Offseason Checklist for Every Top 2014-15 NBA Rookie
We're still two months away from NBA training camps opening, but you can bet incoming 2014-15 rookies won't view it as "off time."
Even the top draft picks who are looking to make a splash early in their careers have several areas to refine and skills to learn. Basketball's toughest league requires a whole new level of commitment and attention to detail; these 18- to 20-year-old professionals must methodically work through the offseason to prepare themselves for the big stage.
As such, we put together checklists for them. Each top rookie has different strengths and weaknesses, so we tailored their workload to cover the key facets they need to address. Assuming they'll continue to sharpen their strong suits, these checklists focus primarily on improving deficiencies.
Enough chit-chat, let's get to work!
*Includes top seven draftees of 2014 lottery except for No. 3 pick Joel Embiid, who is recovering from ankle surgery. Nerlens Noel (No. 6 in 2013) is included.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers PF (No. 7 Pick)
Armed with a rock-solid physique and superb quickness, LA Lakers 6'9" newbie Julius Randle is physically ready to mix it up with NBA power forwards. He has a win-first mindset and an unstoppable motor. However, he's still staring at a lengthy offseason checklist.
- (Top Priority) Right-handed skill drills 24/7: Randle's right-handed dribbling and scoring touch is miles behind his left. In addition to right-hand skill drills, he should play some pickup games or three-on-three contests with his left hand in a sling, as crazy as that may sound.
- 500 three-pointers per day: His mid-range jumper is decent, but Randle's perimeter shooting is still spotty at this stage. Even if he doesn't attempt many triples in 2013-14, it's wise to start expanding his range now.
- TLC for the ankle: This is as important as anything else. His foot looked good during summer league, but his injury history demands extra caution and treatment.
- Daily chat with Kobe: OK, daily might be overkill, but you get the point. Randle should (and will) be a sponge around Kobe Bryant. The rookie told reporters, "I’ve been warned and told he can push his teammates [but] I’m excited about the opportunity to get to learn from him." As the potential link to the next generation of Lakers contenders, he should eat up everything Kobe has to offer.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers C (No. 6 in 2013)
During his time rehabbing from ACL surgery, Nerlens Noel undoubtedly absorbed a boatload of NBA knowledge. And judging by his summer league exploits, he definitely worked on his offensive skills. From that standpoint, the 2013 draftee is ahead of most 2014 big-man prospects. Nevertheless, he has a to-do list to tackle prior to 2014 tipoff.
- (Top Priority) Ball skills drills: Although Noel has improved greatly since his stint at Kentucky, he's still a relatively modest scoring threat. His moves and touch are pretty mechanical, and he scored in summer league mainly via energy and athleticism. He needs 200 post-up reps per day, along with 200 face-up reps.
- Scrimmage decision-making: Noel coughed up four turnovers three different times in Orlando Summer League, and many of those giveaways were bad choices rather than inadvertent slip-ups. During his offseason scrimmages, he has to make a conscientious effort to take care of the rock.
- Mid-range jumpers and pick-and-pops: Philly's weak roster and Joel Embiid's absence will likely afford Noel offensive opportunities he wouldn't see otherwise. He'll want to look sharp when spot-up elbow jumpers or pick-and-pop chances present themselves. The least he can do to prepare is shoot 500 jumpers per day.
- Bulk up some more: Noel weighed 228 pounds during summer league, which is a nice bump from the feathery 206 he registered at the 2013 draft combine. But if he wants to impose his will as a low-post defender and rebounder, he should aim to eventually hit 245-255. For now, 240 is a reasonable goal before training camp.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics G (No. 6 Pick)
Marcus Smart terrorized college opponents for two years at Oklahoma State, and he's impressed a multitude of onlookers during his time with the USA Select Team in Las Vegas, per Brian Robb of Boston.com. He's a confident, aggressive two-way guard who is seeking to make an immediate impact for the Boston Celtics. What can he work on throughout the rest of the offseason to build on his strengths and address his weaknesses?
- (Top Priority) Keep honing that jumper: By many accounts, Smart's outside shooting has looked solid and much improved at USA basketball training camp. However, the stat sheet is harsh: He shot 30 percent from long range in college and 26 percent from beyond the arc at Orlando Summer League. To be a truly versatile guard, he'll need to hit 35 percent within the first couple of years of his career.
- Weekly lunch with Brad Stevens: Or better yet, weekly film session with the skipper. The most important thing is for Smart to fully understand his role and know how to attack the preseason. Stevens is still in the initial stages of implementing his system and philosophy, so it would behoove the rookie to soak it up and help the young coach build an efficient team.
- (Film study, part II) Shot-selection and off-guard skills: In addition to taking the reins of the Celtics offense for stretches, Smart will also be utilized as a shooting guard early in his career. He moves pretty well without the ball in general, but he must master the nuances and spacing of effective 2-guards. And no matter what position he plays, he needs to improve his shot selection if he ever wants to put up healthy numbers.
- Practice mid-range creativity: One of the biggest knocks on Smart in college was his inability to play the in-between game. He either popped outside jumpers or drove all the way into traffic. His scoring opportunities will flourish if he works on creating separation and making mid-range buckets.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz G (No. 5 Pick)
After months without playing competitive hoops, Australian mega-prospect Dante Exum finally strutted his stuff against NBA-caliber adversaries. The 6'6" Utah Jazz rookie showcased some of the speed and creativity that catapulted him to No. 5 in the draft, but he also revealed some rawness and discomfort alongside Trey Burke.
He'll be playing in the FIBA World Cup for the Australian national team, which is an awesome opportunity to grow as a player. It's still important, however, for him to establish a concrete set of tasks to attack before, during and after his time in Spain.
- (Top Priority) 1,000 jumpers every day: Jump shots of every kind. Step-backs, spot-up threes, mid-range pull-ups. His form is still a bit forced, and it could be quicker and smoother. Exum struggled shooting from the field (31 percent) and from beyond the arc (17 percent) during summer league, so it's a skill that clearly needs polishing.
- Add strength: This might be tough to accomplish during the World Cup, but in August and October he should try to go from 190 pounds (his summer league playing weight) to 200-plus. He admitted to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com that he's struggled with the physical transition to the big leagues: "The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over."
- Watch shooting guards working their craft: Exum didn't look entirely comfortable playing off the ball in Las Vegas, and that's a little unnerving if coach Quin Snyder wants to create flexible lineups and rotations. The youngster needs to watch a ton of combo guards and shooting guards, whether in person or on film. That won't completely solve things, but it will help.
- Rest: Between training with his Australian teammates and playing in the actual World Cup tournament, Exum will put on a lot of miles between now and late September. His body will require time to recover and rejuvenate.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic PF (No. 4 Pick)
Aaron Gordon rocked rims and stymied Pac-12 opponents for a year at Arizona, and he will likely do the same for the Orlando Magic. The 6'9" human trampoline is a sharp young prospect with the potential to be highly versatile, but there's so much for him to polish before he's a skilled star.
- (Top Priority) 1,000 jumpers per day: Gordon worked hard on his shooting stroke prior to the draft, and it definitely looks better than it did at Arizona. However, he has loads of room for improvement. The more he smooths it out and practices in-game scenarios, the sooner his 35 percent summer league clip will be a distant memory.
- (Equally Important) Shoot 500 free throws per day: This one is obvious as well, and he doesn't need me to tell him. At Arizona, he shot an abysmal 42 percent from the charity stripe, and he hit just 48 percent in Orlando Summer League.
- Drill the pick-and-roll with Elfrid Payton: Most of Gordon's rookie buckets won't come from isolation drives or outside shooting, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reminds us: "In order to make an impact on offense as a rookie, he likely will need to set screens, make cuts and run the floor in transition." In half-court scenarios, a pick-and-roll partnership with Payton will be a great way to utilize his mobility and aerial prowess.
- Skill drills with guards, post skills with Nicholson: Gordon will benefit greatly from working out with Orlando's guards. His handle is pretty good for a 6'9" player, but he's not quite creative enough with his left hand or polished from a footwork standpoint. In the post, he should work with Andrew Nicholson as much as possible; if Gordon absorbs half of Nicholson's skills, he'll improve exponentially.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks F (No. 2 Pick)
After a stellar freshman year at Duke, Jabari Parker is looking to make the Milwaukee Bucks relevant again. He's one of the most dangerous scoring prospects we've seen in recent years, but his rocky summer league showed that the NBA transition won't be effortless.
- (Top Priority) Improve conditioning and quickness: Parker had enough size and athleticism to thrive in college, but Las Vegas exposed his inability to consistently burst past opponents. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman explained: "The fear with Parker is that he won't be able to get off the same high-percentage shots in Milwaukee as he did at Duke. That fear stems from his average first step and somewhat underwhelming last one." From foot-speed drills to plyometrics exercises, he should do everything possible to improve his explosiveness. He's going to need every ounce of quickness to defend NBA small forwards and combo forwards, so any improvement is vital.
- Defensive challenges: In addition to improving his foot speed on the defensive end, Parker has to upgrade his footwork and fundamentals on that end. He would do well to challenge the opponents' best player during pick-up games and scrimmages, and film study is also key.
- Get on same page as Coach Kidd: As summer league drew to a close, Parker told Dane Young of Fox Sports Wisconsin that he only felt "about 50 percent" sure of how the Bucks staff would utilize him. Between now and November, he needs to communicate and become 100 percent sure.
- Watch film of Paul Pierce: Although he has a lot of 'Melo in him, Parker might be better suited to pattern his game after Pierce. Watching Pierce's footwork will help him become more efficient on the perimeter at both ends. The veteran is also a great example of balanced scoring and passing.
- Work on post-up game: Parker carved up collegiate opponents on the block, but the length and athleticism of NBA bigs present new challenges. To have an inside-out repertoire like 'Melo and Pierce, Parker must master the art of scoring via post-ups. He should work on everything from bank shots, turnarounds, baby hooks and back-leg fadeaways.
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers SG/SF (No. 1 Pick)
It's been an interesting summer for Andrew Wiggins so far. He had the honor of landing No. 1 overall in the draft, and a couple of weeks later he found out LeBron James was bound for Cleveland. Since then, he's been the constant subject of Cavaliers trade chatter. But there are certain things he can control, like working on his game:
- (Top Priority) Bulk up: Wiggins weighed 194 pounds at Las Vegas, so he needs to get familiar with the weight room. He could add 25 pounds of muscle or more without sacrificing explosiveness, especially if he builds his legs in conjunction with his upper body. It will allow him to be a more consistent slasher, effective rebounder and pesky defender. LeBron is a great resource in this department.
- Drive all the way to the rim: This is closely linked with the task of bulking up. Wiggins drew a bunch of fouls in his final summer league game, but on the whole, he has to do a better job of not settling for jumpers. He needs to practice driving deep and challenging the second line of defense.
- 500 three-pointers per day: He shot 34 percent from the college line last year and 15 percent from the NBA line during summer league. Repetition is his best friend at this point.
- Watch film of LeBron's passing: Wiggins averaged 1.5 assists at Kansas, and he dished just one assist in four games at Vegas. He must learn from LeBron's ability to manipulate opponents and take advantage of help defenders overcommitting. It's unfair to expect the youngster to duplicate James' versatility, but the film work certainly won't hurt.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR
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