Boom or bust, here is a list of rookies that could potentially make names for themselves in the coming season. Not all of them will be in the running for Rookie of the Year but they all have something to prove to their respective teams and to the fans alike. A few of these players are already predetermined starters on their squads. Unfortunately, some on this list will find themselves deep on their team’s bench despite their talent but that should not lessen the interest in them. For others, it is simply a matter of gaining the trust of the coaching staff and teammates so that they see an increase in the number of minutes that they play. It would also not be surprising to see some on this list fail to live up to the expectations surrounding them. Nonetheless, these are the rookies to watch.
DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings
So far this summer DeMarcus Cousins has been talking the talk. He has loudly professed that he feels that he should have been drafted higher than fifth and has taken shots at Derrick Favors. Lucky for him, though, that he fell to the Kings. In Sacramento he is teamed up with last year’s Rookie of the Year in Tyreke Evans. Together the two form one of the best young duo combinations in the league. Cousins will be the starting center in Sactown with the injury plagued Samuel Dalembert sidelined for the first couple of weeks of the season. With the numbers he is putting up in preseason, 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds, Cousins looks primed to be a double-double threat every night. However, he needs to limit the fouls he commits to be even more effective while on the court. Cousins wants to be Rookie of the Year and once the season begins we shall see if he can walk the walk.
Derrick Favors – New Jersey Nets
Favors was drafted third overall by the New Jersey Nets. Teams expect a lot from a top three draft pick but are the Nets really in a position to expect anything? They were a terrible team last year and have not made any significant moves to improve. They tried to trade for Carmelo Anthony but that deal fell apart. They brought in Troy Murphy but he has been battling a back injury so it looked as if the starting job was Favors’. Avery Johnson, the Nets’ head coach, had some early glowing praise for Favors saying he is as coachable as Tim Duncan. That, however, is where all similarities between Favors and Tim Duncan end. In six games this preseason, Favors has averaged five points (he did not score at all in his last two games) and five rebounds while shooting a dreadful 33.3 percent from the floor. He has only played two games in which his numbers were even note worthy. Due to his inconsistency, Johnson made the move to replace him in the starting lineup with Joe Smith. If Favors cannot find a way to improve he will find that his name will be synonymous with those of Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, Greg Oden, and Hasheem Thabeet.
Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers
It will be Griffin’s second year with an NBA but his first in which he takes part in a regular season game; that is unless some kind of unthinkable mishap befalls him again. Griffin is a rebounding machine and will likely lead all rookies in rebounding this season. His numbers in preseason are already eye-popping. He is averaging 17.4 points and 12 rebounds per game to go along with 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks. Can I get a “daayum!”? I did not care for Griffin much in college but now that he has left Norman I can take my blinders off. This kid is going to be good. In fact he will be one of the best. If DeMarcus Cousins wants to be the ROY then he needs to outperform Griffin. As of right now, there is a short list for rookie of the year and Griffin, it can be argued, deserves to be atop of it. What has yet to be seen, however, is how he will match up with some of the more punishing frontcourts in the West.
Timofey Mozgov – New York Knicks
Mozgov is the second most talked about Russian in the NBA this season. The first, of course, is the New Jersey Net’s new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. Before Mozgov signed with the New York Knicks, few if anybody had any idea who he was. He is still a seven foot one inch tall curiosity to fans and opposing teams alike. He played his entire professional career, up until this summer, in Russia with LenVo St. Petersburg, CSK VVS-2 Samara, and Khimki Moscow Region. This summer he played on the Russian national team in the FIBA World Championships which is where most people were introduced to the latest Knickerbocker. In FIBA play, Mozgov played a bench roll with his national team averaging 13 points and 4.4 rebounds. In the preseason, with the Knicks, he is averaging 7.5 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks per game. His play thus far has caused the Knicks’ coaching staff to consider him for the role of the team’s starting center when the season starts despite his foul trouble. With hamburger enthusiast Eddy Curry as the only other true center on the roster, expect Mozgov to be named the starting center.
Jeremy Lin – Golden State Warriors
Lin was the breakout sensation of the NBA Summer League this year. Undrafted out of Harvard University, Lin, the first Asian-American to play in the NBA, was invited to play for the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team. The Mavericks were the only team to offer Lin an invite to Summer League. Once there, he quickly impressed all who saw him play. In five games, Lin averaged 9.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals while leading the team in field goal percentage with a mark of 54.5. The highlight performance of his Summer League experience was going head to head with John Wall and out playing him at every level, Wall scored more points but only connected on four of 19 shots while Lin was six of 12 from the floor. After he impressed in Summer League, Lin chose to sign a two year contract with his childhood favorite team, the Golden State Warriors. His numbers in the preseason are not as impressive as those he logged in Summer League play because his minutes have been extremely limited as he plays behind Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, Aaron Miles, and Charlie Bell at either guard position. It would behoove new head coach Keith Smart to find some more minutes for Lin. He has the potential to be a break out player.
Larry Sanders – Milwaukee Bucks
For a time, Larry Sanders closely resembled Garry Shandling and hosted his own talk show. After massive reconstruction surgery and space-age age defying treatments, Larry Sanders is now an athletic forward for the Milwaukee Bucks. Sanders played second fiddle to Eric Maynor at Virginia Commonwealth for his first two years at the school and seemed very suited for that role. He became the standout player on the team during his junior season. He won back to back CAA Defensive Player of the Year awards his sophomore and junior seasons. Sanders is getting opportunities this season as he is averaging 17.2 minutes per game but his returns are not all bright. He was drafted by the Bucks for his defense and that is what he has provided for them thus far. He is averaging three defensive rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. His best game in the preseason came against the Detroit Pistons where he totaled 12 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks. Sanders’ ability to alter shots will be the reason that Scott Skiles will bring him in off the bench once the season begins but he needs to improve his scoring and rebounding if he is to become a legitimate role player on a deep Bucks team.
Tiago Splitter – San Antonio Spurs
Another foreign player making the jump to the NBA this season is Tiago Splitter. Much like Mozgov, not much was initially known about the Brazilian big man (he is listed at 6’11”) when the Spurs finally were able to sign him this summer. San Antonio drafted Splitter 28th overall in 2007. Since he was drafted by the Spurs, Splitter has chosen to play professionally in the Euroleague, where he could make more money, with Saski Baskonia. He was named the Spanish League MVP in 2010. Where many people were first able to see Splitter in action for the first time was during the FIBA World Championships in Turkey this summer when he represented his birth nation of Brazil (he has Spanish citizenship). During the tournament he averaged 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. Most notably, however, is that he played for the team that gave the United States the most difficulty during the U.S.’s gold medal run. The Spurs have held Splitter out of any preseason action thus far. Splitter has a reputation of being a smart and aware player on both ends of the court which should serve him well under the guidance of head coach Greg Popovich.
Evan Turner – Philadelphia 76ers
Only one player was drafted higher than Turner was this summer. Add to that the fact that he was drafted by a team that has been inconsistent in recent years and now has a new head coach. Now, combine that with him being yet another wing player on the roster. Talk about pressure. Good thing for Philadelphia that the returns so far look to be every promising and fitting of a number two draft pick. Turner has averaged ten points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in the preseason. He was able to record a double-double against the Toronto Raptors on October 13 with 13 points and 12 rebounds. The area in which Turner must improve is his shooting percentage which stands at 30.8 percent during the preseason. If he can do that, Philadelphia may have found a player who can take the scoring burden off of Andre Iguodala allowing him to focus on defense and off the ball movement, which is where he excels. Turner may also want to add few more pounds if he continues to alternate between the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Ekpe Udoh – Golden State Warriors
Udoh has a reputation of being a one man block party. This will be beneficial for the Warriors since David Lee and Andris Biedrins are not known for their shot blocking prowess. He won Defensive Player of the Year honors in both the Big 10 and Big 12 in college with Michigan and Baylor, respectively. Unfortunately for the Warriors, he will be sidelined for much of the season with an injury. (I still like his abilities and will wait patiently for his return and that is why he makes this list.) However, it is not known exactly where Udoh will fit into the Warriors rotation when he does return to the team. Golden State is loaded at power forward with players such as David Lee, Vladimir Radmanovic, Louis Amundson, and Brandon Wright. It may simply be the case that the Warriors are too stocked at power forward for Udoh, who was taken sixth in the draft, to see some, if any, minutes upon his return.
Greivis Vasquez – Memphis Grizzlies
Vasquez was a standout at Maryland where he scored the second most points in school history and was named the ACC Player of the Year during his senior year and was awarded the Bob Cousy Award which is given to the nation’s top collegiate point guard. Despite such accolades, Vasquez fell deep in the draft before he was selected 28th overall. During Summer League play, Vasquez injured his right ankle and had surgery on it in July to remove a bone spur. Because of this, he has yet to play in the preseason but should return in time for the start of the regular season. It is conceivable that if Vasquez plays with the tenacity he did in college at the NBA level he could challenge A.C. Law and Tony Allen for backup guard minutes behind O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley. It would also not be surprising if Vasquez out performed Memphis’ other first round draft pick, Xavier Henry. Before he can do all that, though, he must get healthy and establish himself in the Grizzlies solid young rotation.
John Wall – Washington Wizards
He was the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft; if he did not make this list then you would have permission to punch us in the gut repeatedly. Wall looks like a player selected number one with his performances in preseason. He opened up the preseason against Dallas and at halftime had recorded only one assists. However that would quickly change in the second half as he distributed the ball nicely on route to nine assists for the game to go along with 21 points and four steals. Wall is averaging 16.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, eight assists, and 2.2 steals thus far in the preseason. He is also shooting 42.7 percent from the field. Where Wall must improve is his three-point shooting. He does not have the range in his jump shot to hit from deep with any consistency. He also needs to increase his muscle mass as Jason Kidd easily forced Wall into the block and backed him down while posting up. Other big guards will likely do the same. Wall should find himself in the conversation for Rookie of the Year throughout the season as Wall looks every bit like a number one draft pick should, but must keep his focus on the task at hand. Hopefully, Gilbert Arenas’ odd behavior will not become a distraction him.