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3 Under-the-Radar Rookies to Watch

All eyes will be on Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, but here are three other rookies to watch.

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The 2014 NBA Draft welcomed several well-known college stars to the league such as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, but this draft is full of talented young players. The challenge for teams that did not have a top-three pick was finding the player they thought was the right fit for their team without missing on a potential star – since this drafted was loaded with high-upside players. Even outside of the top 10, there were some diamonds in the rough who could go on to be stars. Here are some players that were not as popular as Wiggins, Parker or Embiid, but who seem poised to have a bright future in the league.

Elfrid Payton – Orlando Magic

Elfrid Payton might be one of the best steals of the 2014 NBA Draft. The 10th overall pick is a young and talented point guard, but a lot of fans may be unaware of him because he attended Louisiana-Lafayette. Attending a smaller school can make the transition from college to the NBA a little harder, but that does not seem to be the case with Payton. He is adjusting well to the Magic’s system and has a good chance of being the team’s point guard on opening night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

He is a confident player with a lot to offer. Payton’s 6’4 frame gives him an advantage over the league’s smaller point guards and his defensive mindset also helps. During his college career, Payton was named the recipient of the Lefty Driesell Award, which is given to the best defensive player in the NCAA each season. Anthony Davis won this award during his lone year in Kentucky and has become a standout defender in the NBA.

Payton has started three of the Magic’s five preseason games and is averaging 7.2 points, six assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. He has led or tied the team in assists in every preseason game so far and looks more and more comfortable each game. He has yet to play with Victor Oladipo, who is dealing with a sprained MCL, but he has developed good chemistry with the rest of the team. He has great chemistry with rookie Aaron Gordon, in particular, which is not a surprise since they both played together for the US in FIBA U19 World Championship.

Payton is a player who could make an impact right away in Orlando, and go on to be the team’s long-term solution at point guard.

Doug McDermott – Chicago Bulls

Forward Doug McDermott from Creighton University was known for his shooting ability in college, but he will need some time to adjust to the NBA. The young forward was drafted as the No. 11 pick by the Denver Nuggets and acquired by the Chicago Bulls in a draft night trade. The Bulls seem to believe in the 22-year-old, considering they gave up the No. 16 pick, No. 19 pick and a 2015 second-round pick to acquire him.

McDermott has shown flashes of his talents these past few weeks, which had excited the Bulls’ fan base. He has played significant minutes during the Bulls’ first five preseason games, starting two games and making a positive impact on the floor.

The Bulls have a tendency to go on runs when McDermott is on the floor, which is leading some to wonder if he should be starting over Mike Dunleavy. This thought became even more popular after Dunleavy was sidelined with a sore left knee for three games and McDermott stepped into the starting rotation and played well.

The North Dakota native recorded a preseason high of 16 points against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 13 and most recently had a personal best of nine rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 16.

The Bulls have a good chance at making the playoffs and even making a run for the championship this season. Chicago is obviously not a rebuilding team, so McDermott needs to learn as much possible and make the adjustment to the pros quickly in order to contribute when his number is called. Fortunately for Chicago, McDermott is widely regarded as one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft and his game seems like a perfect fit for the Bulls, who need help on the offensive end and behind the three-point line.

Zach LaVine – Minnesota Timberwolves

Zach LaVine, 19, was one of the best leapers in college basketball last year and his athleticism is matching up well next to No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. They have nicknamed themselves the “Bounce Brothers” entering this season, and the duo should have no problem filling up highlight reels throughout their rookie campaign. The Minnesota Timberwolves selected LaVine as the No. 11 pick of the 2014 NBA Draft.

LaVine, a product of UCLA, has played in all of the Timberwolves’ preseason games and started when Ricky Rubio had the night off to rest. In his first preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, Lavine struggled and acknowledged that he could do better. In this game, he made just two of his nine shots, had five turnovers and ended up with five points in over 25 minutes of play. However, he made some adjustments to his game and in his second content he went 6-of-11 and scored 15 points in 21 minutes.

LaVine’s chemistry with Wiggins should take him along way. When two good players team up and develop chemistry early in their careers, it makes them a huge threat. LaVine may not be as popular as Wiggins or get as much attention, but he is one of the best athletes to enter the league in quite some time. He’s still raw, but he has star-level upside and could be a cornerstone for Minnesota if he’s able to develop and reach his full potential.

Mary Stevens is entering her third year covering the NBA. She is based out of Orlando, Fla. and has also covered the NFL, NCAA and MLS.

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