One of the most exciting parts of any new NBA season is our chance to get a first look at some of the names that will shape the basketball conversation for years to come.
The 2012 rookie-class is as highly-touted as any in recent memory with several players who have the potential to be stars as soon as this season.
Here’s a look at five newcomers with the chance to take home this season’s Rookie of the Year honors:
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
The top pick in this year’s draft, Davis is the most hyped big-man prospect to come into the NBA since Greg Oden.
His résumé is already mightily impressive for a 19-year-old, having led Kentucky to the NCAA title and won a gold medal with Team USA at the London Olympics.
Davis should be a defensive and shot-blocking force right away, and has the tools to become one of the most dominant defenders in the league within a few years.
He has yet to develop much of an offensive game outside of putback dunks around the basket. But having re-signed Eric Gordon and acquired sharpshooting forward Ryan Anderson from Orlando, the Hornets can more than afford to bring Davis along slowly on the offensive end.
If he proves capable of guarding centers at the NBA level as well as he did in college, there’s no stopping Davis from becoming a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
Davis’ Kentucky teammate is already drawing comparisons to Gerald Wallace. An explosive athlete with a deadly transition game, Kidd-Gilchrist also has the potential to become an elite perimeter defender.
Unlike Davis’ Hornets, MKG has virtually no talent around him in Charlotte, meaning he’ll be put in the position where he’ll have to make plays on offense right away. For a wing player, he’s an excellent passer and rebounder, but his jump shot is still very much a work in progress.
New coach Mike Dunlap, who has a college background, plans to implement a pressure-oriented defensive system, an environment in which MKG could be effective right away. If Dunlap also pushes the pace on offense and allows Kidd-Gilchrist to get to the rim often, he could be a major factor on that end as well.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
At Weber State, Lillard flew under the radar despite being the second-leading scorer in the college basketball last season. But what the speedy Lillard lacked in pre-draft hype, he’s more than made up for in accolades since then, putting on a show at Las Vegas Summer League and taking home MVP honors.
For a rookie point guard, his passing instincts and shot selection are remarkably well honed, and he makes very few mistakes with the ball. He’ll be given full control of the offense right off the bat for the rebuilding Blazers, which could mean huge scoring numbers. He should also make an excellent pick-and-roll partner for LaMarcus Aldridge.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
No top-10 pick in this year’s draft comes with the amount of caveats and question marks Drummond does.
He’s a classic example of a raw, high-upside big man who could become dominant if he harnesses his physical gifts and turns them into actual NBA skills.
Leading up to the draft, questions abounded concerning Drummond’s work ethic and motivation, and his 29 percent free-throw shooting clip from his one year in college was a major red flag as well.
There’s a chance he could be the next Hasheem Thabeet, a fellow University of Connecticut product who was drafted high for being very tall and turned out to be a pretty bad basketball player.
But Drummond has turned heads in the Pistons’ exhibition games, playing at a level his critics didn’t expect from him this early. He still fouls a lot, but there’s plenty of promise for him and Greg Monroe to anchor the Pistons’ frontcourt unit for many years.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Since Arvydas Sabonis, NBA teams have been constantly on the lookout for the next great European center. In fellow Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors believe they may have found just that guy.
Valanciunas was taken fifth in the 2011 draft but played international ball last season and joins the Raptors following a performance in the London Olympics that didn’t live up to expectations. Scouts still rave about his skillset, however.
It’s been years since the Raptors have had a defensive presence like him in the middle, and he can score in a variety of ways.
If he performs up to expectations and Toronto makes a run at a playoff spot, expect Rookie of the Year voters to take notice.