As with all of the previous lists the criteria in which it is framed is very important. This list is not any type of long term prognostication for the 2012 Rookie class, but rather looking at which rookies with have the greatest first year impact due to their individual talent and team situation.
For instance Andrew Bynum may have eventually turned out to be the best player in his draft class, but he did not have much if any impact his first couple of years in the league due to the team he was on and the fact that he came straight out of high school to the NBA.
A players impact can be measured in several different ways. I am not a “stats” guy, I prefer to actually watch the game and make my own analysis not based upon fantasy numbers or box scores. I think some of the players on the list will have a greater impact than others as the season progresses when the games are the most important.
For instance look at Robert Horry as a rookie with the Houston Rockets in the 1992/93 season. He averaged a solid 10 points per game, but his clutch 3 point shooting was a huge asset for the Rockets as they went on to win the title. It wasn’t just that he scored double figures in the playoffs it was that he spaced the floor from the power forward position that gave the unstoppable Olajuwon even more space to operate.
It goes without saying that this list is based upon players staying healthy and no major trades are made that impact the team they play on or their playing time on their current team.
To the list:
1. New Orleans Hornets. Anthony Davis, Kentucky.
Being the most decorated player in the draft insures you of nothing. In this case however I think Anthony Davis will have an immediate impact on the New Orleans Hornets. His combination of skill and athleticism, along with a franchise desperate for a leader with make him put up rookie of the year type numbers and have an outside chance of being an all star. Assuming the uber talented Eric Gordon can stay healthy, Davis won’t have the burden of being a go to player in his rookie campaign.
One would think Davis lack of girth would be a hindrance, but this is not the late 1980’s NBA. Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, two guys who will never be linked with steroid allegations, will spend half of the game playing center. Davis will be just fine, and only improve in years going forward as his frame continues to develop.
2. Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard, Weber State
Not only do I like Lillard’s game and size (6’3) for a point guard, but also in regards to impact this season, he will have the ball in his hands more than any other rookie. He may struggle at times finding that balance of knowing when to shoot and keeping LaMarcus Aldridge happy, but I think he is smart enough and talented enough to make up for his mistakes along the way.
He will battle Davis for rookie of the year honors.
3. Washington Wizards. Bradley Beal, Florida.
Beal in the last month of his only season at Florida raised his stock as much as any player in the draft. No one doubted his ability to get his own shot, but he really improved his 3 point shooting, especially in last years NCAA tournament.
I look for him to make a similar adjustment around the All Star Break if not sooner in his first NBA season. He has the build of a young Mitch Richmond, but like all rookie guards he will struggle guarding the other teams leading scorer. I think he is a smarter player than he is given credit for, and with John Wall out to start the season, he and Jordan Crawford will share time in the backcourt.
4. Charlotte Bobcats. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky.
Kidd-Gilchrist is my favorite player in this draft. Unfortunately for him he was also Michael Jordan’s. There is no stronger negative curse in sports, yes even stronger than the Madden curse, than being the handpicked savior of a franchise by Michael Jeffery Jordan. I think Gilchrist, a chemically balanced Ron Artest, is just the man to break said curse.
He plays with an aggression and fearlessness few rookies possess.
5. Orlando Magic. Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
It may go unnoticed due to the fact that the Orlando Magic are this years (or every years) Charlotte Bobcats, but Nicholson will have a strong rookie season. Nicholson is older than almost every other rookie (in pro sports) not named Brandon Weeden. He will get plenty of opportunities on a team that is in obvious rebuilding mode. He reminds me of a young Horace Grant in that he has a solid face the basket game, and should be a solid rebounder for the duration of his career
6. Sacramento Kings. Thomas Robinson, Kansas
I’m not a big fan of undersized power forwards, but if the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins can stay mostly focused, Robinson will have free space to operate and make plays just like this:
I look for him to be a regular in the Halestormsports.com deeznuts dunk of the night articles this season. Regardless of how unrefined his low post game is, he will play very hard every moment he is on the floor, something that cannot be said about the Kings entire roster.
7. Golden State Warriors – Draymond Green
Green is a perfect example of the type of player that Mark Jackson wants to mold his new look Golden State Warriors around. Long gone are the days of Don Nelson small ball, and Green, while great at nothing, is good at everything and will win over the Bay area fans and his teammates with his hard work and pass first attitude. Not to mention coming from 4 years at Michigan State you know he will play great team defense, and fight even his teammates for every rebound.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers. Dion Waiters, Syracuse
The Cavs shocked a lot of people taking Waiters with the 4th overall pick, myself included. I am not sold on him as a fulltime starting shooting guard at the NBA level. But his athleticism is not in question. And with Byron Scott trying to get the Cavs to play at a faster pace it will only benefit reigning ROY Kyrie Irving and Waiters. His long term success will ultimately depend on how well he can improve as a jump shooter.
9. Toronto Raptors. Terrence Ross, Washington.
Loved his game at the University of Washington. While Toronto is one of my favorite cities in the world to visit, they are stuck in a morass of irrelevance in regards to the NBA landscape. They could however get the 8th seed in a very shallow eastern conference. If they do make the playoffs I think in part it will be due to solid rookie season by Ross. He may split time between starting and coming off of the bench, but his shooting will help space the court for Demar Derozan to attack the basket.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jae Crowder, Marquette (traded to Dallas)
This is the type of hustle athlete that always surprises. Once Dirk gets back healthy he will have one job and one job only and that is crash the boards on both ends. He can eventually evolve into a Brandon Bass type of player, but as a rookie I think he surprises with his tenacity and his vengeful attacks of the basket.
11. Detroit Pistons. Andre Drummond, Connecticut.
He is arguably the most physically gifted rookie in the NBA. In his short stint at the university of Connecticut he did not impress me however. There were times I didn’t even notice him on the court. As a life long Piston fan, he flat out scares me. But I have seen more energy and defensive prowess in the summer league and preseason out of Drummond than I thought I would. With the Pistons sorely lacking shot blocking, I think he will see plenty of minutes along side budding star Greg Monroe and will provide the Pistons with a inside defensive presence they have lacked since 2005.
He may foul out of several games and break the goaltending record, but that is fine. His offense with eventually come, but this season his greatest impact will be guarding the basket and rebounding.
Memphis Grizzlies. Tony Wroten, Washington.
As he goes back and forth between point guard and shooting guard, he has the temperament to be the type of rookie who plays above his regular season stats in the playoffs. He could eventually evolve into a big guard off the bench like a Brian Shaw that causes match up issues on both ends of the court for smaller point guards.
New Orleans Hornets. Austin Rivers, Duke
I think lingering ankle issues and Eric Gordon bumped him down this list. He will have the ball in his hands but I think he struggles with a majority of the season with his decision making. I think he is best served in a 6th man Ben Gordon/Lou Williams type of role where he plays with the second unit and is granted the freedom to just score.