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2012 Draft Prep: How will the rookies fare?

Fantasy Writer
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At this point in the offseason, with two months remaining until the season begins and a full month until teams open their training camps, trying to project and rank players is a thorny business. There is still so much that can change, as players recover from injury and get set to battle for playing time in the preseason.

And that goes for when we are trying to rank players with an actual, proven NBA track record. Dealing with rookies, then, is seen at times as an exercise in futility, as there is often little correlation between production at the collegiate or international level and what a player actually does in the league, especially right away.

The talent pool is so shallow outside of the league that it makes it easy for even fringe NBA-caliber players to rise to the top and put up eye-popping numbers. Even Matt Bonner was a star in college and Europe. And he is a relative success story. The list of collegiate superstars who fizzled at the NBA level is long enough to be a column unto itself.

Still, we know enough about the projected minutes and abilities of the rookies to make a well-educated guess at which first-year players will be able to rise up and have an impact. This far from the season’s start, we can begin to break up the rookies into tiers, letting you know ahead of time who will be worth targeting and what role you can expect them to fill when you begin to put together your rankings for Draft Day.

Starting material

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Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans; Damian Lillard, G, Portland; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Charlotte; Bradley Beal, G, Washington

This is the easiest tier to figure out, since it is where we find the top three picks from the draft residing, almost in order -- Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal all went to teams that can badly use an injection of talent at their positions. The Hornets seem to be following a familiar blueprint with their blue-chip big man, as he has been surrounded by three-point bombers who should give him ample space to work around the basket, the same way Orlando did with a young Dwight Howard. His diverse skill set lends itself to production across the board, which is an attribute he shares with fellow Kentucky alum Kidd-Gilchrist, who will fill up the box score without dominating any one area.

Lillard is going to have the ball in his hands all of the time in Portland, as the Blazers pretty much cleared the decks at point guard to allow him the opportunity to run the show. Lillard was the star of the Summer League, averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists per game, while looking like the most NBA-ready rookie in the class. He already has a dynamic pick-and-roll partner in LaMarcus Aldridge and should be worth targeting beginning in Round 6 on Draft Day, as the top rookie after Davis. Beal and MKG slot in right behind him, though each might end up outperforming Lillard in Rotisserie formats.

On the border

Dion Waiters, G, Cleveland; Austin Rivers, G, New Orleans; Royce White, F, Rockets; Andre Drummond, F, Detroit

You could almost divide this tier into two sub-tiers, as Waiters and Rivers share questions about their abilities, but not roles, while Drummond and White enter the season as wild cards across the board. Rivers and Waiters both should fit into starting roles when the season begins, and if not, will earn them before long. The issue is, their respective freshman seasons in college left plenty of questions unanswered about their long-term NBA prospects. Rivers, in particular, will be asked to man the point at times, a role he may not be suited for, as his first instinct is to create for Austin Rivers.

Drummond and White are both incredibly intriguing talents with the potential to crack the starting lineup right away. Drummond is your prototypically raw big man, whose physical abilities wowed NBA executives as much as his mental makeup scared them away. White might be one of the most unique players in the league already, regardless of experience. White could be an in-shape Boris Diaw, with the ability to handle the ball, pass and shoot, but he is stuck on a roster that still has almost 20 players under contract for next season and which seemingly has no concrete direction. Drummond will be asked to handle the defensive duties next to Greg Monroe, as Detroit will almost certainly ease him in on offense. Once he gains center eligibility, Drummond could emerge as a worthwhile starter down the line, though his laughable free-throw shooting will hurt you in category-based formats.

Reservations

Kendall Marshall, G, Phoenix; Donatas Motiejunas, F, Houston; Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors; Terrence Ross, G, Toronto; Marquis Teague, G, Chicago; Terrence Jones, F, Houston; Andrew Nicholson, F, Orlando; Jared Sullinger, F, Boston; Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto; Thomas Robinson, F, Sacramento

For a of variety reasons, these guys represent the sort of players you might choose to take a late-round flier on as an upside play, but with the understanding you might be wasting a roster spot if you hold on too long. There is no shortage of intriguing talent in this group, as Marshall, Motiejunas, Barnes and Ross especially look like possible starters down the line, though they do have entrenched options in front of them on their respective teams.

Of the players in this group who might break out, I like Barnes, Sullinger and Nicholson, as they seem to be in the best position to produce the numbers you're likely looking for. Sullinger and Nicholson are looking at seemingly opposing outlooks for the season -- Sullinger is the big-school, lottery talent who fell in the draft to a team with tons of veteran depth looking to make another deep postseason push, while Nicholson hails from tiny St. Bonaventure and could see big minutes on a lottery-bound Magic squad.

If Only

You can toss the rest of the rookies in a pile here and pick whichever you want as a potential contributor, though you will want to leave them for the waiver wires, if possible. The remainder of the class will likely be limited to a few chances later in the season, once their teams look to rebuild and give minutes to younger players. The best of the rest include Alexey Shved , a flashy, and, at 23, surprisingly young combo guard from Russia who might help fill the playmaking hole left by Ricky Rubio’s continued recovery from knee surgery in Minnesota. John Jenkins brings three years of starting experience in the SEC and the ability to shoot tons of threes at a high success rate, though that skill is somewhat redundant as Atlanta’s roster is currently constructed. John Henson has the ability to be a game-changer on defense if he can only emerge from the glut of forwards in Milwaukee.

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Player News
Rockets C Dwight Howard probable for Game 3
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:46 pm ET) Rockets center Dwight Howard has been upgraded to probable for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday in Houston.

That designation indicates that Howard, who has been hampered by a knee problem, came through Game 2 without a setback.

Howard certainly improved his performance Thursday, racking up 19 points and 17 rebounds in 40 minutes against Golden State. He managed just seven points and 13 boards in 26 minutes in the series opener.


Hawks' Bazemore primed to step up if Carroll can't go for Game 2
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:37 pm ET) With Hawks small forward DeMarre Carroll ruled a game-time decision for Game 2 against the Cavaliers, Kent Bazemore is preparing to fill in that defensive-oriented role, according to AJC.com.

If Carroll does not play, Bazemore will undoubtedly have the task of defending Cavs forward LeBron James. Bazemore, though, is not shying away from that challenge.

“It’s great,” Bazemore said. “It’s a great platform to show what you can do. They brought me here as a defender and that’s my job. What a great measuring stick to go up against one of the best. … It’s tough but it’s what you sign up for. It’s a challenge I love. I love guarding the best players. I’ve been doing it all my life. This is no different. The tools I have and the preparation up to this point, I think I’ve prepared myself to do a good job.”

Bazemore is averaging 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game during the playoffs.


Lakers GM: Kobe 'has indicated to me that this is it'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:17 pm ET) Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said that the upcoming 2015-16 season will be the last for perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant, per ESPN.com.

"He has indicated to me that this is it," Kupchak said.

Bryant, who will be 37 years old when the season begins, is entering the final year of a two-year, $48.5 million dollar extension with the team.

"I think first and foremost, he's on the last year of a deal," Kupchak said. "There have been no discussions about anything going forward. I don't think there will be."

Kupchak said that if anything changes and Bryant wants to continue playing past his current contract, negotiations can be had. Bryant's last three seasons have been cut short because of injury. Last season, he was limited to 35 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

"A year from now, if there's something different to discuss, then it will be discussed then," Kupchak said. "I talk to him from time to time ... and he is recovering. He's running. He's getting movement and strength in the shoulder. We expect a full recovery, but yeah, he's much closer to the end than to the beginning."


Cavs' Dellavedova: 'I will be ready for whatever' in wake of Irving injury
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:00 pm ET) With Kyrie Irving listed as questionable for Game 2 against the Hawks on Friday, Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova is primed to take on a bigger, more crucial role, per Cleveland.com.

"I will be ready for whatever the team needs," Dellavedova said when asked about the possibility of starting. "It will probably mean a lot more minutes so I might have to adjust my game a little there, but not too much."

Though Irving is the Cavs' second-leading scorer, it was Dellavedova who came up big in the team's closeout win over the Bulls in Game 6 of the previous series. Dellavedova scored a season-high 19 points on 7of 11 shooting, including 3 of 5 from behind the arc.

"Delly has done great work for us all season coming from the bench and he has started other times during the season," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "He's been a consistent rotation guy for us and he's a dependable and high character guy that gives us an awful lot. We believe in him, our guys believe in him and he's ready."

Iman Shumpert is also capable of filling in for Irving during stretches. Shumpert is averaging 9.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per games during the playoffs.


Blatt: Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving will decide fate Friday night
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:36 pm ET) David Blatt has indicated that Cavaliers ailing guard Kyrie Irving will make the final decision as to whether he plays in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night in Atlanta, per the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Irving expressed optimism heading into the series that the pain in his left knee and right foot had subsided, but if anything he was more limited than ever in the series opener. He re-aggravated the knee injury during the game and played only three of the last 18 minutes as his team put away the Hawks.

The guard did not attend shootaround Friday. He instead received further treatment and evaluation as an MRI was planned.

"My understanding is like most injuries, it's a combination of pain management and what the physical symptons are," Blatt said.

Irving was not invisible in Game 1, but his struggles trying to finish off drives to the basket were again evident. He did manage 10 points and six assists in 27 minutes.


Wizards F Kris Humphries working to expand his range
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:28 am ET) Wizards veteran Kris Humphries has come to the realization that he might need to re-invent himself as a stretch forward to maximize his potential to remain a viable player in the NBA, according to CSNWashington.com.

And that means expanding his shooting range to beyond the arc.

That would be quite a departure for Humphires, who made two 3-pointers as a rookie and none since.

"I never really worked on shooting threes and stuff," he said. "I started working on it this year. I had a lot of success in the last month (practicing) and I was working on it every day."

Humphries was a forgotten man in the playoffs, playing just five total minutes after averaging 21 minutes a game in the regular season.


Hawks SF DeMarre Carroll wearing knee brace Friday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:12 am ET) Hawks small forward DeMarre Carroll, who is questionable for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night against Cleveland, is wearing a knee brace at shootaround, per the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Carroll sustained what was diagnosed as a knee bruise in the series opener Wednesday. The injury appeared far worse when he writhed in pain and was later helped off the court without putting any pressure on the leg.

His presence would be critical for Atlanta. Carroll is the team's leading scorer in the playoffs and is responsible for guarding Cleveland superstar LeBron James.


Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving questionable for Game 2
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:19 am ET) Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving will be listed as questionable for Game 2 against the Hawks on Friday.

Irving did not attend the team's shootaround Friday morning in Atlanta, instead going to receive additional evaluation with the team's head physician. Irving received treatment following Wednesday's win, but the tendinitis in his left knee did not diminish.

Irving scored 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting in 27 minutes in Game 1.


Free agent Knight sees future with Suns alongside Bledsoe
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:19 am ET) Suns guard Brandon Knight will be a restricted free agent this offseason, but a shared playmaker role next to Eric Bledsoe has him thinking about the long-term with the organization, per The Arizona Republic.

Knight, who can be signed to an offer sheet by any team in the league starting July 1, relished the opportunity to play alongside Bledsoe.

"I thought it was fine," Knight said. "If Eric was a selfish guy, then I think it wouldn't work but both of us being pretty unselfish guys and really just wanting to win and also being familiar with each other, I think that helps the situation."

Knight averaged 17 points, 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game this season -- the best statistical numbers of his career -- but hopes to continue to increase his role with the Suns.

"I'll continue to do the same things that I did this past year to continue to get better," Knight said. "For me, it's more of a team thing. I really want to try to push the guys on the Suns and this organization to be better, not just myself. I think true leaders make people around them better and that's what it's going to take for us to really take that next step. We've got to have each and every guy get better, not just myself but our entire team has to take steps this summer. It starts right now."


Stephen Curry scores team-high 33, Warriors take 2-0 series lead
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Warriors guard Stephen Curry scored a team-high 33 points on 13 of 21 shooting, including 5 of 11 shooting from 3-point range, in his team's 99-98 win over the Rockets in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Thursday.

Curry has stepped up his game even higher in the first two games of the series against the Rockets, scoring over 30 points in each while knocking down timely shots. He did turn the ball over six times on the night while adding six assists, three rebounds and one steal in 37 minutes in the nail-biter.

The Warriors will head to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday.


 
 
 
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