Who will top NBA's freshman class?

5-on-5: Ranking the top five rookies to hit the NBA in the upcoming 2011-12 season

Originally Published: November 2, 2011
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network

Kyrie Irving, Tristan ThompsonGregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty ImagesKyrie Irving went No. 1, but one panelist thinks Tristan Thompson will be at the head of the '11 class.

Class might not be in session for some time, but our panel can't wait that long.

Which NBA newbies will make the biggest impact? Our five 5-on-5 players pick who they think will finish the season in the top five in the 2011-12 freshman class.



1. Who will be the fifth-best "NBA freshman" in the 2011-12 season?


Hayes Davenport, CelticsHub: Derrick Williams. He could easily be the best player in his draft class, but he'll probably start at small forward, where he'll waste some of his offensive gifts. The Minnesota Timberwolves' starting lineup will probably be a fun mess for a few months as Williams acclimates to his position and Ricky Rubio acclimates to the upper Midwest.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Kawhi Leonard. He won't have numbers that stand out, but as an athlete who rebounds, can finish and has huge hands, the San Antonio Spurs will get him plenty of shots around the basket and he'll make an impact with energy and hustle plays.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Kemba Walker. He'll give the Charlotte Bobcats some scoring punch, he's athletic and relatively polished, and he should get minutes right away.

Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: Iman Shumpert. Call me a shameless homer ("Bob, you're a shameless homer!"), but Iman's going to resemble (not be, but resemble) Russell Westbrook in the Oklahoma City Thunder PG's rookie season -- a fiendish defender and game-changing athlete who'll play both guard positions with aplomb.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Kemba Walker should have ample opportunities to make plays as a primary ball handler this year. And because little is expected of Charlotte this season, if he is productive but not very efficient, no one there will care. He'll continue to get minutes and lots of touches. His charisma and confidence should carry him through any rough spots.


2. Who will be the fourth-best "NBA freshman" in the 2011-12 season?


Hayes Davenport, CelticsHub: Jan Vesely. The Washington Wizards realize they have a potential fan favorite on their hands in Vesely, so it might not be long before he's starting at small forward. With his highlight-producing athleticism, Vesley is going to have his pick of D.C.-area car dealership commercials by the end of the season.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Kenneth Faried. Outstanding on the boards and athletic enough to make up for his lack of size, Faried landed in a perfect spot, on a fun Denver team that will run, with point guards who will find him on the break in Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Faried will be a handful on the offensive glass.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Tristan Thompson! Just kidding. I can't believe the Cleveland Cavaliers took him over Jonas Valanciunas. At least Thompson's here to play games that aren't happening. I'll go with Bismack Biyombo in this spot. His offense might keep him from getting major minutes, but I'm excited to watch him play defense.

Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: Kyrie Irving. True point guards take time to develop (Chris Paul being the exception that proves the rule) and the lockout will end up hurting Irving more than most rookies. Still, given the overall weakness of the '11 class, Irving maxes out at No. 4.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: I really like Marcus Morris as a small/power forward in Houston who fits perfectly with the other rotation players. He's got a great low-post game, with the added dimension of being able to make plays on the perimeter. So he can compete with Chase Budinger for starter minutes at the 3 and, at worst, can back up Luis Scola at the 4.


3. Who will be the third-best "NBA freshman" in the 2011-12 season?


Hayes Davenport, CelticsHub: Kawhi Leonard. Following in the tradition of George Hill, DeJuan Blair and Gary Neal, Leonard will get minutes for the Spurs as a rookie and prove he was drafted way too low. It also doesn't hurt that he's got the greatest power forward of all time as a mentor.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Alec Burks. Burks' shooting needs work, but his size for a guard, ability to get to the rim and finish will give the Utah Jazz the weapon at the shooting guard spot they've long coveted to complement Deron Williams. Oh, right. Devin Harris should like him, too.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Enes Kanter. I think Kanter will have a rookie season a lot like DeMarcus Cousins' -- he's going to have a few huge games, he's going to show flashes of extreme skill for his size, and he's going to put up good raw numbers, but his defense and scoring efficiency are going to be question marks. Five years down the line, I might like Biyombo more than Kanter, but I'm having a hard time picturing what Kanter looks like on a good team.

Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: Kemba Walker. No, I'm not contradicting what I just wrote. Walker's not a floor general, but rather an undersized scorer/slasher in the Ben Gordon mold. He'll get big minutes and ample shot opportunities for a Charlotte team that is woefully thin in the backcourt and lacking in scoring options.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Obviously, Kyrie Irving could easily rise to the top of this list. He has the body and the skill set to play solidly in the NBA right now, and he should get the opportunity to put up good numbers all season. Good, not great, in large part because Cleveland's roster has huge holes everywhere. As the point guard, Irving will struggle to both score and facilitate, so he will have to choose one or the other in his first season (see John Wall's last two months).


4. Who will be the second-best "NBA freshman" in the 2011-12 season?


Hayes Davenport, CelticsHub: Enes Kanter. The first phone call made after the lockout lifts will likely involve an Al Jefferson trade, paving the way for Kanter to start at center for the Jazz. He's a big improvement from Jefferson as a defender, with a vast skill set to make up most of Jefferson's lost production on offense.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Kyrie Irving. Irving is the best player and prospect in this draft, and he's eventually going to excel at creating good shots for teammates and leading an efficient offense. He'll have a good rookie season, but we'll see him improve even more when his supporting cast is upgraded.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Derrick Williams. He's got the athletic tools, and he produced in college. The only reason I don't have him as No. 1 is because he doesn't have a true position.

Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: Ricky Rubio. OK, now I'm definitely contradicting myself. Rubio has to learn a new system, country and culture while negotiating a fascinatingly odd bunch in Love, Beasley, Darko, Williams and Anthony Randolph -- a much more difficult task than Irving faces. Rubio will succeed where Irving will struggle because he's been a pro for six seasons and I've irrationally loved his game since the '08 Olympics. If he can mold these mismatched parts into a cohesive unit, it'd be the most exciting team in the league since the '07 Golden State Warriors.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Bismack Biyombo is ready to help improve the Bobcats' defense right now. And on offense he'll look to dunk on everyone and be an eager screen-setter and offensive rebounder. A lack of decent young big men in Charlotte should ensure lots of minutes for a player who has already played against some great competition.


5. Who will be the best "NBA freshman" in the 2011-12 season?


Hayes Davenport, CelticsHub: Kyrie Irving. Luckily for Irving, the amnesty clause will allow the Cavs to get rid of Baron Davis sooner rather than later. With Davis gone, Irving is going to run Cleveland alongside congressman Dennis Kucinich. Irving represents almost all of the team's offense, and he'll put up numbers accordingly.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Derrick Williams. I don't know what position he's best suited to play, but when he's on the court with Kevin Love, Minnesota will boast a relentless duo on the boards. Two guys have great range, D-Will and K-Love, will benefit from playing with each other and playing in Rick Adelman's offense.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Kyrie Irving. He's got the athletic tools, he produced (when healthy) in college, and he has a true position.

Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: Derrick Williams. He'll score. He'll 'bound. He'll run the floor. He'll fill up the box score. And he'll be everything his ideological doppleganger/teammate Michael Beasley was supposed to be.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: When watching tape last season, the guy who jumped off the screen more than every other draftable player was Tristan Thompson. He has elite-level quickness, jumping ability and length, and those assets helped him take a huge amount of free throws as a freshman. This happened despite not being the main focal point of his team at Texas and playing in a very physical league (trust me, the NBA calls games far tighter than the Big 12).

Thompson also plays with passion and purpose, so seeing him "beast it" on a nightly basis is likely. He'll get lots of minutes and will partner with Irving as the season winds down in a great duel for the rookie of the year.