NBA Rookie Watch: February 12th
It was great to see Canadian rookie Andrew Nicholson of the Magic get recognized by the league when he was named as Andre Drummond’s replacement in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star weekend. Nicholson has been very productive in limited minutes this season for Orlando and while averaging just 15.6 minutes per night will keep him out of the Rookie of the Year race, his contributions deserve more attention.
Drummond was on the verge of joining the starting lineup in Detroit when a stress fracture in a vertebra sidelined him for at least a month and possibly longer. For all practical purposes, Drummond will not return before mid-March at the earliest. A back injury is nothing to be glossed over, so don’t expect the Pistons to take any risks with their prized rookie. Drummond’s run up the Rookie of the Year standings has come to an end.
Another big man has made an impression in his return from a broken finger. Jonas Valanciunas is wearing a protective pad, but that hasn’t stopped him from recording back-to-back double-doubles to close out the past week in a pair of Raptors victories.
As the games mean more for most teams after the All-Star break, the coming stretch drive would normally carry more weight in determining which rookies have impressed us the most. This year, however, it is getting harder by the day to see how anyone can catch Damian Lillard.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 18.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.0 steals
Lillard had his worst shooting game as a professional as he went 1-16 against the Magic in Orlando on Sunday, but to put this in its proper context, Lillard has scored over 300 more points and hit over 50 more three-point shots than the next best rookie so far this season.
The Trail Blazers had a rough week losing all three games including the game against the eighth place Rockets. Portland now sits two games out of the playoff picture, but unless something drastic happens, Lillard has an insurmountable lead over his fellow rookies.
2. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 13 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals
After a couple of bad games at the end of January, Bradley Beal saw a specialist about his sore wrist and was advised to give it some rest. On his return Friday, a 1-5 shooting performance suggested maybe he wasn’t quite ready to come back, but Monday’s game in Milwaukee set those fears aside. Beal played 36 minutes and hit on 10-17 shots for 28 points in the Wizards’ victory.
It looks like the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January has returned to form and is ready to contribute to the resurgent Wizards who are winners of their past four games.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks
Some of the shine has come off of Anthony Davis’ season recently and aside from the injuries, he may have hit a low point this past week. Davis has only averaged 20.8 minutes over his past four games with 4.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. He is still picking up blocks and steals, but his minutes are going to Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith and mostly because they have been more effective. Davis has shot just 1-13 over his past two games.
The preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year has been playing like a rookie lately and that’s not a road you want to be on when pursuing this award.
4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals
Maybe it was that stint coming off the bench, but Dion Waiters has played much better since the start of 2013 and the improvement has continued into February. The second leading rookie scorer with just over 600 points so far, Waiters improved his shooting percentage to 41.9 percent for the month of January and averaged over 60 percent in his four games this week. While he still hasn’t reached 40 percent on the season, the trend is definitely in the right direction.
It seems like the light is coming on for this promising young shooting guard. His shot selection is improving and the Cavaliers are starting to win about half of their games.
5. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.6 steals
Harrison Barnes has been sitting within reach of our top five rookies for most of the season, but Golden State has been a playoff team and Barnes has to earn his minutes on the court. Limited playing time and poor shooting percentages knocked Barnes off the Rookie Watch radar in December, but January saw a comeback and since the January 28 victory in Toronto, Barnes has been making a significant impact.
Barnes scored 14 points on 6-11 shooting in 33 minutes in that game against the Raptors and has only played less than 29 minutes in a game once since then. Over those seven contests, Barnes has averaged 13 points on better than 50 percent shooting. The rookie small forward is starting to figure things out. His three-point shooting is down from earlier in the season and he is starting to take advantage of his athleticism inside.
As the starting small forward on a playoff bound team, if Barnes can continue to show improvement he might be the only rookie who could remotely threaten Lillard’s massive lead in the Rookie of the Year race.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 9.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 10.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.8 steals
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 7.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.4 blocks
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 8.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
Some Rookies To Watch: Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons), Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors) and John Henson (Milwaukee Bucks)
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.