With the conclusion of all three NBA Summer Leagues, rookies have shown their talents in front of talent evaluators and scouts against some of the highest competition they’ve faced. It’s time to take those performances and consider how they might translate to the next level in the upcoming season’s Rookie of the Year race.
There are a variety of factors determining the leaders of this race; none quite as important as playing time on the court. When looking at each rookie, you have to consider opportunity and ability to contribute. With that being said, here’s my inaugural NBA rookie ranking for the 2015-16 season.
1. Jahlil Okafor 6-11 270 C Philadelphia 76ers
Okafor comes in at No. 1 on this list, as he fits into the starting lineup somewhat seamlessly alongside defensive big man Nerlens Noel. The spacing won’t be ideal in Brett Brown’s system, but when you combine Okafor’s overall presence, budding face up game and minutes available on a team in need of an offensive option, he should put up big numbers right away.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay 6-5 200 PG Denver Nuggets
Mudiay’s feel for the game, quickness, athleticism and finishing ability were on full display during the Las Vegas Summer League. With an open starting spot available with Ty Lawson being traded away, Mudiay should start from Day 1. Mudiay needs to improve his shooting ability from the perimeter, but can still get where he wants to on pick-and-rolls. Mudiay should put up big (but inefficient) numbers in Denver.
3. Stanley Johnson 6-7 245 SG/SF Detroit Pistons
Detroit looks to have a building block of the future at a wing spot with Johnson, who was arguably the most dominant rookie overall this summer. Johnson looks like an NBA swingman at 19 years old, with what looked to be an improved jumper and overall offensive game. Detroit has an open starting spot at small forward, and Johnson is a strong bet to win it and put up solid numbers immediately.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns 6-11 250 PF/C Minnesota Timberwolves
Towns’s talent is immense and he showed plenty of flashes this summer to believe he can (eventually) reach his high potential. However, center Nikola Pekovic also is a talented contributor who could take away from his playing time. Towns could possibly play alongside Pekovic, but the Timberwolves have other young and talented options at power forward, too. Towns’s two-way ability is impressive but inconsistent, so it might take some time to develop throughout the season.
5. Myles Turner 6-11 238 PF/C Indiana Pacers
Turner showed off an intriguing display of offensive diversity and defensive ability during summer league play, and comes into a situation where he can contribute immediately because of the departures of starting big men David West and Roy Hibbert. Now it looks as if Turner should slide in to one of the starting frontcourt positions, and if he’s able to translate what he showed this summer to the NBA, he should put up decent numbers.
6. Frank Kaminsky 7-0 242 PF/C Charlotte Hornets
Kaminsky could start alongside big man Al Jefferson immediately, which would be a great offensive duo that would struggle on defense. At the very least, Kaminsky should be a diverse big man off the bench that’ll impact the game thanks to his versatility and shooting ability. Kaminsky will never be much of a defender, but should get stronger in time.
7. Willie Cauley-Stein 7-1 242 PF/C Sacramento Kings
Cauley-Stein is a major defensive presence and will score points in the NBA solely on his ability to attack the rim and run the floor. Cauley-Stein uses his elite mobility to defend on the perimeter and in the pick-and-roll. Cauley-Stein was impressive this summer and looks like a nice fit alongside franchise big man DeMarcus Cousins.
8. D’Angelo Russell 6-5 195 PG Los Angeles Lakers
Russell struggled out of the gate playing with a roster he’ll never have to play with again in his NBA career, and should improve with more stability around him. Towards the end of summer, the game started to slow down a bit, and he showed his ability as a shooter and passer. It might take some time for him to put it all together, but Russell should see plenty of time to put up numbers immediately.
9. Kristaps Porzingis 7-3 233 PF/C New York Knicks
Porzingis is plenty raw, but should see time thanks to his athleticism, shooting ability and shot-blocking prowess. He showed plenty of signs this summer, including a three-block game on Okafor. Porzingis probably won’t start immediately, but should have a key role off the bench.
10. Jerian Grant 6-4 198 PG/SG New York Knicks
Grant is the second straight Knick in my top 10, and he should see plenty of time immediately as he’s much less raw than the aforementioned Porzingis. Grant can attack the rim and has solid size for either guard spot. He still has to round out his overall offensive game, but he’s enough of a threat off the bounce to make it work in the Triangle.