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NBA Rookie Watch: April 2nd
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On April 2, 2013 @ 5:00 am In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
There hasn’t been a lot of good news for Dion Waiters this week as the Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard’s knee hasn’t improved and surgery may be required. The second-leading scorer among rookies should still finish top five in Rookie of the Year voting, but it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing him play again this season.
Two other top rookies have made a late-season return from injury to garner a few more games worth of experience. The Pistons held back Andre Drummond for over a week after he said he felt great, but head coach Lawrence Frank gave his center his first start of the season against the Toronto Raptors in his return on Friday night. On Sunday, the Washington Wizards let shooting guard Bradley Beal return from his second ankle sprain of the month off the bench against the Raptors. Both rookies had big games and looked ready to finish out the season strong.
Proving that making it in the NBA can be as much about opportunity as it is about ability, the Hornets’ 27-year-old point guard Brian Roberts took advantage of an ankle injury to starter Greivis Vasquez to put up a monster 13 points and 18 assists in a win over the Denver Nuggets a week ago Monday. Normally a 15-minute-or-less bench player, Roberts has been getting some run lately and making the most of it.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 19.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.9 steals
It’s April and the Portland Trail Blazers are still playing meaningful games. While they have fallen too far off the pace to actually catch the eighth seed, they still haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and they may be able to delay the inevitable until after next week.
The credit for the Trail Blazers’ unexpected success can be directly attributed to the unconventional poise of their rookie point guard Damian Lillard. In March, Lillard took his play to another level. This year’s top rookie had his best month of the season as he averaged 21.3 points and 6.8 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three-point range.
The only player on the Trail Blazers to have played in every game this season, Lillard has shown the ability to be a lead guard and take the big shots with time running out. Lillard has set the standard for rookies this season with his ability to put up big numbers that have directly improved his team’s standing over last year.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 13.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.8 blocks
The Hornets have crawled out of the basement in the Western Conference by winning three more games over their past ten than the 1-9 Phoenix Suns, but at least Anthony Davis found his groove again last month.
In the best month of his rookie season, Davis averaged 16 points and 9.9 rebounds and hit on 55.2 percent of his attempts in just over 31 minutes per game. The rough patch of injuries and illness seems to be behind him and after Jason Smith was lost for the season to a shoulder injury, head coach Monty Williams had little choice but to let him play more.
In March, Davis is looking more like the rookie we expected him to be and while his impact on the Hornets this season hasn’t been significant, we have seen enough to expect a lot more from him next season.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 14 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals
Bradley Beal made a surprisingly quick return from his second ankle sprain in a month and stormed off the bench to hit 6-9 three-point attempts on his way to 24 points in 30 minutes in the win over Toronto on Sunday.
With ten games to go, Beal still has an outside chance at reaching the 1,000 point mark as a rookie and if his shooting stays as hot as it was on Sunday, make that a good chance.
4. Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic: 7.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks
Injuries and solid play have kept Maurice Harkless on the floor. Over the four contests this past week, the rookie small forward averaged 20.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in 43 minutes while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and hitting at least one three-point shot per game. In Houston on Monday, Harkless scored 28 points in a losing effort on 10-18 shooting.
Orlando is playing for lottery balls and resides just 1.5 games ahead of the last place Bobcats, so the rookies and young players should see all the minutes they can handle over the final couple of weeks.
5. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 8.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
March has been a breakout month for the Lithuanian rookie center as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has eased up on the reins and let Jonas Valanciunas play through a few mistakes on the defensive end of the court.
Over his 15 games in March, Valanciunas averaged 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 27.1 minutes per game and has shown both a decent mid-range jump shot and an array of effective moves in the post. His 62 percent shooting from the field in March represents his best month to-date.
As Casey has ramped up his rookie’s minutes, Valanciunas’ productivity has increased and over the four games this past week, he has averaged 17 points, 9.3 rebounds and three blocks in 36.3 minutes. Often overlooked in young big men is their effectiveness from the free throw line. Valanciunas has averaged 76.3 from the charity stripe this season and got to the line 10 times for the first time in his career on Sunday.
In the two head-to-head games starting against Andre Drummond this past week, Valanciunas was the more impressive rookie center. Valanciunas had more points (31 to 21), rebounds (19 to 8) and blocks (nine to two). Drummond’s performances are expected to get stronger as he plays more over the next two weeks, but he obviously has some ground to make up at this point.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 7.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 7.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.7 blocks
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.0 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals
Rookie of the Year is an award that typically rewards production, but that can’t be the only thing taken into account when doing rankings. As the season moves along, team improvement over the previous season and overall team success is also factored in, as well as the improved production of teammates.
How would you rate this year’s rookies so far? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Follow Stephen Brotherston on Twitter @stevesraptors and hit up his weekly chat Monday at 3 p.m. ET.
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