It is that time of year again. Days are getting shorter, stores are selling Christmas lights and pumpkin spice lattes have infiltrated every coffee shop in the country. All of these events signal the moment we have all been waiting for. Nope, not the holidays, but the 2014-2015 NBA season. The basketball season officially kicked off two weeks ago and as is typical of its nature, the games thus far have been completely unpredictable. The LeBron James-led Cavaliers, who were predicted to be titans, are hovering around a .500 winning percentage. Meanwhile the Golden State Warriors have taken the league by storm with one of the best records, led by sharpshooters Klay Thompson and Stephan Curry. About the only thing you can predict about an NBA season is it is extremely unpredictable—which is exactly the case for the NBA’s rookies. The first year players have to compete against top talent all the while fighting lofty expectations, acclimating to new teams and living the insanely busy life a professional athlete. But in the end, the rookie who plays the best on the court will win Rookie of the Year (ROY).
The Milwaukee Buck’s small forward, Jabari Parker, is not sneaking up on anyone in the Rookie of the Year race. The 6’8” former Duke Blue Devil is leading all rookies in scoring by averaging close to 8 rebounds a game. Unlike some other first years, the Bucks are in need of an offensive boost and they are ready to dish the ball to Parker inside. Parker’s scoring numbers might be inflated as he is one of the only weapons on an nonthreatening offense, but if he can play strong defense, the Bucks will certainly be a team to watch.
In the middle of the off-season’s trades, it is easy to forget that Andrew Wiggins was the top pick in the NBA draft. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wiggins was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love in order for LeBron James to complete his new and improve Big 3. In the move from the Cavs to the T’wolves, Wiggins lost the chance to play with some of the league’s best in all-stars Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, but the Canadian strong forward now has the opportunity to start in Minnesota, where as in Cleveland, he would have always been an afterthought. Wiggins can hurt an opposing team in many ways besides just scoring, and his surprisingly strong defense is a valuable asset for the developing T’Wolves. Wiggins joins fellow rookie, Zach LaVine, to create one the youngest and most athletic teams in the league, making the Timberwolves vulnerable to inconsistency but also making them a threat.
Technically, Nerlens Noel joined the league in 2013 but as injury kept him on the sidelines last season, the 6 ft., 11 in. tall power forward will start his NBA career this year. It is commonly held that the Philadelphia 76ers are the worst team in the league, but with a bank of young talent including Noel and last season’s ROY winner Michael Carter Williams, the team will surely improve from last year’s campaign which boasted a 26 game losing streak. Noel’s immense value primarily comes from his strong defense and long arms that are perfect for shot blocking. Noel’s offense game needs development, but if he can stay in double digit rebound numbers in most games then his defense will make him a huge threat for the 76ers. The biggest concern for Noel is his tendency to get injured, and staying healthy will have to be a big focus for the shot blocker if he wants to make a ROY run. The Massachusetts native has already missed a few games this season with an ankle injury.
Doug McDermott is a shooting threat who has yet to get comfortable behind the three point arc in his rookie season. The Chicago Bulls’ rookie has shot 5-15 behind the line as of Nov. 9 and has seen limited minutes so far as he competes for playing time in Chicago’s talent-dense lineup. As McDermott’s shooting hand warms up to the NBA, he will certainly benefit from kickout passes off of rebounds from Chicago’s big men Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. McDermott has a tendency to really get into a scoring zone, and when this happens, the Bulls will be happy to get out of the way and see their rookie drain shots. The Bulls are committed to succeed in the playoffs this year and McDermott is evidence of this as the team traded two late first-round picks to the Denver Nuggets for the sharp shooter. With the outside shooting of McDermott and the inside dominance of Gasol and Noah, the Bulls are balanced and ready to make a run this season with or without their star Derrick Rose.
It is too early to make any confident ROY picks as many excellent first year players have yet to reach their peak and many currently peaking players will surely crash and burn. Both Julius Randle of the Lakers and Marcus Smart of the Celtics along with Joel Embiid have suffered injuries that will give the rookies a late start to their playing careers. But if Marcus Smart is able to overcome his ankle injury, a Boston team in need of talent will be the perfect spot for him to succeed as a rookie.
My sleeper pick goes to Elfrid Payton, point guard of the Orlando Magic. The Louisiana product has averaged 6.5 assists per game, an above average number that pairs well with his respectable 9 points per game. The metric that stands out most in Payton’s stat line is his 2.7 turnover average per game, which is stellar even when compared to the cream of the NBA (Chris Paul averages 2.6 turnovers a game). If Payton and fellow rookie Aaron Gordon continue their success, the Magic could grab a low playoff seeding.
These rookies are unpredictable, a factor that is extremely exciting. They are rejuvenating the league and for that I welcome the NBA class of 2014 to the league. It is true that at this time of year, the only thing sweeter than a pumpkin spice latte is the return of the NBA season and the new rookie faces on the court.