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It will take skill and opportunity for top rookie to stand out

POSTED: Jul 4, 2014 11:30 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper,


Jabari Parker walked into a situation in Milwaukee, but it's not all bad.

By Scott Howard-Cooper,

There will be surprises, so help us Bruno Caboclo. The shocker of the Draft -- the Raptors taking the 18-year-old Brazilian forward Caboclo from off-off-off-off radar -- was just the start. That will be followed by some unexpected play from an unsuspected prospect over the next few weeks, which will be followed during the season by someone coming from the back of the pack to make first-team All-Rookie, the way Mason Plumlee (the No. 22 pick) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 24) did.

But for now, there is only logic. Jabari Parker is the most NBA-ready of the top rookies and has a wide berth in Milwaukee to immediately step into a prominent role, so he is the knee-jerk favorite coming out of the draft to win Rookie of the Year. Julius Randle can stand up physically to a lot of veteran big men today and joins the Lakers as the best power forward or center, pending free-agent outcomes for Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, so he is the second-best candidate. Andrew Wiggins, meanwhile, has a chance to be great, but he also has to blend in more than Parker, with Kyrie Irving still ascending in Cleveland and Dion Waiters loving his shots in a way that equates to fewer opportunities for Wiggins than for others from the Class of 2014.

Winning Rookie of the Year is about the best player in the best situation. The first best chance for the candidates to impress voters begins Saturday with seven teams and seven days of the Orlando Summer League at the Magic practice facility and continues into the Las Vegas Summer League beginning July 11 at two UNLV sites.

More will be known after that. In the meantime, the inaugural Rookie Ladder of 2014-15:


The No. 2 pick left Draft night thinking he was part of a clear plan in Milwaukee, only to find he walked into a franchise turned upside down by the mangled Jason Kidd hiring. It should not impact Parker, though. He will probably get time at both forward spots, can score, rebound, handle the ball some and has very good instincts for a college one-and-done.


He has already given the Lakers reason to feel good: A visit to a foot specialist this week in Indiana confirmed Randle does not need foot surgery, contrary to speculation created by a Yahoo! report leading to the draft. Randle is expected to play in Las Vegas, while L.A. sorts out much of the rest of its roster and decides on a coach. (Interested, Kidd?)

Nerlens Noel autograph sign April 2014 Philadelphia
Philadelphia's Nerlens Noel, drafted in 2013, is eligible for the Rookie of the Year award in 2015.

3. NERLENS NOEL, 76ers

The focus will be on the his left knee after surgery to repair a torn ligament cost Noel the end of his college career at Kentucky and the start of his pro career in Philadelphia. Saturday afternoon against the Magic is scheduled to be his first game since Feb. 12, 2013, at the University of Florida -- about 100 miles from Orlando. A healthy Noel could be a difference-maker on defense right away.


Payton is the kind of two-way player who will attract a spotlight. He's able to run a team as a true point guard with size, at 6-foot-4, and has the potential to become very good defensively. If 2013 lottery pick Victor Oladipo takes off in his second season with Payton getting him the ball, and Orlando as a whole climbs the standings, the rookie from Louisiana-Lafayette not known to most fans will receive a lot of the credit.

5. ANDREW WIGGINS, Cavaliers

The question is not how good he can become. That's easy: superstar good. The question is how good he can become this season, making the transition after a single choppy college season and while playing with Irving and Waiters used to being the focal point of the offense. If Wiggins clears all those hurdles as a rookie, regular All-Star appearances won't be far behind.


"Dougie McBuckets" is in a very good spot for a ROY campaign: A major-market team that will get a lot of attention and could pile up wins but that may have only one other scoring threat, Derrick Rose, coming off knee injuries. That obviously changes if the Bulls land a major name via trade or free agency, but for now, McDermott joins a roster in desperate need of shooting. He is experienced, has (maybe) a penetrating point guard beside him that will draw defenses into the lane, and a center (Joakim Noah) who can pass. That's opportunity.


Like Wiggins, he arrives with a lot of hype and a game that can captivate, a valuable head start for the kind of attention it takes to win Rookie of the Year. Exum's challenge, though, is unlike anyone else's. He is making the jump after playing against mostly high school competition, and high school competition in Australia at that. There have been good showings at the Nike Hoop Summit against top U.S. prep competition and at the under-19 world championships, both in 2013, but this is a learning curve to conquer.

8. P.J. HAIRSTON, Hornets

Charlotte's pick at No. 9, Noah Vonleh, has a chance to be a complementary player offensively, a power forward who can spread the floor with his range next to Al Jefferson as the center living on the blocks. But Hairston, the 26th choice, has a better opportunity for an immediate impact, able to generate offense from penetration or the perimeter to deliver the scoring the Hornets need.


The athletic power forward has the potential to become a lockdown defender in time and maybe even good as a rookie. If Gordon starts hitting shots with a hint of consistency, he moves way up. As it is, he should score enough in transition, beating most bigs downcourt and finishing above the rim, to gather enough offensive numbers to stay in the ROY conversation.


The concern that he may not get big minutes behind 2013 lottery pick Ben McLemore comes with the counter that Stauskas may be more ready to contribute now. Stauskas certainly projects as having better range, an obvious Kings weakness/Stauskas strength and a primary reason they decided to go shooting guard in the draft two years in a row. Becoming a 3-point threat now will get attention.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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