The 2015 NBA Draft is in the rearview mirror and all 30 teams now have some new toys to play with.
Like that one kid on your street who got a Nintendo 64 while you were still playing SNES, the Minnesota Timberwolves and No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Town are the envy of the NBA neighborhood.
But next season will see a slew of talented rookies put their skills on display, and Towns isn’t a guarantee to run away with the Rookie of the Year award by any stretch of the imagination. Who takes home the award will depend, in part, on who becomes the focal point of his team’s offense, and there are a few rookies who could emerge as their team’s number one or two option.
“Who?”, you might ask?
Let’s take a look.
Ridiculously Early 2015-16 Rookie of the Year Odds:
Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota): 3/1 – While Towns won’t be gifted the award, we do see him as the favorite. Andrew Wiggins will still be the go-to guy in the Minnesota offense, but Towns will see a ton of minutes and a ton of touches in a weak T-Wolves frontcourt. The best player in last year’s draft will have every opportunity to wow voters.
D’Angelo Russell (Los Angeles Lakers): 7/2 – The second player taken in the draft also has the second-best odds. A healthy Kobe will decrease Russell’s shot attempts, but the 19-year-old will still be running a Laker offense that ought to be improved over last season. That improvement may convince voters that the facilitator should be honored with some hardware.
Jahlil Okafor (Philadelphia): 6/1 – Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid will all battle for playing time in the Philly frontcourt. But Embiid’s health concerns make it likely, one way or another, that Okafor will see starter-type minutes. Noel emerged as a legitimate frontcourt threat at the end of his rookie campaign and should be the focal point of the Philly offense next year. That should mean fewer touches and shots for Okafor compared to, say, Towns in Minny. Add in the fact that Okafor struggles on D and the uber-talented big-man starts to look like a bit of a longshot. That said, there is a reason he and Towns were neck-and-neck for the label of top prospect for the better part of 2014-15: the kid can flat out score.
Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver): 13/2 – Mudiay’s odds hinge on Ty Lawson being shipped out of town (which it looks like he will be). If that’s the case, Mudiay – at one point considered a challenger for the No. 1 selection – will be in the same position as Russell: running the offense for a team hoping to make strides. Mudiay’s chances are hurt a bit by the fact that Denver could actually score last year (averaging 101.5 PPG), they just couldn’t keep other teams from doing the same. But if he can keep the Nuggets offense firing and play solid D, he may just outshine Russell at the point.
FIELD: 4/1 – Even though Mudiay slipped to No. 7 in the draft, the four rooks listed above were the top-four on most draft boards and they look primed to be the four biggest contributors in their freshman campaigns. That said, a host of other first-year pros will have the chance to shine for their respective teams; down in Miami, Justise Winslow will fit nicely into the Heat offense, while Mario Hezonja and Frank Kaminsky should get a ton of looks from three in Orlando and Charlotte, respectively. Don’t be surprised if someone outside the top-four outshines his more-hyped brethren.
(Photo credit: TonyTheTiger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)