For all the talk about a weak draft class, we can all assume with reasonable safety that in some capacity, every player selected on draft night was taken because he offers his new team the ability to address some sort of need, be it on the depth chart or in the starting lineup.
But this year’s draft class has been labeled the softest, weakest class perhaps of the last decade and no player is safe from uncertainty about the impact he can have on his team. Well, I’m a believer that no matter what, there will be rookies who stand out and make their presence felt in the NBA. Here are five I think you’ll have to take notice of this year before too long.
1. C.J. McCollum-The Portland Trailblazers tenth overall pick in the draft has tremendous potential to be a real star in the NBA and will see significant minutes at both point and shooting guard. He gives the Blazers a more than capable backup to Damian Lillard and showed his potential at the Las Vegas Summer League averaging 21 points, 3.4 assists and 4 rebounds per game. He’ll add plenty of scoring to the Blazers bench and has the potential to at least challenge for a starting spot, so expect to see plenty of him in the lineup this year making a big difference.
2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope-The Pistons No. 8 overall pick is almost assured the opportunity to start in Detroit and will be surrounded by an incredibly talented lineup of experienced stars like Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. Over the final three games of his Orlando Summer League stint, Pope shot an impressive 47% from the field and managed to average 18 points per game. The one thing that the Pistons lineup somewhat lacks is outside shooting, so don’t be surprised if Pope emerges as a significant scorer and perimeter threat for the Pistons, a team that appears to be headed for postseason basketball again.
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3. Dennis Schroeder-Drawing numerous comparisons to Rajon Rondo thanks to his build, 6-foot-1 German point guard Schroeder impressed during the Las Vegas Summer League averaging 11 points and 5.6 assists. He’s certainly not Atlanta’s first option point guard just yet, but you can expect him to see significant minutes behind Jeff Teague, especially considering Atlanta’s shallow front court, meaning bigger guards may have to take shifts at the three at times for the Hawks.
4. Kelly Olynyk-Boston’s new center led all rookies in scoring in the Orlando Summer League and given Boston’s inability to sign any other big men of consequence following Kevin Garnett’s departure, the former Gonzaga man should see plenty of time in his rookie season and have a ton of chances to prove that his 19.5 points and 8 rebounds per game in the Summer League weren’t a fluke. While his numbers won’t be quite that large, Olynyk is a player that will be an impact guy for the Celtics regardless of how he plays simply because of what the team invested in him.
5. Anthony Bennett-The No. 1 pick in the draft is always going to be a guy whose name you remember even if his impact is as limited as Anthony Davis’ was last season. But Bennett has a great opportunity with the Cavs to make a massive difference in his first season by helping the team strengthen its front line whether he plays at the small forward or logs minutes at fellow Canadian player Tristan Thompson’s power forward spot. He will see significant minutes in any case and has one of the best point guards in the league to get him the ball. If Bennett can give the Cavs just a decent option off the wing or another big body down inside, he could be the difference to help them make a push for the postseason and grab a number of highlight reels as well as your attention. Off all the players in the draft, he has perhaps the most NBA ready body, but whether or not he proves worthy of his number one selection is another matter that you’re bound to hear plenty about as well.