The 2013 NBA Summer League put numerous first-year players under the magnifying lens for the first in their professional careers. Matched up against top international and D-League players, each rookie was thrown a curveball.
The question is, which summer league standouts will be legitimate contenders for Rookie of the Year?
Certain players will contend for the award, but were either sidelined, a la Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz, or underwhelmed with their play, like Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings. With this in mind, it's important to establish that this list will be compiled of players who did stand out at the summer league festivities.
So who displayed Rookie of the Year upside at the summer league?
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Drafted: No. 10, First Round
Las Vegas Summer League Averages
34.6 MPG, 21.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.0 SPG
The Portland Trail Blazers have a franchise point guard in Damian Lillard and a very strong two-way force at the 2 with Wesley Matthews. With this in mind, it's hard to imagine C.J. McCollum competing for the Rookie of the Year with two players ahead of him.
The truth of the matter is, McCollum is a legitimate threat for the Sixth Man of the Year award, thus giving him an outside shot at the Rookie of the Year award.
The Trail Blazers were dead last in bench scoring during the 2012-13 season at 18.5 points per game. By comparison, the Indiana Pacers ranked 29th at 24.1 points per game, which is a full 5.6 higher than the Blazers.
The only thing they've done to improve their second-unit scoring is draft McCollum.
Allen Crabbe and Dorrell Wright can both shoot, but the former is a second-round draft choice and the latter struggles to create his own shot. Earl Watson is one of the better second-unit facilitators in the NBA, but he'll rarely take over as a scorer.
With Thomas Robinson serving as a frontcourt player, that makes McCollum the sixth man in Portland.
McCollum will get his chances to score and facilitate, which will give him the numbers to make a run at Rookie of the Year. Should either Lillard or Matthews go down with an injury, he's also more than capable of filling in at both guard spots.
Consider McCollum to be a dark horse for Sixth Man of the Year and a legitimate contender for Rookie of the Year, no matter how drastic that leap may be.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Position: Point Guard
Drafted: No. 2, First Round
Orlando Summer League Averages
32.5 MPG, 19.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.3 RPG, 3.0 SPG, 53.8% 3PT
Around January, I made the heavily-criticized claim that Victor Oladipo was the top prospect in the 2013 NBA draft. It took a while, but many began to share that sentiment, and Oladipo eventually made a meteoric rise up draft boards to No. 2 overall.
Not even I can offer a certain evaluation of how Oladipo will fare as an NBA point guard.
The two things that Oladipo has going for him as a point guard is that he's an elite athlete and already one of the best defensive prospects in the NBA. Possessing top-tier size for his position, Oladipo could become a perennial All-Defensive Team selection once he becomes more accustomed to running point.
What Oladipo showed during the Orlando Summer League is that his jump shot is significantly better than he's given credit for and he's a very quick learner.
Oladipo averaged 5.0 assists per game, and even with an average of 4.8 turnovers, displayed that he can run point. Overly criticized as a ball-handler, Oladipo can create off of the bounce and has more than ideal size to run the pick-and-roll with proficiency.
Most importantly, he shot 53.8 percent from three-point range.
Even if he is to take time to truly develop point guard caliber handles, Oladipo presents the threat of knocking down the three both off of the catch and dribble. This will keep opposing defenses honest and thus open the door for Oladipo to become a front-runner for Rookie of the Year.
George Hill and Russell Westbrook are prime examples of scoring guards who made the leap to the NBA and were enlisted to run point, so don't write Oladipo off just yet.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Drafted: No. 13, First Round
Orlando Summer League Averages
24.2 MPG, 18.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.8 SPG
Prior to the infamous trade sending Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets, minutes would have been tough to come by for Kelly Olynyk. Now that the trade has been executed, however, Olynyk's only competition for the starting center spot are Colton Iverson, Fab Melo and Shavlik Randolph.
Do we really need to explain why Olynyk is a lock to start?
Olynyk displayed the ability to work out of the post, dominating opponents with his scoring versatility. Not only could he go over either shoulder, but Olynyk displayed a beautiful spin move and the ability to drive baseline off of the bounce.
With a gorgeous mid-range game and three-point range, Olynyk should be amongst the top rookie scorers in the NBA with Rajon Rondo running the show.
Rondo made Kevin Garnett's life significantly easier, running the high pick-and-roll and dropping perfectly placed passes for long jumpers. That's the game that Olynyk can be expected to run, with the additional bonus of being able to move in transition and finish in traffic.
There truly wasn't a better fit for Boston than this from an offensive perspective.
Olynyk has strides to make on both ends, but in terms of raw ability, Olynyk could be a star. He rebounds well, shoots it with range, works out of the post and, most importantly, has a motor that rivals Victor Oladipo's.
As a player that will likely put up roughly 13 points and seven rebounds per contest in his first year, Olynyk contending for the Rookie of the Year award is hardly out of the question.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Position: Power Forward
Drafted: No. 4, First Round
Las Vegas Summer League Averages
32.0 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 BPG
Cody Zeller was the most criticized draft choice of the 2013 NBA draft, as the Charlotte Bobcats shocked the world by taking him at No. 4 overall. When it comes right down to it, however, Zeller fits perfectly into what Charlotte most desperately needed.
An interior scorer.
Zeller would have been a Rookie of the Year contender if the Bobcats' roster was set on the night of the draft. With Charlotte signing Al Jefferson to play center, however, Zeller's job becomes significantly easier.
Much like Paul Millsap was able to in Utah, Zeller can work his mid-range game as Jefferson works the low block and take it down low when Jefferson hits the high post.
Zeller is the most explosive big man athlete in the history of the scouting combine and has a rapidly developing offensive game. In any other instance, we'd be shocked to see that type of player fall further than No. 4.
Instead, Zeller has a message to send to the NBA, and with Kemba Walker running point and Al Jefferson at the 5, he'll have the opportunity to do just that.
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