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NBA Rookie Watch: April 9th
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On April 9, 2013 @ 5:00 am In NBA | No Comments
As we start the final nine days of the regular season, the rookies have by and large made their case for Rookie of the Year and no one should have any remaining doubts about this year’s eventual winner. By most measures, Damian Lillard has lapped the field.
Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal are sitting on the sidelines and will end up in the top four rookie scorers. Their work is done. Jonas Valanciunas, Maurice Harkless and Andre Drummond can try to close the gap with the two shooting guards over their remaining games, but the best they can reasonably hope for is to compete with each other to get into the top five.
There were quite a few rookies that had good seasons beyond the top six or seven. Harrison Barnes has managed to stay in Golden State head coach Mark Jackson’s shortened rotation as the Warriors prepare for the playoffs. It is no small accomplishment for a rookie to start all season on a playoff team. Tyler Zeller has been pushed around in the paint all season by stronger big men, but the seven-footer has steadily improved and Cleveland just might have their starting center of the future under development. One can’t help but wonder what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could have done on a better team. The stat stuffing small forward really struggled in the middle part of the season, but he will be someone to watch next year. There were others as well such as
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.9 steals
As expected, Lillard earned his fifth consecutive Western Conference Rookie of the Month award in March and the point guard continued to lead all rookies in scoring at 21.3 points per game and in helpers with 6.8 assists for the month. By the time this season ends, Lillard will have scored over 1,500 points and dished out well over 500 assists, leaving every rookie chasing him so far in the dust that they will barely be visible. Lillard has joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson as one of just four rookies in NBA history to record at least 1,390 points and 475 assists in a season. He has also broken Stephen Curry’s rookie record of 166 three-pointers in a season with 171 and counting.
As the Trail Blazers fell out of the playoff race, Lillard slowed down and in April, the future Rookie of the Year saw his scoring, shooting percentages and assist rate slump. After averaging over 38 minutes per game through his first five months, it looks like 22-year-old may have finally run out of gas. However, a slump for Lillard means averaging 15 points and 5.5 assists, still better than every other rookie in the class.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks
After a 2-11 shooting performance on Wednesday, Davis put together the first two 20-point games in a row of his NBA career and has kicked off April by averaging 16.7 points, eight rebounds, 1.3 steals and two blocks over the first three games of the month.
While Davis has been left in Lillard’s scoring dust, he does lead all rookies in rebounds with 498 and blocked shots with 109.
Hornets head coach Monty Williams turned Davis loose in March and the rookie has been averaging over 31 minutes per game since then. The extra minutes have turned into extra production and Davis has looked a lot more like the rookie everyone expected.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals
The surprisingly quick return Beal made from his second ankle sprain in a month looks like a mistake in hindsight as a stress reaction in his right fibula has him sidelined for the rest of the season. The good news is no surgery is required and he should be back to basketball related activities sometime in May.
Beal will finish the season fourth in rookie scoring with 780 points and has proven he can put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways. The upside for the third overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft is very high.
4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals
Waiters played his last game on March 18 and since an MRI revealed a loose cartilage fragment in his left knee, an arthroscopic procedure that would end his season has been hanging in the balance. It is very unlikely Waiters returns before next season whether surgery is required or not.
Waiters became a very effective scorer for the Cavaliers and will end the season third in rookie scoring with 840 points. Considered a risky pick at fourth overall, Waiters has proven the Cavaliers knew what they were doing.
5. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 8.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
The Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in March averaged 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 27.1 minutes over 15 games. Valanciunas ranked first among Eastern Conference rookies in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage and his production has only improved as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey continues to ease up on the reins.
In his last 10 games, Valanciunas is averaging 15.5 points on 60.5 percent shooting, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, but in April, he has further boosted his scoring by getting to the free throw line an average of nine times per game. On Wednesday, he went to the line 18 times against Washington and sunk 16 of them. According to Elias Sports Bureau, over the last 42 seasons only one other rookie center – David Robinson – has made 16 free throws in a game. Earlier this season, Lillard and Waiters had been to the free throw line 14 times in a game. Lillard made 11 and Waiters made 10.
6. Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic: 8.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 0.8 blocks
Maurice Harkless had only failed to score in double-digits three times since the All-Star break until this past Friday in Chicago, when he tweaked a knee and shot 0-1 for zero points in eight minutes of action. Then, in Cleveland on Sunday, he shot 3-12 in 39 minutes for seven points. The injury is supposed to be a non-factor, but that was his first bad shooting game against a non-playoff team in a month.
Harkless has taken full advantage of the opportunity Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn has given him and since the All-Star break, he has averaged 13.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks in 34.7 minutes.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 7.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.6 blocks
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 9.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.0 blocks
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 8.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals
How would you rate this year’s rookies so far? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Follow Stephen Brotherston on Twitter @stevesraptors and join the conversation during his weekly chat on Monday at 3 p.m. ET.
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