POSTED: Oct 29, 2012 12:30 PM ET
No. 1 pick Anthony Davis figures to be a defensive presence from the start.
This is the second in a series of articles on What's New for 2012-13. We previously examined the new GMs and coaches.
These aren't rankings or my predictions for Rookie of the Year. These are simply 10 first-year players you'll have to watch.
ANTHONY DAVIS, New Orleans Hornets
Background: The rocketship ride has gone from leading Kentucky to the national championship as a freshman defensive star to being the No. 1 pick to playing for Team USA in the Olympics as a late addition to being at the center of attention in the fresh start for the franchise. Based on what scouts saw in one year of college, Davis is also mature enough to handle the adulation and the expectations. It says something that the lone setback is that he missed summer league with the Hornets to play in the London Games, costing him time to learn the system and get in early work with NBA teammates.
What he brings: Davis dominated defensively at Kentucky, a skill that should translate in the pros once he gets stronger. But he is much better on offense than he usually displayed. Davis is a former guard who hit a life-changing growth spurt in high school, so he knows what to do with the ball. He can pass and has shooting range that, if the end of his college run is an indication, will need to be respected. The bottom line of what he brings? A star quality without hint of a star-player attitude.
Outlook: Davis could end up playing three positions, but for now is clearly a power forward. He doesn't have the muscle to handle most centers or the speed to stay with small forwards. He is the best power-forward prospect in years, held in higher regard than rookie Blake Griffin by most teams. Davis will force opponents into adjustments, especially trying to get past his defense, more than any other first-year player.
NBA Rooks: Lillard and Leonard
DAMIAN LILLARD, Portland Trail Blazers
Background: A season ago, Lillard was a relative unknown scoring guard playing the point for a relative unknown of a school, Weber State. Then he soared up draft boards by turning into a dynamic offensive weapon who could overpower opponents, the way an eventual lottery pick should dominate other Big Sky Conference guards. He rose all the way to No. 6 as the first point guard selected.
What he brings: Lillard, even in his earliest days as a pro, has already shown long stretches of a commanding presence on the court, a special intangible particularly important to point guards. That it's a first-year point guard is all the more impressive. The next step is for Lillard to assert himself on more of a regular basis rather than trying to defer too much with the ball out of a concern of getting every teammate involved in the offense.
Outlook: Lillard can be the top-scoring rookie and show he can be a distributor, the primary question coming into the pros. It would be the first step on what projects as a long and successful career, and why the Trail Blazers see LaMarcus Aldridge and Lillard, with some Nicolas Batum, as the centerpieces of the future.
NBA Rooks - Bradley Beal
BRADLEY BEAL, Washington Wizards
Background: Beal's numbers in one season at Florida -- 14.8 points, 44.5 percent shooting, 33.9 percent on threes and 6.7 rebounds from the backcourt -- did not pop. But his immediate transition from mega-recruit out of high school to All-SEC was a telling trajectory. Not only did Beal continue to improve while handling expectations, the work on the boards showed no hesitation to play inside despite being smaller and usually younger.
What he brings: Forget the freshman numbers. Most NBA front offices have. Beal projects as a versatile, dangerous offensive weapon because teams believe he can shoot, and shoot with range, while also handling the ball well enough to create. The Eric Gordon comparison is a good one. If Beal and John Wall click in the backcourt, the rebuilding of the Wizards accelerates.
Outlook: Beal has to be in any Rookie of the Year talk, even if not at the start of the conversation. Not only does he have that kind of talent, but circumstances are in his favor with injuries to Wall (knee) and Nene (foot) creating the possibility for more early season scoring opportunities. If he puts up numbers in November, with Nene expected to be back but not at 100 percent and Wall expected to be out at least that first full month, Beal has a running start.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS, Toronto Raptors
Background: The Raptors took Valanciunas fifth in the 2011 Draft despite knowing, as all teams did, that he could not escape an existing contract in his native Lithuania for another season. By that time, the summer of 2012, Valanciunas' stock had risen to where chances were good he would have gone second in '12 had he waited to come out. Toronto realized it would be making an investment without an immediate payoff. Now, it hopes for the return.
What he brings: Valanciunas had good basketball instincts even as a teenager and was already a pick-and-roll weapon. But when Raptors executives visited Lithuania last season for progress reports, they were encouraged to see a player developing back-to-the-basket moves and getting stronger, areas that needed improvement. That bodes well for Toronto.
Outlook: The Raptors' patience will be rewarded. Valanciunas may never be a crushing presence inside, but there is every indication he will be one of the better centers for many years. That would be a good return on the waiting game.
Bobcats Preview: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST, Charlotte Bobcats
Background: Kidd-Gilchrist was a star as a freshman on the national-championship team at Kentucky, just like Davis, and went No. 2 in the Draft because of his effort and defense. He will score in transition, but his shot is a major question mark. He will probably get some looks at power forward, even at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, when the Bobcats go small, in addition to both swing spots. Kidd-Gilchrist's athleticism is that good.
What he brings: The Bobcats need defenders and a new level of energy, and that's MKG. He plays hard all the time. He rebounds. He stops people, potentially at three positions. If -- if -- he develops a shot, Kidd-Gilchrist can become the elite two-way player Charlotte envisions. But it will take time.
Outlook: This is going to be a particularly intriguing watch for a few years. Kidd-Gilchrist brings a star quality, but also more risk than teams like in a No. 2 pick because of concerns about his ability to get his own shot and then make it. His ceiling -- and his floor -- are both bigger than anyone in the top six or seven of the 2012 Draft.
ANDRE DRUMMOND, Detroit Pistons
Background: Drummond was being discussed as the No. 1 overall pick a year ago at this time, just before beginning his Connecticut career as a raw but super-athletic power forward/center in the Amar'e Stoudemire mold. Then he actually played, and Drummond's stock plummeted. By late in his freshman season, it was possible to see him dropping from the top five. By draft night, that turned out to be a very unlikely best-case scenario. He went No. 9.
What he brings: Potential. A lot of potential. If Drummond maxes out his abilities, he becomes a dominating inside presence, shaping the game near the basket on both ends of the court and running the floor in ways few at 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds can. He'd be paired with Greg Monroe in a tandem of young bigs. But the fact that he fell to No. 9 also means he brings a lot of risk. Will he focus enough? Will he forever be a tease?
Outlook: Drummond was engaged and played well during the exhibition schedule. He did not step right back into the freshman trap of trying to get by on athleticism alone. Very early or not, Drummond locked in and ready to work shows a level of commitment some teams doubt existed. If that focus is there permanently and he develops a game to go with the physical advantages, look out.
AUSTIN RIVERS, New Orleans Hornets
Background: He was first known as Doc Rivers' son, then as a star recruit bound for Duke as a potential top-three pick at point guard, then as a combo guard trying to stay in the top 10 after leaving with one season of college experience. Austin Rivers ended up going 10th, the second Hornets lottery pick following Davis at No. 1.
What he brings: Rivers has a maturity and drive befitting a player who has been around the pro game his entire life. On the court, he can create and score. The question -- the big question -- is where he plays. The Hornets are heavily invested in Eric Gordon, so there is no room at shooting guard. That leaves the point, and Rivers himself admits the transition to running the offense, knowing when to be his former attacking self and when to deliver the ball, will be an adjustment.
Outlook: Rivers will have to move into a new role after being the top scorer last season, the third freshman ever to do that at Duke, while averaging all of 2.1 assists in 29.2 minutes. That is how a player with so many positives can be a risk pick for the Hornets. There is no doubt Rivers will work hard and embrace the challenge. It just doesn't reduce the uncertainty.
Dr. Drew on GameTime
ROYCE WHITE, Houston Rockets
Background: White got enough attention coming into the Draft because of the anxiety disorder that prompted him to drive to a handful of Iowa State trips rather than fly with the team, though travel issues didn't cause him to miss a game. It was one reason he was still on the board for the Rockets at 16. When he missed the start of camp to work on the issue, though, the focus reached a new level of NBA scrutiny. It made him one of the rookies to watch ... just not for the same reason.
What he brings: His game is unlike any other first-year player, or, really, like very few at any experience level. White is a 6-foot-8, 260-pounder who can facilitate the offense as a point forward. He is unselfish and can be a precision passer with the vision and instinct of a veteran point guard. He can score inside and also has range.
Outlook: Two big questions: Will he be quick enough to defend small forwards and big enough to handle power forwards? And will a handful of teams be proven right for being concerned about the anxiety issues? He can be a special player, especially on offense, and an important part of the Rockets future.
JEREMY LAMB, Oklahoma City Thunder
Background: Lamb wasn't on this list until Saturday, also known as the night he was traded to Oklahoma City as part of the deal that sent James Harden to the Rockets. No longer was Lamb simply the No. 12 pick. He was the central long-term answer to replacing fan-favorite Harden with the Thunder, considering the only other non-draft pick acquired, Kevin Martin, could easily be gone as a free agent after the season.
What he brings: Lamb is a scorer with the potential to be an excellent complementary weapon to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Actually, Lamb has the potential to be a top scorer on any team, but ask Harden how that goes in OKC. Some NBA talent evaluators are concerned he coasts too much while relying on physical gifts. If Lamb would have displayed the passion of, say, Kidd-Gilchrist, he could have pushed for the top five or seven in June.
Outlook: With Thabo Sefolosha starting at shooting guard and veteran Martin lined up as the backup, Lamb will have a lesser role with the Thunder than had he stayed in Houston. But he is no longer under the radar.
THOMAS ROBINSON, Sacramento Kings
Background: Robinson went from a lesser role at Kansas in 2010-11 backing up twins Markieff and Marcus Morris, eventual first-round picks, to emerging as one of the top players in the nation in 2011-12. He was in the mix to go as soon as No. 2 to the Bobcats, lasted until No. 5 and was gladly snapped up by the Kings to be their power forward of the future.
What he brings: Robinson plays with a level of energy and athleticism that makes him difficult to keep off the boards. That translates well to the next level. He also has ball-handling skills unique to someone 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds. Though clearly a power forward, he will get at least a brief look at small forward in a possible matchup hell for an opponent. At the very least, there is a good chance the Kings will run their offense inside-out, through Robinson, a loud statement about a rookie.
Outlook: The Kings understandably have visions of being set for big men, with plans of Robinson and center DeMarcus Cousins leading them into the future. Given Cousins' development into a potential All-Star in the not-too-distant future and Robinson's skill set and physical tools, it is a reasonable expectation. The next step for Robinson is to develop a dependable post game. If that happens, the future is even brighter.
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