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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
PF Josh Powell waived by Rockets
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:26 pm ET) The Rockets have waived veteran power forward Josh Powell, who played one game for the team at the end of last season and scored four points in 19 minutes.

The 31-year-old Powell has played with seven different teams in his NBA career, which was launched in 2005. He has dealt with legal issues and has also played in China.


Report: Hornets PG Walker sidelined with foot soreness
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) Hornets point guard Kemba Walker left shootaround Thursday morning with foot soreness, thereby adding him to the growing list of Charlotte injuries. He could be sidelined Thursday night when the team concludes its preseason schedule against Indiana.

Steve Clifford told the Charlotte Observer that Walker began the session, told the coaching staff, "my foot is killing me," then departed to the trainer's room.


Cavaliers PG Kevin Love seeks more post-up opportunities
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:19 pm ET) Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love believes he needs more touches closer to the basket than he has received recently to maximize his contributions to his new team.

"My entire life I've played the game from inside-out," Love told the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I'm not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it's just something that I see.

"I'm 26 years old and I've been playing basketball for quite a long time. Just finding ways to mix it up. If anything, keeping it around the basket a little bit more and the offense will allow me to get offensive rebounds. That will be tough for teams with Andy [Varejao] and myself and Tristan [Thompson] in there."

Love has been parking himself beyond the arc more often in the preseason and has struggled with his shot in recent games. His shooting ability creates space for such offensive talents as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, but David Blatt has expressed his understanding that Love also thrives in post-up situations that result in higher-percentage shots.


Knicks C Bargnani admits to MRI, declines to reveal results
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:10 pm ET) Knicks center Andrea Bargnani declined to reveal the results of an MRI on his injured hamstring despite acknowledging that it took place, per the New York Post.

That Bargnani had an MRI shows, however, that the hamstring has yet to fully heal and could result in him missing the regular season opener next Wednesday against visiting Chicago. He has been sidelined since the first preseason game.


Report: Suns SF Warren out indefinitely with fractured thumb
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:39 am ET) The Suns have learned that the thumb injury sustained by rookie small forward and top draft pick T.J. Warren is a fracture, azcentralsports.com is reporting.

It marks the third hand injury sustained by a Phoenix player this preseason - Alex Len has a fractured finger and Anthony Tolliver required stitches for a hand gash.

Warren had played in every preseason game until Wednesday night. He was averaging 4.4 points on 50 percent shooting and 2.4 rebounds per game before going down. He appeared destined for some playing time in the regular season, but now he's out indefinitely.


Rockets bring G Geron Johnson in, send F Akil Mitchell out
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:29 am ET) The Rockets have signed guard Geron Johnson and requested waivers on forward Akil Mitchel.

The former is a rookie who averaged 9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 28 minutes per game as a senior for the University of Memphis. The latter participated on Houston's Las Vegas and Orlando Summer League teams, but did not earn any minutes in preseason action.


Report: Clippers star Griffin investigated in battery complaint
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) The police are investigating a man's complaint that Clippers star power forward Blake Griffin attacked him during an argument over a camera at a Las Vegas strip club, per Yahoo Sports.

No arrests were made and Doc Rivers has stated that the issue should not be a distraction to the team as it prepares for its preseason finale Friday against Portland.


Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson returns Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:58 am ET) Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson returned to action Wednesday.

Clarkson has been dealing with a calf issue, but was able to return. Clarkson played 15 minutes. He scored six points while making three of his five shots. 


Spurs' Tony Parker returns with strong game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:55 am ET) Spurs guard Tony Parker returned with a strong game Wednesday.

Parker has been rested lately, but got some time on the court Wednesday. Parker dropped 17 points over 27 minutes. He shot seven of 13 from the field, and dished out seven assists. 


Spurs' Tim Duncan gets in some work Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:50 am ET) Spurs forward Tim Duncan was able to get some action Wednesday against the Hawks.

Duncan has received some rest lately, so it was good to see him on the court. He played just 13 minutes, picking up six points. Duncan made all three of his field goal attempts during the contest. 


 
 
 
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