Stan Van Gundy has been singing Johnson's praises to anyone who will listen, and that bodes well for his chances at earning big playing time. But if the Pistons are in the heat of a playoff race and Johnson hits the rookie wall, will Van Gundy really give his rookie the time to play through it? On the other hand, Johnson is one of the only rookies who should contribute immediately on both ends of the court for a team that's actually competitive. That versatility is a major advantage, as is the possible national exposure. Even if his numbers aren't gaudy, Johnson's ability to put stats up across multiple categories for a potential playoff team should earn him some love at the end of the year.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
D'Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Russell wasn't great during his summer league stint, but that hardly matters -- it's summer league. During the preseason, Russell has shown flashes of brilliance, making next-level plays in his first minutes on the court and displaying fantastic court vision that should be the envy of a fair number of veteran point guards. But we don't know how much Russell will get to play once the games start mattering. Lakers coach Byron Scott has yet to commit to a starting point guard. If Scott decides to play Kobe Bryant at shooting guard more often than small forward, and with Jordan Clarkson in the mix, the backcourt gets crowded. Add in new addition Lou Williams, and playing time for Russell could be a precious commodity.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsKirby Lee
Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
While the fourth and fifth guys on this list face concerns about playing time, there shouldn't be any such worry for the rest, starting with Towns. Interim Wolves coach Sam Mitchell seems committed to playing the young guys in Minnesota, so Towns will get to learn on the job. The problem with his Rookie of the Year case is one of exposure. Towns is likely to be better on defense than on offense when he's at his best this season, and it's unfair to expect him to fill up the stat sheet. Anyone putting Towns on their ballot at the end of the year is going to have to be someone who watched a lot of Wolves games to appreciate the subtlety in Towns' game.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jahlil Okafor, C, Philadelphia 76ers
If Okafor misses out on Rookie of the Year, it won't be due to a lack of opportunity. The 76ers big man is going to have all the chances in the world to touch the ball on a team that's built to be the worst in the NBA yet again. With his bevy of post moves and rebounding ability, Okafor will have an outside shot at 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. That might seem like damning with faint praise, but consider this: According to Basketball-Reference, only 20 players in NBA history have posted 20 and 10 in their rookie seasons (minimum 1,000 minutes played). And the voters have tended to favor big box score stats. If Okafor reaches that lofty plateau, he'll be tough to beat.
Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY SporGregory Fisher
Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Denver Nuggets
Mudiay might have slipped to seventh in the draft because of his choice to play abroad last year, but there's an upside: No other rookie will be able to match the Nuggets point guard's poise and readiness to play against grown men. At the NBA's summer league in Las Vegas, the second-year players stood out the most because they've been through an NBA season and they've had time outside of the rigors of NCAA practice limits to hit the gym. Thanks to Mudiay playing professionally in China last season, he was a part of that dominant group even as a rookie, and other first-year players looked outmatched by comparison. Plus, Mudiay will get plenty of time to play in Denver, where he's been named the starter and should thrive immediately.