Predicting Jabari Parker's Biggest Rookie of the Year Challengers
Jabari Parker seems to be the consensus favorite to win the upcoming season's NBA Rookie of the Year award, thanks to an NBA-ready body and game, along with the opportunity he'll have as the Milwaukee Bucks' go-to option right away.
But he's definitely no lock. There are a few other rookies in position to make a run at the award as well.
Based on team fit, projected playing time and the stage each rookie is at in his development, these are the guys who pose the biggest threat to Parker.
1. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (Pending Reported Trade)
Say what you want about Andrew Wiggins' developmental setting in Minnesota compared to what he'd have in Cleveland. But there's no debating where he'll have the best chance to take down Jabari Parker in the Rookie of the Year race.
Wiggins will be looking at a featured role as a member of the Timberwolves. And he'll have a green light with really nothing to lose, given the team's limited expectations.
It might take a few years to build up his field-goal percentage, but right off the bat, Wiggins will be able to score right away.
That showtime athleticism for a 6'8" wing should translate to a few easy buckets a game, whether they come in the open floor or off a Ricky Rubio dime. But we've also seen Wiggins' one-on-one game grow dramatically over the past year.
From pull-up and step-back jumpers to his patented spin moves and floaters in the lane, he's becoming a guy you can go to for a bucket against a set defense. Wiggins obviously has to improve his shooting consistency, but there's no doubt he's capable on the perimeter. And with plenty of reps coming his way as a rookie, you can expect him to make his fair share of outside shots, which, in turn, could be huge for his confidence as the season progresses.
Winning this award also appears to be a goal of Wiggins'. “I want to be on the All-Defensive team, be Rookie of the Year, make the All-Star team,” he told Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy.
Apparently, somebody is dreaming big. I'd peg Wiggins as Parker's toughest challenger for 2015 Rookie of the Year based on his projected offensive output and two-way impact.
2. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
Despite being drafted in 2013, Nerlens Noel gets to maintain his rookie status after missing all of last year recovering from a torn ACL. And if his play in the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues was any indication of what's to come during the regular season, Jabari Parker could be looking at one serious threat.
Though mostly known for his defense coming out of college, Noel has had a lot of time off last year to improve his touch, moves and mechanics. Based on what we saw this past July, that's exactly what he did.
From lefty jump hooks in the lane to face-up one-dribble drives, Noel looked much more polished with the ball compared to when we last saw him at Kentucky.
Regardless, Noel's blend of center size and elite athleticism should lead to plenty of easy buckets around the rim and on the break, while his defensive tools and instincts should translate to valuable rim protection.
In terms of stats, which is always a significant factor when determining a winner, Noel might not outscore the other top rookies, but the two-way impact he'll make, along with his expected offensive efficiency, should end up holding legitimate weight.
3. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
One of the best things Doug McDermott had going for him in the draft was that scouts knew he could step in right away and knock down shots within the offense. That's why the Chicago Bulls, who are looking to win a title in 2015, packaged two picks to move up and get him.
No, his 26.7-point-per-game college average won't translate, but his shot-making ability and basketball IQ will. McDermott has an elite outside stroke, along with an understanding of how to free himself up and use it to finish as a shooter and scorer.
And he can connect off the catch, the dribble, falling away or off one foot. We're not just talking about a one-dimensional spot-up sniper.
McDermott's fit in Chicago also seems ideal on paper. With a healthy Derrick Rose and two of the best passing big men around in Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, McDermott should be looking at plenty of open shots while giving his point guard a drive-and-kick target and his frontcourt extra space.
And though it's tough to say how much stock the voters will put in it, unlike the other rookies, McDermott will actually be playing some meaningful games and contributing to a winner.
He averaged 18 points in Las Vegas Summer League. McDermott should be ready to roll as a 20-minute rotation player by the season opener.
4. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
Elfrid Payton is in a very similar position as the one Michael Carter-Williams, last year's Rookie of the Year, found himself in when drafted to the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Payton, we're probably looking at the starting point guard and primary full-time playmaker for the Orlando Magic. And though his efficiency might suffer (field-goal percentage, turnovers), his production won't. Payton could be looking at 30 minutes a game—he'll have all the opportunity in the world to fill up box scores and put up numbers.
For what it's worth, he led the Orlando Summer League in assists per game playing just 25.8 minutes in each.
And at 6'4" with long arms and terrific athleticism for the position, the physical transition shouldn't be too overwhelming.
Payton averaged 19.2 points in college, where his attack game and scoring instincts in the lane turned heads throughout his junior year. He's a problem with the ball, and he's going to get it from day one as a member of the Magic.
Consider Payton a lock to lead all rookies in dimes in 2014-15.
5. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Few rookies can fill up a box score like Marcus Smart, who's capable of putting up points, dishing out assists and pulling in boards from both backcourt positions.
And you won't find a more physical guard, which should help with the transition process early on.
As Rajon Rondo's backup, he's going to give the Celtics some playmaking, toughness and serious defensive pressure. As his sidekick at the 2, he'll give them a little scoring from the wing, where he's dangerous attacking the rim and finishing in the lane.
Smart has some wrinkles to iron out, like shooting and decision-making, but between his strength, competitiveness, ball skills and instincts, he's qualified and flat-out good enough to make a positive impact as a rookie.
If the Boston Celtics eventually do decide to deal Rondo, Smart could quickly emerge as Parker's top challenger for the Rookie of the Year Award.
6. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
Julius Randle's Rookie of the Year chances took a hit when the Los Angeles Lakers signed Carlos Boozer, but they're not dead.
Between Boozer, Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre and Ed Davis, this Lakers' frontcourt is stiff. Something tells me Randle will earn a significant role in the rotation just based on his athleticism and activity alone.
He's a fighter in the paint. Randle should pick up his fair share of points off offensive rebounds and finishes in traffic with that tricky lefty flip shot.
And depending on the matchup, Randle might even offer some mismatch potential right away against slower-footed big men who struggle to keep up laterally. Randle is an awfully tough cover when he can face his man up from the elbows or mid-range, attack him off the bounce and score on the move.
He's a long shot, given his struggles shooting the ball and expected time share with Boozer. But I wouldn't completely write Randle off.
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