Top five: Rookie of the Year candidates

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Damian Lillard lit up the NBA last season during his rookie year and ran away with the Rookie of the Year award. This year’s NBA draft produced some quality talent and here I take a look at the players who could push for this year’s award:

Anthony Bennett - Cleveland Cavaliers

Bennett was the number one pick in this year’s draft, much to the surprise of most of us, and he has to be considered a front runner for this award. Bennett has a lot to learn in this league and his lack of mobility may affect his presence on offence. Bennett is a strong rebounder, however, and he could really make his mark with his defensive abilities.

One other setback for Bennett is that he is likely to start the season coming off the bench which will also hinder his chances of putting up statistics worthy of winning the Rookie of the Year award. However, Bennett averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds during his freshman year at UNLV so it’s no wonder the forward was picked first in the draft. It would be wrong to write off Bennett for this award and the power forward will be the favourite for the award going in to the new season but, as many previous seasons have shown, the number one pick often crumbles under the pressure during their first season and another rookie steals the award. Bennett will be focused on making sure he doesn’t become one of those players.

Victor Oladipo - Orlando Magic

The number two pick is said to be one of the best defensive players to come out of the draft. The shooting guard impressed during Summer League, making a name for himself with high energy levels and brilliant on-ball defence. The Magic were projected to get the first pick and Oladipo was widely tipped to go first so things may have worked out well for Orlando.

Oladipo was one of the standout players in college basketball last season, averaging just under 14 points and six rebounds, which is very impressive for a guard. Oladipo is also very strong going to the basket and will pose a threat on offence as well as defence. Oladipo is also one of the more athletic players in this draft class and we will hopefully see some thrilling plays from the former Indiana man. Oladipo really showed his maturity during the summer and is looking like a very strong candidate for the award.

Ben McLemore - Sacramento Kings

In the run up to the draft, McLemore was the favourite to be drafted first but he ended up being picked seventh by the Kings after many criticised him for his unpredictable play. However, in a recent survey asked to this year’s rookies, McLemore was voted the best shooter in the class by his colleagues, which will give Kings fans confidence.

After Tyreke Evans’ departure from Sacramento, McLemore has a gap to fill and his athleticism and shooting ability could make him a hit with the Kings. The guard started the Summer League erratically but became more impressive as the tournament progressed. One concern for the Kings is his attitude as he has a reputation for being moody and often arrogant. It’s a risky pick for the Kings, but if McLemore’s attitude, along with his game is spot on, he has the potential to be a huge success in Sacramento.

CJ McCollum - Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers look like they’ve picked up another steal in the draft with the pick of guard CJ McCollum. He is one of the best shooters in this draft class and is already drawing comparisons to Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry. McCollum is another of the rookies who impressed during Summer League with his brilliant long range shooting.

McCollum is a very good scorer and will provide solid back up to the Portland guards to begin with before possibly progressing to playing alongside Lillard as the season wears on. McCollum is a solid pick for Portland and there is a strong possibility that he will be making the teams who didn’t draft him regret their decision.

Kelly Olynyk - Boston Celtics

After being drafted number 13 by the Celtics via Dallas, Olynyk probably wouldn’t have been considered for the award immediately after draft night but after his Summer League performances, Olynyk is now among the favourites to win it.

During the Orlando Summer League, the big man finished as the leading rookie in points (19.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg) on over 57% shooting. The 7-footer showed a range of shooting and a variety of moves to score his points. The Celtics will be delighted with the player they’ve drafted after his superb performances but the question is raised whether he can carry this in to the season and also be able to sustain his level of performances for the whole year. Nevertheless, Boston has got itself a brilliant talent and he might not make a run at the award but he’s the top rookie entering the new season.

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