SI.com NBA writers Paul Forrester, Lee Jenkins, Chris Mannix and Ian Thomsen examine the rookie crop in advance of the 2012-13 season.
Ian Thomsen: Fact. Davis is the favorite because he has so much going for him. He'll be playing in New Orleans for Monty Williams, a well-organized coach who will funnel the defense toward Davis and give him opportunities to defend the rim. The team will show enormous improvement from its last-place 21-45 record of last year while playing to Davis' strengths defensively and in transition. Not only is he the most talented rookie in the class, but he also received a huge advantage by spending the summer with the Olympic team and learning how the world's best players focus and improve each day. He may not be the leading scorer of his class, but altogether Davis will be the most valuable rookie in the league.
Lee Jenkins: Fiction. It's much harder for big men to assert themselves early than guards. Davis is with a young team, in a brutal conference, and he spent only one year in college. I'll go with Portland point guard Damian Lillard because he is older, he'll have the ball in his hands and he's the rare rookie with a lot of experience running the pick-and-roll. The Blazers will bounce back this season and Lillard stands to receive much of the credit.
Chris Mannix: Fiction. Ultimately, Davis will be the class of the '12 draft. His defensive instincts remind me of Ben Wallace's and his offensive game will polish in time. But the ROY award often goes to the player who puts up big numbers, and I think there will be rookies who have better statistical seasons than Davis. Sacramento's Thomas Robinson has an NBA-ready body and should stuff the stat sheet on a mediocre Kings team. Charlotte's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will get plenty of playing time with the Bobcats. Lillard scored in college, scored in the summer league and, with the starting guard job in hand, will likely score for a Blazers team desperately in need of offensive firepower. Will they ultimately be better players? No. But, hey, remember when Emeka Okafor beat out Dwight Howard for the award in '04-05?
Paul Forrester: Fact. But the voting might be closer than expected. Davis should make an immediate impact on the Hornets' defense and record. But the Rookie of the Year award often is swayed by stats, and while Davis could be a better offensive presence than many predict as a rookie, players such as Golden State's Harrison Barnes and Cleveland's Dion Waiters will have more of a green light to score. And 20 points stand out a lot more in a game than 12 rebounds, three blocks and 10 points. Still, if a healthy Eric Gordon can help Davis engineer a 15-game or so improvement for the Hornets, that will be hard to ignore.
Thomsen: Robinson is entering a dysfunctional situation in Sacramento, a franchise that has not established any kind of role model for previous high picks like DeMarcus Cousins or Tyreke Evans. At the same time, however, those two put up decent numbers as rookies -- as did Isaiah Thomas last year -- and so Robinson may be able to do the same for the short term.
The rookie facing the greatest leap is Andre Drummond, the No. 9 pick by the Pistons, because he was drafted based on his potential. Drummond is excellent athletically, but he's going to have to work hard this year to channel that athleticism and learn the skills required of an NBA big man. Plus, with no understanding for the kind of structured environment that coach Lawrence Frank is working hard to create, Drummond may look lost for much of this year. It will be a huge mistake to declare him a bust after a month or two, because the real goal for him will be to show progress and discipline. This is going to be like a seven-month boot camp for him.
Jenkins: Kidd-Gilchrist, because the Bobcats still lack any offensive punch, and he won't be able to provide it. He is going to be a standout defensive player, and a valuable complementary part, but he isn't the kind of transformative scorer who can single-handedly turn an also-ran into a competitor. Kidd-Gilchrist lost two games in college. He will get a ton of experience with failure this season.
Mannix: Toronto's Terrence Ross could replace DeMar DeRozan next season, but this year he is stuck behind him. Ross was a surprise pick at No. 8 and didn't distinguish himself in summer league, particularly behind the three-point line. With DeRozan and Landry Fields penciled in as the starters on the wing and the established Linas Kleiza coming off the bench, Ross will have to battle just to get consistent minutes.
Forrester: Drummond. Blessed with a tantalizing basketball body, the Pistons' first-round pick seemed bedeviled in his one season at Connecticut by a questionable basketball motor. That switch doesn't often magically flip in the NBA. He's only 19, so there is time for him to find the gear that would make his modest performance in college (10 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, 29.5 percent free-throw shooting) an outlier. Big men, though, can't coast most nights; there is too much pushing and shoving to do, too much effort needed to protect the rim and provide some semblance of offense. Will Drummond learn from the strides fellow Pistons big man Greg Monroe has made? I have my doubts.
Thomsen:Andrew Nicholson is a skilled big man who played four years at St. Bonaventure. His new team, Orlando, is likely to spend the next four months cutting salary and trading as much of its roster as possible, giving Nicholson plenty of opportunities to put up numbers. At the end of the season, he'll probably look much better than a No. 19 pick.
Jenkins: Royce White (No. 16) seems to have lottery-level skills, the rare forward who can play big or small, and is as happy passing and rebounding as scoring. Some front offices were scared off by his social anxiety disorder, and rightly so, given the working conditions of NBA players. But after pick No. 10, every player is a risk to some degree, and with White the potential for reward is massive.
Mannix:Perry Jones was widely considered a high lottery pick had he come out as a freshman in 2011. And a so-so second season at Baylor dropped him all the way to No. 28? Jones isn't flawless, but he is a near 7-footer who oozes natural talent. There will be no pressure on Jones in Oklahoma City, where he will get daily lessons in toughness from Kendrick Perkins and in work ethic from superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In a few years Jones could be a starter, and a very good one at that.
Forrester:Jared Sullinger. The former Ohio State star may not have the athleticism of some of the 20 players selected before him, but he knows how to score in the paint and handle himself well on the boards, commodities every team prizes. His back issues are a concern, which is a big reason why he dropped in the draft. But a home with the Celtics will allow Sullinger to learn the league and work through any back issues gradually, without the pressure to be the man from opening night. And with Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett in his ear, Sullinger couldn't have better mentors.
Thomsen: As long as he is healthy it's going to be Davis. He's a team-minded player who is obsessed with defense. He's going to be spectacular in the open floor and his offensive skills are certain to improve. He won't be a traditional center, but he's likely to become an athletic power forward who leads by example, and his teammates on the Olympic team loved him. No rookie has more to look forward to than Davis.
Jenkins: Davis. He will be a franchise cornerstone and perennial All-Star because he can do everything NBA teams ask from their big men. On defense, he can anchor the paint, protect the rim, bother guards on the pick-and-roll and scramble back to the post. On offense, he can score inside, dive to the hoop and also pop out for mid-range jumpers. Like Garnett before him, he is the prototypical power forward for this era.
Mannix: Davis, no question. He's a transcendent, franchise-changing talent. Let Williams mold him and let him develop some chemistry with Austin Rivers and Gordon, and soon he will rank as one of the best big men in the league.
Forrester: Davis. Big men who can take away the paint from an opponent are NBA gold, and it's the type of talent around which eras are built. Davis has that promise, thanks to his shot-blocking and rebounding. At age 19, he'll be getting by on his physical gifts a bit more than his savvy as a rookie. But as he learns the league and finds a comfort zone with his teammates, Davis is going to be a nightmare for any players slashing into the lane and any big men a step slow defending him. If teams are smart, they'll log their wins against the Hornets now, because New Orleans is headed for a long stay as a playoff team.