10. Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks – Shumpert has already, after a mere 2-weeks, most of which he missed with an injury, become the Knicks starting point guard. He’s got a pure attack mentality, and his penetration, with all the attention defenses must pay Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire on offense, as well as Tyson Chandler off the glass, Shumpert is creating havoc for opponents defensive schemes. Add in that he’s one of the few willing defenders on the teams, and he seems a clear keeper, so long as he keeps his role on the team in mind and better learns when to attack.
9. Greg Stiemsma, Boston Celtics – Stiemsma is here, like Shumpert, for what he could potentially offer a title contender. Already a willing defender, Stiemsma is an excellent shot blocker who must get better in the team concept. As is, already, he’s a huge steal for the Celtics who desperately need size and mobility that Stiemsma’s currently providing. He’s easily the biggest surprise on the list, topping…
8. John Leuer, Milwaukee Bucks – Leuer is going to be a very good offensive player in the league for a very long time. He looks slow, but he’s actually quite quick and excellent at moving his feet, with great size and is already developing into a top notch defender at the 4 and 5, a la Omer Asik or Nick Collins. Adding that type of player, especially since he’s both an effective floor spacer and post player, to Andrew Bogut in the middle and Mbah a Mute on the wing means Milwaulkee will be damn near impossible to score on, so long as Coach Scott Skiles does the right thing and gives this kid plenty of more time. He needs to rebound better, but as is, he’s among the best picks in the draft and has a long career in front of him, maybe even as a starter.
7. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons – The lowest of the four point guards on this list, I half expect him to end up the best down the line thanks to great athletic ability and a huge work ethic that’s letting him go from raw to refined in seemingly record time. He’s already earned the respect of vets like Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince. This should be the star the Pistons have been looking for, and the perfect complement to Rodney Stuckey.
6. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers – Motor is often the most overlooked skill for a young player, but that level of effort absolutely changes basketball games and Tristan Thompson has it in spades. He plays with incredible effort and athleticism, and with Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers have a decidedly intense frontcourt. He gets to the line, he gets offensive rebounds, he works, and he’s explosive. As questionable as this pick at first seemed, Thompson has all the makings of a great pick with a very high ceiling and the effort to reach that potential.
5. Marshon Brooks, New Jersey Nets – He’s a pure gunner, but he fell late and is on a team that needs scoring. He’s showing a willingness to compete at the 2 or 3 on defense and a surprising knack for rebounds. He may never be more than Jamal Crawford, but remember Crawford was a Pick 8 and Brooks Pick 25, and Crawford has swung not only games, but playoff series with his scoring. And if Brooks effort on D translates to results, and he’s a more willing passer with better teammates, he can be even more than that.
4. Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns – So, can this guy be a #1 scorer on a good team? He’s got every tool you’d want from an offensive player. He can shoot from afar, post it up, rebound offensively. This is just a gifted player, and remember, he’s the longer, better defender than his brother who was supposed to be less skilled. If the defensive talent is as advertised, the Suns finally have their first post-Nash core building block.
3. Norris Cole, Miami Heat – Everyone will tell you Cole was a steal where the Heat got him, but no one will say that his steady play is a surprise. He’s a great role player on a team that puts that to better use than anyone and absolutely needed his contributions. He can shoot, defend and occasionally rise to give the already stacked Heat more. The rich get richer. He won’t be rookie of the year, but he’ll have to settle for being a core part of a contender and perhaps winning an NBA title that wouldn’t be won without him.
2. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – This kid is special. I was concerned he wasn’t a real #1 pick, but he’s shown he can play winning basketball already. He’s a very heady passer, a great shooter, and great at getting to the rim. If he learns to finish, he’ll find himself in the Derrick Rose/Chris Paul/Deron Williams discussion disgustingly quickly. With as intelligent a player as he is, don’t bet against it.
- Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves – I’ve seen two rookies ever run their team immediately upon putting on a uniform – Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Absolutely everyone else, from Derrick Rose on down, took time to develop and grow into their role as the man. Well, Rubio is the third player on the list. The Wolves are his team, he makes the entire offense go, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s starting and dominating. He’s not only a virtuoso passing, he can score a bit, shoot far better than advertised, and has the makings of an all world defender.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a weak rookie class? Rubio and Irving are seemingly stars in the making. Cole is already a core piece of a contender, and Shumpert and Stiemsma seem like they could be down the line. Knight and Thompson have all the tools to be stars down the road, while Brooks and Morris are already awesome scorers who could be more. The list doesn’t even include guys like Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Nikola Vucevic, Josh Harrelson, Kawhi Leonard, Derrick Williams and Chris Singleton who all already major contributors. Since most teams with young players have plans in developing them now, we’re seeing more and more guys with chances to reach their potential. It’s a good time to be a NBA fan.