NBA Rookie Watch: December 18th
Anthony Davis returned to the Hornets for a four-game week and head coach Monty Williams brought him off the bench for 28.8 minutes a night behind Ryan Anderson. The minute restriction and recent inactivity hurt his production this week, but it just a matter of time before he is re-inserted into the starting lineup and the battle between Lillard and Davis can get back on track.
A number of rookies appear to be hitting the wall early after good starts. Harrison Barnes is shooting just 38.2 percent from the field in December and has seen his minutes cut in Golden State. Kyle Singler, who had been helping the Pistons gain some much needed wins since being inserted into the starting lineup, has lost his touch and is shooting 35.6 percent this month. The Pistons have won just twice in their last 10 games. Jonas Valanciunas has seen his minutes and touches drop as head coach Dwane Casey searches for wins on the floundering Raptors.
The season is young and early successes or setbacks are unlikely to be remembered in April. There is still plenty of time for the rookies to emerge, re-emerge or disappear from our top five.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 18.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.1 steals
Damian Lillard had two monster games as the Trail Blazers won both of their contests this week. Lillard scored a career-high 29 points in Thursday’s victory over the Spurs and for the fourth time this season, he reached the 20 point, five assist and five rebound mark. Lillard is only rookie to reach that mark so far this season.
On Sunday against the Hornets, Lillard had a tough shooting game as he went scoreless during 20.5 minute stretch in the second half and finished hitting on just 5-14 attempts. But tied at 92, on the Trailers Blazers final possession of the game, head coach Terry Stotts drew up the play for Lillard to take the shot and the rookie rewarded him with a three-point swish leaving 0.3 seconds left.
The surprising Trail Blazers are just one game below .500 and still within sight of a playoff spot.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets; 14.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.1 blocks
After a three-week absence, Anthony Davis returned to the lineup to average 12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.0 blocks in his first four games back. While that’s not the kind of production we remember from earlier in the season, it was a very strong performance after a layoff.
The Hornets have only won twice since Davis tweaked his ankle three times in four days and the resulting stress reaction sidelined him. They lost all four games this past week and without Eric Gordon, there is little reason to believe a dramatic change in the team’s win-loss record will happen. Davis, however, should continue to improve and put up impressive numbers over his rookie campaign.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.4 blocks
The Charlotte Bobcats are in freefall and have lost 11 games in a row, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is having a solid December. For the month, his shooting percentages have improved from 45.5 in November to 53.3 and he is averaging 0.9 more assists per game.
However, Kidd-Gilchrist had one of his worst games of the season on Saturday against the Magic as early foul trouble limited him to just 21 minutes and he only scored three points on 1-4 from the field. Overall, it was a tough week for the rookie. He averaged just 7.3 points on 34.8 percent shooting, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. It’s worth noting that this stat stuffer has only had one steal in his past eight games.
4. Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 11 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4 assists, 0.9 steals
Head coach Rick Adelman continues to show an increasing level of confidence in Alexey Shved’s game, confidence that has been earned by a steadily improving level of play. Shved has started in each of the last three contests and played 44 minutes in Minnesota’s overtime victory over Dallas on Sunday.
Shved was having another solid week for Minnesota until his 1-8 performance against the Magic in Monday night’s loss. The three point effort dropped his average over the past four games to 10.5 points on 39.5 percent shooting, but up until then, Shved’s December was averaging 12.3 points on 45.6 percent shooting and 42.9 percent from three-point range where he typically launches one-half of his attempts.
Adelman has been easing Ricky Rubio back into the rotation off the bench and in limited minutes. At some point one of the Timberwolves guards will see their minutes cut, but Shved continues to make a case for staying on the court.
5. Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 8.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.5 blocks
Andrew Nicholson has been tolling away under the radar in Orlando. In limited minutes, the big man from Mississauga, Canada has been hitting shots at 55.6 percent from the field and sinking free throws at an 83.3 percent clip. He has been productive when given an opportunity to play.
In November, Nicholson only averaged 13.5 minutes a game. But, this month he played for 20 minutes plus in four games in row and his production kept pace with the increased minutes as he averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Nicholson had the best game of his career on Friday against the Magic with 15 points and a career high nine rebounds and four blocks as part of a very productive month of December.
On Monday, Nicholson found his minutes restricted to just 11 and finished a 0-3 night with zero points and five rebounds, but the sample size is getting big enough to justify some more playing time for this productive rookie. He’ll need it to stay in our top five.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 8.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.6 steals
Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons: 9.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 6.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals 1.4 blocks
Some Rookies To Watch: Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers), Tyler Zeller (Cleveland Cavaliers), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics) and Meyers Leonard (Portland Trailblazers)
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 3pm Eastern.