Top 10 NBA Rookie of the Year candidates

I know, it’s only July and the NBA season doesn’t start for another three months. But hey, summer league is underway and there’s nothing wrong a little premature predicting. Anyhow, this was tough. There really weren’t any “stars” in the 2013 NBA draft, so the potentially Rookie of the Year (ROY) isn’t as easy to pluck out as, say, any other draft ever. It wouldn’t be a shock to me if our ROY came off the bench. So let’s get to it already.

10) Alex Len/Phoenix Suns

I almost didn’t have Len on this list. To say he underachieved at the University of Maryland would be a nice way of putting it. Len averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds at College Park, which would normally be a decent stat line. The only problem is Len is seven-foot-one, which means he should be dominating college kids.

Len is small for his size at only 255 pounds, making him more of a finesse big-man, but he has a solid mid-range jumper and can step outside and knock down a three. The Terps also had a huge issue of feeding the post, so Len didn’t get as many post opportunities as he likely will in the NBA. If he puts on some weight, gets stronger, and works on his post-game, he could have a nice NBA career.

As for his rookie year, Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola clog the starting lineup. He’ll compete for minutes off the bench with the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus), Mike Beasley and Channing Frye, but if he bulks up, Len could see enough minutes off the bench to make some noise.

9) Shabazz Muhammad/Minnesota Timberwolves

Shabazz (by the way, has anyone mentioned this is a great name) Muhammad can score the basketball, which is really the only reason he’s on this list at all. He doesn’t really rebound and he really, really doesn’t assist. But the man can score. ‘Bazz (this will be his nickname) averaged 17.9 points in his first and only year at UCLA. Unfortunately for ‘Bazz, he has decent competition for the ball and for minutes in Alexey Shved and the newly acquired Kevin Martin. But ‘Bazz has confidence and could be the playmaker for the ‘Wolves second unit if he learns to involve his teammates. He has some nice size at 6-6, 225 pounds, so he can play the two and slide over to the three if needed. If he doesn’t win Rookie of the Year, at least he has a sweet abbreviated name.

8) Anthony Bennett/Cleveland Cavaliers 

Yes, the first overall pick in the 2013 draft is only number nine on this list. He averaged an impressive 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds at UNLV and will be able to create some mismatches on offense. But the problem is defense. Bennett is known to be a lazy, unaware defender which will get him torched in the NBA. He’s size (six-eight, 240 pounds) puts him between a small forward and a power forward, and with Tristan Thompson occupying the four, Bennett will be stuck at the three. The Cavs also picked up former Laker forward Earl Clark, so Clark will eat up some of Bennett’s minutes. Look, the guy has crazy offensive skills for his size and build, but if he defends anything like he did in college, the Rookie of the Year award will blow right by him.

7) Trey Burke/Utah Jazz

I originally had the National Player of the Year higher in this list, but apparently, he’s struggling in summer league, according to Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo! notes Burke’s shooting struggles (24.0 percent in four games this week) but also points out that Derrick Rose (5-17) and Jrue Holiday (15-39) suffered the same problem in their summer league days. It’s probably not something to be too worried about, but it may be an indication of Burke not being able to get off a good shot in the NBA. Burke though, will have plenty of opportunities to make his case for Rookie of the Year. Mo Williams is a free agent and the Jazz don’t have another point guard on the roster, meaning the ball will be in Burke’s hands A LOT.

NBA pundits continue to say that Burke’s lack of athleticism will hurt him in the NBA, but I’m not exactly sure what they mean when they say Burke lacks athleticism. Is the guy Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose? Not at all. But Burke has some athleticism as demonstrated by his insane block (criminally called a foul) on Peyton Siva in the National Championship game.

Unless you’re a defensive juggernaut, you need the ball to win ROY, and Burke will have the ball plenty.

6) Kelly Olynyk/Boston Celtics

I love this guy. He just looks like a guy who’s going to bust his tail and work as hard as he can for every minute he’s on the floor. Oh, and he’s absolutely dominating in summer league. Olynyk is averaging 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals on 57.4 percent shooting. The seven-foot, 238 pound center can score in the post with either hand and shoot from the perimeter in addition to his high motor sure to drive other players crazy. How can it get any better? I’ll tell you how – when Kevin McHale takes notice.

“I tell you what, he does some interesting stuff. I was telling our guys that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a guy get an offensive rebound and just quick lay it over the rim like he did out there. No one else reacted. You play by yourself when you do that, because people aren’t reacting like you are, ” McHale told the Boston herald.

“The NBA game is spaced better, and he’s going to be able to play his game better in that kind of situation. I just like him.”

With Kevin Garnett gone to eat up his minutes and a team in rebuild-mode, Olynyk should get plenty of chances to go to work with the Celtics. A guy with post skills, shooting ability, AND praise from one of the greatest Celtics of all-time? Sign me up right now!

5) Otto Porter/Washington Wizards

Could one guy have landed in a better spot? He fits right in at the small forward position like a missing puzzle piece with this Wizards team. The Wizards did resign Martell Webster, so Porter will have some competition there, but he’s still in the perfect place.

Georgetown runs a slow-paced offense, so Porter is adjusting to the faster-paced NBA game, according to the Washington Post.

“We’re a running team. Most of the plays are in transition, getting a quick basket. Things like that. So it is a lot of getting up and down,” Porter said. “The system I’m from is more slow-paced. But you know I just got to get back to my high school days, always running. So it’s not that bad.”

Porter averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in the slow-paced Hoya offense, so if he can adjust to the fast-pace the Wizards want to play, more transition buckets will be around for Porter to grab, and we may see Porter as and even better scorer than his time at Georgetown. This guy is going to be great to watch.

4) Michael Carter-Williams/Philadelphia 76ers

Justin Holiday (yes, brother of Jrue), Evan Turner, and Nate Wolters; those are the names of what will be Michael Carter-Williams’ competition at guard. Turner will be one of the starting guards, which probably means MCW will be the other guard. And who is going to score for this 76ers team? Kwane Brown? A 32-year-old Jason Richardson? Besides for Turner and Thaddious Young, the 76ers don’t really have anyone who can put up quality scoring numbers. And besides for Turner, the 76ers don’t have anyone to make plays. MCW, at 6-6 has great size for a point guard which allows him to see over smaller defenders and make passes smaller players wouldn’t normally make. MCW needs to improve his shooting and gain some significant weight (only 185 pounds), but that’s what the offseason is for.

You can’t win Rookie of the Year if you can’t make plays, and right from day 1, MCW will have the opportunity to make plays.

3) Ben McLemore/Sacramento Kings

McLemore might have the most pure talent of all the 2013 NBA rookies, but talent only gets you so far. The question surrounding McLemore is his mentality – is he agressive enough? McLemore has all the talent in the world, but you have to use the talent your given, and sometimes McLemore is too passive. He will be the go-to guy when the Kings kick off summer league, so McLemore will have time to develop the confidence he needs to fully harness his beautiful shooting stroke and jaw-dropping athleticism.

McLemore averaged 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists in his one year at Kansas, but again, that’s just the bottom of what could be sky-high potential. If he can combine his talent with a new aggressive mentality, McLemore will quickly become one of the best young players in the league. Easier said than done.

2) Victor Oladipo/Orlando Magic

Here’s another guy who’s going to be a fun watch and have a solid NBA career. The second-overall pick Oladipo probably won’t start unless Aaron Afflalo goes down (or is traded), but Oladipo will have his chances with the Magic’s second unit. Oladipo’s crazy athleticism, speed, energy and defense will make him one of – if not the most – ready NBA rookies.

Oladipo is also getting some run at point guard in summer league. While he’s struggling with typical point guard tasks (bringing the ball up, spacing the floor, directing teammates) it’s still a smart move by the Magic to get Oladipo some experience at point.

Oladipo says he has never played point guard before, but is studying tape of Dwyane Wade, George Hill, and Russell Westbrook to observe of how those “combo guards” adjusted to the NBA.

“I watched everybody. Dwyane Wade, George Hill, Westbrook,” Oladipo said. “There are a whole bunch of guys. I know that if they could do it, I could do the same thing. I know they all had to learn. It all didn’t come overnight. I just have to make sure I don’t get frustrated.”

If Oladipo can improve his point guard skills, it’ll make one of the most NBA’s most ready-made rookies all the more likely to bring home Rookie of the Year.

1) C.J. McCollum/Portland Trailblazers

Remember how I said Otto Porter fell into a perfect position? Well, C.J. McCollum may been in an even more perfect situation. If McCollum beats out Wes Matthews for the shooting guard spot, he’ll shine as a much needed wing scorer for the Trailblazers. If Portland decides to bring McCollum off the bench, he has the ball-handling skills to run the point and his ability to score will keep the ‘Blazers’ second unit competitive.

McCollum averaged 23.9 points, 5.o rebounds and 2.9 assists in his senior year at Leigh. I know what you’re thinking: “Leigh? No way he scores like that in the NBA.” Well hold the phone my friends, this formula has worked before for the Trailblazers ( See: Lillard, Damien). Damien Lillard spent four years at Weber State where he averaged 24.5 points his senior year. Sounds an awful lot like Mr. McCollum. No matter the school, a four year stay allows players to develop as much as possible in college, generally making their game more complete than the one-and-done players.

McCollum is a great athlete who can shoot, drive, and handle the ball. He can drop buckets with the starters or lead the Trailblazers’ second unit. Either way, C.J. McCollum is your Rookie of the Year. Back to back ROYs for Portland!

 

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