NBA rookies usually don't do much to influence our basketball picks, but this year's crop of first-year players is both deep and talented enough to deserve some attention.
Here's a dirty little secret the NBA doesn't want you to know: Rookies aren't all that. Every year, the hype machine surrounding the NBA Draft makes it seem like every single first-round pick is going to be a franchise player. But the failure rate of these youngsters is higher than most people would imagine. If you get a rookie who performs at a league-average level in Year One, you've struck gold.
Having said that, every draft seems to produce at least a small handful of NBA-ready players. This year's crop has the potential to yield some instant results against the NBA odds, starting right at the top with the No. 1 pick – who'll no doubt see plenty of action with his new employers.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Not only does Towns project as the best player in the draft according to Kevin Pelton's WARP stats, he also figures to have the most impact this year, as per Amin Elhassan's Rookie Readiness Scale. Although big men usually take about five years to develop, especially at the offensive end, guys like Towns can contribute immediately on the glass. The fact that he'll be mentored by Kevin Garnett shouldn't be overlooked, either.
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
There was some early debate whether Towns or Okafor was the right pick for No. 1, somewhat reminiscent of the 2004 NBA Draft, when it boiled down to Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor – the two Okafors are distant cousins. They could even end up having similar rookie seasons; Emeka won 2004-05 ROY honors with the Charlotte Bobcats, and Jahlil will get a similar opportunity to shine for the Sixers, who won't have 2014 first-rounder Joel Embiid (foot) for at least this season, if ever.
Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets
While Towns and Okafor were one-and-done at Kentucky and Duke, respectively, Kamisnky put in the full four years at Wisconsin, and won the Wooden Award as last year's top player in college. That puts Kaminsky well ahead of the learning curve, so while his ceiling might not be as high as the other two big men, the 22-year-old could end up outshining his peers right out of the box. He may not start for Charlotte right away, but Kaminsky should get tons of minutes on a second unit that desperately needs his services.
Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic
It's already been more than a decade since the NBA's love affair with drafting European-raised players ended, and even today's sharper picks like Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and Rudy Gobert (France) usually need at least a year to develop into useful players, either overseas or coming off the bench. This year's Euro contingent features No. 4 overall pick Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia) and No. 5 pick Hezonja (Croatia), both of whom cut their teeth playing in Spain. We'll go with Hezonja here; he comes from FC Barcelona, he's versatile, but he might be a bit flaky. Rookies, amirite?