Michael Carter-Williams and the Top 10 Rookies of the Early 2014 NBA Season

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Michael Carter-Williams and the 10 Best Rookies of the Early 2014 Season

MichaelCarter-Williams
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The 2013 NBA Draft class was expected to be a weak one before any of these rookies stepped on an NBA court. Now that they have, it may be even worse than even the harshest of critics predicted.

Of the 14 lottery picks, four have yet to step on an NBA court, and four more are averaging less than one made basket per game, including No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, who, as of this writing, is shooting 15.6 percent from the field.

In spite of the stink that has putrefied the majority of this rookie class, there are some diamonds in the rough. It will never be confused with next year’s group that will likely feature Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Marcus Smart, any and all of whom would have been the top overall pick in the 2013 class, but there are plenty of reasons not to count out the 2013's.

There are many unheralded names that should prove to be productive NBA players for years to come, and heck, there may even be a star or two. Besides, the player with the biggest upside will not step on the court until next season, as Nerlens Noel continues to rehab from his knee injury.

Meanwhile, his Philadelphia 76ers teammate, Michael Carter-Williams, continues to shine after his debut performance that saw him flirt with a quadruple double and upset the Miami Heat.

Who else are early front-runners to join Carter-Williams in this year’s Rising Stars Challenge? Click along to find out.

Alexander Diegel is a columnist for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @ItsaDiegel, "like" him on Facebook or add him to your network on google

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Michael Carter-Williams

Carter-Williams
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Michael Carter-Williams began his NBA season with a bang, logging 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds in his NBA debut, leading his 76ers to an upset victory over the Heat. Clearly, he would have been hard-pressed to keep up with that astounding pace, but the 6-foot-6 point guard has hardly fallen off the map, either.

Carter-Williams currently leads all rookies in points, steals and assists, and has more double doubles than the rest of the first-year players combined. The Syracuse product still has plenty of room to improve (his field goal percentage sits below 40), but his production could have a ripple effect on the direction of this franchise.

His play will replace — or possibly improve upon — the production of Jrue Holliday, and has the potential to make the draft day trade for Nerlens Noel an absolute steal. Depending on Carter-Williams’ development, Noel’s production level once he returns from injury, and who they take in the draft next season, Philadelphia could have a championship-contending big three as soon as the start of the 2015 season.

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Victor Oladipo

Oladipo
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As the second overall pick of a weak draft class, Victor Oladipo has produced right around the rate he should be expected to at this early juncture in his career. He has had highs (19 points, six rebounds, four assists against the Brooklyn Nets) and lows (5/3/2 against the Atlanta Hawks), but overall has been a solid all around 2-guard for the Orlando Magic.

As expected, his offensive game will need some work, though he has shot a respectable 37.5 percent from three-point range. The offense will come in time, but his defense is what will make him special, and we have seen that on display to the tune of 1.5 steals per game in just 25 minutes per night.

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Nate Wolters

Wolters
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Wolters has been one of the NBA’s more pleasant surprises in the early going of the 2014 season -- a rare four-year player out of unheralded South Dakota State. The second-round pick has taken the most out of an unexpected, due to injuries to Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight, and it will be difficult for the team to bench him when the aforementioned veterans return to the active roster.

Wolters has averaged eight points and five assists this season, to go with just one turnover per game. He has used his length to his advantage and has proven to be a scrappy defender. As expected, his shooting needs to be improved upon, but he has been a heady playmaker and simply takes what the defense gives him.

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Ben McLemore

McLemore
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Ben McLemore came out of Kansas with a reputation as an explosive scorer, and thus far, that is where he has found his niche in the NBA. In a common trend for rookie guards, he has had trouble getting clean looks, but has delivered when given space from three-point range.

McLemore has experienced the highs and lows of a 20 year old trying to make his mark in the league, with two 19-point games to his credit, but also two two-pointers and a foul-plagued goose egg. McLemore’s game should round out as he gets more experience under his belt. Don’t be surprised if he follows the Bradley Beal blueprint and shows marked improvement with every passing month of his rookie season.

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Kelly Olynyk

Olynyk
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Russell. Parish. McHale. Walton. Garnett. Kelly Olynyk?

The seven-footer from Gonzaga would have likely been a project for most teams, but for the recently house-cleaned Boston Celtics, he has stepped in as the starting center. Needless to say, he has a lot of growth to do to match up with the other great big men in Celtics history.

Contributing eight points and six boards per night, Olynyk has solid per-game averages for a rookie with just two weeks of professional experience under his belt, but a seven-footer should never be shooting under 40 percent from the field. He really needs to cool it on the threes (18 percent on nearly two attempts per game) and stick to shots closer to the basket.

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Mason Plumlee

Plumlee
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Mason Plumlee has outworked many of his more-heralded brethren on his way up this list. The 22nd pick of the draft, Plumlee has simply known his place, shooting 67 percent from the field on his way to seven points and 3.5 rebounds per game in limited playing time while spelling Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez for the Brooklyn Nets.

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Vitor Faverani

Faverani
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

I came close to calling Vitor Faverani the anti-Olynyk, but Olynyk’s less-heralded backup has some similarities. While he has a stronger body and is a much better defender and shot blocker, Faverani is falling in love with the three-point shot as well, though at least he is hitting them at a more respectable 32 percent clip.

The undrafted 25 year old from Brazil has already exceeded expectations, which is easy to do when there aren’t any, but also needs to work on his shooting efficiency. Again, a seven-footer has no business with a shooting percentage around as low as 44.

Still, while splitting time with his fellow rookie, Faverani has averaged a solid six points, six boards and 1.4 blocks per game in his young career.

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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Caldwell-Pope
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s reputation as a knockdown shooter has not transitioned to this level for the Detroit Pistons just yet, but as you have probably noticed, that is a common problem for rookie scorers. While we wait for his offensive game to come around, Caldwell-Pope should focus on the other assets of his game, as he is not passing or rebounding particularly well either.

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Steven Adams

Adams
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Steven Adams, a seven-footer from Pittsburgh by way of New Zealand, has impressed quicker than anyone could have expected for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Expected to be a long-term project, Adams exploded for a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double filling in for a foul-plagued Kendrick Perkins in just his fifth NBA game.

Adams has used his rugby background to provide toughness, rebounding and shot blocking, as he is averaging five rebounds and over a block per game in just over 17 minutes. It is an admittedly small sample size, but the rookie is eight in the league in blocked shots per 48 minutes.

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Cody Zeller

Zeller
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Once thought of as a lock to be the top pick in the draft, it is clear that Cody Zeller is not that type of player. However, given time, he should make a nice career for himself as a productive seven-footer for the Charlotte Bobcats. So far, Zeller has averaged five points and four rebounds in just over 17 minutes per game, as he tries to justify Michael Jordan’s decision to take him with the fourth overall pick in the draft.

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