A lot of players chosen in the NBA Draft each year aren’t expected to hit the ground running. Teams that pick them know that it will take a year or two for them to grow up physically, learn the pro game, and adjust to the mental and physical demands of the new league. Each year, though, there are guys that are valuable contributing players to their teams pretty much right out of the gate. Stephen Curry fits that bill from last year, and Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans really did – they were arguably the best players on their teams. Here’s a look at six guys who could be useful for their new teams right from the start:
John Wall, Kentucky – This one is so obvious that it hardly needs to be said. Wall is the best player in his class, and he’s been the obvious top pick in the draft for a couple of years. He’s also a John Calipari coached point guard. The last two of those – Derrick Rose and Evans – have been amazing as rookies, so there is no reason not to expect Wall to do the same. Wall has an added advantage here – he’s not joining a lousy team. Washington struggled last year, but they are better than most teams that have the first overall pick, so Wall will have a couple of nice pieces to work with right out of the gate – especially if Gilbert Arenas is mentally and physically ready and willing to get along with Wall. The rookie of the year is definitely Wall’s to lose.
Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky – It seems strange to consider, but the second best point guard in this class might be Kentucky’s second point guard. Some of that is because this is a really lousy class for point guards, but there’s more to it than that. Bledsoe is a physically freakish guy who is very smart with the basketball, and he is a pretty nice shooter as well. He’ll face a fair bit of adjustment when he enters the league because he played off the ball more in college than he will in the NBA because of Wall. He’s physically very ready for the league, though, and his work after the college season has shown that he’s ready for the transition. There are several teams in the league that would have their point play upgraded immediately by the addition of Bledsoe, and if he gets picked by one of them he’ll have a chance to shine from the start.
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech – Favors is a rare big man – he’s a 6’10” power forward – who should be ready to contribute right away. He’s phenomenally athletic, and especially so for his size. With every game Favors played last year he got better around the basket. He didn’t score as much as many expected last year, but he didn’t have to given the depth of his team. He did display a nice offensive touch, though. More importantly, he was very strong defensively. If he is paired with a strong center then he has the potential to create a front court that is very good from the start, and will only get better. Favors won’t have the flashy impact of some other players in this draft, but the risk of picking him is very low.
Evan Turner, Ohio State – The knock on Turner is that he doesn’t have the upside of some of the other players in the draft. While that may be true, the fact is that he’s the most polished and accomplished player in the draft right now, and he’s also among the hardest working. Turner played four different positions last year, and all he has to show for it is the national player of the year title. He’s the quintessential competitor, and he’ll do whatever it takes for his team to win. Other guys may measure or project better than Turner, but he’s one of those guys who just wins. He was a man among boys last year, so there’s no reason he won’t be a man among men right away this year. He might not look like a superstar right away, but I suspect that if you didn’t know he was a rookie you wouldn’t be able to guess he was by watching him.
Ekpe Udoh, Baylor – I think that the biggest knock against Udoh – that he’s 23 years old – is moronic. Sure he’s older than the rest in the draft and has less rubber on his tires as a result, but he’s also much more physically and emotionally mature and ready for this challenge. The guy is as smart as you’ll find a power forward to be, and he’s the kind of guy that a coach doesn’t have to spend a lot of time teaching. He’s not a huge offensive presence, but he’s a defensive player with elite potential, and he could start for half the teams in the league and improve them right now. He’s ready now and he’s only going to get better. It makes more sense to pick a 23 year old who is ready now than a 20 year old who needs two or three years before you really know what you have.
Longshot pick – Andy Rautins, Syracuse – A team is going to be able to get Rautins in the second round, and they are going to get a steal. I watched Syracuse play a lot last year, and I don’t think that they would have been nearly the team they were without Rautins. Wesley Johnson was the freak of the team, but Rautins was the guy who made things happen. He passes and thinks like a point guard, but he’s a 6’6″ shooting guard. He shoots well from anywhere on the court as well, and he improves as the stakes get higher in a game. Rautins will be an excellent second option in a back court for a team with a point guard that can be useful off the ball. If he lands in the right spot then he’ll be one to watch.