It’s a month into the NBA season and this year’s crop of rookies are beginning to make an impact. Here are five first-year players that are turning heads with their early-season progress.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
There’s a log jam of mediocre off-ball guards in Sacramento, but Ben McLemore is starting to outshine the likes of Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette. The 7th overall pick from Kansas took over the starting shooting guard position on November 13th and he continues to impress coach Mike Malone with his work ethic and athleticism. He’s still an inefficient scorer but that’s something that McLemore can improve upon with more experience.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
The book on Adams both before and after the draft is that he’s a high-upside big man who needs plenty of time to develop his raw skills. That still might be true, but Adams has already shown that he can help the Thunder this season. He’s an athletic seven-footer who can already defend the post and play in transition. His offense is still in its infancy but it’s still a better option than say, Kendrick Perkins.
Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have admittedly had to play Wolters much, much more than they would have wanted to at the beginning of the season. Brandon Knight’s injury on opening night didn’t give Milwaukee much choice, and considering he’s a second round pick — in a weak draft class — on a terrible team, Wolters has performed admirably: his assist-turnover ratio is impressive, and not just by rookie standards. Now that Knight is healthy, Wolters is beginning to see a significant reduction in playing time, but Milwaukee would be smart to keep one of their best pure point guards in the rotation.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
The point guard experiment has been….interesting to say the least. Is he a point guard or shooting guard? We still don’t know. But what is obvious is that Oladipo can be explosive. He’s shown a knack for scoring in bunches and he’s especially lethal in transition. However, Oladipo’s pick-and-roll game needs improvement and a lot of his turnovers stem from his unfamiliarity playing the point guard position. It will be interesting to monitor how the Magic use him going forward. Do they believe Oladipo is the point guard of the future, or will Orlando choose to pair him a guy like Marcus Smart who the Magic have had their eye on since last spring.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Through the first four weeks, Carter-Williams has been far and away the most impressive rookie of the young season. He’s scored 22 and 29 against the Heat and Pacers respectively, which are the two best teams in the East and it isn’t close. MCW’s biggest question mark is his shooting ability, and while he hasn’t necessarily been lights out, he’s been an above-average shooter on the left side of the floor. MCW’s long arms wreak havoc on defense — he’s third in the league in steals — and he’s a composed ball-handler and distributor considering that he plays at such a fast pace.