TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on the impact of Russell Westbrook's injury, the upside of Andre Drummond, the dynamic duo of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, the bright future of Canadian Andrew Nicholson and the value of Paul Millsap.
1. Russell Westbrook (OKC): Will be out for the early portion of the season and that's a blow to the Thunder. The positive is I'd rather him miss now and be back for the main stretch and the playoffs where his impact will be most felt. He's far from a 'traditional' point guard but he can really play and his dynamic style gives his team both a major emotional boost and more importantly a high-end impact player. Hard to replace guys like this.
2. Andre Drummond (Pistons): Had a solid rookie season last year, averaging close to eight ppg and rpg as well as getting close to two blocks per game. He's got a chance to be a real game-changer as a defensive/rebounding force in the lane. Free throw shooting percentage was a huge issue at .370 and that must improve. Yet when I watch this young man, I see someone that, once he figures it all out, can be a load to deal with inside. He's not a tremendously skilled performer right now but when I think of where he could go in this game over a good period of time with hard work and development, I'm truly fascinated. Only time will tell.
3. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio (T'Wolves): With all due respect intended toward Chase Budinger, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury but the real keys in Minneapolis are these two guys. If they're healthy and right, who's to say that this club isn't a playoff team. Love is a skilled guy, both inside and out, and is an absolute beast as well as a rebounder. Rubio was in a position where he was going to take another step in his development and he missed time last season. It's always nice to have guys that are still reaching their potential and when I look at the T'Wolves, they can be a sleeper playoff pick this year if Love and Rubio are able to produce and play. If so, they'll be loads of fun to watch.
4. Andrew Nicholson (Magic): The experience of playing for Canada this past summer is going to benefit him immensely in his second pro season. I saw a guy who plays with an edge that, if given ample playing time, will be more than capable of taking the next step in his career. When you're put in a spot to produce and are counted on to be a primary guy, lots of times that force-feeds the process for the next season. It gives you confidence that you can perform on the bigger stage and, even though he's a bit of a 'tweener', he's ready to get consistent minutes in the rotation. He's a hungry competitor and has no back-down in his game. Hard to keep guys like that off the floor.
5. Paul Millsap (Hawks): One of the more underrated pickups of the summer. With the loss of Josh Smith via free agency to the Pistons, GM Danny Ferry needed some help in the front court and you could have done a lot worse than picking up this guy. I've always been a fan of his when he played in Utah and teaming with Al Horford in the Atlanta front court will give the Hawks some steady and consistent paint productivity. He plays bigger than his size with intelligence and purpose. He's a fundamentally sound player who will do the dirty work. If guard Lou Williams is able to return effectively from injury, the Hawks will be in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East again. No Joe Johnson and now Josh Smith but they're not done yet as a winning team.