There is no doubting that Olympian gold medalist and top overall pick Anthony Davis is the favorite in the clubhouse to win the Rookie of The Year award in 2012-2013. Second overall selection Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked great in summer league and could have a solid season for the Bobcats. Washington’s Bradley Beal is in the perfect situation in Washington to flourish; even Sacramento’s Thomas Robinson could shine with the Kings. However there are a few rookies who were drafted outside the top five that either put on a show in Summer League or are now poised to have big roles in the 2012-2013 season that are worth paying attention to, here are a few of them:
Damian Lillard, Portland: Lillard was the co-MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League and truly looked like a man among boys at times running the show for the Trail Blazers’ summer crew. Lillard looks like he is the favorite to start for the Blazers and given his knack for scoring the ball and his polish, he does become a Rookie of The Year prospect, mainly because he’ll get the playing time and opportunity to showcase his skills. LaMarcus Aldridge is the lead dog in Portland, so Lillard won’t be the leading scorer, but if he can put up solid double-figure scoring and hand out the six-to-eight assists per game he says he’s capable of, Lillard could be one of the brighter rookies in the class.
Maurice Harkless, Orlando: Mo Harkless was projected to be a bench guy in Philadelphia, but after the Dwight Howard trade landed him in Orlando, things are looking up for Harkless. It’s unlikely that Harkless starts the season as a starter, but there is little doubt that Harkless will get every opportunity to speed along his development. A rangy small forward type, Harkless has shown glimpses of having Rudy Gay/Kevin Durant type scoring ability, which will make him a fan favorite for sure. Harkless was a streaky shooter at St. John’s, however, he’s spent the entire summer re-working his shooting mechanics. If he can drain the three-ball effectively, he will supplant anyone they put in front of him in Orlando. Mo may not start the season as a starter, but the smart money is on him ending the season as one.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State: There really couldn’t be a better situation for Harrison Barnes than the Warriors. There is almost no pressure on him and all he’ll be asked to do is play his game, not carry a franchise. Barnes was one of the brighter spots in summer league and he is expected to play a big role for the Warriors. The problem for Barnes is he’s not going to get nearly the amount of looks it will take to be a real Rookie of The Year candidate, but there is no doubting that the skills are there. The Warriors are so deep with young talent that Barnes day-to-day numbers may be underwhelming, but if you are looking for the guy that could give you 25 on any given night he might be that guy.
Terrence Ross, Toronto: The training camp battle between Terrence Ross and Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan will be one to watch. DeRozan has the bigger, more mature NBA body and he is certainly more explosive as a scorer. However, Terrence Ross is a far better shooter. There has been talk that the Raptors would try and find ways to get both guys on the floor together, but if Ross wins the starter’s job in camp or if injury strikes Ross has the ability to be an impact scorer. Like Barnes it’s unlikely that Ross gets the minutes and touches to be a real Rookie of The Year candidate, but when you start looking at the Rookies to watch he could be one of the best of the bunch.
Jared Sullinger, Boston: Sullinger proved in the Orlando Summer League that he’s not nearly as damaged as the draft process made him out to be and unlike most of the young bigs in summer league, he proved that he was ready to play. The Celtics have a lot of mature veterans in front of Sully, so it’s unlikely that he plays a big role as a rookie, but if he does get his shot he has the bulk and the knack for scoring that could make things interesting. He is not a Rookie of The Year candidate, but he should be fun to watch especially after the Celtic vets like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce get a hold of him and teach him a little nastiness.
Perry Jones III, Thunder Jones won’t be starting games, but if he sticks to the plan with the Thunder and his knee holds up he’ll have a chance for a regular role. When the Thunder started the draft process they were actually open to trading the pick. When PJIII landed to them late in the first they really couldn’t have been happier. Jones is going to have to learn to run the Thunder system and that was a knock on him in the draft process. Everyone knew Jones could play, but the question was could he run a complex system? That’s something he’ll have to prove in camp. PJIII is not a Rookie of The Year prospect, but he could be a fun rookie to watch. The Western Conference got appreciably better this summer, but adding Jones to the OKC bench crew that will likely feature Eric Maynor, Reggie Jackson and Olympian James Harden makes them better as well. The second unit in OKC added another high volume scorer, as if they were not deep enough already.
Orlando Johnson, Pacers If there is one guy in the second round who could make a name for himself its likely Indiana’s Orlando Johnson. With a great mix of perimeter shooting, an attack-the-basket game, and a high basketball IQ Johnson could be a nice addition to a very young Pacers squad. Paul George is the starter at the two spot, but if Johnson gets some extended time he could provide a scoring boost like he did in summer league. There is no scenario short of a major injury in which Johnson will be in the Rookie of the Year discussion, but if you are looking for a dark horse rookie to watch, he might be the guy