So with the league schedule just released and season openers less than three months away, we’ll continue our Summer Dreaming series with a long range look at how hope floats for the 2015-16 NBA award winners. Today it’s a peek at top five picks for Kia Rookie of the Year.
Jahlil Okafor, 76ers:
Winning the award usually requires two things: playing time and an opportunity to put up numbers. The latest big man pick by Philly will get plenty of both. With Joel Embiid back on the shelf for another season, the Sixers will need Okafor to play right away and be a workhorse in the offense. He’s got all of the necessary low-post skills to clean up on points and rebounds around the basket. His strength and sometimes bullish moves around the hoop will be a solid complement to power forward Nerlens Noel. In order to maximize his game down the line, Okafor will have to become a better shooter away from the basket and improve at the defensive end. His summer league numbers (15.8 points, 8.4 rebounds per game) showed that he’s got the double-double capability to be the first one up the rookie ladder all season long.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Nuggets:
In their full-tilt rebuilding program, the Nuggets have cleared the dance floor and are telling Mudiay to show off all of his moves. Many were on display at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he dazzled and wowed and also showed some of the holes in his game. He’ll have to make his outside shot (2-for-14 on 3s) at least respectable in order for defenses to give him full respect and then give Mudiay the opportunity to blow past them on his way to the hoop. The franchise traded last year’s starting point guard Ty Lawson but Mudiay has veteran point guard Jameer Nelson to show him the ropes. But all indications are that new coach Michael Malone will turn the rookie loose and let him strut his stuff will learning from the bumps and bruises along the way. He’ll put up points, rebounds and assists and get plenty of turns on the nightly highlight reels to keep him in a prime spot in the rookie conversation right from opening night.
Stanley Johnson, Pistons:
Johnson will be the first one to tell you that he should be in the discussion for the award because, well, he tells you everything he’s thinking. And he’s still thinking that he was right back in June when he proclaimed himself in the best player in the 2015 draft. Johnson went straight to the Orlando Summer League and grabbed every game and situation by the throat. He made shots, drove to the hoop, got himself to the foul line and thrived confidently in his first taste of a pro situation where many young players shrink or hold back. He’s also willing to put his nose in at the defensive end. There might not be as much long-range potential simply because he’s already physically close to being the finish product. But if coach Stan Van Gundy turns him loose and gives him playing time on a Pistons team that needs a shot in the arm, Johnson will have us talking about him as much as he does.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves:
If the question on the table was who’ll be the best player five years down the road from the draft class of 2015, Towns would be the most logical. He showed at the Las Vegas Summer League all the tools that will enable him to excel at both ends of the floor and be a regular fixture in the All-Star Game. But with big men Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng and Kevin Garnett on the roster, there will be no reason to rush Towns and that could keep a limit on his minutes. With fellow young guns Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine around, the T-Wolves don’t need him to put up big numbers on a nightly basis. Over the past 15 seasons, only five overall No 1 picks have been named Rookie of the Year. But his payoff comes for years and years down the line.
Myles Turner, Pacers:
For a guy who dropped to No 11 in the draft because there were questions about his motor, Turner showed up at the Orlando Summer League and had it revving to the sound of 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and always looked engaged. Maybe that one season of college ball at Texas just wasn’t the place for him, because he looked transformed mentally. There will be plenty of opportunity for the 6-11 big man with a good outside shot and excellent shot-blocking skills to get playing time since the Pacers shipped out veteran centre Roy Hibbert. If he stays tuned in and active all over the court, the door could be open for lots of playing time as Indy turns the page. If you’re looking for a dark horse candidate, Turner could be the one.
After being selected 11th overall by Indiana in the 2015 Draft, Myles Turner got off to a strong start by starring in the Orlando Summer League.
By Fran Blinebury
First appeared on NBA.com Global