In this article, 15 rookies will be evaluated on how well they will perform in their first NBA season, as well as predicted stat lines. Most of the players are top ten selections, and the rest are players, who will be leaned upon to provide a needed boost to contending teams.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Being the first overall selection brings upon quite a few responsibilities. Luckily, for Towns, he is on the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are building through the draft, and have no hurry to make it back to the postseason. Towns is also fortunate enough to be able to learn from a future NBA Hall-of-Famer in Kevin Garnett, who will be able to help him develop his offensive game further, and use his body better on the defensive side of the ball. Minnesota is in need of his game-changing defense, which is one of strongest parts of Towns’ game. Minnesota was in the bottom half of the league last season in interior defense, and the one thing Towns really knows how to do is defend the rim. It is unlikely that Towns will put up huge numbers this upcoming season, and he may sit back and find his role early in the season, much like he did at Kentucky; however he is expect to be a force later in the season and for years to come.
Projected Stat Line: 22.3 minutes per game, 9.6 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, 1.7 assists per game, and 1.9 blocks per game.
D’Angelo Russell: After a bad summer league, it seems that half of the NBA world wants to label Russell a bust. Everyone needs to calm down. If a player does well, it is just summer league, do not get too hyped, but if they do poor we label them a bust? Let us not have double-standards fog summer league. Russell has quite a bit of pressure on himself, as he is next in line for the face of the Lakers, not to mention they are trying to compete for a playoff spot with an unproven roster. With Jordan Clarkson manning the point guard position, and Lou Williams behind him, Russell will be looked at playing the shooting guard position. If Russell gets the starting job, he will have to find his niche role in the offense, as Kobe will need his shots, Clarkson will too if he can continue his development needs shots, Nick Young will be jacking up any ball he can get his hands on, and we have not even got to the post players yet. Russell will need some time before he starts putting up super-star numbers, like I believe he can, but for this next season, let us slow down the hype train, as Russell will probably not be a major factor in Los Angeles as a rookie.
Projected Stat Line: 19.6 minutes per game, 8.1 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game, 1.3 steals per game, and 1.8 turnovers per game.
Jahlil Okafor: Okafor is one of two rookies who can make an immediate impact; although, I think he will be the winner or runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors. Okafor possess the ability to be the lone offensive star for a team like Philadelphia. In addition, Joel Embiid will likely be sidelined for another season, leaving Okafor as the main interior presence for scoring. The great thing for Okafor is he has Nerlens Noel next to him to cover up for his defensive deficiencies. With Noel and Okafor, Philadelphia has a scary frontcourt, which has unknown potential. Okafor will need to work on limiting his turnovers, as shown in summer league they were a main problem, with him averaging more than 4.6 turnovers a game. Okafor should have good numbers his rookie season, and as stated before, and should be a top contender for Rookie of the Year.
Projected Stat Line: 29.1 minutes per game, 15.7 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, 1.3 assists per game, and 0.9 blocks per game.
Kristaps Porzingis: I am glad to see Knick’s fans embrace Porzingis at summer league, instead of booing him, as the case was draft night. Porzingis is likely to come off the bench in his inaugural season, which is okay for a top selection, unlike many people like to believe, as he does need a lot of further development. In his summer league play, Porzingis showed many flashes of potential greatness with his wide variety of shots and athleticism for a seven footer. Porzingis may not be a huge factor this season, but with Anthony becoming more and more inclined to injury, as well as decline in efficiency, Porzingis will soon be the face of the franchise. As the Zen Master put it, he is a bit of a project. If he pans out he can be a perennial all-star, or he can be just another European bust. I think he’ll be the former; ho
Projected Stat Line: 18.9 minutes per game, 6.8 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists per game, and 0.6 blocks per game.
Mario Hezonja: Dubbed the “European Kobe,” Mario Hezonja is as confident as they come. Playing in only 22 games at over 16 minutes a game, there is not much to judge Hezonja with. Yet, he was ranked the number one shooting guard and number five overall prospect of 2015 by draftexpress.com. This goes to show how highly scouts think of him. He is extremely athletic and comes with great size -6’8’’ 200 lbs. – at the shooting guard position. He also has an above average three point shot, and he has loads of potential with his slashing game. Given his tremendous size, he can also develop into a good-to-great defender. Hezonja was also limited in Summer League action, but when he played he was making big time plays, most notably when he put an unsuspecting defender in a poster dunk. He has drawn comparisons to J.R. Smith, Gerald Green, and of course Kobe Bryant. Without a doubt, he possesses one of the highest ceilings in the draft; this is how I see it: best-case scenario he becomes a superstar and perennial all-star, or he will end up playing a J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford type of role, which is not a bad worst-case scenario if you ask me. In terms of playing time next year, he will likely come off the bench behind Victor Oladipo, and he will play minutes at the small forward position behind Tobias Harris. I wouldn’t be surprised to see small-ball lineup consisting of Payton-Oladipo-Hezonja-Harris-Vucevic at times. Fans shouldn’t expect big numbers in his first season, but don’t be surprised if he is putting up big numbers in the near future.
Projected Stat Line: 14.7 minutes per game, 4.6 points per game, 1.9 rebounds per game, 0.5 assists per game, 0.8 steals per game, and 0.9 turnovers per game.
Willie Trill Cauley-Stein: Stein might have been the biggest reach in the 2015 NBA draft. Stein offers little offensive ability, as this part of his game never really developed during his three years at Kentucky, as most people hoped it would. For his offense, Stein depends on his athleticism, as well as transition offense. He cannot create for himself, and with Cousins in the paint, Stein is going to find it even harder to find his niche. Stein will be able to contribute on the defensive side of the ball, as the Sacramento Kings desperately needed rim protection. Do not expect much scoring from Stein, but rebounding and blocks are what Stein will be able to provide this year, and once he finds his role in the offense he can become an offensive contributor. For now, most of his points will come from lobs and put-backs.
Projected Stat Line: 27.4 minutes per game, 8.6 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game, 1.8 blocks per game.
Emmanuel Mudiay: Mudiay may have been selected in the top three if he had attended SMU like he originally planned. However, he opted to play in China, where he averaged 18 points 6 rebounds 6 assists and nearly 2 steals per game. He did this against grown men; keep in mind, many of these players are former NBA players. Adjusting to the NBA should be a little bit easier for Mudiay. The biggest adjustment will most likely be the change of pace. Mudiay is an elite athlete with great size for the point guard position. He is listed at 6’5’’ 200 lbs; he is coming along as a playmaker, but he has potential to be a 20-10 guy. He is reminiscent of current all-star point guard John Wall. He isn’t as explosive, but he is very close athletically. He can get to rim at will, but he needs to reform his shooting mechanics. Shooting gets better with experience so he should be able to develop a decent jay with time. He will be running Denver’s offense this year and he should be putting up some good numbers from the start. I expect him to be a favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Projected Stat Line: 28.6 minutes per game, 16.2 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 6.2 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game, 2.3 turnovers per game.
Stanley Johnson: Stanley Johnson has been flying under the radar this summer. Johnson was fantastic in summer league, and going into training camp, Johnson has a great shot at the starting small forward position. Johnson’s offense will need time to develop, before he is a consistent offensive threat, but with most of his comparisons to Jimmy Butler, Detroit will patient with him Defense is where Johnson will make a big impact for Detroit, and hopefully allow for them to make a run at the playoffs.
Projected Stat Line: 24.5 minutes per game, 8.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game, 1.9 steals per game, 1.4 turnovers per game.
Frank Kaminsky: Frank Kaminsky has the offensive potential to be a good NBA role player, but not in Charlotte. Kaminsky will not blow you away with freakish athleticism, but with quick speed, good footwork, and fundamental post moves. With Al Jefferson as the current center, and a log jam of players at the power forward position, Kaminsky will have to have a great training camp, and steady production off the bench, if he expects to see the floor a lot. The Hornet’s biggest need was a stretch big man, but with the acquisition of Spencer Hawes, who Kaminsky shares similar perimeter skills too, Charlotte may have poorly used this pick, especially with a player like Justise Winslow available. As stated before, Kaminsky will be limited to a crowded bench role this season, so his stats will not blow you away.
Projected Stat Line: 15.6 minutes per game, 4.4 points per game, 2.3 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists per game, and 0.3 blocks per game.
Justise Winslow: Winslow was one of my favorite players coming into the 2015 NBA draft, and it was a complete surprise to see him fall all the way to tenth overall. His summer league play was not the greatest, and now everyone thinks he was overrated, and Stanley Johnson was a better choice between the two. Let’s not get carried away, as watching Winslow at Duke, he was not the leader he was in March at the start of the season, Winslow needed to find his role and confidence before he was able to dominate his opponents. I do not expect Winslow to completely wow anyone this season with stats, but he will have a few highlight reel plays, and be a big part in Miami’s playoff scheme. With the Dwyane Wade era nearing its end, Winslow will learn from the future Hall-of Famer, and in a year or two be a very elite player.
Projected Stat Line: 21.3 minutes per game, 7.8 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game, and 1.4 turnovers per game.
Myles Turner: Turner was one of the, if not biggest boom or bust prospects in the draft. As of summer league, Turner is looking at the boom side of things. Turner had a great summer league, and with the lack of depth at the current starter position in Indiana, Turner should expect a good amount of playing time. Turner is very raw offensively, and with his lack of willingness to play in the post in college, we have to see how that translates at the NBA stage. His ability to play on the perimeter will be huge though, as most centers in their division struggle guarding at the perimeter, and could play a crucial role in Indiana making the playoffs. Turner should produce decent numbers for his rookie year, but not enough to win Rookie of the Year, but he is a dark horse candidate to win the award.
Projected Stat Line: 23.6 minutes per game, 11.7 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, and 2.1 blocks per game.
Cameron Payne: Cameron Payne is coming into a great position as a rookie. Payne will share the duties of being in charge of the second unit with D.J. Augustin. Payne has no immediate pressure to contribute, as Oklahoma has plenty of other scoring options. Payne’s main responsibility this year will be finding his niche in Oklahoma’s offense, and further his development, as Augustin becomes a free agent after this year, and Oklahoma will need a replacement for him, as well as the potential lost of Russell Westbrook in 2017, but that is highly unlikely. Payne is highly unlikely to put up big numbers this year, unless injuries occur, but after this year, with a rise up the depth chart, Payne should be a solid NBA contributor.
Projected Stat Line: 10.2 minutes per game, 2.3 points per game, 0.9 rebounds per game, 1.3 assists per game, and 1.1 turnovers per game.
Terry Rozier: Rozier started his collegiate basketball career playing shooting guard, and was then asked to play point guard for them. Rozier embraced this role, and showed great raw intangibles to potentially be a star at this position. If Rozier had stayed for another year at Louisville to refine his point guard skills he could have been a much higher draft pick, but due to him being so raw at the position, and of its great importance in the league, Rozier will likely play a combo guard position, with a majority of his minutes back at his natural position of shooting guard. Boston is heavily loaded on guards, so getting minutes will not be an easy task, but with Boston’s desperation for scoring, Rozier, along with Isaiah Thomas, Boston could have a very potent bench backcourt, that could help them surprise everyone and make the playoffs again. With Boston’s depth at the guard position, Rozier should expect a decent amount of playing time at the beginning of the season, as his development will be key for Boston’s playoff hopes.
Projected Stat Line: 19.1 minutes per game, 7.1 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 1.1 steals per game, and 1.8 turnovers per game.
Jerian Grant: Grant is in a great spot in New York. Although he is unlikely to win the starting point guard position his rookie year, Grant has the size and ability to play at the shooting guard position, and thrive there. Grant has an unbelievable versatile offensive game, which makes him a threat from anywhere. If Grant is not burning you himself, his court vision is so good, he can pass the ball to a teammate, without even having to look to give it away to his opponent. After this season, and Calderon leaves for free agency, Grant will be given the opportunity to be the starting point guard, and Grant has what it takes to help lead New York back to winning, and not the current despair it is in. With Anthony on the team, he will need his 25-30 shots a game, limiting Grant to smaller numbers.
Projected Stat Line: 24.3 minutes per game, 10.6 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game, and 1.7 turnovers per game.
Bobby Portis: Portis, along with Winslow were my favorite players coming into the 2015 NBA draft. I truly believe Chicago got a steal in the draft, when they selected Bobby Portis. With Chicago’s main trade bait being Taj Gibson, and a need for a reliable offensive threat off the bench, Portis makes Gibson trade able, and still allows Chicago to keep their frontcourt depth. Portis has a great summer league, and with his work ethic, and learning from Noah, Gasol, Mirotic, Gibson, Portis should be a great player in a short amount of time. As of right now, Taj Gibson is still on the roster, and with this, Portis will likely play the power forward position, with Mirotic at the small forward position, and Gibson at center, giving the Bull’s a deadly bench trio. Portis might not see huge minutes playing for this title contender, but he will play a major role in helping them make into the championship.
Projected Stat Line: 15.6 minutes per game, 6.4 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists per game, and 0.6 blocks per game.
By: Mac Crowe and Hamed Qashmar