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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
Melo considered doubtful to play Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:32 pm ET) The Knicks announced Thursday forward Carmelo Anthony is doubtful to play Friday against the Thunder due to back spasms. If sidelined, it will be the second straight game Anthony misses.

Kemba Walker joins list of injured Hornets players
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:21 pm ET) Although Hornets guard Kemba Walker was able to play through injury Wednesday against the Trail Blazers, it doesn't appear he will be active Friday against the Warriors. The Hornets announced Thursday that Walker is doubtful to play Friday because of a right thigh contusion.

The Hornets also listed guard P.J. Hairston as questionable due to a sprained right thumb, guard Gary Neal as doubtful due to a left shoulder sprain, forward Marvin Williams as doubtful with a left shoulder strain and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as out due to a stress reaction in his right foot.


Bulls' Rose, Noah practice Thursday, but Friday status is still TBD
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:09 pm ET) Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said guard Derrick Rose (hamstring) and center Joakim Noah (eye, knee) practiced in full Thursday. However, Thibodeau said he will see how they feel Friday before determing their availability for Friday's game at Boston.

Rose said he "wants" to play Friday, but he will see how his injured hamstring reacts, according to The Boston Globe. He said he will play, if he feels ready.


Williams: Pelicans need to get Davis at least 20 shots per game
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:01 pm ET) Pelicans coach Monty Williams gathered his team Wednesday to express his frustration following a 99-89 loss Tuesday against the Kings, in which center Anthony Davis attempted just 12 shots and totaled a season-low 14 points.

Williams expressed Davis needs to be more involved on offense on a nightly basis to give New Orleans the best chance to win.

"Anthony (Davis) cannot be in a game and not touch the ball," Williams said after his meeting with players, per NOLA.com. "We have to have an effort to get him at least 20 shots every night. And that’s on me too. As much as I draw up plays for him, run the offense through him, the guys on the floor has to know it. When they don’t do it, I’ve got to make sure they get him the ball. Because he’s not a selfish player, he’s going to make the right plays. And our guys know that."

Davis is averaging 25.4 points per game, which trails only Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who is averaging 26.4 points per game. Davis leads the NBA with 3.4 blocks per game.


Spurs' Splitter (calf) out, Joseph (ankle) questionable for Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) The Spurs announced Thursday forward Tiago Splitter (calf) has been ruled out for Friday's game vs. Sacramento. It will be the 12th straight game Splitter will miss.

Gaurd Cory Joseph is listed as questionable for Friday's game due to a sprained left ankle. Joseph has missed the last two games.


Clifford: Stephenson 'not a star,' but has 'talent to become a star'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:49 am ET) Hornets guard Lance Stephenson was benched for the fourth quarter for a second straight game during Wednesday's 105-97 loss against Portland, which extended the team's losing streak to seven games. 

After the loss, coach Steve Clifford said Stephenson's issues adjusting to his first season with the Hornets is partly due to him trying to live up to expectations.

"To be fair, one of the things that's made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar," Clifford said Wednesday, per ESPN. "He's not a star. He's a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years."

Stephenson has struggled to find a consistent rhythm and role in Clifford's offense. Stephenson is fifth on the team in scoring, averaging 9.7 points per game, which is a significant drop after averaing 13.8 points per game in 2013-14 for Indiana.

He is also shooting just 36.8 percent from the field after shooting 49.1 percent last season. Although, it's not all bad for Stephenson, who is averaging career highs in rebounding (8.1 rpg) and assists (5.4 apg).

"I've been around Kobe [Bryant] and [Tracy] McGrady. They were superstars. I was also around Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. They were two-, three-year All-Stars," Clifford said. "[Stephenson has] got a lot of work to get to that level. Everybody proclaimed him as this guy, and if you remember the first time we got him, I said he's got to develop into that."


Celtics guard Marcus Smart will not be back Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:49 am ET) Although Celtics rookie guard Marcus Smart returned to practice Wednesday, he will not return to action Friday against the Bulls, the team announced Thursday. It will be the eighth straight game Smart is sidelined.

Melo doesn't anticipate he will be out 'too long'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who missed his first game this season Wednesday against the Mavs due to back spasms, won't put a timetable on his return, he told the New York Post. However, he indicated he doesn't expect to miss too much time.

"I could barely walk or do anything yesterday so I’m doing a little better," Anthony said Wednesday. "I’m walking. They said these things are hard to gauge. I just don’t know how long I’ll be out.

"I don’t think it will be too long. I think the spasms will go away. But I’m not going to play with spasms."

Anthony likely will undergo tests once the team returns to New York. Coach Derek Fisher said the team doesn't have a clear diagnosis on Anthony and won't until his back starts to improve.

"I’ve never felt this way before," Anthony said. "Nothing happened that I can remember [in the Houston game]. I really tried to play through it, but then I just couldn’t move."


Tyson Chandler pulls down 25 rebounds vs. former team
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:28 am ET) Mavericks center Tyson Chandler set season highs with 17 points and 25 rebounds during a 109-102 win Wednesday against the Knicks, who he played for over the previous three seasons.

"At the beginning of the year, you always look at the calendar and mark it," said Chandler, who finished three rebounds shy of the career high he had with the Knicks exactly two years earlier against Brooklyn, per The Associated Press. "But honestly once you get caught up in the season, it's not as big as it's made out to be."

Chandler is averaging 10.8 points and 11.7 rebounds in 14 November games. He's surpassed double digits in rebounds nine times in November. Wednesday was the first time this season he totaled more than 20 rebounds.


Lakers SG Kobe Bryant scores team-high 22 vs. Grizzlies
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant scored a team-high 22 points on 5 of 15 shooting, including 2 of 5 shooting from three-point range, in his team's 99-93 loss to the Grizzlies Wednesday.

Bryant sank all 10 of his free throws to help boost his scoring total on a night where he struggled with a low shooting percentage for the second time in three games. He only managed to pick up four rebounds and two assists in 35 minutes in the loss, the team's third straight. The Lakers will look to get back on track Friday against the Timberwolves.


 
 
 
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