Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker headline Rookie of the Year candidates

If the 2014 NBA Draft class is as good as everyone says, we should be in for quite the Rookie of the Year race next season. Let's take a look at top early candidates for the award.

SB Nation's 2014 NBA Draft Grades

The Cleveland Cavaliers kicked off the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday by selecting Canadian forward Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas with the No. 1 overall pick, starting an exciting night that featured a few trades, some surprising picks and a chance to finally see where the likes of Wiggins, Jabari Parker and others would be heading next season.

It was an exciting night, and folks around the league are already starting to take tabs on everything that happened in anticipation for next season. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Some players are likely happier with their new teams than others, and the same can be said for teams and their picks.

But when it comes to Rookie of the Year, we already know the candidates. In a draft stacked with elite talent, the likes of Wiggins, Parker, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and others should make for one of the most exciting Rookie of the Year races in recent memory. This won't be another year of Michael Carter-Williams basically winning by default.

So let's take a look at the candidates, led by our new Canadian overlord:

Andrew Wiggins, Cavaliers

He might not be the odds-on favorite to win the award because of expectations surrounding Parker, but Wiggins went No. 1 overall for a reason. Specifically, he's a world-class athlete who's already developing into a strong, effective two-way player.

Playing next to the likes of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in Cleveland, Wiggins probably won't put up huge scoring numbers at first, but he'll be serviceable while defense and pedigree keep him on the court. And should he figure out things quickly on the offense end, a Paul George-like rise could be in the making fairly quickly.

Jabari Parker, Bucks

The Rookie of the Year often goes to the rookie with the biggest numbers, and next year, that's likely to be Parker. A gifted offensive player with the ability to score across the floor, the former Duke star will be the focal point of the Bucks' offense next season even though he's legally unable to drink.

With former first-rounders like Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson filling out the frontcourt, it's unclear exactly how Milwaukee will use Parker, but he'll play a lot, and he'll score a lot. If he comes out and averages over 20 points per game with some other solid numbers, it'll be hard for voters to turn elsewhere.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers

Buried in the hype of the 2014 draft class sits Noel, arguably the most talented player from last year's group. Philadelphia may not have its top pick this year, Joel Embiid, early on, but Noel should be able to pick up the slack after sitting out the 2013-14 season due to injury.

Considering what happened last season, when MCW won the award partially thanks to numbers boosted by Philly's torrid pace, Noel needs to be considered one of the favorites given his likely place as the team's starting center. Voters may not like blocks and rebounds as much as points, but the highlight reel should be pretty sweet.


Nerlens Noel and Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Gordon, Magic

With Embiid likely sitting out the beginning of the season, Gordon becomes Noel's top competition for status as the game's top first-year big man. A premier athlete who garners comparisons to a poor man's Blake Griffin, Gordon should quickly take over one of the Magic's forward positions this season.

What he'll do with those minutes is uncertain, but after starring at Arizona, we can reasonably expect Gordon to play defense and rebound well. Whether he's ready to contribute offensively is another story, even if he showed improvement as a shooter before leaving Tucson. Still, this is an exciting player, and on a roster with Victor Oladipo and fellow 2014 first-rounder Elfrid Payton, the Magic should be flying next season.

Marcus Smart, Celtics

We don't know whether he'll be playing next to Rajon Rondo or replacing him as the team's point guard of the future, but Smart will be a big name in Boston next season no matter what. A physical point guard who can bully opposing players and attack the rim, Smart gives the Celtics flexibility as they consider the future of their star player.

He also gives them an aggressive defender who loves gambling on passing lanes and pressuring opponents on both sides of the ball. Had Smart decided to go pro last season, he likely would've gone No. 1 overall, but his future remains bright nonetheless. A lack of shooting inability may hold Smart back at first, but don't be surprised if he's racking up steals and assists in short order.

Dante Exum, Jazz

The draft's Australian mystery man could do pretty much anything next season and it would be within the realm of expectation. An electric 6'6 point guard with a delightful accent, he's as interesting as any prospect to enter the NBA next season.

What's less clear is how Utah will use Exum, and whether that will impact his first-year production. The Jazz already have a starting backcourt in Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward, not to mention another former first-rounder in Alec Burks. If the team wants to be patient with Exum and bring him up slowly, his chances at winning an award seem less likely.

The Field

Beyond those five players, a number of other talented prospects could push their way into the Rookie of the Year mix. Here's a rundown of the best of the rest.

Julius Randle, Lakers: A talented player who's comfortable in the paint, Randle will likely make a big impact for Los Angeles next season. He didn't star at Kentucky the way some expected, but showed some guts in leading the Wildcats to the title game.

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls: Is he finally coming over from Europe? We still don't know, but once he does, expect Mirotic to quickly make a name for himself stateside. Arguably the best young international player not in the NBA, Mirotic brings a classic floor-spacing skill set to the power forward position. If he gets to Chicago next season, he could make some noise.

If Chicago gives Dougie McBuckets a ton of playing time and he proves to be as good a scorer as he looked at Creighton, expect him to be in the discussion.

Nik Stauskas, Kings: Don't ever underestimate a guy who can shoot like this. While Sacramento still needs to figure out it has in Ben McLemore, Stauskas could quickly emerge as a sharpshooting threat for the Kings if he gets playing time. That probably won't be enough to win Rookie of the Year, but you never know.

Doug McDermott, Bulls: See Stauskas, and McDermott may actually get bonus points for playing on a contender. If Chicago gives Dougie McBuckets a ton of playing time and he proves to be as good a scorer as he looked at Creighton, expect him to be in the discussion.

Noah Vonleh, Hornets: He's considered raw, but Vonleh could get opportunities on a Charlotte team that's set to lose starting forward Josh McRoberts. If that's the case, 2013 first-rounder Cody Zeller will likely get the first bump, but Vonleh could be next up for minutes in Steve Clifford's rotation.

Elfrid Payton, Magic: If Exum was the biggest wild card, Payton isn't far behind him. A high-flying guard who will likely see big opportunities in Orlando early on, Payton could quickly turn heads paired with Oladipo in a dynamic backcourt. He needs to prove he can score at the next level, though.


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