5 Rookies To Watch

The 2013 NBA Draft class was dubbed by pundits as being a “weak” class. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but I believe there are definitely intriguing first-year players worth watching. Here are five rookies that I’m especially excited to watch:

1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope:

You down with KCP? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is on this list for good reason. Yes, partially because of his fantastic name, but also because of his silky smooth jump shot.

I go bonkers whenever there is a shooting guard in the draft labeled as a hybrid with the attributes “athletic freak” and “natural shooter”. Those are my favorite kinds of players besides bruising centers that can crash the glass. KCP falls under that shooting guard hybrid category. If you ask anyone that watched Georgia basketball last year, they’ll tell you how KCP carried the team. He posted an offensive rating of 115.7, along with 3.9 offensive win shares and 6.3 total win shares. Get this: Caldwell-Pope led the team with his 3.9 offensive win shares while the second highest OWS on the team belonged to Vincent Williams at 0.5. Crazy, right?

The Pistons shooting guard position is up in the air. KCP has been going up against inefficient chucker Rodney Stuckey in training camp. After Stuckey’s atrociously bad 2012-13 season – Stuckey posted a dreadful .505 TS% and a PER of just 13 –  it would make a lot of sense for Caldwell-Pope to start at shooting guard. Not only does the upside effect come into play for KCP, but he’d provide Detroit with some much needed floor spacing. With a Smith-Monroe-Drummond front court, the Pistons will need as much outside shooting as it can get from the guard spots. Stuckey is also on an expiring contract, so there is no long term commitment if Detroit wants to go in a different direction. If he starts, he could get off to another horrible start like last season (32-102 shooting in his first ten games of 2012-13) which would also open up a door for Caldwell-Pope.

The principal viewing will not be on the two-guard position due to Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond being in the starting lineup. But with the Pistons “Big Three” on the floor (I hate using that term, but here goes it), KCP would be a viable perimeter threat. In his final year at Georgia, KCP hit 37% of his threes, establishing himself as a perfect off-the-dribble option and won the SEC Player of The Year honor. If he starts, then there would actually be floor spacing! The Pistons SB Nation blog Detroit Bad Boys made a great case for KCP starting at shooting guard.

As a matter of fact, Brandon Jennings is out for three weeks with a wisdom tooth fracture – which reminds me of a horrible root canal I had – and Rodney Stuckey broke his thumb in a car door. Will Bynum is more of a point guard, being just a 26% career three point shooter, and Chauncey Billups is very old. Billups could be in line to start, but I would bet that Caldwell-Pope takes his minutes by seasons end.

You down with KCP…he knows you…and me.

2. C.J McCollum:

Everyone should love C.J McCollum. He’s the epitome of a “student of the game.” During last year’s playoffs he would tweet smart basketball tweets and would interact with fans on a daily basis. Just before the draft, Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose did a segment for Grantland entitled “The Full NBA Job Interview,” in which they interviewed top draft prospects about their NBA paths. In my eyes, McCollum’s interview was the best one. His extroverted personality blends very well with his immense appetite for the game. It’s incredibly hard not to like him. Here is the interview:

McCollum made Las Vegas Summer League  watchable for me. Summer League hoops is usually something I really could care less about. One night, there was nothing on TV. I flipped to NBATV, where they were rebroadcasting a Suns-Blazers game. It was early in the game, and I was thinking about turning it off. But here’s McCollum bumbling and stumbling (Clyde Frazier homages!) with the ball, trying to regain his balance. McCollum regains his balance like he was a gymnast by doing And-1 Mixtape Tour-esque moves. He drives to the baseline, and drains a floater that Raymond Felton has been trying so desperately to nail consistently for his entire career. Thanks to that moment of awesomeness, I watched the rest of the game. The Blazers ended up losing 92-84, but I didn’t care about the end result; I just cared about McCollum. He scored 22 points.

Unfortunately, McCollum broke a metatarsal in his left foot, causing him to have surgery. The injury was deja vu all over again for him, as he had the same exact injury while playing at Lehigh. The injury shelved him for the rest of his fourth and final season at Lehigh. What sucks is that McCollum was turning heads early in the process with his fantastic Summer League – he averaged 21 points in five games. He’s out indefinitely, meaning that he’ll probably miss the season opener and the first couple to few weeks of the regular season.

3. Victor Oladipo:

On top of Jason Maxiell’s elite post defending (haha just kidding, his post defense is horrible) and Arron Afflalo’s underrated play, Magic fans will be looking forward to Victor Oladipo’s freakishly athletic skillset. I too am excited about Oladipo’s athletic ability. In the draft, this was the main talking point used when discussing the second overall pick. If you watched Indiana play at all this season, you have an idea of what we’re talking about here.

The step taken between Oladipo’s sophomore and junior years are mind-blowing. His FG% went from 47% to 59%, his 3P% went from an abysmal 20% to 44%, and he raised his scoring totals from 10.8 up to 13.6 PPG. His draft stock went from bottom-of-the-table material to top 3 lottery pick in a span of two seasons.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has reportedly contemplated about playing the Indiana wunderkind at point guard. The proposed experiment makes no sense whatsoever. Court vision is the most rudimentary skill to have in a point guard and Oladipo doesn’t have it. Just thinking about the idea gives me the chills. Speaking of players being played out of position, this reminds me of when Iman Shumpert was inserted as a point guard in this year’s Summer League, prompting James Dolan to demand his trading from the team, and in his rookie year. This is a horrible idea and heads should roll in Orlando if Oladipo’s talents are wasted at point guard.

Magic fans’ only hopes are Oladipo and Arron Afflalo this upcoming season. I’m happy for you, Magic fans, but at the same time you have Jason Maxiell, Ronnie Price and E’Twaun Moore. Sorry about that.

4. Isaiah Canaan:

Ever since Steve Prohm took over the Murray St. head coaching position in 2011, the basketball program’s resurgence has been swift. The Racers have been transformed into an NCAA tournament contender. In Prohm’s inaugural coaching season, he coached the Racers to a 23-0 start and later to a 31-2 overall record while going 15-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference. They eventually lost in the Round of 32 against Marquette.

There’s one particular salient individual that assisted Prohm to that 31-2 pinnacle; rookie PG Isaiah Canaan, now of the Houston Rockets. The Knicks were considering drafting him with their 24th pick, but passed. Canaan fell to the early second round, which is weird to me because he was the centerpiece of Murray State’s offense. Without him at the helm, the Racers were hapless without their master general.

The Rockets investing in Canaan with their lone second round pick was a very smart decision. I penned him as the biggest steal of this year’s draft. Grabbing a 21.8 PPG scorer and .211 WS/40 point guard that late in the draft is impressive. Although Canaan will be the third point guard behind 2012-13 D-League graduate Patrick Beverley, the future is still bright for him. He’ll certainly be around.

5. Reggie Bullock:

Reggie Bullock was the guy that the majority of Knick fans wanted to draft. Why? Because he replicated the Knicks offense from last year: As Blind Melon said, “Three is a magic number.” Shoot threes, bomb threes, make threes, chuck threes; everything is about the number three. Essentially, Bullock’s role at North Carolina was to stand on the perimeter, or run around curl screen, and knock down the open perimeter shot. He shot 43% from downtown in his final season at Chapel Hill, and shot almost 39% lifetime. The Knicks drafted Tim Hardaway Jr. and Bullock went the selection after. His final season was his best, partially helped by his teammates Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes all declaring for the NBA draft the year before. He was picking up much of the responsibility that those three left over, a very hefty bulk.. No matter what team was going to draft Bullock, any team was going to get a bang for their buck in a good “3 and D” wing.

Bullock may not get major playing time, due to the Clippers acquiring Jared Dudley and JJ Redick in the off-season, but he can be that full-time three point specialist in the future. He could become a Danny Green type player in the future. Bullock is currently the fourth shooting guard on the depth chart behind Jamal Crawford, Dudley, Redick, and Willie Green.

I’m talking about all of this offense relentlessly. It must mean Bullock is a subpar defender, right? Nope. In fact, he’s a pretty good defender. You can place him under the “3-and-D winger” category along with the likes of Shane Battier and Kawhi Leonard. A “3-and-D” type player is a very special player to have. Players like that are very valuable to a team. In this day in age, the three point shot is incredibly valuable to a team’s offense. Bullock is an example of what the analytics crowd adores. He posted a scorching .625 TS% his junior year at North Carolina and is good defender. Bullock is a new age role player and should fit in quite nicely in Los Angeles.