Thursday October 23rd, 2014

The 2014 draft class has been touted as one of the most talented in the past decade. Will it live up to the hype? Some of this year’s rookies are bound to fall short of expectations, but here are 10 who could make an impact right away:

Aaron Gordon, Magic

Gordon probably won’t do much to help a Magic offense that ranked No. 29 in points scored per possession last season. One can have grand visions of what he could be – a two-way dynamo with elite skills to match frightening athleticism – while acknowledging that he’s in the early stages of his development. Gordon remains a limited offensive player without a consistent jumper who connected on only 42 percent of his free throw attempts last season at Arizona. For as much work as he needs offensively, though, Gordon is already a talented defender who can run the floor and guard a variety of opponents. Gordon won’t lack for entertainment value, either. Be prepared to see plenty more of dunks like this throughout the year.

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Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves

Wiggins’ selection as the No. 1 pick was very much a wager on potential. If Wiggins develops offensively and becomes more assertive in half court situations -- among other “if” propositions, -- he could develop into the best player in this class. As Kansas coach Bill Self told this summer, “I think that he’s going to continue to get better and better, and I think his ceiling is ridiculously high.” But Wiggins will need some time to find his bearings. His thin frame may hamper him early on against stronger defenders, and his jump shot is still coming around. Even so, Wiggins has the athletic tools to be a lockdown defender right away.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Nets

The Nets acquired the rights to Bogdanovic in a draft night trade with Minnesota in 2011, but the 25-year-old spent the past three seasons playing with Fenerbahçe Ülker in Turkey. Bogdanovic, who signed a three-year deal with the Nets in July, has started all but one of the team’s preseason games to date and it seems like coach Lionel Hollins intends to keep him there heading into the regular season. Bogdanovic can knock down long-range shots, post up defenders and create matchup problems on the perimeter with his size (6-8). His biggest obstacle may be to ensure that no one confuses him with 2014 first-round pick Bogdan Bogdanovic.

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Dante Exum, Jazz

NBA made the right decision voting against draft lottery reform

​There’s a good chance Exum will earn a sizeable chunk of minutes in his first year, if only because the Jazz will be eager to see signs that the player they selected with the No. 5 overall pick is franchise building block-material. Exum is far from a finished product, but his playmaking ability could translate right away. Though the Jazz shouldn’t be expected to contend for a playoff spot this season, you may be compelled to watch Quin Snyder’s team for the opportunity to see what the biggest mystery in this year’s lottery has to offer. Exum’s potential is undeniable, but what’s realistic to expect from him this year?

Doug McDermott, Bulls

It’s tough to project how much playing time McDermott will receive in his first season on a team whose coach plays a demanding defensive scheme; that returns most of their key contributors from last year; added Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol and has star point guard Derrick Rose returning from injury. Yet it’s not hard to see the Bulls turning to McDermott – who led the nation in scoring at Creighton last year and is one of the best three-point shooters in this class – to spark a late run or help snap a cold shooting spell. Chicago ranked No. 26 in the league in three-pointers made and No. 27 in offensive efficiency last season. McDermott can help nudge those figures in the right direction.

Jabari Parker, Bucks

It’s easy to see Parker becoming Milwaukee’s top scoring option right away. The Duke product can hit three-point shots, convert from the mid-range and attack the basket. He also doesn’t have a lot of competition, either. Parker scored at least 11 points in every preseason game – including a 21-point, 11-rebound effort against Minnesota – and is already throwing down game-winning dunks. Scouts singled out Parker as the rookie most likely to shine from the get-go, and his performance in the preseason suggests he’ll live up to that promise. At this point, it’s not a huge stretch to suggest that Parker not winning Rookie of the Year would be a surprise.

Julius Randle, Lakers

Kobe Bryant was clear in making sure that Randle knows what’s at stake for him this year. The 6-9 power forward has been up and down for much of the preseason but turned in an impressive effort (17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds in 24 minutes) in Wednesday night’s win over the Blazers. Offseason acquisition Carlos Boozer should start  at power forward, and the Lakers’ crowded frontcourt could impede Randle’s path to minutes. Still, Randle is talented enough to carve out a meaningful role, even if his apparent defensive flaws may only further drag down a unit that figures to labor on that end of the floor.

Marcus Smart, Celtics

A timetable for Rajon Rondo’s return remains unclear. Whenever the Celtics’ incumbent at point guard comes back (the latest reports suggest he may be ready to go on opening night), Smart should get plenty of opportunities to prove his worth this season. A relentless defender with a frame (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) that would earn high marks at the NFL combine, Smart should earn minutes on the merits of his perimeter hounding alone. He’ll likely get more floor time if the Celtics decide to part ways with Rondo, but coach Brad Stevens will be willing to give Smart his reps even if a trade for Rondo never materializes. Boston is building for the long haul, and Smart could be a centerpiece of the team’s next playoff team.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers

Noel has missed three games this preseason while dealing with a respiratory illness and has also battled a quad injury. If he can stay on the floor (Noel missed all of last season with a torn ACL), the 76er will rebound, swat shots and serve as a deterrent in the paint. Noel’s offensive skill set remains confined mostly to put backs and dunks, but his defensive contributions should make him a constant in the 76ers’ rotation. This is a barren roster with virtually no hope of challenging for the postseason, but watching Noel turn back opponents at the rim is one attraction.

Shabazz Napier, Heat

Napier will forever be known as the player LeBron James described as his “favorite” in this draft … only to miss out on the opportunity to play with The King after he made his return to Cleveland. While it may be hard to shake the perception that the decision to select Napier was merely a carrot to persuade LeBron to remain in Miami, the two-time national champion can chart his own course by helping the Heat’s transition into the post-James era. Napier turned heads with his 25-point performance in Saturday’s win over the Spurs, and appears to have made strides throughout the preseason. Where Napier stands in the Heat’s guard rotation remains to be seen, but he should at least be able to compete for minutes off the bench.

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