a Wiggins here, an Exum there, none of that came to fruition, and neither of the Sixers’ 2014 first rounders, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, will make an impact until at least a year from now. But thanks to the foresight of GM Sam Hinkie, Philly will be debuting a top-flight prospect anyway. Noel was brought over as part of the Jrue Holiday swap during the 2013 draft, despite the knowledge that he’d miss a year after ACL surgery. Now, the flat-topped big man is set to make his presence felt.
Noel’s specialty is defense, and the Sixers surely could use it. In his 24 games at Kentucky, Noel averaged an absurd 4.4 blocks per game in under 32 minutes per contest. The Sixers, as a team, averaged four blocks per game last season. In his summer league action in both Orlando and Las Vegas, Noel has shown a propensity to block shots from anywhere, be it from the weakside or on the ball. His presence alone should help the Sixers improve dramatically in defending the rim, where they were third-worst in the league last season in field goal percentage allowed, per NBA.com.
While Noel’s offense is known to be a work in progress, he’s flashed some potential as a mid-range shooter, and should immediately be Michael Carter-Williams’ best friend when it comes to pick and rolls.