The NBA summer is all about anticipation for rookies, as players wait to hear their names called in June and then spend four long months on the shelf before making their official debuts.
Sure, there is Summer League and training camp in between to keep prospects busy, but nothing can match the excitement of the actual season. And while players must wade through the depths of summer, so too do rabid fans and media members. We all have to find ways to pass the time, and projecting the future of rookies is a fun way to do that. With that said, here are our 2016 NBA draft yearbook superlatives, where we examine the player most likely to succeed, the best shooter, the best hair and more.
Most likely to succeed: Brandon Ingram, Lakers
While the Kevin Durant comparisons are far fetched, there is no denying Ingram’s potential. His height, athleticism and skillset are reason enough to expect big things from the Lakers newcomer. There might be some growing pains because of his slender build and the current state of the rebuilding Lakers, but Ingram should blossom into a lethal scorer once he puts it all together.
Most likely to win Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons, 76ers
This could be the year when Sam Hinkie’s plan finally pays off—unfortunately, he won't be around to reap the benefits. Winning the No. 1 pick and selecting Ben Simmons was the culmination of years of the most elaborate—and obvious—tank job in NBA history. Simmons’s jump shot is a real concern, but his ability to play point forward will be vital for a team in need of playmakers. And if his Summer League performance carries over, Simmons should provide plenty of highlights along the way.
Best shooter: Buddy Hield, Pelicans
This selection was never in question. Buddy Hield was clearly the best shooter in college last season, when he pushed Oklahoma to the Final Four with his ability to create space and make shots. Hield has been compared to Steph Curry on occasion because of his ability to drain three-pointers off the dribble, and now that he’s in the NBA, he’ll see more open looks than ever as opponents gameplan for new teammate Anthony Davis. Hield's game should translate quickly, but don't bank on him playing like Curry anytime soon.
Late bloomer: Thon Maker, Bucks
Thon Maker’s decision to enter the NBA draft was a shocker to most, but it was even more surprising when the Bucks grabbed the teenager at No. 10. Those feelings on Maker won’t change now that he’s in the NBA. The truth is, he will have a long road ahead as he learns to operate within a system and adjusts to playing above the prep level.
Best handle: Kris Dunn, Timberwolves
Dunn flashed his slick handle at Summer League in Las Vegas, but opted to show the completeness of his game rather than chasing highlights. Still, he had moments worth remembering, and this crossover will endure well beyond the off-season.
Best hair: DeAndre' Bembry, Hawks
This win was years in the making, as former St. Joseph’s star DeAndre’ Bembry sported a solid afro his entire three-year college career. He’ll bring the same look to the NBA, where he will play in Atlanta and look good in a slasher role behind Kent Bazemore.
Most athletic: Demetrius Jackson, Celtics
Athleticism is usually a prerequisite to being a small guy in the NBA, but Demetrius Jackson is an athlete under any standard. His 43.5” inch vertical leap topped all players at the NBA combine, and his build is more like that of an NFL running back than an NBA point guard. And Jackson is not just a leaper, as he had the speed and agility numbers to match.
Most likely to lead: Denzel Valentine, Bulls
Denzel Valentine made early waves as he pushed the Bulls to the Summer League championship in July. But he’s the pick here because of what he did in college. Valentine was a do-everything player in the mold of Draymond Green, leading Michigan State in points, assists and steals. All that said, Valentine’s best attribute was his ability to lead for a Spartan team that wasn’t nearly as fluid without him.