Best and worst of rookie class so far

Originally Published: January 3, 2014
ESPN.com

Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis AntetokounmpoGetty ImagesPhilly's Michael Carter-Williams and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo are showing star potential.

After two months, this year's rookie crop is showing promise. Which rookies have grabbed our attention? Our 5-on-5 weighs in. (Also check out David Thorpe's rookie rankings.)


1. Most impressive rookie?


Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Michael Carter-Williams. I thought he'd be good but not this quickly, mostly due to his poor perimeter shooting, but Carter-Williams has managed to shoot well enough to complement the rest of his game and allow himself to attack space. Defensively, he's been brilliant, with quick hands and excellent anticipation that is uncharacteristic of a rookie.

Danny Nowell, TrueHoop Network: Michael Carter-Williams. Sure, he's in and out of the lineup, and sure he's not been (quite) as incendiary as he was in the season's opening days, but MCW remains the only player in this class who seems to have established his star credentials.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Michael Carter-Williams. He has far exceeded my modest expectations. The kid just needs to slightly improve his jumper, and he's a perennial future All-Star. He passes well, he's athletic, and he's big enough to guard wings. That's such a rare combination in the NBA.

Tom Sunnergren, Hoop76: Michael Carter-Williams. The No. 11 pick leads all newcomers in points, assists, rebounds and steals (he's pacing the NBA in the latter category) and has carried the tanking Sixers to a 10-11 record when he's in the lineup. If MCW continues at this statistical clip, he'd become the second rookie in league history (post-merger) to average 17 points, 7 assists and 5 boards. The first? Magic Johnson.

Jack Winter, Warriors World: Michael Carter-Williams. MCW's historic NBA debut -- 22 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists, 9 steals -- against the defending champions was the stuff of legends, and raised expectations for his present and future from middling to mammoth. Exaggerated optimism gleaned from that performance was unfair from the beginning and has proven misguided, but that does little to change the surprisingly awesome impact he's made for Philadelphia this season.


2. Most surprising rookie?


Elhassan: Vitor Faverani. I don't think he was on anyone's radar as an All-Rookie candidate when camp opened back in September, but he's been one of the most pleasant surprises as an undrafted free agent signing from the Spanish ACB. Most surprising is his ability as a pick-and-pop big out to the 3-point line, something he hadn't shown previously in Europe (he hit just three 3s all of last season).

Nowell: Trey Burke. I was never much of a believer in Burke's chances of becoming a real lead guard in the NBA, and while I am still not sure his ceiling is as high as some believe, the Utah rookie has made it clear that he will be capable of running the point at an above-average level.

Strauss: Miroslav Raduljica. OK, I'll admit to having known nothing about him until this season. I wonder how many NBA fans have even heard of the Bucks center, who's currently second among rookies in PER. In a small sample size, he has demonstrated deft touch around the rim. Let's just say his current girth might be potential in disguise. (Think of how Marc Gasol improved after he slimmed down.)

Sunnergren: Steven Adams. Adams averaged just 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in the Big East last season, so it comes as a bit of a shock that the New Zealander is playing meaningful and productive minutes for a contender while leading all rookies in win shares. That's why they play the games, kids.

Winter: Steven Adams. The league's favorite Kiwi was a deer in the headlights at times during his lone collegiate season, looking every bit the raw athlete who picked up basketball just a few years prior. But for Oklahoma City? Adams is setting hard screens, showing advanced defensive knack, offensive rebounding like crazy, and stealing minutes from Kendrick Perkins. He's not only living up to expectations, but easily exceeding them.


3. Most disappointing rookie?


Elhassan: Is this a trick question? Anthony Bennett in a landslide. I've been one of his biggest apologists, arguing that he deserves a pass for his slow start after missing the summer to shoulder surgery, coming back overweight and being diagnosed with asthma and sleep apnea. But at some point, as a No. 1 overall pick, you've got to at least crack 30 percent shooting from the field!

Nowell: Cody Zeller. I'll forgo piling on Anthony Bennett -- I'd argue he was always a reach and doesn't deserve the ridicule more appropriately directed at the Cavs -- and point out that Charlotte's rookie has failed to deliver on hopes that included ROY contention. Zeller is shooting 2-for-20 over his past four games, and he hasn't come close to showing he can deal with the speed of the NBA game.

Strauss: Anthony Bennett. I wish I could get creative with this answer, but the No. 1 pick has played about as badly as one could. The only silver lining is that, much like with our friend Miroslav, an NBA-level training regimen could unlock Bennett's potential.

Sunnergren: Anthony Bennett. The top selection has barely gotten on the floor and, when the Cavs have rolled him out there, he's more than justified his lack of playing time. Bennett is at the bottom of the league in win shares, shoots 28.7 percent and, although it's early, is making a compelling case for the ignominious title of Worst No. 1 Overall Pick of All Time. Two months in, he's Kwame Brown without the upside.

Winter: Anthony Bennett. Every time the ceaseless ridicule is almost too much and you begin to develop empathy for Bennett, he forces another ugly jumper or gets embarrassed on defense and you forget you have a heart. What's there to say? It's far, far too early to give up cautious, long-term hope for 2013's No. 1 pick, but delusions of a future superstar or even immediate impact player are long gone.


4. Most intriguing rookie?


Elhassan: Victor Oladipo. His combination of explosive athleticism and strength, coupled with his defensive vigor, make him a possible "Kryptonite" for the super-athlete PGs who have taken over the league.

Nowell: Rudy Gobert. He hasn't shown that he's ready for consistent NBA production, but he remains one of the most eye-popping players to walk onto a court. His rebounding instincts are solid, he shows the desire to finish strong around the basket, and if he can find a way to solidify his base and defensive understanding, Gobert could be a force.

Strauss: Giannis Antetokounmpo is the clear choice here. The nickname "Greek Freak" conveys that this rookie is a glorious oddity who begs your attention and consideration. Though he currently specializes in nothing, he's good at a lot of things. I'm excited to see what this kid grows into being.

Sunnergren: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek God of Blocks just turned 19, has an almost cinematically out-of-nowhere backstory, flashes tantalizing two-way potential, leads all rookies in wins produced and, at 6-9, isn't done growing. His upside has upside. Once we learn how to spell his name, there's no stopping him.

Winter: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is still growing, has yet to benefit from a year of professional strength training and is still one of the more athletically gifted players in the NBA. At the very least, Antetokounmpo will grow into a versatile defensive monster a la Andrei Kirilenko in his prime. All evidence, though, suggests an all-around impact even more profound than that.


5. Most promising rookie?


Elhassan: Giannis Antetokounmpo! I just love typing his name! Here's a guy who doctors say might not have even stopped growing and might top out at seven feet. His length and agility and natural feel for the game make him a candidate to be an outstanding two-way player, and he's already ahead of schedule as far as development goes. The sky is the limit.

Nowell: Giannis Antetokounmpo. His insane length and skill considering his lack of basketball experience have turned him into something of a meme, but it's justified. His physical attributes seem to make being an elite defender his floor as a player; with the minutes and touches he'll see on a putrid Milwaukee team, we're soon to find out his ceiling.

Strauss: Michael Carter-Williams. He has the most upside. Shooting tends to get better over the course of a career and that's his one glaring weakness. Unlike with so many other weak-shooting playmakers, the Sixers have him trying many a 3-pointer (he currently slings up 3.8 per contest). Hopefully all that chucking will help him improve on that 30 percent mark from beyond the arc.

Sunnergren: Nerlens Noel. While the Kentucky product probably won't make his NBA debut until next season, my suspicion is he'll ultimately be the best player drafted in this class. He profiles as an immediate difference-maker defensively (he averaged 4.4 blocks and an incredible 2.1 steals as a Wildcat) and, if the Sixers succeed in rebuilding his jumper, might be better than advertised on O.

Winter: Antetokounmpo. The great unknown of Nerlens Noel tempts here, but then you remember that Antetokounmpo boasts a superior physical profile, at least as much defensive potential, and hordes more room for growth offensively, too. Giannis has a league-average PER and no idea what he's doing! The sky -- if he can't already reach it -- is truly the limit for Antetokounmpo.

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