Mike Gallagher

Offseason Beat

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2014-15 NBA Rookie Rankings

Saturday, July 26, 2014

When it comes to calculating rookie stat projections right away, you really don’t need a program saved in your TI-83 to remember the formula:
Stats = Talent + Opportunity
The best player in a rookie class could be buried on a stacked team while a second-round pick could wind up starting. Of course, that second-round pick could squander their opportunity and never get it back while a talented guy could create his own luck. As it turns out, that’s exactly the case this year. 
Andrew Wiggins was selected first overall in June and he is currently projected to come off the bench. He’s supremely gifted from an athletic standpoint and he has some skill as a basketball player as well. However, the Cavs made some major moves in free agency and Wiggins would only be their third option at best.
Meanwhile, the 76ers are looking at starting two rookies in Nerlens Noel and K.J. McDaniels. Noel is a high-profile guy, but McDaniels was a second-round pick back in June. That team is a mess and we all know there will be a few guys who were way off the radar and turn in a nice season. Henry Sims? What?
I put together a list of the top 10 for the upcoming season for re-draft fantasy leagues. We’ll be revisiting this in the draft guide and I’ll be responsible for the top 200 in dynasty leagues. Also, if you’re new to Rotoworld, I’ll be doing a monthly column on re-draft rookie ranks just like this one during the season. As always, these rankings are subject to change:
You can follow me on Twitter @MikeSGallagher.
1. Jabari Parker (MIL, F) - He is NBA-ready and his versatility on the court and on the stat sheet are bar none. At summer league, Parker showed off all of his offensive tools en route to averages of 15.6 points, 8.2 boards, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.4 triples. The multiple-category production is nothing new based on what he did at Duke, averaging 19.1 points, 8.7 boards, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 triples on 47.3 percent from the field in his freshman season.
He also has shown he’s adept at getting to the line and he’s not too turnover prone. One of the biggest questions surrounding the NBA landscape is how the Bucks are going to handle their rotation. They have been very quiet on that front, but it seems like a lock that Parker is going to get at least some minutes at the power forward spot. Yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo is taller, but he’s a bit wiry and really doesn’t have any familiarity with post play on either end. Parker looked superb on offense in the post and was serviceable on defense at summer league. 
Jabari has the highest upside and he’s easily the safest pick, which is not something we have associated with Bucks in the past couple seasons.
2. Nerlens Noel (PHI, C/F) - The 76ers played him at center in summer league and they are likely going to have to do that in the regular season out of necessity. If I had to guess, I’d say they will roll with a starting lineup of Michael Carter-Williams, K.J. McDaniels (more on him below), Hollis Thompson, Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel. Yes, that’s an inexperienced lineup, but it does project as one which will push the tempo. 
Before summer league, we hadn’t seen Noel play a game of basketball since tearing his ACL in February 2012. He showed no signs of rust in Orlando to start his showcase, didn’t look to lose a step and he had some great post moves thanks to his quick hips. The Sixers also kept his minutes in check, resting him for five games and playing him for just six because they were in Orlando and Las Vegas for both summer leagues.
That raises the concern of if they’ll do that in the regular season. Noel said he plans to be 100 percent and he’ll have a whopping 21 months of rehab time before the season starts. They did play him 25 minutes per game, so it’s probably somewhat fair to assume he’ll be closer to 30 minutes per game than to 20. To me, 28 seems about right.
So what can we expect? Noel’s knee and relatively thin frame will likely keep him from hitting the glass too hard right away. He only had 1.5 offensive rebounds per game to go with 5.0 total rebounds in all that playing time at summer league. While he should have no problem clearing 5.0 boards per game this season, it seems like a stretch that he’ll get up to nine or so.
Risk and lack of rebounding aside, Noel should be a relatively efficient scorer and the blocks should be there. Philly runs a fast tempo and last season they were absolutely thrashed at the rim, which gives Noel plenty of chances for blocks. Normally I wouldn’t touch a guy coming off an ACL, but he’s worth a look in the middle rounds if your team is missing out on blocks.
3. Elfrid Payton (ORL, G) - There are some big Payton fans out there and he probably gained quadruple what he had in June thanks to a phenomenal summer league in his new home town of Orlando. The Ragin’ Cajun ranked first among Orlando participants with 7.0 dimes per game to go with 9.2 points, 5.2 boards, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks in 25.8 minutes. He kept his jump shooting to a minimum, attacked the basket at will with a nice amount of his scoring coming in transition, and had no problems getting around guys in halfcourt sets. Sure, he’s not going to be that successful in the big leagues.
We all know the story with Payton. If he can’t get to the rim, he’s toast. However, there are a lot of rookie point guards who couldn’t get to the rim at summer league, so Payton’s performance shouldn’t be totally dismissed. 
There's little concern about Luke Ridnour and Payton could be  top-15 guy for steals, a top-20 player for dimes, and add some boards along the way. He should be viewed as a low-end PG2 with upside.
4. Julius Randle (LAL, F) - The Carlos Boozer acquisition was probably one of the biggest buzzkill stories of the summer. The Lakers probably would have started Randle next to Pau Gasol before he opted to head to Chicago, but now they’re left with a gigantic hole at center and a surplus at power forward. Well, a surplus compared to power forward.
On Friday, Boozer said he “absolutely” expects to start and he said he’s comfortable at center. Umm, really? On defense he allowed his man to shoot a combined 52.0 percent on post-ups and as the pick-and-roll roll man. On the other hand, Boozer shot just 38.3 percent in those situations on offense last year (stats per Synergy). He also had a career-low in rebounds per game while posting his second-lowest offensive rebounding rate in his career. Head coach Byron Scott can’t slot Boozer in at the five with confidence, so it’s hard to tell what he’s going to do.
So, could Randle play some center? Based on what he did at summer league, I’d say he’s a much better candidate than Boozer. He was much better on help defense than I thought and was very active. He’ll need to get coached up a bit since he tends to over-rotate on some passes, which will also test his conditioning. On offense he did set up like a power forward just about every time, receiving the ball about 10-15 feet from the hoop. Although, he was effective on the low block against smaller guys.
The good news is that his foot injury doesn’t seem to be bothering him much and he showed an array of post moves. Plus, his passing ability was a nice surprise and he really seems to keep tabs on where his teammates are (hat tip to Mike Trudell for first spotting Randle’s plus passing).
If Byron Scott is willing to sacrifice a presence in the paint on defense, we could see Randle in the mid-to-late 20s. He’d be looking at a line of around 11 points, seven boards and 0.5 blocks on solid percentages.
5. Andrew Wiggins (CLE, G/F) - As alluded to, Wiggins is in a tight spot right now for putting up numbers. Yes, it’s certainly possible he winds up with the Wolves, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Let’s start with what we know.
He’s a freak. Wiggins showed ridiculous hops and creativity at summer league. His shot selection was poor and he finished the event at 40.5 percent from the field, attempting far too many long-range jumpers. Additionally, he blocked 1.5 shots to go with his averages of 15.5 points, 3.5 boards and 1.2 steals. He also went to the line an absurd 20 times in his Vegas finale. Good stuff.
This is where I would rank him based on his current situation. It seems inevitable that will change.
6. Rodney Hood - The Jazz are suddenly really short on the wing. They lost out on Marvin Williams to the Hornets and the Mavericks added Richard Jefferson, so that opens up a heck of a lot of minutes. Last season, those two guys played a combined 52.4 minutes per game. While Marvin did play a lot of time at the four, the two were only on the court for 34.2 percent of their combined playing time. Opportunity is at your door, Mr. Hood.
Marvin Williams is 6’9” and Hood is 6’8”, so he could wind up playing a few minutes as a stretch four, as well. Plus, it would make some sense to get another shooter on the floor for some extra shots when the Jazz are down in the second half — that should happen a lot.
As for summer league, he really impressed me. Most of all, I loved how he moved around without the ball. He definitely understands spacing, staying cognizant of his teammates and when/where the defense collapses. Secondly, he had some very polished one- and two-dribble drives in halfcourt sets. He’s still going to be mostly a catch-and-shoot guy, but he could seriously hit 1.5 treys per game in his rookie season.
His defense could be his undoing, but he’s just what the Jazz need on the wing. If new coach Quin Snyder does want to keep bringing Alec Burks off the bench, Hood should definitely start over Steve Novak. The Jazz stole Hood at 23 and he's definitely not the 23rd best player in the 2014 class by my estimation. 
7. K.J. McDaniels (PHI, G/F) - He’s not an ideal shooting guard for the Philly offense when they’re at full strength, but that’s where he’ll likely play. To elaborate, Noel and Joel Embiid are better on the low block and the team would be better suited with a pure shooter — McDaniels is more of a slasher.
Although, he was lights out from deep in Orlando, making 7-of-11 from deep. The Clemson product blocked 100 shots last season with the Tigers and shot 52.7 percent on two-pointers. He has a golden opportunity here and his primary competition will come from fellow second-round pick Jordan McRae.
8. James Ennis (MIA, G/F) - President Pat Riley loves him some Ennis. He’s been raving about him for over a month and the team has already signed him for the next three years on a non-guaranteed deal.
He was spectacular in summer league as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 17.2 points with 5.8 boards, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.7 triples in Orlando. He came in third for MVP of the Australian league last season as a go-to scorer, averaging 21.2 points per game.
The Heat only have one more bench wing on the bench: Danny Granger. Yes, they have three aging, injury-prone wings with Ennis in Granger, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng. It won’t take much for Ennis to get burn and can play either wing spot. Plus, he has a nice upside.
9. Marcus Smart (BOS, G) - Things didn't go very well for Smart in his pro debut. In his five summer league games, he shot just 29.4 percent from the field en route to averages of 14.8 points, 4.2 boards, 4.2 assists and 2.0 steals.
He did a fine job on defense and was effective at breaking down defenses, but not hitting shots overshadowed all of his positives. If he can't play off the ball, he'll have a tough time getting minutes next to Rajon Rondo. General manager Danny Ainge has said Smart could play next to Rondo, but that was before the letdown at summer league.
As long as Rondo is around, things are looking bleak for Smart to put up numbers. Also, Avery Bradley broke out last season and has really found himself as a shooting guard.
10. T.J. Warren (PHX, F)- I’ll admit this one is a bit biased. Warren has such a great offensive game and he’s really a nice guy, too. While I was in Vegas, I had a little walk-and-talk chat with him and he was a real joy to be around. He’s a smart guy and threw out a lot of basketball jargon, which I always love to hear from young guys.
One thing I was encouraged the most about with Warren was how the Suns used him at summer league. He was lined up at power forward a lot, and they even had him out there at center. He’s a legit 6’8” and he has tremendous body control off the dribble. Obviously, his stats were great as Warren led the NCAA in field goal makes and was at the top of most offensive NCAA rankings next to Doug McDermott, so he’s shown he has some serious polish to his game. He shot a sterling 59.8 percent on his two-point shots at NC State, but he’ll have to add a 3-point shot to be a more well-rounded guy.
Coach Jeff Hornacek has run some wacky lineups out there and Warren would really be a nice fit with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris. Of course, P.J. Tucker just got a new contract and will get the bulk of the minutes at the three.
11. Nik Stauskas (SAC, G) - It's no secret the King are in love with Stauskas. Sure, they're saying the right things about how he's smart, works hard and is picking up things quickly, but picking him with the eighth pick speaks much larger volumes.
The Kings have longed for a power forward to put next to DeMarcus Cousins, and yet they passed on Doug McDermott and Noah Vonleh, both of whom would be nice fits on paper. Instead, they drafted a second shooting guard in the top 10 for two consecutive drafts. It's become more and more apparent that Ben McLemore is on thin ice, which could open up the lion's share of the shooting guard minutes for Stauskas.
The Kings seem like they'll want him to handle the ball a lot more than McLemore did. The loss of Isaiah Thomas puts the Kings in a predicament because Darren Collison isn't a great distributor and neither is backup Ray McCallum. Nik could run the offense in a perfect world.
He shouldn't have too tough of a time getting minutes in the 25-28 range on the wing for the Kings. However, they were last in the NBA in assists per game and there just won't be enough shots for him next to DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay to put up solid value in standard leagues.
12. Noah Vonleh (CHA, F) - There were a lot of pros and cons with Vonleh at summer league. He rushed a lot of shots when he probably should have just passed to his teammates. His opening game at summer league was an 0-of-13 dud, which led to a horrific 28.4 percent from the field as a frontcourt player. No bueno.
Coach Steve Clifford has already said he'll be bringing Vonleh along slowly, which makes sense because he's a raw talent. Although, Cody Zeller's offensive ineptitude could change his mind. Vonleh is a better dynasty pick than a re-draft.

Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.

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