1. K.J. McDaniels (76ers)
Last week: 4
Number of Note: 40.4% Three Point Shooter (third among rookies with at least 20 attempts)
Role Model: Danny Green
K.J. McDaniels is a unique player, as his blocking ability at his size has not been displayed by any other person in modern NBA history. Since NBA-ABA merger, to this point in the season McDaniels is the only player 6'6" or shorter to record a block rate of 4.0 or greater. As of this writing, his rate of 4.5% clears that benchmark by a significant margin.
As a 6'6" guard with shooting ability but who lack other offensive firepower, he should look to Danny Green as a standard bearer. Green has shot at least 41% from distance over the past three seasons, seasons where he was a key to the Spurs' success as a shooter and a driver. McDaniels will make highlight reels with the dunks and blocks, but the shooting and driving will make K.J. some money.
McDaniels probably isn't a 40% shooter from distance over a full season yet, so improvements need to be made there. Improvements in defensive rotations must also be made.
2. Nikola Mirotic (Bulls)
Last week: N/R
Number of Note: Played at least 20 minutes in final five games (previous four games: under ten minutes)
Role Model: Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari and Mirotic are roughly the same size, and they're both European, which makes comparisons easy. Mirotic has more tendencies of a natural power forward than Gallinari, who historically was pigeonholed as a small forward because he likes to dribble and drive.
Mirotic has the same tendencies, but he's not as athletic as the Gallinari of old. However, once Taj Gibson gets healthy (and really - the only reason Mirotic is here is because Gibson is hurt, as he'd otherwise not have enough playing time to make the rankings), his playing time at his natural position will fade away provided Gasol and Noah stay healthy.
However, inconsistency from Doug McDermott and Tony Snell means there could be, like, five backup minutes available when Jimmy Butler is actually allowed to sit. If Mirotic can make some moves as a three, as a dribbler and driver, that will open up more playing time for him.
3. Nerlens Noel (76ers)
Last week: N/R
Number of Note: Tied for the rookie lead in minutes per game (30.5)
Role Model: Marcus Camby
As discussed during this past week's game against the Nets, Nerlens Noel's favorite player is Kevin Garnett. In his hey-day, Garnett was the focal point of his team's offense and defense. Noel only appears to have the potential to do so on the defensive end, which is why I picked Marcus Camby.
Through a 17-year career which ended two years ago, Camby averaged roughly 12 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists per 36 minutes played. Both are wiry, 6'11" forward/centers who should work best in supporting roles. Like Camby achieved in 2006-07, Noel should be in contention for Defensive Player of the Year awards once he gets stronger and has a better grasp of NBA defense.
To be more like Camby, Noel needs to commit to crashing the boards. He can lay off the obsessive rebound-stealing tendencies that Camby had. Camby, despite his thin stature, got boards through solid fundamentals, like knowing how to position himself and box out others. Noel hasn't figured out either of those things, yet, and he won't be a totally dominant defender until he can add finishing more possessions off to his defensive repertoire.
4. Jabari Parker (Bucks)
Last week: 2
Number of Note: 15.1 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) - league average is 15
Role Model: David West
Like most rookies, the NBA game is moving very fast for Parker. Because the game moves so fast, one way to make the game slow down is to have plans depending on how the defense reacts to your presence. As a go-to scorer for the Bucks, Parker is in a similar position to West, who is relied upon as a secondary offensive option for the Indiana Pacers.
West uses a solid jumper whenever the defense gives him space to shoot. If the defense closes in a rush, West will put the ball on the floor and either drive by the defender or attempt to draw a foul. If the defense plays him well, he'll continue with the progressions in the Pacers offense. There is nothing fancy or complicated, but it works and is simple. Parker needs to develop these moves and keep it simple. When he figures it out, he'll either have size or skill advantages to beat up opponents, in multiple ways.
5. Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves)
Last week: N/R
Number of Note: Assist-to-turnover ratio of 15:34 on the season.
Role Model: DeMar DeRozan
Maybe not the role model you were expecting? Alright, let me explain. Wiggins isn't close enough to the vaunted wing status to even bring up the names of LeBron, Durant, or PG-13 just yet. He may get to that point, but he needs to become a consistently productive NBA player first.
Molding more of his game off someone like DeMar DeRozan would be a nice start. DeRozan, not a naturally gifted passer by any means, became much better once he became comfortable with creating offense. DeRozan does most of his work within 18 feet of the hoop, either using his size advantage on guards or an athleticism advantage on forwards to get close-range shots and tons of free throw attempts.
DeRozan leapt from 1.1 assists per 36 minutes in his rookie season to 3.7 last season, his fifth in the league. Wiggins should aim to make the same progress from his current rate of 1.3 assists per 36 minutes, simply because he became more comfortable with the ball in his hands.
Wiggins suffers from having tunnel vision whenever he dribbles toward the paint, as he's not comfortable with dribbling in traffic. Working on one-on-one moves, and thus taking advantage of his 6'8" frame, breathtaking speed, and incredible leaping ability, the preliminary goal should be to get to where DeRozan is now. Then from there, he can aim higher.