The hardest thing to do is to rate young players who haven’t had any experience in the pros yet. Many of these kids come into the league with too high expectations that they unfortunately can’t live up to. Last year’s rookie of the year, for example, was a perfect case. Early on, Wiggins struggled to produce for the Wolves as he was still trying to get comfortable to his new role in Minnesota. As the season went on, however, he proved to be the player we all thought he was, a future All-Star.
Wiggins still has a ways to go before he can become that player that we envisioned him to be, but his rookie year was a big step that will help him reach that plateau.
More than anything, for these rookies, a solid rookie season will get you the confidence you need to be able to stick around in this league for some time.
So, who will be those rookies this year who take that big step into reaching the goals they set for themselves? First let’s take a look at two players who I left off that might surprise you:
Drafted 2nd overall by the Los Angeles Lakers
Russell was one of the most hyped up players coming out of the draft and undoubtedly the most hyped up guard. Most thought that he would be drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 3rd pick while the Lakers picked Okafor, but that didn’t happen. If Russell were on the 76ers, he’d be in my top 5. Unfortunately, we just don’t know yet what role he will have.
Jordan Clarkson is in LA and holds a key role in that offense alongside Kobe Bryant. Russell’s role is still yet unknown. The Lakers have talked about starting Bryant at the 3 with Clarkson and Russell in the back-court, but they might change their mind if D’Angelo doesn’t prove in camp that he can play the shooting guard position well.
Drafted 1st overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns is a great player with, quite possibly, the most upside out of any NBA rookie. Well, after all, that’s why he was drafted 1st overall in this draft. The problem he will have is securing touches on that team with such talent surrounding him. Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, and of course Andrew Wiggins are just some of the big names on that roster that will command the ball for a good portion of the time.
If Towns would get the starting nod and have the offense revolved around him, I’d give him the nod as a likely ROY candidate. But, it won’t. Andrew Wiggins is going to be that anchor that drives them in the playoffs or carries them to another playoff exclusion. Either way, it’s his team.
Now, let’s get into the 5 players who I believe have the best chance to win the Rookie of the Year Award this season.
5. Jerian Grant
Drafted 19th overall by the Washington Wizards (traded to the New York Knicks soon after)
I’m surprised that I picked Jerian Grant over a player who was drafted earlier in the draft by that same team, but Porzingis doesn’t have the kind of options that Grant will have with the ball. Langston Galloway and Jose Calderon are the only two that are stepping in the way of Grant becoming a starting point guard for that team.
Calderon isn’t going to be in New York for too long and Galloway seems more like an option off the bench for the future, rather than a starting point guard. If Grant can impress in training camp, then that spot could be his.
Jerian hasn’t proved he can be a starting point guard yet though. He believes he can run the triangle nicely as the starting point but, even in Summer League, he’s shown a weakness in being the floor general. I’ve always seen Grant as a two-guard, but the Knicks want him at the point. If he can work on his dribbling and proves his statement that he can be the starting point guard running the triangle with Melo alongside him in New York, he’ll get the job.
Ultimately, will Jerian Grant win the rookie of the year award? Probably not, but expect him to have a similar season to Jordan Clarkson last year where he got the starting nod for his team late in the season and produced nicely.
4. Myles Turner
Drafted 11th overall by the Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner is one of those rookies who isn’t going to be talked about enough in the rookie of the year conversation, but he deserves to be in there. Turner was the most impressive big man in Summer League, plain and simple. There could be a case made for Jordan Mickey of the Celtics or Aaron Gordon of the Magic, but other than that, no one showed nearly as great of an impact than did Myles Turner.
Turner averaged over 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game in the 3 games he got in action in the Orlando Summer League. Oh and he also shot over 60% from the field, made 2 of 3 of his threes, and hit 80% of his free throws. Yes, while this was very limited action, I think an overreaction is warranted.
Jordan Hill is now in Indiana and will take some touches away from Turner in the paint, but don’t make a mistake in thinking that Hill’s presence will alter Turner’s chances of becoming the rookie of the year. He has the talent, can fit well into any system with his ability to spread the floor, and is great defensively. The only question is how many minutes he will earn in Indiana. Let’s hope Vogel gets him out there often.
3. Stanley Johnson
Drafted 8th overall by the Detroit Pistons
Stanley Johnson is the most NBA ready player coming out of this draft. Like Joel Embiid, he seems to rarely smile. Why is that? Because this kid isn’t fooling around and wants it to be known that he is here for one reason and one reason only. To ball. And man, can this kid ball.
Stanley Johnson showed it all when he was at Arizona. The ability to lock down the opposing player, score at will, and work the ball around in the offense were all prevalent in his game. His first couple games in Summer League were no different.
In limited action, like Myles Turner, Stanley Johnson proved to be what everyone anticipated him to be. He’ll find a nice home in Detroit where they are looking for a leader to score the ball at the small forward position. Stanley should slot right into that position and be a big asset for the Pistons this year.
2. Jahlil Okafor
Drafted 3rd overall by the Philadelphia 76ers
Jahlil Okafor is pegged as the early favorite to take home the award. Even Kyle, one of our writers, believes so. I am wishing the best for Okafor and I do think he’ll have a great rookie season and will have his case for the rookie of the year award, but I have him at #2 for a couple reasons.
First off, Okafor does not have a polished jump shot yet. He can have all of the crafty moves inside the lane that he wants, but if he doesn’t assemble some resemblance of a mid-range jumper, then he will not be as effective. You can already tell that Jahlil will be a fantastic back to the basket big man. But, with Noel next to him, who’s going to spread the floor? That paint will be too clogged up allowing the opposing team to send a double team on Jahlil.
Another reason for my choice to put Jahlil at #2 is his free throw shooting. It’s awful. During Summer League, where he played in 5 total games, he shot 39.1% from the free throw line. Teams will immediately recognize that weakness and continue to send him to the line. If he can’t knock those down at the line, he won’t be able to be utilized late in games.
With all of these negatives, we have to understand that there are many positives to Okafor’s game. Like I said, he is an established post player and is still young. He has time to improve on his weaknesses and can turn into a very good player. Many believe he will win ROY, and he might very well do just that, but, in my opinion, I believe he loses to this next rookie who is ready to take the league by storm.
1. Emmanuel Mudiay
Drafted 7th overall by the Denver Nuggets
Yes, my early pick for the rookie who will take home the ROY award is Emmanuel Mudiay. With Ty Lawson now in Houston, it’s Mudiay’s team.
If you look at Emmanuel Mudiay’s stats from Summer League, you will be disappointed. You had to have watched his game to understand how good he looked. Especially in his 2nd game did he look great against the Kings where he finished with 19 points and 10 assists.
Mudiay showed the incredible court vision and passing ability. While he did shoot quite poorly from the field, he finished well at the rim when he got a chance. Like I said, Mudiay’s stats will veer you off in the wrong direction. He finished with 5 turnovers per game in Summer League, but that was simply due to him forcing the issue too heavily. That can be fixed. Those turnovers weren’t due to his inability to give off a good pass.
In Denver, Mudiay has a plethora of shooters surrounding him. Gallinari, Chandler, and Foye are all excellent three point shooters. The Nuggets have always been good at spreading the floor and Mudiay will only help in that department. Look for Emmanuel Mudiay to average close to 8 or 9 assists per game in his rookie season.
Many other players who I haven’t named, the list including Porzingis, Cauley-Stein, Kaminsky, and Hezonja, have a solid chance to win the award. It just goes to show you how deep the draft class was. It’s going to be a tight race for the rookie of the year award this year as there are many young players who can hold the crown as the best rookie during the 2015-2016 NBA season.