7 NBA Rookies Guaranteed to Turn Heads in Their 1st Season

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2014

7 NBA Rookies Guaranteed to Turn Heads in Their 1st Season

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    Kyle Anderson may have been the biggest steal of the draft.
    Kyle Anderson may have been the biggest steal of the draft.John Locher/Associated Press

    There is a reason why the 2014 NBA draft class is the most hyped since LeBron James and Co. came out in 2003. It's talented, deep and could very well end up yielding several franchise players.

    The most difficult part is narrowing down the very best prospects from this class.

    Of course, some of these kids are relative projects who are not necessarily NBA-ready. But others appear prepared to burst onto the scene and open eyes in their rookie campaigns.

    I can speak for most of us when I say that it is going to be exciting to witness.

    Which youngsters will take professional basketball by storm this coming season?

    Are they all on lottery teams, or are some of them potential difference-makers on contenders?

    You'll find out soon.

Andrew Wiggins

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    Jack Arent/Getty Images

    Here is what we do know about Andrew Wiggins: He is arguably the most highly touted prospect since LeBron James, has the potential to be an outstanding two-way player and possesses a show-stopping vertical leap.

    What we don't know is where he will be playing during his rookie year.

    With James heading back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, rumors have abounded about Wiggins being a part of a deal that would bring Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love to the Cavaliers.

    So, Minnesota or Cleveland?

    There have been conflicting reports.

    Per ESPN.com, on July 14, Cavs coach David Blatt said, "There's no reason or cause for worry on his part because Andrew's not going anywhere, as far as I know and as far as the club has expressed."

    Uh huh.

    Well, four days later, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported that the Cavaliers were, in fact, open to including Wiggins in a Love trade.

    Whatever the case may be, Wiggins should thrive during his inaugural NBA season.

    Either he'll be playing alongside LeBron and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, which will obviously open up his game, or he'll be the man in Minnesota and get enough touches to post big numbers.

    Look for some rim-rocking dunks and a tantalizing sample of the type of player Wiggins can be on both ends of the floor this coming year. 

Jabari Parker

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    Jack Arent/Getty Images

    Many felt that Jabari Parker, not Wiggins, should have been the No. 1 overall pick.

    While Wiggins has more potential as a two-way player, it's easy to become enamored with Parker's silky-smooth scoring ability. When you see him make plays like this, you fall even deeper in love with his game.

    Parker has been likened to Carmelo Anthony by some, and you can definitely see where that comparison comes from.

    Like Anthony, Parker is also a solid rebounder, averaging 8.7 boards per game in his lone season at Duke. He also did a great job at getting to the free-throw line, tallying 6.1 free-throw attempts per night.

    Parker is stepping into a solid situation with the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, they only won 12 games last season, but you'd be remiss if you overlooked the young talent on this team.

    Guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson and Larry Sanders should all fit very nicely alongside of Parker, particularly Antetokounmpo, who could be in for a monster sophomore season.

    What's good news for stat heads is that Parker should get a large number of touches in his rookie campaign, so him posting somewhere between 15-20 points per game is not out of the question.

    It will be intriguing to monitor Parker's development along with the other Milwaukee young bucks (pun fully intended).

Marcus Smart

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Everyone knows the biggest problem with Marcus Smart: his lack of a perimeter shot. That issue was front and center in the summer league, as the Oklahoma State product only shot the ball at a 29.4 percent clip in five games.

    However, it's silly to ignore all of the good things Smart does on the floor because of one flaw, especially one that can be corrected or at least improved upon.

    While Smart may not have a reliable jumper, he is aces around the basket, shooting an incredible 67 percent at the rim during his final season with the Cowboys. He also tallied 8.1 free-throw attempts per contest, and he displayed that propensity to draw contact in the summer league. In just 29.4 minutes, Smart averaged six foul shots.

    The most impressive thing about Smart, though, is his prowess on the defensive end.

    He is a pit bull on that end of the floor, demonstrating ferocious on-ball defense and a very high IQ. He knows exactly what to do in a variety of different situations.

    It should be a whole lot of fun watching the Boston Celtics guard defend with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.

    Celtics coach Brad Stevens also likes Smart's attitude, praising his ability to lead. He told Jay King of Mass Live:

    Leadership can show itself in a lot of different ways. There’s guys that never say a word that lead well. There’s guys that are very loud that lead wrong. But then you’ve got a guy like Marcus who really shows himself well in all of his work and has a good vocal (presence) about him. He just has a natural ability to be what would probably be defined as a guy that a lot of people would say, ‘That looks like a leader to me.’ From what I’ve seen he certainly has that ability (to lead). That’s his reputation.

    Expect an impressive rookie season from the bulky combo guard.

Julius Randle

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    Jack Arent/Getty Images

    Times are bleak in La La Land, perhaps the bleakest time most of us can remember. Julius Randle, the No. 7 overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers, hopes to change that.

    The burly 19-year-old averaged a double-double in his one and only season at Kentucky, leading the Wildcats to the NCAA National Championship Game. The big man shot 50.1 percent from the floor and displayed solid versatility on the offensive end, showcasing his outstanding ball-handling ability and his penchant for knocking down mid-range jumpers in the pick-and-roll.

    The question with Randle is whether or not he can continue to overpower players at the next level.

    Because of the fact that he is a bit undersized at 6'9" and isn't overly athletic, Randle is going to have to either extend his range to the three-point line or improvise quite a bit on the low block.

    Fortunately, he will be playing alongside one of the greatest players to ever step on the hardwood in Kobe Bryant, so there is no doubt he will learn a lot in his rookie season. Bryant, if healthy, will obviously take a massive amount of pressure off Randle and allow him to flourish.

    Let's also remember that Carlos Boozer is also aboard, and although he took his fair share of criticism with the Chicago Bulls, he has a solid low-post game and can teach Julius a thing or two. Plus, Boozer and Randle have something in common: They were both undersized power forwards upon entering the league.

    Randle is certainly in a cushy situation. Landing in LA is a dream come true for a lottery pick.

    "It's the organization that I wanted to go to," Randle said during a conference call, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles. "I couldn't be in a better situation for me, and I'm just really excited to get things started there."

Zach LaVine

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    While Zach LaVine is now primarily known for his, um, despondent reaction to being drafted by the Timberwolves (try reading his lips), what people are missing is the fact that this kid can flat-out play the game of basketball.

    You have probably heard this comparison before: LaVine looks a lot like Russell Westbrook with an outside shot.

    If possible, LaVine may be even more explosive than the Oklahoma City Thunder star. See for yourself.

    What separates LaVine from many freakish athletes is his silky-smooth jumper.

    He has seemingly unlimited range, and when you combine that with his ability to blow by defenders and get to the rim, you have a Swiss Army knife of a threat on the offensive end.

    What you also have to like about him is his length. At 6'6" with a 6'10" wingspan, not to mention great lateral quickness, LaVine has the tools to be a lockdown defender in the NBA.

    Some people feel that the UCLA product isn't ready to contribute right off the bat, but let's agree to disagree there.

    LaVine will open up many eyes during the 2014-15 campaign and will more than likely find himself on a few highlight reels.

Shabazz Napier

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Shabazz Napier represents a dying breed: the four-year college star.

    After bookending national titles at UConn, Napier appears ready to contribute right off the bat despite a rough patch for the Miami Heat in summer league (he shot only 27.7 percent in four games).

    While Napier may never develop into a star, he has all the makings to be a consistent, reliable guard akin to a Jason Terry type of player.

    Napier is tough, a good shooter, a hard-nosed defender and, perhaps most importantly, a phenomenal leader.

    The best part for Napier is that he couldn't ask for a better situation to step into.

    He will be going into battle with the experienced Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by his side, and given how poorly Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole played during the past postseason, you have to assume that he will receive ample opportunities to prove himself.

    Look for a steady, impressive rookie campaign from Napier.

Kyle Anderson

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Some had Kyle Anderson pegged as a top-five pick a couple of months before the draft, but a clear lack of athleticism destroyed his stock, and the UCLA product spiraled down to No. 30 into the waiting arms of...the San Antonio Spurs.

    First of all, if the Spurs are drafting Anderson, you know he must be good, because San Antonio doesn't miss on things like this.

    Second, how appropriate is it that he was selected by a team that already houses his NBA equivalent in Boris Diaw? Anderson averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists during his second and final season with the Bruins. Does that not resemble a Diaw line?

    Anderson should fit Gregg Popovich's system wonderfully.

    Fortunately for Anderson, the Spurs don't care all that much about high-fliers. Instead, they focus on constant, crisp, clean ball movement to eviscerate opposing defenses.

    Given the fact that Anderson is an outstanding passer with great court vision, he obviously fits the bill.

    Taking into consideration that Popovich likes to rest his veterans periodically throughout the season, you can bet on Anderson seeing some minutes during his first year.

    He should be the happiest draftee on the planet right about now.