It might seem like an eternity ago that we watched the Golden State Warriors exact revenge on the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the Larry O'Brien trophy. Believe it or not, the NBA season is only two months away (October 17th is opening night, where the two teams mentioned above both open at home).
While there will be a lot of discussion as to which perennial All-Stars will be vying for a number of awards, there will also be several rookies who change the game as well. Let's begin with the five rookies we think are most likely to make their mark this season.
Jordan Bell (6'9", 224 lbs), F, Golden State
The Chicago Bulls drafted him, but after a trade involving Sacramento, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year ended up with the defending champions in the Bay. The big man has been questioned about his offensive game, but after watching footage from Oregon's Final Four run this past March, he has nothing to worry about.
The Warriors managed to add another guy who could grow into the same kind of mold Draymond Green currently has: tough, relentless and impacting the game beyond what the numbers show. Of course, every team out there wants someone who can score, but the good news is that this kid possesses what several All-Stars today don't: defensive prowess.
Anyone can learn how to shoot and score in the NBA. Very few have the skill set ready to guard and deny scoring caliber that no other league on Earth can match. Don't be surprised if Bell joins Green as a game changer at some point this season.
Lonzo Ball (6'5", 195 lbs), G, Los Angeles Lakers
You probably expected the list to start with this guy, right? Most people have him on their lists as an immediate playmaker, and for good reason. Ignore the extremely annoying father and you have a guy who has a very solid all-around skill set. His court vision is excellent, he passes the ball very well, and he has, so far, been able to score at will. That could change when going against some of the league's premier defenders, but only time will tell.
The other major reason Ball will make an immediate impact is that the Lakers don't have anyone else who can score like this. D'Angelo Russell is by no means one of the top guards in the league, but he was one of the few guys who could put points on the board while still with the Lakers.
With another year of experience for Brandon Ingram and the additions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez, Ball will have the surrounding tools to succeed; if he's ready to step into that role of "the guy" in LA will be made evident this season.
Jayson Tatum (6'8, 204 lbs), F, Boston
Lots of attention is going towards Ball when it comes to scoring, but Tatum is a guy who will punish opposing offenses for the next decade. His athleticism on the offensive end is going to punish teams that double-team Isaiah Thomas and Gordon Hayward, and he'll require just as much attention as the season continues.
Like any of the top three overall picks, his defense could use some work, but with a coach like Brad Stevens, one would hope he becomes well-rounded on both sides of the ball during his rookie campaign. It'd be interesting to see Tatum be the primary scorer on the second unit's lineup, but of course, he'll have to work his way into the rotation (which he'll likely do).
Basically, don't be surprised when this guy keeps getting his highlights shown as the season goes on.
Derrick White (6'5, 190 lbs), G, San Antonio
White doesn't exhibit his energy the same way Jordan Bell does, yet they're both going to have an immediate impact coming off the bench.
The Colorado product has a consistent shot from downtown, and can also attack the rim rather quickly. Learning from future Hall of Famers Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker should help, as should likely playing backup to Patty Mills at the point.
Defending bigger guards will be a bit tricky for the smaller White, but he's a guy who appears to be up to any challenge presented to him. After being under Tad Boyle's tutelage at Colorado, he should be prepared for Gregg Popovich's style. Hopefully, that comes true over the course of this upcoming season.
Markelle Fultz (6'5, 186 lbs), G, Philadelphia
The overall number one draft pick is supposed to be the entire package: a natural scorer, great court vision, a talent across the board. Fultz certainly possesses all of those things, but he went to Philadelphia.
For all of the Sixers fans out there, don't take that as a jab, take it more as a "hopefully this is the pick!" that makes "The Process" finally yield some results. Sure, Joel Embiid is likely a future face of the league, Ben Simmons should finally show why he had a lot of hype around him, Fultz is that final piece of the Process puzzle, etc, etc. But for a team that will be starting so many number one draft picks, when will it all come together?
To get back to Fultz, he'll be expected to compete with Ball and Tatum for Rookie of the Year, and there's no reason he can't snatch that title away from the competition. Hopefully, his defense will grow to match his scoring ability, and the city of Brotherly Love will finally get to cheer about something other than getting another first overall draft pick next year. "The Process" continues.
Are these five draft picks on your list of guys to keep an eye on during the upcoming 2017 season? Who would you have added instead? Share your thoughts with us below!
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