NBA Sunday: Five Rookies to Watch in 2013-14
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Five NBA Rookies to Watch in 2013-14
Generally speaking, the cream of the crop in any given NBA draft class is literally the top of the draft. Players taken in the top 10 are expected to be the impact guys, with the rest being hit and miss in terms of how likely they are to make significant contributions to their teams in year one. This season, however, there are a number of players lower in the draft order who might actually have a big impact on their respective teams. Here’s a look at five rookies who could very well fall into that category.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers – Though Noel was a top-10 pick, landing in Philly via the New Orleans Pelicans with the sixth overall pick, he was long projected to be the best player in this draft class. He dropped in large part due to an injury that will keep him out of action until at least December, but plenty of players have been drafted high despite injuries. The Sixers gave up one of the best young floor leaders in the NBA – All-Star Jrue Holiday – to get Noel, and he is expected to be one of their franchise cornerstones. Once he is healthy enough to take the court, he had better show something early, especially considering the extra motivation he claims due to his drop from the top of the class.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics – It’s never wise to put too much emphasis in summer league play as a way to determine just how good a player might be as a pro. But there’s no question that Boston’s Kelly Olynyk was the best player on the court in Orlando, so good that many in attendance started calling him the Canadian Dirk Nowitzki. He can hit from just about anywhere on the court, but can also get into the paint and make some things happen down low. He doesn’t have Nowitzki’s range or his savvy, of course, but he played so well that it was easy to see why the comparison was made, even if it was somewhat of a wink-wink comparison. The Celtics should have plenty of minutes for Olynyk, and he’ll be one of the guys you’ll want to watch right out of the gates.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers – Trey Burke was widely regarded as the best point guard in this draft class, but after summer league play it was clear that he was, at best, second-best. Michael Carter-Williams has some enormous shoes to fill in Philly, but in Orlando he showed that he is not afraid to take big shots, that he won’t shy away from challenging the big defenders down low and that he is also a very willing passer. He had trouble with turnovers, but that’s something that time and experience will likely remedy. The Sixers are going to put the ball in his hands and let him do what he will, with wins as a secondary concern. We’re going to see some amazing things from Carter-Williams this season, even if they are mixed in with a few really ugly turnover-plagued outings.
Solomon Hill, Indiana Pacers – It raised more than a few eyebrows when Solomon Hill’s name was called in slot 23 of the first round of the draft, but Hill was Indiana’s first choice and they knew he had a promise from New York at slot 24. That made Hill one of the more intriguing players to watch in summer league, and he did not disappoint. It was more than just his on-court play that was impressive, however; Hill was even more impressive in person and it was easy to see why the Pacers would pluck a player projected as a second-rounder as early as they did. He knows he’s playing behind Danny Granger and Paul George, meaning he may not get a lot of playing time early on, but this young man knows how to stay ready and has an attitude that could make him the next great steal for Indiana.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder – Steven Adams didn’t turn too many heads in Orlando, unless you happened to be a die-hard Thunder fan tuning in to see your team play. Adams was not a focal point of the offense by a long shot, but he was a critical part of the reason why the Thunder took home the first-ever summer league championship. Averaging 9.0 points doesn’t sound all that amazing, but when you consider that Adams got just five attempts per game it turns into a much more impressive stat. He was also active around the rim, grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game, and looked like someone who could be a real difference-maker on the defensive end of the floor. Considering the Thunder are in need of help in the paint, Adams could turn out to be the rare rookie who carves out a niche for himself on a championship-caliber team.
The Final Piece to Minnesota’s Playoff Return?
All things being equal, the Minnesota Timberwolves should have made their triumphant return to the playoffs last season. They had a talented, deep roster with a nice mix of youth, veterans and even championship-tested players. They also had a head coach in Rick Adelman who understands better than most how to get the best out of his players. Unfortunately, one of the worst rash of injuries to ever strike an NBA team hit Minnesota hard and they fell well short of their anticipated return to postseason play.
The Timberwolves have added significant depth over the offseason and also addressed their gaping hole at shooting guard, but nothing they’ve done was more important than the business they took care of on Friday, when they inked center Nikola Pekovic to a new contract worth $60 million over the next five seasons.
“I always knew it was going to get done,” Pekovic said in a press conference on Friday. “I was not nervous. I think my agents were more nervous, that’s for sure. They were calling me, like, ‘Calm down, calm down.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine.’”
While Pekovic’s agent might have preferred to find another team willing to at least make a sizeable offer for Pekovic’s services as a restricted free agent, the center wasn’t really interested in going that route. His plan all along was to stay in Minnesota as a member of the Timberwolves.
“I just feel comfortable here,” Pekovic said. “Since I got here, everybody’s really nice to me. You go out for dinner, wherever you go, everybody is nice. People asked me, ‘Where will you live?’ I don’t want to go to bigger city. I just like it here. I like everything. I like the community. I know it’s a little cold in the winter. You just get used to it. I just feel very comfortable here and that’s why I said I really like to stay here. And also the fishing is great.”
Fishing aside, Pekovic also has a great supporting cast around him in Minnesota’s quest to make some noise this season. With Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Chase Budinger healthy, Kevin Martin ready to start at the two, and impressive depth at every position, Minnesota should finally be ready to give their fans a taste of the playoffs – perhaps even a very deep taste.
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