• Greg Alcala

NBA 2015-16 Rookie of the Year Candidates


*Photo via USA Today

With training camps set to get underway in late September, another NBA season is right around the corner. A new season means a new crop of rookies, who will be assigned difficult tasks such as wearing pink backpacks, singing Taylor Swift songs during practices and a being a professional valet for their veterans. Oh, I guess they’ll eventually have to play basketball too, which suddenly gets me to thinking; who’s going to actually be good?

Since it’s never too early for power rankings, here are your 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year candidates.

Jahlil Okafor – Philadelphia 76ers

*Photo via Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers received a gift when the Los Angeles Lakers selected D’Angelo Russell with the second pick, clearing the way for Sam Hinkie to bring Duke’s ultra-talented Jahlil Okafor to the City of Brotherly Love. Okafor is a gifted back-to-the-basket center who has low post-moves galore. Just check out how comfortable he looked operating down-low in his first professional appearance against the San Antonio Spurs in summer league

Based on previous Rookie of the Year results, winners put up big numbers on bad teams. With Okafor being the biggest offensive weapon in Philly, he’s definitely in the right place to put up big time stats. The collegiate national champion will have every opportunity to showcase his touch, footwork and dominance in his rookie campaign. With Joel Embiid out for another season, the 6’11, 270 pound Okafor will play a lot, score a lot and is the clear front-runner to hoist the Eddie Gottlieb trophy.

Emmanuel Mudiay – Denver Nuggets

*Photo via Getty Images

With Ty Lawson now with the Houston Rockets, Emmanuel Mudiay is the starting point guard for the Denver Nuggets. Mudiay just seems to get it; when you watch him play, you just get the impression that the kid understands what he’s doing.

Mudiay bypassed college basketball at SMU to play in China during the 2014-15 season. An ankle injury limited Mudiay to 12 games with the Guangdong Southern Tigers, but he did average an impressive 18 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.6 steals a game. The previous professional experience served him well in summer league; He kept his head up and knew where everybody was on the court.

At 6’5, 200 pounds, Mudiay excels in transition and possesses a slick handle which helps him create for himself and others. However, the young guard struggles to shoot the basketball and has a tendency to take plays off defensively. Mike Malone has played slow in the past which would challenge Mudiay’s decision making and shooting. Malone has vowed to play to the strength of the roster; he’d be best served to play and up-tempo style to take advantage of the altitude and Mudiay’s ability to get to the basket and find shooters. As the primary ball handler, he’ll have more than enough opportunities to challenge for Rookie of the Year honors.

Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves

*Photo via Getty Images

Karl-Anthony Towns, the number one overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, joins the 2014 and 2013 first overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 6’11 Towns will be one of the best rookies in the league and will slightly impact the win-loss column as an early pick. Unfortunately, that doesn’t lead to Rookie of the Year consideration.

Minnesota has decent frontcourt options who will challenge the rookie for playing time. With the Wolves already having an alpha in Wiggins, KAT won’t have the ball enough to put up elite rookie numbers needed to win top rookie honors. Towns will have an impact on this team and may eventually be the gem of this class, but Rookie of the Year seems just out of reach.

Sleeper Picks

Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons

*Photo via Getty Images

There is a very strong chance that Stanley Johnson will shock the NBA landscape, doing so with authority. With his play in summer league, he’s already shown the two-way potential that has president, Stan Van Gundy patting himself on the back.

Johnson had a strong summer league, attacking the rim viciously, finishing through contact and showcased a solid stroke. He can create off the dribble, however, is prone to poor decision making when relied upon as a ball handler.

On defense, Johnson can be a real force. At 6’8 carrying a powerful build of 243 pounds, the former Arizona Wildcat will be stout defensively while improving his offensive game.

Kelly Oubre Jr. – Washington Wizards

*Photo via Getty Images

Otto Porter Jr. hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard in D.C. since his arrival in 2013 and because of it, 2015 first round pick, Kelly Oubre Jr. will generate plenty of interest in what he can do for the Washington Wizards. Along with Porter Jr., Oubre Jr. has to beat out the sharp-shooting Jared Dudley for minutes. What Oubre Jr. lacks in shooting prowess, he makes up in just about everything else.

At 6’7, 200 pounds, the former Jayhawk has the prototypical size for an NBA wing. Sporting a 7’2 wingspan, the Texas native’s defensive potential is off the charts. Oubre Jr. probably won’t be relied upon to score, but defensively will have an impact.

Just missed the cut:

Jerian Grant – New York Knicks.

Bobby Portis – will be productive, but how much will he play?

Devin Booker – will likely compete for guard minutes in a loaded backcourt.

D’Angelo Russell – Kobe Bryant.

*Stats and info courtesy of NBA.com, RealGM, Bleacherreport, Basketball Reference , DraftExpress, NBAdraft.net, SBNation

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