The 2013 rookie class looks weak to me. Anthony Davis is the only sure thing in the group and that makes him an easy top choice. I mention other players as rookies to watch. Some will probably go on to have solid careers, but Anthony Davis is the story of the 2012 draft and the rookie class of 2013. I doubt many other 2013 rookies will make much of a ripple in the league.
Just because Davis is something close to a lock to win the ROY, doesn’t mean there aren’t several other intriguing rookies to watch. This list is based mostly on opportunity, but some on my feelings about each player’s potential. I don’t put much stock in slow or fast starts. These things even out when league play starts. The league will figure out the frauds and the truly talented players will eventually find their NBA legs. Sometimes that process takes as long as half a season. These players are listed in order of what I feel their chances are after Davis.
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans: When predicting awards and anything else for that matter, the predictor can get into problems overthinking things while overlooking the obvious. In the case of Davis, it would be correct to say that it’s possible he won’t be one of the top scorers on his team and scoring is usually the skill that lands a player the ROY. But Anthony Davis is clearly the best player coming into the league this year and has a good chance at becoming an all-time great. It’s rare that a player coming into the league ready to make an impact, like Davis appears to be, doesn’t win the ROY. The only scenario this doesn’t happen is the presence of another great player in the same rookie class, like Jordan and Olajuwon in ’85. Barring injury, Anthony Davis will win the 2013 ROY.
- Dion Waiters, Cleveland: Waiters by himself is a microcosm of the 2013 rookie class. I’m skeptical he’ll even make a ripple, but he does have some intriguing potential. He’s already getting some tough love from his coach and may struggle to get off the bench, at least in the first part of the season. He responded well to such treatment at Syracuse and we’ll see how he handles this. In general I prefer to bet on players with ability as opposed to fast starters. Waiters’ run at Syracuse was enigmatic, but included flashes of greatness. Cleveland is a good place for a rookie. They have a solid PG in place, some decent inside players and no real established scorer. Dion Waiters is a talented player in a good situation and my guess is he’ll figure things out soon enough to make an impact. That makes him the player most likely player to pull off a surprise and beat out Davis.
- Bradley Beal, Washington: Beal is similar to Waiters, in that both are young SGs with good ability who was taken high in the draft. That makes him a decent ROY candidate. He might be a better prospect long term prospect than Waiters, and certainly seems to be more mature, at least based on the reports I read as someone who isn’t an insider. The reason I have Waiters as more likely to win the ROY is his situation is better than Beal’s. Where Cleveland is stockpiling young talent and letting things sort out, Washington has cashed in some of that young talent for veterans who will be taking the lead and getting most of the shots. That situation could make opportunities harder to come by for Beal and suppress his scoring numbers until he establishes himself as a potent scorer at this level.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte: He is the 2nd pick in the draft going to a roster that is pretty much devoid of NBA quality starters. That alone puts him in the top 5 ROY candidates in a weak draft. The thing that will hurt him in the ROY sweepstakes is his lack of an offensive game. At Kentucky, MKG was neither a high-volume scorer (4th on his team in PPG) nor a particularly efficient scorer from inside or outside. His game was more of a super-supporting player. Winning the ROY is all about scoring and it’s hard to see MKG as a guy who’s going to come in and approach the 15-20 PPG ROY winners have traditionally posted. The lack of overall talent on the Bobcat roster and his status as the 2nd overall pick mean he will get the minutes though and that gives him an edge on most rookies.
- Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto: He looks like he has a good future, but he’s also young and raw. He’s coming to a roster where it seems more likely he’ll be eased in and won’t be a huge part of the offense. Considering he plays center, his long term prospects make him more valuable than any rookie other than Davis. I doubt we’ll see him make much of an impact for at least another year, but he is one to watch.
- Damian Lillard, Portland: I’m not a huge fan of Lillard. His college numbers suggest he’s a better fit as a scoring 3rd guard than a point guard. I’m particularly wary of his ability to put up numbers as the PG to an established, highly-paid trio. But he has the potential to be a pretty good NBA scorer and he’s been handed the starting PG job. That should put him in contention for the award. He had a good summer league and has played well so far in the preseason, so it’s possible I’ve underestimated him. But I’ve seen fast starters before who flamed out when the league caught up to their limited talent. A good recent example being Randy Foye. Lillard’s rookie teammate, center Meyers Leonard, is listed as the starting center on some depth charts. I doubt this will last long, as Leonard looks nowhere near ready to play at an NBA level. It does make him worth a mention here.
- Harrison Barnes, Golden State: Barnes is another player I’m a little cool on, but as a one-time top overall prospect going to a team looking to bust out, he deserves a mention. Here’s my take on Barnes going into the draft is you care to see the logic behind my opinions. As for Barnes’ ROY chances, I think they’re pretty miniscule. He appears to be the starting SF going in and that’s a good thing for him. But Golden State isn’t like Cleveland or Charlotte. The Warriors won’t be happy with another season out of the playoffs and adding another piece in the 2013 lottery. This is a team with designs on the playoffs. I doubt they’ll leave Barnes on the court if the team struggles out of the gate and there are better SF options out there. Fellow Warrior rookie Draymond Green could also make an impact, simply because this team lacks players with the all-around game Green flashed at Michigan State. He might even get more PT than Barnes by the time the season is done because he’s a better fit on what is a pretty soft team.
- Jeremy Lamb, Houston: The situation in Houston is good for a rookie. There should be a lot of minutes available at positions other than PG and Center. Lamb has some serious potential as a scorer and could light it up either as a starter at SG or off the bench. Lamb’s scoring prowess makes him the most likely rookie to make an impact in 2013. Houston’s roster situation means fellow rookies Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Montejuanas will have opportunities and also merit a mention.
- Thomas Robinson, Sacramento: As a top 5 pick, Robinson gets a mention. He’s not in the best situation. His skills mirror those of Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, so it’s likely Robinson will come off the bench. Sacramento is a hard team to get a read on, but there don’t appear to be many scoring opportunities available, so at best Robinson’s rookie role will be that of an energy player.
- Andre Drummond, Detroit: He’s put in some impressive minutes so far in the preseason. He was judged by experts to have a lot more talent than he showed during his only season at UConn. As a numbers guy, I would have to strain to find that potential. Considering all the drama that went on at UConn last year it’s possible his stats were suppressed a little. He is big and talented, so right now I’ll call him at best a lesser version of Valanciunas. As a rookie, he’s behind a good center in Monroe, so I don’t see him getting huge minutes nor do I see him piling up the numbers necessary to compete for the ROY.1
- The rest: There will be opportunity in Orlando. Probably not immediately as the likes of Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Glen Davis and Hedu Turkoglu will continue to carry the offensive load. But this is a team in transition and if a fire sale develops, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn and Moe Harkless could get serious PT. I like Nicholson the most of the trio and would even call him a sleeper for all-rookie honors should he work his way through a veteran logjam at PF on the Magic roster. Jared Sullinger should also have an impact. He’s in a great situation with Boston. Doc Rivers has a good history of working big rookies into useful rotation roles with veteran superstars. Finally I’ll mention a few more players in 3 groups. The first is players I feel have good potential, but are unlikely to break through as rookies because of a crowded roster. Those are Milwaukee’s John Henson, Denver’s Evan Fournier, Dallas’ Jae Crowder and Portland’s Will Barton. I do like the long term potential of all 4. Then there are the players who were drafted in round one and are in a good situation as far as opportunity goes, but come up short as prospects. That includes Cleveland’s Tyler Zeller, Toronto’s Terrence Ross, New Orleans’ Austin Rivers and Atlanta’s John Jenkins. The last group is OKC’s Perry Jones III, Chicago’s Marquis Teague and Denver’s Quincy Miller. Three players who were highly-touted coming out of high school who failed to live up to expectations. All 3 go into good situations. They’re going to great teams where they can sit and learn without the pressure of having to perform immediately. Finally the undrafted player to watch is John Shurna. He’s on the Knicks’ preseason roster, which is a good place since that’s where undrafted Jeremy Lin busted out last year. Shurna is a first round talent and could have a positive impact if he gets in the right situation.